The Takeaway: Grade A-
Designer: Willie Park Jr. in 1922
Cost: Private Private (caddies provided)
Phone Number: (708) 283-7645
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Olympia Fields (North)'s official website by clicking on the link provided.
Accolades: Ranked 62nd on Golf Digest's 2013-14 Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses in America and 5th in the state of Illinois.
What to Expect: Olympia Fields is the historic 36 hole layout south of the Midwest’s larger city; Chicago. The South course is less touted than the North course which has hosted four major championships, the most recent of which was the 2003 U.S. Open where Jim Furyk claimed the title. The North course enjoys pleasant terrain that boasts some significant but walkable elevation changes, a winding creek, and tons of trees. The bunkers are deep and penal while the undulated greens are a formidable challenge to navigate when rolling firm and fast. In 1925 the club boasted 72 holes with the North course representing the fourth course on the site. The South course is composed of portions from the other three courses and then property was sold off from the former courses. The expansiveness of the club is a pleasure to play as you leave the perimeter of the property and enjoy lengthy views of nothing but golf holes and trees. Lastly, any account of Olympia Fields wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the 110,000 square foot clubhouse, the largest in the world, and the 80 foot clock tower that leaves you no excuse for being late to the first tee. In my experience, some of the old classic courses are more revered for their history and exclusiveness rather than the quality or creativity of the golf holes. However, Olympia Fields doesn’t fall into the overrated category as the club delivers world class holes and service that matches the history and prestige of one of Chicago’s most fabled courses.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 14th Hole – 444 Yard Par 4 – The 3rd and 14th holes pair up to be one of the most impressive par four duos you'll find at a golf course. The tee shot plays a bit downhill with a creek lining the right side of the fairway for much of the hole. Next is a heroic approach shot to an elevated green that sees the creek cross from the right side of the hole, across the front of the green, and exits out to the left. The false front will claim its fair share of casualties as golfers fail to give enough respect to the elevation rise to the putting surface. After arriving at the green and finishing our putts, our threesome took some time to look back down the fairway and marvel at the beauty and challenge of the hole that is equally matched by the serene setting.
Best Par 3: 16th Hole – 215 Yards – A downhill beauty, the 16th hole provides a solid test down the stretch of this championship layout. A creek crosses the hole well before the green but won't establish as many victims there as it will to the right of the putting surface where the water wraps around to. A large bunker protects the front right of the smallish green and a small bunker sits to the left. Birdies here will most often come from laser-like precision with a long iron.
Best Par 4: 3rd Hole – 461 Yards – When I play an old, classic inland golf course I appreciate the design elements but am rarely wowed by what I find. When I got to the 3rd hole at Olympia Field’s North course I had one of those 'wow' moments that instantly elevates my opinion of the course. In the likes of Pebble Beach's 8th hole and Bandon Dunes' 4th, this fantastic par four seems docile from the tee and unveils its greatness as you near your approach shot. Your eyes are presented with an attractive setting that features a sweeping fairway that crosses a creek before ascending uphill to a well bunkered green that is a stiff challenge to anyone to hold with a mid to long iron in their hands. This hole is easily one of the finest in the Midwest.
Best Par 5: 15th Hole – 576 Yards – The beefy 15th requires you to let loose the cannon for a chance to reach the green in two. A big drive can get you to the 'go' zone which is found at the corner of the dogleg as the hole turns right. With a hazard running along the right side of the fairway, most players will attempt to stay left and accept the few extra yards that path requires. A trio of bunkers front the slightly elevated green adding character and challenge to the approach shot.
Birdie Time: 13th Hole – 168 Yard Par 3 – One of my favorite design elements that seems to be found in older courses much more often than newer ones is a quality uphill par three. Brute length generally creates too penal of a feature to this style of hole, so I was thrilled to see the inviting 168 yards found at the 13th. Enclosed by an amphitheatre of trees to the rear and a crescent of bunkers in the front, the 13th provides an inviting and secluded setting that begins a string of great holes on the back nine. While the length of the hole isn't intimidating, missing the green left is due to the deep hazard area that will almost assuredly eliminate your chance at saving par. The raised green and bunkering of this hole reminded of something you'd see at Winged Foot where the par threes are its most memorable feature.
Bogey Beware: 18th Hole – 496 Yard Par 4 – This hole features three elements that put fear in the most golfers; a right to left shape, water on the approach shot, and punishing length. Why the USGA swapped the nines and made the sternest hole on the course the 9th rather than the finisher during the sternest test in golf (U.S. Open) is mind boggling. At nearly 500 yards with a slightly elevated and sloping putting surface, this is the hardest green in regulation found on the property. Scoring a bogey here will be common for most and a sense of relief to many.