The Takeaway: One of America’s golfing treasures, Chicago Golf Club features some of the purest versions of Macdonald’s famous template holes you’ll ever find. While the terrain is less than inspiring, the architecture and "pure golf" vibe of the club makes up for it. Grade A
Designer: C.B. Macdonald in 1894
Phone Number: (630) 668-2000
Directions: Get here! - 25W253 Warrenville Rd, Wheaton, Illinois 60189 – UNITED STATES
What to Expect: Chicago Golf Club is one of the most revered clubs in the world, let alone in the United States where it became the first 18 hole course in America and is one of the five original founding clubs of the USGA (Newport CC, Shinnecok Hills, The Country Club in Brookline, MA, and Saint Andrew's in NY being the others). A small membership that is the epitome of "historic old school" is what you'll find here with members who know the game, respect the game, and honor its history. There isn't a country club feel at CGC, it is akin to San Francisco Golf Club where it is all about golf. Players walk, take a caddie, and soak in some of the best template holes that C.B. Macdonald ever created, including a set of par threes that only Camargo can rival as the best the Good Doctor ever carved out of the ground. Speaking of the ground, the terrain at CGC is mostly flat with subtle changes throughout the property along the same lines as Kingston Heath and Garden City Golf Club. Despite the flatness, there is no lapse of interest given the brilliance of the architecture, bunker placements, and shaping throughout the putting surfaces. The course length is modest by today's standards tipping out under 6900 yards, but no one at the club is concerned with that; in fact, many members choose to play the middle tees to most closely replicate the experience Macdonald had when he designed the course. The historic club is no stranger to hosting high profile events having welcomed the world's best players for the U.S. Open in 1897, 1900, and 1911 while more recently hosting the Women's Senior U.S. Open in 2018. Chicago Golf Club has also hosted the Walker Cup in 1928 and again in 2005 but has hosted more amateur tournaments than anything else with the U.S. Amateur in 1897, 1905, 1909, and 1912 as well as the Women's U.S. Amateur in 1903 and U.S. Senior Amateur in 1979. Ultimately, an invitation to Chicago Golf Club is an opportunity to be cherished and an experience never to be forgotten.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 3rd Hole – 219 Yard Par 3 – The one-shotters at Chicago Golf Club are of the highest caliber and none are finer than the first; the famous Biarritz. Pin positions are only found in the back third which is perfect considering how well the superintendent maintains nearly ideal firm and fast conditions. After carrying the bunker fronting the target, the tight grass leading up to the putting surface is deft at skipping balls through the chasm and on top of the green where the flag awaits. The green complex is encircled by bunkers and creates a virtual island green, however the sand is shaped thinly enough that big misses will finish in the rough or perhaps in the tree line on the left that creates the club's eastern boundary near the southern end of the property. During a golf tournament, you'd have a hard time dragging me away from watching shot after shot comes into this masterful hole.
Best Par 3: 7th Hole – 207 Yards – The template hole I see copied more than any other, but rarely nearly as well as what is found at CGC, is Redan. This fantastic rendition boasts a very large putting surface and an obvious slope that is anxious to work your ball toward the flag that will always be found on the left half of the putting surface. With the firm conditions, a very viable play is to hit a low running shot that carries the bunker in front before ascending up the face of the green before swinging left in classic Redan fashion. As is always the case with a good Redan, the bunker fronting the green and angling left with the putting surface is a death trap with a steep face that you want to avoid at all costs. After playing this wonderful and pure rendition of a Redan, you will likely find yourself shaking your head trying to figure out what Tom Doak and Jim Urbina were thinking when they designed their version of Redan as the 12th hole at Old Macdonald; perhaps the worst hole at the entire Bandon Dunes Resort.
Best Par 4: 12th Hole – 462 Yards – I've never played a Punchbowl hole I didn't like, and the 12th at Chicago Golf Club is no exception. Five fairway bunkers are scattered across the short grass enroute to the green which is certainly a factor to consider given how important the second shot is here. Approaches coming in from the left side are ideal as they avoid the deep bunker at the front right of the green while also taking advantage of the slope in the putting surface that can be quick to feed balls near the hole given the drainage slope out the back right. Like most Punchbowl holes, the second shot is coming in from a longer distance than most second shots given the generous sloping of the green and puts a premium on accuracy with those clubs in your bag as missing the putting surface is a costly mistake. The best and most fun hole on the back nine, it is great to see some modern courses implementing Punchbowl designs that embrace the elements CGC shows here.
Best Par 5: 4th Hole – 536 Yards – One of only two par fives at the course, Long is considered one of two Cape holes at CGC (14th is the other) though the turn left is fairly slight, but does feature a large boomerang bunker and waste area on the inside of the turn that you'll want to avoid. While the green can be reached in two, it takes a very precise shot in order to clear the false front but not come in so hot that your ball feeds off the back into the horseshoe bunker hugging the putting surface. The elevated green represents one of the largest rises on the property and a moment where a decision has to be made in calculating the firmness of the ground with the slope that wants to repel shots that come up wanting. Even laying up doesn't guarantee a chance to go flag hunting unless it is positioned in the center of the green, because that is the only safe place to aim on this challenging putting surface. Ultimately, this is a high quality par five and an example of what can be done with relatively tame property to work with.
Birdie Time: 5th Hole – 358 Yard Par 4 – Midway through each nine Macdonald offers a short par four to try and take advantage of. On the back nine it is the 351 yard Cape hole with a narrow entrance into the green, and on the front it is the 358 Leven hole. As is typical with Leven holes, a heroic carry is required off the tee for the optimal angle into the green, but here at Chicago Golf Club that carry isn't as challenging as it was originally as the angled cross bunker on the right side requires just 240 yards to clear from the back tee and less than 200 yards from the middle tee. The right half of the green is unobstructed for a shot to run up onto the putting surface while the left side has a bunker that must be flown. Interestingly, the spine in the middle of the green can dictate which side of the fairway you want to attack from and which half of the putting surface to finish on. With the prevailing Chicago winds likely at your back, this is a great opportunity to take a rip at the green and show off your short game to complete the birdie.
Bogey Beware: 2nd Hole – 481 Yard Par 4 – The Road hole is often the most difficult par on a template course and Chicago Golf Club is no different. Within 20 yards of being a 500 yard par four, the 2nd hole will require length and accuracy in order to put up a fair fight. Four fairway bunkers line the left side and creep further toward the center line the farther down the fairway you get. Those bunkers influence golfers to attack the right side of hole, which is the optimal angle into the green, but total precision is needed to make it work as it is easier to end up in the right rough than it is the short grass when carrying the lone bunker on that side. The false front on the right side is ready to deny shots that approach the green with insufficient energy and on the left of course awaits the infamous Road bunker where par saves are few and far between. CGC is known for its difficult starting stretch, and this hole is a key reason why.