This post is part of our Golf in the U.S.A. blog series. Golf in the U.S.A. rounds up the best public golf courses in music's biggest cities, so you can play some licks and swing the sticks on your next golf trip. Be sure to check out our previous installments: Austin, San Francisco, Long Island, Las Vegas, Jacksonville.
GOLF IN CHICAGO, IL
Chicagoans understandably have a chip on their shoulders. Our national attention gravitates to the American poles...New York City and Los Angeles...leaving ol’ Midwestern Chicago out of the loop. But while those cities have great golf scenes, many would argue that Chicago is even better stocked with Golden Age golf architecture offerings. While you need to travel for hours from the Big Apple to get to Long Island's best, Chicago's collection of Raynors and Rosses are scattered across the suburban area.
If only it were that simple, of course. These are notoriously private clubs.
That's not to say you won't be able to find a variety of great public golf options when you and your buddies head to the capital of the Midwest. As a nation, we may be struggling to find an ideological center. But it's no struggle at all to find golfing joy — and a long line of influential musicians — in between our nation’s left and right borders.
BEST PUBLIC GOLF COURSES IN CHICAGO
Cog Hill Golf & Country Club #4: Dubsdread$$$ It reads like a horror story...a golf club builds a course, and then builds a second, and then a third...but it wasn't enough. They just needed one more...and that last course ends up being a monster. The film's title is "Dubsdread," the nickname for Cog Hill #4. Dick Wilson's design strove to live up to the frightening moniker, and the result was one of the most punishing entries in the collection of one of golf's most penal architects, and one of the toughest public rounds anywhere. There's no denying the quality of the course, which hosted the PGA for 20 years, as well as the U.S. Amateur Championship during 1997 (won by Matt Kuchar). Just prepare to pay (mentally) for the round. Ministry is hardly Chicago's biggest band, but its innovative combination of thrash and industrial noise makes it one of the city's toughest listens. It's the biggest name in the city's deep "noise punk" scene, and it listens as hard as Dubsdread plays. We know you're up for the punishment though. To paraphrase the band's biggest hit: "Never trust a golf junkie."
Harborside International Golf Center (Starboard & Port)$$ - $$$ The name suggests Harborside would sit right next to O’Hare International Airport, catering to golf travelers flying into Chicago. In fact, the 36-hole facility sits on the far south of the city. This may not make it easy pickings for foreigners, but residents of the city can easily hop a train from downtown, making this perhaps the hottest public golf option in Chicago. The course’s theme is also far from aerial, drawing inspiration from the city’s nautical history. Dick Nugent played into Chicago’s Great Lakes trade history when designing both the Starboard and Port courses, including the signature par three at Port, No. 15 , which plays 216 yards to an anchor-shaped green, surrounded by sand. If an anchor-shaped green doesn’t suggest “yacht rock,” we’re not sure what will. Fans of the band Chicago — the city’s title Rock and Roll Hall of Famers — may not necessarily agree with that classification, but the group’s blend of smooth rock with horns, R&B interpolations, and even orchestral elements will make you feel good on a Saturday morning, whether you shoot 25 or 6 or 4.
Ravisloe Country Club
Chicago is one of those rare places where Donald Ross is not the dominating name in the city’s golf course architecture. That said, he certainly makes appearances across the Windy City, and Ravisloe Country Club happens to be one where the regular Joe can check out the Scot’s work. It’s a relatively recent change, stemming from the club’s sale during 2009. The bunkering remains bold and the greens remain tricky, thanks in part to a 2001 renovation from Dave Esler. If your buddies are golf course architecture fanatics, Ravisloe will be a must play because it’s one of the only Chigaco public golf course options from a “Golden Age” architect available to the general public.
Those hip to concepts like the Golden Age of golf course architecture and strategic design are probably readers of Chicago-based blog The Fried Egg. If they’re just as hip in their music tastes, they’ll probably recognize Wilco as the foremost indie rockers from Chicago, and indeed one of the most acclaimed bands in all of indie rock.
Ruffled Feathers Golf Club
Ho, ho, what’s this? Some may take offense to the verbiage above, which seems to elevate the work of Donald Ross above that of more contemporary designers. “Doesn’t someone like Pete Dye deserve to be held in a similar light?” you ask. Fair enough! For those who prefer more modern, heroic designs filled with large hazards and forced carries, the Ruffled Feathers Golf Club should slake your thirst. This design from Pete and his son P.B. Dye comes in at 6,900 yards and features all the Hallmarks of a ‘90s Dye design...including an island green at No. 11. Not sure if you’re a classic (Ross) guy or a modern (Dye) guy? We highly encourage you to play both.
We may have ruffled some other feathers by referring to Wilco as the foremost indie rockers in Chicago. After all, the Smashing Pumpkins have quite a fanbase. Genre identification semantics aside, Billy Corgan and Dye have a lot in common. Both challenge their fans, throwing bold ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks (i.e. Corgan’s eight-hour “Siddartha” synth jam).
The Highlands of Elgin$$ The Highlands of Elgin is another private course that has changed to public hands during the 21st Century. Keith Foster arrived and overhauled the former Golf Club of Spartanburg, moving earth and creating a topsy-turvy route that emulates the old-world links golf of Scotland. With greens tucked between “dunes” and strong winds coming off of Lake Michigan, you could be fooled into thinking you were on the west coast of Scotland, versus playing with buddies on the west side of Chicago. That said, when you make a long water carry on your way to the No. 15 green, you’ll probably feel distinctly American about your round.
Links-style golf is a testament to the elements...earth, wind and water coming together to touch the golfer’s soul. We’re not saying that courses should aim to include fire, but we definitely recommend you add some Earth, Wind and Fire to your playlist for this trip. The Chicago funk icons have been holding a groove for 50 years, so you should be able to keep your hands steady for just a few rounds worth of putts, right?
The Glen Club
If you managed to get through the aforementioned Cog Hill and you still have some muscle to spare, The Glen Club might be your next stop. Playing more than 7,250 yards from the back tees, the difficulty is ramped up thanks to Tom Fazio’s design, which incorporated significant movement of soil in the creation of the course. The property had been used as an air force base for more than 70 years before being sold to the Glen Club’s developers. Fazio brought in elevation changes of up to 40 feet, and created a series of ponds and streams that flow throughout the property, offering a range of strategic challenges for players.
A Chicago band with similar muscle, who also has military connections (through its numerous USO tours) is Disturbed. The band has been one of the most constant players in the hard rock scene, just as Fazio has been in golf course design. Granted, both have also received outspoken criticism from the aforementioned hipsters but we don’t listen to those voices.
Jackson Park Golf Course
Like everything else in Chicago, golf isn’t necessarily about the glam. A decent amount of the city’s personality derives from the nitty gritty...especially the food. The culinary standouts that are deep-dish pizza and the city’s famous sausage industry stem from immigrant communities making ends meet in the city’s urban landscape. Take some time to appreciate the city’s municipal golf culture as well. Although Tiger Woods’s plan to create a glamorous super-muni is a work in progress, you can check out one of the nation’s oldest public golf facilities at Jackson Park just south of downtown. Tom Bendelow designed the course, which opened during 1899.
Speaking of culture and heritage, did you think we could get through this post without one mention of Chicago’s legendary blues history? As with its famous jazz scene, the majority of the most acclaimed performers were born in the deep south and migrated north to pursue the promise of paychecks in Chicago. At the top of the Chicago blues mountain is Muddy Waters, with John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy not too far behind. Chicago-style blues isn’t pretty, but it’s loud and it’s proud. Take that kind of swagger out to the course when you head to sweet home Chicago on your next golf trip.
So what'd we miss, courses or bands? Are these the best Chicago public golf courses that you know of? Got an opinion on what city we should travel to next for Golf in the U.S.A.? Either way, let us know in the comments!