Sunday, October 31, 2010


Shoreacres (ranked #51 in the world) is located in Lake Bluff, Illinois, north of Chicago on Lake Michigan and was designed by Seth Raynor in 1919.

In a happy coincidence, I bumped into The Itinerant Golfer, who happened to be playing Shoreacres the same day I was. For some reason, probably because I’m psychotic, my first thought was, “Criss Cross,” which is the phrase used in the wonderful Alfred Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train, where Guy Haines and Bruno Anthony meet coincidentally.

What are the odds that two golf lunatics will meet crisscrossing the planet playing their top 100 lists? Pretty slim. Steve and I played together at Galloway National a couple of years ago as part of his journey, and we both hosted the crazy kiwis this summer. An amazing coincidence and a stroke of good fortune. Small world.

If you’ve never seen the movie, it is one of Hitchcock’s best, particularly the tennis scene played on grass at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York where the US Open used to be played.

The Golf Course

My experience at Shoreacres was very rewarding. We had an 8am tee time on a lovely summer morning and were the only ones on the course. When I stepped to the first tee to hit my drive, the Star Spangled Banner started playing. I thought, "Hey, this is pretty cool," until my host politely pointed out that it wasn't in my honor but was the daily ritual at the Great Lakes Naval Station, which is located across the street from Shoreacres. Throughout the round we heard our nation's bravest marching, chanting and doing drills.

The defining characteristic of Shoreacres is the way Raynor routed the course around, over and through the ravines that dominate the landscape. The majority of holes play over a ravine on either the tee shot or the approach shot, sometimes both. The ravines are so prevalent that the scorecard features a local "Ravine Rule," allowing you relief under various penalty strokes if your ball ends up in one.

4th ravine

A ravine on the 4th hole at Shoreacres

5th swale

A major ravine crossing the fairway on the 5th at Shoreacres

Raynor is known for his use of prototype or replica holes, and Shoreacres has many. The prototype "Biarritz" hole, the sixth, is a 192 yard par three that features a green that measures an amazing 88 yards from front to back with a big swale through its middle. Without moving the tees, the hole can vary in length from 148 yards to 236 yards just by moving the pin.

Like the golf course itself, the halfway house behind the sixth green is classic and refined. They have a nice selection of finger sandwiches stacked on a three tiered serving tray. The edges of the bread are nicely cut off the salmon, chicken salad and egg salad sandwiches. Her Majesty would approve of the halfway house at Shoreacres. Call me a ponce if you'd like, but I get off on this kind of stuff. It's the little things in life that count!

Shoreacres has the usual polish of a Raynor course, and the front nine was a joy to play. The course really picks up steam, though, on the back nine: Holes eleven through fourteen really get your heart racing. The tenth is a great rendition of a "Road" hole with only one bunker protecting the green, but when the pin is on the left side, one is all that's needed.

11 from tee
The intimidating 11th hole from the tee

The eleventh is a 378 yard par four with the fairway set at an angle to the tee so you have to decide which line you will hit on and judge the distance correctly. It is a classic risk-reward shot with a big penalty for a miss.

Not only do you have to carry the massive ravine off the tee, but also once again as you approach the green. The hole is seen from the green looking back below:

11th back
The 11th hole seen looking back from the tee

The eleventh is a true world-class hole and is followed by another at the par three twelfth, a prototype "Short" hole. It plays only 127 yards from an elevated tee box, but just look at the beauty of how Raynor designed the large green to sit tucked away in a small valley.

The world-class par three twelfth, "Short" hole at Shoreacres

The short 332 yard par four thirteenth features a completely blind tee shot over the ravine. Once again, your second must also carry a smaller ravine.

13th approach

The approach to the 13th green

Shoreacres is not a long course; it measures 6,530 yards from the tips, but remember, golf is supposed to be a game we play to have fun and not a place to prove our manhood by demonstrating how far we hit the ball. Besides, holes like the 449 yard par four fifth and the 438 yard par four sixteenth provide plenty of opportunity to use muscle, if that's your cup of tea. Raynor routed the entire course to take advantage of the ravines, and even though the property abuts Lake Michigan, there are no holes where you can see the water.

Shoreacres is a tremendous place to play golf and I am a lucky man indeed to be invited to experience a place such as this, although as I approach the end of my journey, I wish I could slow the whole thing down and make it last longer. Shoreacres also represents the 52nd course I have played where you have to be hosted by a member. I've really become spoiled playing courses without a lot of people on them and with great caddies.

In addition to a world-class golf course, Shoreacres also has one of the stand-out clubhouses along with Shinnecock, Loch Lomond, National Golf Links and Cypress. There are few places better to enjoy an after round refreshment, overlooking the beautiful and cooling Lake Michigan. The clubhouse is set on the top of the bluff overlooking the lake. Of the 95 courses I have played, eight stand out as places I would like to join if I had unlimited money and better manners. The other seven are Maidstone, San Francisco Golf Club, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Sunningdale, Yeamans Hall, Somerset Hills and Camargo Club.

The stand out Shoreacres clubhouse

Some of the best golf courses in the world such as Pine Valley and Peachtree are located in average neighborhoods. Shoreacres is no such animal. Lake Bluff and the adjacent town of Lake Forest are one of those elite suburban areas where everything is perfect and the people are at the highest echelons of wealth in the country.

An interior view of the classic clubhouse

The view from the clubhouse overlooking Lake Michigan

I have now completed playing all of Seth Raynor's courses ranked in the top 100. I think his best is Yeamans Hall (1925), followed by Camargo (1921), then Shoreacres (1919) and Fishers Island (1926). Yeamans, Camargo and Shoreacres have all been renovated by Tom Doak and seem better because of it. Perhaps Fishers can hire Tom and his firm to refresh the course to be more in line with its peers and for it to live up to its true potential.


OLG GLOD said...

Brilliant, as always.

Kingward said...

That place looks like Pine Valley in a couple of those photos.

R-Reddrop said...

Going to play here for the first time on Tuesday and let me tell you I am excited!!

pshea said...

I caddied there from age 13 through college and loved the course. Unfortunately didn't play much back then so didn't take advantage of caddy day enough. Now that I play regularly I really regret it.

BigRick said...

I'll be playing Shoreacres next week. Ive been fortunate to play the course probably 50 times since 1986 and its still one of my faves.

jim walsh said...

A frind of mine is the head of the Western Golf Association and he knew that I had recently played Shoreacres. He stated "If I had only one course to play until I die, I would pick Shoreacres." I have only had the privilege of playing Shoreacres one time. I think it is what golf would be like in Heaven.

Anonymous said...

I belong there

Anonymous said...

I caddied there when I was 12 years old back in 1966. Phil
Greenwald was the pro and Mr. Callahan was the caddie master. We were required to call him mister. Many poker games in the caddie shack. Monday was caddie day. The course was closed. We caddies played free. Could only tee it up in front of the tee boxes. We made $4.50 a bag. Carry double and we made $9. Lucky to get a 2 buck tip. Almost all the golfers had leather bags. They smelled so good (the bags) but were heavy. Sister course was Onwentsia in Lake Forest. Never caddied or played there. Ah ... the good old days.

Unknown said...

I have driven by this course humdereds of times in the last 3 years since moving to Chicago. Each time I pray I will get invited in somehow. Great article as always!