Thursday, November 09, 2006

المدينة المنورة‎ (Medinah Country Club)

I flew to Chicago for this?

The Club and Clubhouse

Medinah Country Club (ranked #52 in the world) is located in suburban Chicago. Medinah is a private member owned country club which has three golf courses featuring 640 acres of property and 18,000 trees. Medinah was founded in 1925 by the Shriners, who thought it would be interesting to build a clubhouse with an unusual style of architecture. The clubhouse is certainly one of the most unique in the world of golf at 60,000 square feet. It has an eclectic style evocative of the near east and contains elements of many architectural styles including Italian, Oriental, Louis XIV and Eastern. The club was named after the holy city of Islam in Saudi Arabia by the same name. Medinah is the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca and is famous for the presence of the shrine of Mohammad, known as the Green Dome, thus the likeness to the Medinah clubhouse. Like Mecca, Medinah permits only Muslins to enter. You can enter Medinah Country Club, however, if you are the guest of a member.

I am always excited about finally being able to play courses that have hosted major championships and that I have seen on TV. The clubhouse at Medinah displays its history to very good affect with memorabilia from Tiger's victories and many other historic pictures and collectables. The interior of the clubhouse is striking and it does impress, as you can see below.

Under the Green Dome

The Entry Foyer

At 60,000 square feet, it has room for everything. The pictures below were taken in the ball room of the clubhouse that is quite grand; it even has a stage for performances.

I especially like the architectural detailing of the pilasters in the ball room seen above and below.

History of A Championship Course

All three courses at Medinah were designed by Tom Bendelow. The course has hosted the US Open three times (1949, 1975 and 1990), the PGA twice (1999 and 2006, both won by Tiger Woods) and will play host to the Ryder Cup in 2012. The #3 championship course is one of the longest in championship golf at 7,500+ yards. One of the key features of the course is the man-made Lake Kadijah that comes into play several times, including early in the round on the second hole, seen below.

The par three second hole

I can see why Medinah hosts major championships. The world's best players like to bomb the ball and Medinah definitely has length. In addition, the greens are fast. There is plenty of room for tents, parking, concession stands, etc. The clubhouse, locker room and practice facilities are all world class and it is close to a major airport, actually quite close to one of the biggest in the world - O'Hare.

Holy Shit!

Unfortunately, hosting a big tournament and a great golf course are two separate and unique things. Medinah is not a great golf course and is completely overrated. It suffers from the same thing Wentworth does - it's a great course to host a professional tournament - it can handle large crowds, etc., but the course has no personality and requires no imagination to play it. I am not taking anything away from the club and the PGA and USGA for hosting tournaments there; no doubt it's a great choice for what they are trying to achieve. The problem is, the course is weak. Certainly long, but weak when compared to the world's other great courses.

I found the par threes to be BORING. Holes 2, 13 and 17 are almost identical par threes. All require you to hit a tee shot over the man-made lake to an uninteresting green. By the time you get to the 17th tee you think to yourself, "This looks familiar." Actually, it is familiar since you've played near identical holes at #2 and #13. These are the signature holes?

The 10th hole is the least idyllic hole I have ever played in my life. At Maidstone you experience the Atlantic Ocean lapping along the sands. At Casa de Campo, the waves crash around you. At Crystal Downs you have the beautiful view of the countryside and lake below. At Medinah, you get the noise of US-20, which runs down the entire left side of the hole. The lovely tee box is shown below.

While playing this hole, it was so loud I couldn't even hear my playing partner when he spoke. The same din from the highway is present on the 15th green and 16th tee. The hole is actually a pretty good par five; you just can't appreciate it with all the noise.

Like Wentworth, the other issue I found at Medinah is that there are a lot of jets flying over head. It is apparently directly over a landing pattern for O'Hare. O'Hare has parallel runways and often times you will see not one, but two low-flying jets. Sometimes, planes can be charming when near a golf course. I have played both the Old Course at St. Andrews and Royal Dornoch with the sounds of RAF jets taking off and landing and found it actually added to the ambiance. At the Moray Golf Club in Scotland, a runway from RAF Lossiemouth. It is at the end of one of the fairways. I found it exhilirating to have a fighter jet take off occasionally. I didn't find that here, probably because a plane flew overhead about every 30 seconds all day. I took the picture below from the 12th fairway. Notice the landing gear down and the passengers waving to us below.

I found the course to be shitty the day I played. Not shitty in the figurative sense. Shitty in the literal sense. To be precise, shit from Canadian geese was everywhere. I'm sure there are times when the course is in immaculate condition. Unfortunately, I was not there during one of them. I'm sure I will be accused of being unfair, but I can only call it by what I see firsthand. If you will allow me the liberty to repeat myself for emphasis: There were turds on every tee box, there was feces in the fairways and there was poop on the putting greens. Lest I be accused of making this up, through the wonders of my digital camera I present as exhibit 'A' the 8th green seen below.

Why doesn't the course invest in some border collies and be done with the geese? We played this green at about 1:00pm, so there was plenty of time for the greenskeeping staff to clear it off. Perhaps they were pre-occupied with the squirrels. Several of the greens had fairly significant holes in them, apparently from squirrels who thought they would be a good place to bury acorns. I kid you not.

While I am not a golf course architect, I can sum up what's wrong with the course with an analysis of the 15th hole. A 392 yard par four, it has a large stand of trees on the left side of the fairway, some of which overhang, making an approach shot from the left side of the hole difficult. The bunkers were also put on the left side, under the trees, leaving the entire right side of the hole open, with no hazards. A drive to the right leaves a clear shot to the slightly elevated green. It doesn't take a genius to see that this is not brilliant design. It would probably have been better to put the bunkers on the right side of the fairway to cause the golfer to hit the ball left and thus have a more restricted shot at the green. Or to require a precise shot in the middle of the fairway. All you have to do is aim right and you're fine. My point is, when a layman notices stuff like that, it's probably not a sign of brilliance in architecture.

In the interest of fairness, the trees at Medinah are beautiful, and they do create a park-like effect overall. I found the 12th hole interesting; it has a big slope from the left side of the fairway to the right side the entire length of the hole as you can see if you look at the cart riding toward the green. The picture was taken from the green looking back.

The 14th is an interesting par four with good use of the hilly terrain and a challenging shot to an elevated green. The 16th and 18th aren't bad and again are routed in an interesting fashion as are some of the elevated greens on the course, as pictured below.

As you've probably guessed by now, I didn't like Medinah. I was actually so taken aback after playing that I actually had to double check that I indeed had played the championship course - #3, since Medinah has multiple courses.

Indeed, I had.

To make my day even more special, we were paired up with a "gentleman" who had gotten on the course as an unaccompanied guest through "a friend of a friend of a friend," as he put it. The "sausage king of Chicago", he was a local purveyor of fine meats stuffed in animal intestines. He did a perfectly good impression of Tony Soprano on the golf course. He rode in a cart, although he could certainly have used the exercise. He had a cell phone strapped to his belt and would occasionally talk into it walkie-talkie style to provide color commentary to his friends "Joey, I'm on the 14th tee at Medinah, you know what I mean?" He wore a button down shirt with the first six (of seven) buttons un-buttoned so you could see his lovely white tee shirt. And the shirt was intentionally not tucked in all day. Call me a snob if you like, but this pretty much sums up everything in golf I don't like in a playing partner. Thank goodness, at least he played fast.

If you go to play Medinah I suggest doing so during baseball season. Go to Wrigley Field and see a Cubs game so the trip won't be a total disappointment.

And be sure to scrub your hands very good after playing to remove all the fecal matter.


David Sucher said...

Besides being very impressed with the mad energy behind your quest, the pluck with which you are carrying it off and the wit of your commentary, I do wonder about the basis of these 'Top 100' lists.

For example, many such lists place Pine Valley at or near the very top.

I wonder how many people who makes up these lists have ever played it or some of the other stars at the pinnacle, many of which pride themselves (e.g Fishers) on being invisble to the masses. That French course, for example. How the devil can we be sure it is so great if so few can play it. Is it all just group think and herd mentality? Or do these list creators really have such wide playing experience? It strikes me as just a bit too pat and convenient though maybe it is fairly-derived and for real. You obviously think so. No?

Your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I am unimpressed with your review as you were with the course.

You mentioned that the 16th is a par 5. Maybe for your game, but it is actually a par 4.

You mention the 11th as being interesting with a picture of a golf cart on the side slope. Bud, you are actually describing the 12th.

Finally, the only thing the three par 3s over the lake have in common is that they share the lake!
The old simplistic nonsense (repeated over and over again by simpletons) that they look and play alike is Canadian geese crap! Look/play again and don't be plaqued with conventional wisdom.

Doubt if you approve this review of your review, but oh well.

Anonymous said...

Have lived in Chicago for 35 years and concur that Medinah and Olympia Fields are two of the most overrated championhip courses in the country. Many other better courses in the area.

Anonymous said...

You, my friend, are nuts.

Medinah # 3 is a classic - one of the great parkland lay outs in all of golf. At 7,500 + yards and cut completely out of a mighty 400 year old oak tree forest, every hole is a stand-alone beauty and they keep comming at you one after another with no break downs. The course is tough but fair with no tricks or gimmicks and you are required to use every club in your bag.

Medinah is a specatular venue. Every thing about it is big; There are 600 members, and I can assure you none of them are arabs. There are three golf courses on 640 acres with, as you noted, a magnificent clubhouse and all situated within an otherwise noisey and heavy urban environment. And that, despite the acknowledged US 20/Lake Street rush hour noise problem along #10, is part of what make the place so special. (Did you really come to Chicago and expect to play golf in the country?)

As for the geese, millions migrate through the area every spring and every fall and have always been a problem for all Chicago area courses. Too bad one didn't drop a turd on your head.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a real tool from NY. Funny as I read your comment about your playing partner. Sounds like he might have been your long lost brother from Queens. Pound sand and stay in NYC

Anonymous said...

Medinah is sooooo freakin' weak it isn't even funny!

We have better muni courses here in Lincoln, Nebraska than that turd of a course.

I laugh out loud everytime I hear the commentators jizz all over the course layout before a tournament.

The par 3's are more like long "putt putt" golf course holes than championship ones. Our foursome ate that course up when we played it.

I even told the starter they should get their act together,fire the superintendent, and thanks but no thanks to playing this crap course ever again!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Never have I seen "turds" on the field, must be only early spring/ late fall. I can also guarantee you that there are no Arab members there there are two black members one being Micheal Jordan. Very nice course...friendly environment.

Anonymous said...

I think Medinah has the best club house i have ever seen. I have been to just about 30 of the top private courses in the chicago area and this one almost tops them all. THe course was a little rough due to the play mainly being on the championship course and not the other two. Plus with the layout...i mean common this club is obviously not one of you modern courses. Of the courses i have been to a lot of them are like this due to the history. THe history also makes this club a special spot. Its a great course with fantastic pros and staff.

Anonymous said...

Did some of the message posters fail to recognize that only Arabs are permitted in Medinah THE CITY? Further, in response to lines like "I can assure you that none of them (the 600 members) are Arabs", all I can say is does that really matter? ... Sad.

Anonymous said...

Just played the golf course, and thought it was very special! What are you guys expecting? Heaven on Earth? It is golf, suck it up and deal with what is around you.....You guys argue about golf when you should realize what you are really doing. This is sad, you are playing golf; remember that

player72 said...

I appreciate all you've done to share your experiences from some truely great courses, but I have to take exception with your views on Medinah #3. I just played the course and couldn't disagree more with some of your observations. Yes, I do agree with your assessment of the road holes, but then again, the same can be said about the proximetry of the road at both LA Country Club and San Francisco Golf Club, not to mention other great courses. No way to get around the cold feeling of the automobile noise around 2 holes, but to me, it is forgivable when taken in context with the rest of the course. I, too, would like to see a bit more creativity with 3 of the par 3's, but on balance, they are solid par 3's which require a differnt club and some touch. None of them are easy by any stretch.

I would rate holes 12 and 16 as two of the top 20 holes I have ever played, both from optics and playing standpoint. Infact, I might rank the back 9 as the stiffest test of golf I've ever experienced. I've played Olympic, Mrfld Village, Bultler, Belrve, Haztne, Shinne, National, Milw CC, Pebble, LACC, SFGC, Olympia Flds, Whisper Rk, TPC Sawgrs, Maidstone, Minneapolis GC, Calusa Pines, Lost Dunes, and all the Kohler Courses, to name a few, but I've never played a tougher and truer 9 than the back 9 at #3. You know you are in for a long day when the course rating from the member tees is 75.7 with a smooth 146 slope. Go back a tee and play it from 7561 with a 78.3/151 rating if you need to. We played 4 holes from back tees and I almost puked! Blows me away when I imagine how good Tiger played that course in 05 to finish at 14 under. I believe that equates to something like a plus 9 handicap.

As far as your comments about the geese droppings and plane trafic--you must have played a different course than me. Not so much as a weed or a disturbing Airbus the day I played it. Course was immaculate! As far as your playing partner is concerned, again, I couldn't have imagined such a thing. Played as a 4-some with two long standing members, another guest, and 4 caddies. I don't think we saw two groups the entire day, and they were not within shouting range at any point during the round. The members took time to walk us over to the various plaques commemorating the various milestones, which included a 360 year old 150 foot oak tree. Not sure that it was even the tallest timber on the course. You can't hurry mother nature, and I'll tell you, she took her time with that place.

Even though I didn't lose a ball all day (thank you caddie) the course has teeth in the form of trees, slope, and grass--just the way I like it--natural, the way it was meant to be.

The clubhouse is a bit over the top, while the locker room, pretty plain. The 600 plus acres are as well groomed as any I've seen. While the greens were fast and true, they did not compare to the greens at Butler or Mrfld Vilge.

All in all I think your review of Medinah #3 was harsh and a bit unfair. Judging from your photos, you played the course a few days after it was punched, played with a cell phone carrying redneck named Abe Fromen, which skewed you objectivity about one of the best golf tests in America--also known as Medina #3.

Anonymous said...

Just about the road and urban area comments. Quacker Ridge boarders the Hutch, Oakmont has a highway bisecting it, there is a public road going through Shinnecock Hills, same with National Golf Links of America, Baltusrol has Newark, Garden City has well...Garden City, Bethpage has a shooting range next door, and I would consider all of these world class golf courses. Give Medinah a little more credit.

Anonymous said...

I love guys who want to play amusement park golf. Medinah is absolutely one of the classic golf courses in the world. No oceans in Illinois, sorry. The par 3's are as scary as any holes anywhere. I have played them several times and they can make you or break you. Believe me they also make or break the pros, too.
The world will get a first hand look at this incredible place when The Ryder Cup makes their visit.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your review. I have lived in or around Chicago for my whole life, and I have be fortunate to play some of the areas finest courses. If I was given a choice to play any course in the area, Medinah #3 wouldn't even be in my top 10.

Chicagoans are blesses with an absurd amount of public and private courses to play. If you were to open your eyes and your mind to playing some of the public courses, you might find that they are truly incredible, especially for the reasonable greens fees.

Anonymous said...

I have never played the course,but O'hare has many different runways and they use different flight patterns depending on the wind I think. So, that is why some people had planes going over their heads and some didn't. I used to live in a house about 8 miles from the airport that lined right up with another of the runways and on days they used that runway, you would hear a jet come over the house every 60 seconds.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever played Old Elm in the north suburbs of Chicago. I hear that is very difficult to get on. What about Skokie Country Club?
They played the US Open there is the 30's.

Anonymous said...

you might be interested to know that medinah is advertising for members on the radio

stomping moose said...

- greatness has nothing to do with shot values, variety, challenge and beauty,
- credentials proven repeatedly against the world's best are worthless,
- we assume that the opinions of hall-of-fame golfers and world-class golf course architects are meaningless,
then Medinah is "not a great golf course".

A golf course, great or otherwise, is not defined by the number of geese that visit, your playing partner's clothing or its ability to house concession stands.

Medinah has no island greens, no bordering oceans, and it's not carved out of a desert. Sorry.

Medinah is hard, long, beautiful, fair, memorable, historic and world class.

It is worthy of its rankings.

yong said...

Yawwnnnnnn...............I knew what you were going to say about Medinah before I read your review. Although the geese sh!t was humorous and odd to see on such a well known club-

Do you have anything original to say or you just repeat what ever Tom Doak, GCA folks, Mr. Oliver, or Phil Mickelson would say? You guys are all lemmings. Of course one should have preferences in design style but can't you see the merits of other style of courses that aren't golden age courses?

I've heard enough of the new age minimalists, I don't necessarily disagree with their views-but I'd like to see someone different that actually can appreciate the courses that all the lemmings bash.

Anonymous said...

You should have played Bull Valley. But, I guess that is not on the list.

Anonymous said...

I do live in Chicago and have played maybe 25 of the courses on this list and all of the top courses in Chicago. I couldn't agree more with your assessment of Medinah. The course lacks variety, especially on the par 3's, and the conditioning on the course for the 3 times I have played it has always been subpar for a championship caliber course. The noise and planes does not bother me, as much as the lack of shotmaking and creativity.

Mark said...

Although Bendelow was known to build course in the "put a stake here and another one here method" he was a master at routing golf courses.

Thats one area most critics and studyers of golf architecture fail to notice.

For me, the importance of how the holes are laid on the land and what order they come in are more important than the green complexes and how well the bunkers are placed.

I would say Bendelow was one of THE if not THE best routers of golf courses. Donald Ross was great and also Tillinghast.

Unknown said...

Thx for those comments. As a person attempting to play the top 300 courses in the world I ignore those kind of reviews from ? Snobs or fools! Every course has its own personality. Many reviewers believe they have to fit their requirements!! Thx