Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chicago Golf Club

As my regular readers will remember, my last trip to Chicago was less than satisfactory when I played Medinah. I had a much better trip this year.

So, I'm checking into my hotel and my cheerful mid-western bellman asks me as he carries my clubs into the room, "So where are you playing?"

Me: "Chicago Golf," I said, expecting him to be impressed.

Bellman: "Where is that?"

Me: "Wheaton."

Bellman: "Never heard of that one, is it new?"

I just let it drop. Clearly he was not into golf. Chicago Golf (ranked #31 in the world) is not a new golf course. In fact, quite the opposite. Chicago Golf was one of the five founding member clubs that formed the U.S.G.A. The Chicago Golf Club is credited with having the first 18 hole course in America - although it is not the current course. The original course of the Chicago Golf Club was located nearby in Belmont. The Chicago Golf Club was founded in 1892 by our friend Charles Blair Macdonald. Before he moved to New York and helped organize the Links Club and The National Golf Links of America, Macdonald lived in Chicago. Although Macdonald was born in Canada, he grew up in Chicago and was a successful businessman and a member of the Chicago Board of Trade.

As it turns out, Chicago Golf Club is a club of many firsts - not only did it establish the first 18 hole course in the U.S., it was the first to adopt out-of-bounds as a rule in the United States, and it was the first club that organized a "caddy-shack" for its caddies to stay in. At the time Chicago built its first 18 hole course, many clubs in the U.S. were still experimenting with courses of various length - some built six hole courses, others nine, and still others 12 hole courses.

C.B. Macdonald designed the original golf course here in Wheaton in 1895. Macdonald was a famous slicer of the ball so he built the course to favor a slice. The course sits on roughly 200 acres on a rectangular piece of property. As you can see from the original course layout pictured below, the holes essentially are routed in two loops that run clockwise around the property. There is an old, unused polo field in the middle that now serves as a very large driving range.

Consistent with Macdonald's design philosophy, the course doesn't have many trees. Macdonald didn't think trees made a good hazard. He was heavily influenced by his love of the game as it was played in Scotland and preferred firm and fast conditions without trees. The primary defense of the golf course is the wind, which can blow quite strong here without any trees protecting it. It is a different sensation you get standing on the first tee at Chicago Golf Club. It doesn't really look like most other American courses, most of which are tree-lined (unless they are links-style and near the water). Chicago is a links-style golf course, but it was not built on classic links-style land. Thus, it is a bit of an enigma in the world of golf. The picture below was taken from the 4th fairway and shows how a typical vista looks at Chicago Golf with the wide-open look.

Wide-open layout at Chicago Golf

The golf course was redesigned in 1923 by Macdonald's protege Seth Raynor. The course has a definite Raynor feel to it, especially the horse-shoe greens that wrap around many of the greens. Their combined designed has many of the signature holes they have become famous for designing including a Road Hole, Redan Hole, Biarritz Hole, Punchbowl Hole and two Cape Holes.

Chicago Golf Club offers a difficult start. The first four holes contain the one, three and five handicap holes. Typical of some of the mounding and hills present throughout the course, see the mounds off the 2nd fairway below ("Road" Hole).

Mounds off second fairway

The third hole is a "Biarritz" hole and plays over 220 yards to a green with a false front and swale in front. It's a very good and demanding golf hole. Notice the classical bunkering around this hole.

3rd hole "Biarritz" from the tee

The fourth hole is one of the two "Cape" holes, the other being the 14th. This hole has a high elevated green with a green that is difficult to hold as it has a false front that feeds balls back onto the fairway.

4th hole green and fairway bunker

The 7th Redan hole is a very good rendition of a Redan hole. Probably because Chicago Golf doesn't get as much play as other world-class courses with Redans like Shinnecock, National and North Berwick, it is often overlooked as a good Redan hole. Consistent with Chicago's big greens generally, it probably has the largest green of all the classic Redans.

A big Redan - 7th hole

I found the defining characteristics of Chicago Golf to be: a links-style feel due to the absence of trees, large greens and the distinctive horse-shoe bunkers. There are many "deceptions" present also, such as the false fronts on many greens and bunkers placed so that they look to be closer to the green than they really are. Several of the greens (the 14th and 18th in particular) were squared off; that is, they were designed so that the beginning of the green is cut at a 90 degree angle to the fairway. I've never seen this before on any greens.

Chicago Golf Club has a lot of good golf history. It has hosted four U.S. Amateur Championships, two Walker Cups and three U.S. Opens - 1897, 1900 and 1911. Bobby Jones holds the course record of 66, set in 1928 at the Walker Cup. Chicago Golf Club is not as well known as Macdonald's other masterpiece, The National Golf Links of America. This is because unlike The National, Chicago doesn't do outings, and it has a very small and private membership. It has the smallest membership I have heard of for a world-class course - only 125 members.

The general feel at Chicago Golf Club is intimate but not flashy. Like at Pine Valley, there are no frills. This is just about golf. The clubhouse is comfortable and not extravagant. It is all very understated.

The clubhouse at Chicago Golf

My favorite hole on the course was the "Punchbowl" twelfth hole. You hit a blind tee shot over a slight hill. Your second shot on this par four is to an elevated, well bunkered green. The green, like other Punchbowl holes, such as the 16th at The National, rises up on all sides and feeds into the middle of the hole. If you look closely at the picture you can see the many humps and bumps on this interesting green.

Punchbowl Green - 12th hole

The 14th hole, the second "Cape" hole, I also enjoyed quite a bit. It is one of the many greens that has a horse-shoe bunker. Other holes with horse-shoe bunkers are the 7th, 9th, 10th, 13th and 14th. Macdonald, a very successful businessman, built a "mansion" in Wheaton. It is visible on your left as you stand on the 14th tee here. It is a big white house with columns on the porch.

The horse-shoe bunker on the 14th hole

8th hole horse-shoe bunker

The Chicago Golf Club has one of the best caddy programs I have ever seen. Taking a caddie is pretty much mandatory. The polite young mid-western kids that serve as caddies wear distinctive red bibs with the Chicago Golf logo on them.

This is also the third time in as many months I have bumped into C.B. Macdonald in my travels. He looked down at me intently from his perch in the giant painting in the C.B. Macdonald room at The Links Club in New York. He gave me a suspicious glare in the library at The National Golf Links of America where his big portrait again looks down at you and a life-size statue looms in the back of the room. And finally, between the pro-shop and locker-room at Chicago Golf is another statue of Charlie, making his presence felt once more.

If you appreciate history and tradition in this great game, playing Chicago Golf is a real treat, although with only 125 members, getting onto this gem is about as difficult as any course in the world.

Interested in learning the methods I used to play all these spectacular golf courses around the world? then my forthcoming book may be of interest, in details how a mortal golfer may be able to do the same. The book is available from  Amazon.com. Click on the image of the book below to order on Amazon:


Anonymous said...

Love your reviews and wish I could join you!! I've added a link to your blog in my selective blogroll.

Rosemarie said...

I just stumbled on to your blog trying to find info on the Chicago Golf Club for when my father-in-law visits. But reading it's very private, I guess my chances are pretty slim...

I enjoyed reading your posts - good luck with your golf adventure!

Anonymous said...

I had the great fortune of being a caddy on this course in the 1980s. What a treat. If you carried 3 bags in a week, you could play on Monday - FOR FREE (when the course was closed). How great was it to play such a prestigious, exclusive club and not be a member. Many of the 'who's who' in the Chicago area found their way on the course as guests of the members.

Anonymous said...

Being the youngest brother of CGC staff legends, I once made the mistake of skipping my Monday round of golf telling my older brothers "this course bores me". I have never lived this down as I understand some 30 years later that this is one of the best golf locations of any kind in the world and playing this golf course is truly not boring and is a privilege to play. Bill Green (Bob and Jim)

Unknown said...

Boy, do I wish I could accompany you on just one of your outings to the Top 100 courses. Anyway, I'm trying to track down the hole routing for the Chicago Golf Club. Could you (or anyone else) assist me in finding out what the current hole numbering happens to be for the Chicago Golf Club? Keep us posted on your rounds and your whereabouts. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I got the chance to play it yesterday. It is the best there is. Like playing St. Adrews without the 7 hour plane ride. Golf at its core. On a scale of 1 to ten, its a 100.

David said...

Actually, all that you encountered at Chicago Golf Club -- false fronts, large greens, horseshoe bunkers, and yes, "square" greens
-- are typical of Seth Raynor courses. And you will see this when you get to Camargo in Cincinnati, as it boasts four or five square greens. Incidentally, Donald Ross occasionally built square greens, but rather than have them squared up to the fairways, they are on the bias: think "diamond pattern" when viewed from the fairway.

I belong to Scioto CC in Columbus, a 1916 Ross design actually shaped by the man himself, and prefer the traditional style of golf course. Modernising has changed the look and play of Scioto over the years -- greens elevated, bunkers added and deepened, greens hard and lightning fast -- but Ross' routing survives. He built a challenging 18-hole course on but 105 acres, yet there are no parallel fairways, and you rarely are aware of golfers on nearby holes.

How do I get your job, by the way??

Top 100 Golfer said...

Thanks for your comments. Sorry, but Her Majesty isn't granting her patronage to any more traveling golfers :)

Anonymous said...

It is great to read these reviews considering i am lucky enough to play this course today. 5th most exclusive in the world, under 200 member, but i have the honor to play with the General Manager.

Anonymous said...

My great-grandfather and possibly great-great-grandfather worked at this club around 1900. My great grandfather actually played in the U.S. Open at this location in 1900. Two of his brothers also played golf around Chicago at this time. My great-grandfather was Chester Horton.

Drew said...

Ex-caddy that got to play there as well. Amazing!

I also highly recommend playing the publicly owned Downers Grove Golf Club, the original site of Chicago Golf Club (a few miles east of the current site in Wheaton). It's a nine hole course and costs $18. But it was built in 1892! How many times do you get to play a course that was built then? It was the first golf course west of the Allegheny mountain range.

It has a lot of cool elevation changes, and a lot of blind shots as well, something one doesn't see nearly as often in golf today.

It's a municipal course, so the pace of play is often very slow, and you're not going there for the course conditioning. Just enjoy playing at one of the oldest courses in the country.


Anonymous said...

First off the course record is 63 and second 100-105 members!!

gowest said...

I had the pleasure of playing Chicago Golf Club today (7/31/2010) with the club's premier player. He shot 68 today and holds the course record at Chicago Golf Club of 63 (which he shot twice in 1998). It was such a privilege and honor to walk these hallowed and historic fairways and pace the exceptional greens, let alone with such a fine player. I am completely undeserving but forever grateful for this experience.

Anonymous said...

The official course record still belongs to Bobby Jones, although in an informal round this summer, a member of the Stanford Golf team shot 63 as well. In addition, the original golf course, now a public course in Downers Grove, was only nine holes. The site of the current course is the earliest 18 hole course in the US, modified by Seth Raynor in 1923.

Anonymous said...

CGC is world class and like the other comments an honor to play it. It's my favorite in the states along with the Sand Hill in Mullen NE. What a course and what tradition! Jason

Seafox said...

I would be most grateful if Anonymous would contact me re Chester Horton, whom I'm writing about. Among other writings, I'm the author of Golf Through The Ages, 600 Years of Golfing Art, and Golf: The True History, published in six parts in Golf International Magazine.

I have extensive notes on Chester and his brothers from another member of the family.

Many thanks,


Anonymous said...

Great review. I was lucky enough to be invited to play in the Member-guest tournament this past weekend. It was quite a thrill. Is the course great? ABSOLUTELY! What really impressed me were the members and the Staff at Chicago Golf Club. It is the most down to earth membership that I have ever encountered. Other clubs around the country can learn a great deal from this club. This is a TRUE golf club and I hope to get invited back some day. My favorite holes? #12 Punchbowl and #7 Redan. The Redan is huge. The pics do not do it justice.

Anonymous said...

contrary to a previous post on this site...the original course located in Downers Grove had a second 9 holes added making it the first 18 hole club in the U.S. the 2nd nine was abandoned returning to dairy pasture.

lou fritz said...

what memories reading the blogs brought me- I caddied for a few summers aprox 69-71- great experience, used to ride my 5speed stingray in the dark to arrive by light and try to carry twice,I think I got 5$ a round-loved caddie day on monday- for misbehaving caddies, punishment of cleaning "augies john" with a toothbrush brings back vivid memories,never realized how exclusive membership was! would love to visit again
Lou Fritz, So Ca.

Larry K said...

I lived in Wheaton from 1955 to 1963 graduating from Wheaton Community High School. We would ride our bikes out CGC and caddy. You carried doubles for $7.50. You usually got a Coke at the halfway house from the member and you might get a dollar tip. On a Sunday, if your caddy number was low enough, you might get out twice and go home with $20.

The Caddy Shack was a wild place. The son (Jim) of the Pro in those days (Alex), would get up on the roof and throw frozen Zagnut bars down at us just for a laugh. His other son, whom I believe was named Bud, was an Asst. Pro. On Mondays we would get to play the great course. Bud would take us up to the first tee and hit golf balls down the fairway out of our mouths.

We never got to enter the Club House although my close friend John worked as a busboy there. Years later I attended the Walker Cup there, met a member and he invited my brother and I to return as former caddies and play the great course once again.

We received a nice letter from the President welcoming us back. And after a great 18 holes on clear warm October afternoon we had lunch in the Club House and got to tour the club's memorabilia.

One of the greatest days of my life! I will always remember my days there and the wonderful times we had.

Unknown said...

Wow, you guys aren't kidding. To this day my favorite course ever. I caddied there from 98 until 06, and was one of the lucky caddies to caddy in the 2005 Walker Cup hosted by Chicago Golf. The history and exclusivity of Chicago Golf Club make it truly special. I used to play it every Monday during summers in high school and college, and would do ANYTHING to get back on the course. But it sure isn't easy. You have to know someone there well, and the membership is definitely very small, and very exclusive.

Anonymous said...

Although I am not a golfer, I enjoyed your blog very much. My Dad was a member at Chicago Golf from the early 60's until about 10 years ago. Lots of great memories. It was definitely a men's club - the pool was very basic. The Men's Grill is located downstairs, right next to the men's locker room with no door - so ladies didn't DARE go down there! I remember turning cartwheels on the lawn next to the putting green. No one reprimanded me but my parents received a letter asking them to restrain their children. I loved driving the golf carts around, but women were allowed to play on a limited schedule. We used to go over & clear off the ponds in the winter to ice skate. I was married there in the 70's (as we're 3 otero members of my family. Their typical drink was a triple shot so people were tipsy quite fast! The staff was lovely. I live in New York state now and stop by now & then. The columns are still a bit crumbly and the best way to describe the clubhouse is "shabby chic." I grew up there and it will always be "home" to me.

GenGirl76 said...


I am the one who left the note about Chester Horton. Please email me at gengirl76@gmail.com.



Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to play CGC probably 20-25 times as a relative was a member. First time I played I thought it was kind of boring. As I played it more the more I appreciated it. The golf course changes with the winds. I understand the big tree on the left side is gone on #11. A mistake! Love #2. I actually drove #5 once. Great memories.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of great courses if u ever get the chance to play Blacksheep golf club it is one the best links courses there are! it is a joy to play there.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how Bobby Jones can have competitive course record being all Walker Cup rounds played are in match play format.
Course records should be attributed only to scores posted in competitive medal rounds.

Anonymous said...

Ex caddy from the late 40's. I was trained by Col. Kane to Caddy. What a great memory I have of the experience and playing on the course on "Caddy Day".

Thanks for the memory CGC !

Charlie Stuart

Anonymous said...

Another former caddy here. I caddied in the late 80's when Tim S. was the club pro. I was only in Jr High in those days and was just learning how to play the game. In my second year, I worked in the pro shop, cleaning clubs and picking balls off the driving range. To this day, when I'm playing a round with a younger player, I recall Tim S's mantra, "Thank you ..., you are a gentleman and a scholar."

As a caddy, you learn the distances and the roll of the green very well. However, since most of the members who played regularly back then were a wee bit older, I didn't get to see the course played much from a low-handicapper's perspective. I too would love to return some day and play the old course.

Anonymous said...

I have played Chicago Golf twice. Each time there was only one other foursome on the course and although I was a guest, I knew the members of the other foursome. At that time the locker room was very plain with old metal lockers. I also though it quaint that the grill room had a box of matches on each table.

paul@cascadehousing.com said...

I played the course many times in the 50's and 60's with my dad. I fondly remember the swale on the first hole where I learned to play a downhill lie. Alex Stupple was the pro who taught me the game and a wonderful gentleman was he.The ladies in the family were relegated to the tennis courts and pool which was kept at a discouraging temperature. Number four was my favorite where a well hit and slight hook off the tee would be rewarded and every other long shot penalized with tall trees near left, a very long bordering trap left past the trees, a small trap dead straight and gorse right until one reached the ancient oaks out 190 yards or so. Then a "pope's nose" bunker dead straight where a three wood might land on your second forcing an angled shot to the front sloping green stopping dead any high shot landing front and of course a horse-shoe trap wrapping the rear of the elevated green. And number seven where a very well hit three off the tee could make par and if a little off line or long was in one of the most challenging traps I've ever played. Dad died in '66 while I was off to school. We gave up the membership when I moved to California. Now '72 I dream of playing it once more to refresh some of my best and ancient memories.

Jerry Crabtree said...

Can’t believe I came across this! Talk about a “flood” of memories! I had the good fortune to caddy there from ‘62-‘66. Every caddy was given a number and I started at #111, working my way up to #2.
Monday was “caddy day” and we could play the course for free, softball games, etc. I could go on and on! The caddyshack was special, and John Belishi kept everything loose when he caddied with us! Great place to learn the game of golf!