After a strenuous two weeks in New York and Boston, I took a couple of days off and returned to Atlanta to reassure my wife that she still had a husband and confirm for my kids that they still had a dad. After a couple days of rest and recuperation, I departed on a four day trip that would take me to Chicago, New York and Ohio to play five courses as I continued my one year quest to play the Golf Digest Top 100 Courses in America.
My first stop was Chicago. I flew in on a Monday night with plans to play Shoreacres on Tuesday morning, Olympia Fields on Tuesday afternoon and Butler National on Wednesday morning.
Shoreacres, just off the western shore of Lake Michigan and just north of Chicago was my 85th course. There were a couple of people working to introduce me to a member that could host, none came through in time. The Head Professional, Peter McDonald, who I’d heard about from Eden Foster was very helpful working with my home club to arrange for my round. They worked it out for me to play Shoreacres on the morning of the day I was scheduled to play Olympia Fields in the afternoon.
I arrived at Shoreacres to a very wet course. While it was a beautiful Tuesday morning, it had rained heavily the night before. The ground was so saturated that the driving range was under water. I parked my car and headed to the pro shop and then to the dressing room to change my shoes. My caddie, Roberto was waiting for me as I exited. We grabbed my clubs and headed to the first tee.
As we stood on the first tee, I took my camera out to take pictures, but Roberto informed me that there was a no photograph policy in at Shoreacres. My heart sank when I realized that I would not be able capture the experience of being at such a beautiful course with such charming facilities. I am grateful to Shoreacres for providing me with a couple of photographs to post with my blog. Beyond that I will do my best to describe the beauty and the charm of this amazing place on the edge of Lake Michigan.
The challenge of Shoreacres is not its length. The course has a par of 71 with rating of 71.1 and a slope of 136 from the Raynor tees but measures just 6327 yards. This Seth Raynor design has the usual wide fairways, square greens with open fronts and bunked sides and backs, and its array of familiar template holes. But it is a Seth Raynor design that as my two teenagers would say, is “extra.” There are ravines that come into play throughout the course in places that make the overall length of the course less relevant than the requirement for targeted shot.
The course opens with an easy par five that measures 515 yards. I could draw a straight line from the middle of the tee box to the middle of the green. The hole has that nice wide Seth Raynor fairway that I love. Both sides of the fairway are lined with trees that are tight off the its edges. There is a bunker at the start of the fairway on the right at about 200 yards off the tee. It shouldn’t be in play. I hit my drive to the right half of the fairway well past the bunker. After three days of no golf and no warm up, it was my first full swing since my tee shot on the 18th hole at Boston Golf Club.
With the wet fairway, my drive was all carry. I was left with 272 yards from the middle of the green. There are two side by side cross bunkers that run diagonally across the fairway with the low end on the left and the high end on right. They started at about 100 yards from my ball and required a 150 yard shot to clear. There is a small strip of rough separating the two cross bunkers.
I decided to lay up to 100 yards from the flag. I hit my seven iron which should have easily cleared the bunkers. Unfortunately, I hit the ball fat and that never works well, especially off a wet fairway. My ball landed on the narrow strip between the two cross bunkers.
I was left 165 yards to a back right pin on a green that is as deep as it is wide. There is a bunker off to the front left portion of the green, but it was not in play with the back right pin. I stood in the right cross bunker and hit my approach shot to the left front portion of the green leaving a 40 foot putt for my birdie.
I left my birdie putt ten feet from the cup but got a great read from Roberto for my next putt. I made the putt to open my round with a par. It always feels good to get that first par under your belt on the opening hole of a new course.
The short 325 yard second hole is laid out at a 90 degree angle to the left of the first green. There is a shallow ravine just short of the start of the fairway with a creek that bends along the left side and runs past the left side of the green. The short fairway bends slightly from right to left and is lined with trees and bushes on the left and trees pushed off on the right. There are three bunkers in succession off the left side of the fairway starting at 140 yards and ending at 190 yards from the tee. There are two bunkers on the right starting at 170 yards and ending about 40 yards later.
I hit my three hybrid off the tee to the middle of the fairway leaving 108 yards to a back left pin. The second green has a straight front and a curved back. It has the creek along the left side and a single bunker that curves around the right front.
The green also has a false front. I hit my gap wedge right at the flag. The ball landed 25 feet below the flag and stopped dead. After leaving my birdie putt 10 feet short on the first hole, I hit this birdie putt on line but much too firm. The ball hit the back of the cup and popped up before landing four inches behind it. I picked up for my second par in a row.
The third hole is shorter and easier than the second hole. In fact, it is rated as the second easiest hole on the course. It is a 312 yard par four with a 60 yard wide fairway and a square green. The fairway has thick trees along the left and a few on the right that stop at about 85 yards from the front of the green. There is an orange slice shaped bunker that cuts into it at an angle from the right side at 150 yards off the tee. There is also one on the right at 235 yards off the tee. I popped up off the tee with my three wood. The ball landed in the bunker on the right.
I was left with 170 yards to a front middle pin. I caught a little too much sand on my bunker shot. The ball landed in the middle of the fairway leaving 72 yards to the pin. I hit my third shot to the right of the pin and two putted for my first bogey of the round.
As we walked off the third green, Roberto told me that the first three holes are just a warm-up. He said the real holes start with the fourth hole. He was right, the holes get longer, and the fairways get narrower. The par four fourth hole measures 367 yards. The fairway is only about 35 yards across. There is a creek off the left side of the tee box that cuts across the start of the fairway and runs along the right side to about 235 yards from the tee. The right side of the fairway is open. The left side slants away from trees that border the west side of the course. The only bunkers are the ones just off the left and right front corners of the green.
Roberto told gave me a tree to left of the green as my target. I aimed left of the tree between and right of the tree line on the left, expecting to fade the ball. The ball flew straight and landed in the left rough just off the edge of the fairway. I had 185 yards remaining to a right middle pin. My approach shot came out low and to the left. The ball got caught up in the left rough sixty yards from the pin.
I pitched my third shot to 20 feet right of the flag and made the putt for par.
The course got really challenging with the 441 yard par four fifth hole. It’s rated as the toughest hole at Shoreacres. It has a tree lined fairway with thicker trees on the left than the right. The fairway has a bunker cutting into the left side at 200 yards off the tee and is bifurcated by a creek cutting through rough at 135 yards from the green. My tee shot came off the toe of the driver, flew over some trees off the right front of the start of the fairway and landed in the rough.
I hit my second shot across the fairway to the left rough. From 200 yards out my third shot was filled with peril. I was hitting out of the rough, had to go over the creek and avoid the fairway bunker on the left and the one on the right in addition to the one along the right side of the green. My ball avoided it all and landed just short of the right front of the green and just left of the greenside bunker.
I chipped on and two putted for my first double bogey of the round.
The par three sixth hole is almost all green. The 80 yard long, 40 yard wide green takes up almost a third of the 214 yard hole. There is also 60 yards of tightly mowed fairway leading up to the green. The huge green is protected by two successive narrow bunkers along the right side, another narrow bunker that curves around from the left front to along the left side of the green. It is followed by a fourth narrow bunker that runs to the back left edge. As if those aren’t harrowing enough, there is a long narrow bunker across the back of the green just short of a grove of trees.
My tee shot landed on the left side of the green before rolling into the second bunker along the left side. I hit my bunker shot over the green and into the second bunker along the right side. Fortunately, my shot from that bunker rolled to just three feet past the pin. I made the putt to save bogey and avoid back to back doubles.
The real holes on the course continued with the third most difficult hole. The seventh hole is a 445 yard par four. There is a ravine between the tee box and the fairway that requires a 200 yard carry. The fairway has thick trees along the right and sparse trees along the left. There are two bunkers off the left side of the fairway at 230 yards off the tee. I pulled my tee shot into the adjacent 11th fairway.
I hit a nine iron over the trees that separated the seventh fairway from the eleventh fairway. I was left with 170 yards to the pin. My third shot landed just short of the green. I chipped on and two putted to save bogey.
The 174 yard par three 8th hole brings the only noncausal water on the course into the play. There is a 115 yard carry over a pond to a green protected by bunkers on both sides and off the back. I hit a five iron to pin high. Unfortunately, it was pin high in the bunker off the left side of the green.
I hit my sand shot over the green. I chipped back to 12 feet and made the putt to save bogey again.
The front nine ends in bunker hell. The hole shares the fairway with the 18th hole on the right. I counted at least twelve bunker that were shared between the right side of the ninth fairway and the left side of the eighteenth fairway. There are also three bunkers cutting into the left side of the ninth fairway. The hole measures 388 yards. All those bunkers are of no concern if you hit the ball down the middle of the fairway. I did. I hit my tee shot down the middle to the fairway. I missed the green to the right with my approach shot. I chipped on to 25 feet left of the hole. I hit my par putt a little too hard. The ball rolled to six feet past the hole. I made the comeback putt for a bogey to finish the par 35 front nine with a 42.
Unlike the front nine, the back nine provides no warm up holes to start. The par four tenth hole measures 442 yards and is rated as the second most difficult hole on the course. The fairway bends from left to right. There is a ravine to the right. The left side of the fairway is wide open. There are no fairway bunkers on the hole. The only bunkers are around the green. There is a small one off the left front and a long one along the right side.
I hit my tee shot to just off the right edge of the fairway. The problem with that is it left me with an awkward stance and 260 yards to the middle of the green. I laid up to the middle of the fairway with my second leaving 70 yards to the pin.
I pulled my pitch into the bunker off the front left of the fairway. I hit out of the bunker and two putted to open the back nine with my second double bogey of the round.
The short par four eleventh hole starts a string of scoring holes and a respite from the string of difficult holes. The hole measures just 346 yards but has a ravine off the right side of the fairway. The right edge of the fairway curves in and out of the ravine. The left side of the fairway is level and open. There are no fairway bunkers.
The ravine must be carried to reach the green. I started my drive a little farther to the right than I should have. My ball had a slight left to right tail on it. My drive carried the first of the portions on the right side of the fairway that curve over the ravine but landed short of the second portion that does the same. The ball landed on the right edge of the fairway, rolled slightly down the slope and settled deep into the rough. With an awkward stance and the ball nestled deep in the rough, I didn’t have a shot that I was confident wouldn’t end up in the ravine.
I took the conservative route and pitched the ball into the fairway leaving 120 yards to the flag. I hit my third shot to 20 feet past the flag. I left my par putt short of the cup and tapped in for a bogey.
The twelfth hole is the shortest hole on the course. It’s a 136 yard par three with trees tight on the left and the right of a narrow alley that leads to an oblong oval green at the bottom of a ravine. There is a massive 25 yard bunker protecting the front of the green and narrow bunkers along each of its sides. I had a gallery on this hole of birds in the trees over a creek that cut into the right side of the alley and led down to the green. They provided the background music as I hit my tee shot a little thin but directly at the flag. The ball flew the flag and rolled to 35 feet past the hole.
I hit my birdie putt a little too hard. The ball sped six feet past the hole. I made the comeback putt for my first par on the back nine.
The thirteenth hole is a short but intimidating hole. The par four hole measures a mere 326 yards but there is a lot packed into those yards. Most of the difficulty is packed in the first 115 yards of the hole. There is a ravine with trees along the left side that block the view of the fairway. The fairway is 60 yards wide but most of it is hidden behind the trees off the left side of the tee box. The drive calls for a ball flight that starts at the right side of the fairway to get past the trees and then then draws to take advantage of the generous room on the left side.
I hit my five hybrid off the tee directly at the right side of the fairway. The ball went straight rather than drawing. The wide fairway saved me. The ball landed on its right edge.
I was left with 156 yards to a back middle pin. The ravine that that was off to the left of the tee box cuts from in front of the fairway to down the left side. It cuts back between the end of the fairway and the front of the green at 50 yards short of the green. The green has an open front but also has bunkers that start along the left and right sides that almost touch off the back middle of the green.
I hit my approach shot to left side of the green and 45 feet below the cup. I left my birdie putt five feet short of the cup. I made the five-footer for my second par in a row.
The 197 par three fourteenth hole is wedged in between the ravine off to the left of the 13th hole and the par three sixth hole. The tee shot includes a carry over the ravine to a lay out similar but different from the sixth hole. It is similar in that it has a narrow but long green that is preceded by a generous shaved fairway leading up to it. It’s different in that the green is much small, it slants from right to left at a slight angle and it only takes two bunkers to protect everything but its front. The first of those bunkers starts along the beginning of the left side and hooks around the back to a portion of the right side forming a “J” like the initial for my first and last name. The second bunker covers the left side from the front to almost touch the tip of the hook on the first bunker.
The pin was positioned on the back of the green, so the hole was playing more like 203 yards. I popped the ball up off the tee with my three hybrid. It landed in the shaved area about 25 yards from the front of the green and 66 yards from the pin. I was mindful of the high ridge on a right side of the green that looked like it channeled balls into the bunker. I intentionally pitched the ball to well below the hole. I was left with a 20-foot putt for par. I didn’t hit the putt hard enough to get it all the way to the hole. I left it five feet short but did save bogey.
The first three holes at Shoreacres allows you to ease into the course. I think the next eleven are the meat of the course. The final four holes provide a nice and easy finish with only one of the holes having a handicap in the half of the most difficult holes on the course. This nice glide path to a smooth finish starts with a short par five.
The fifteenth hole at 463 yards is just slightly longer than the longest par four on the course, but it has a fairway that takes a circuitous route along a ravine off its left side to get to the green. There is a 180 carry to reach the start of the fairway. The ravine that is along the left side of the fairway turns right and bifurcates it at 300 yards out. There is a fifty yard carry between the two sections of the bifurcated fairway.
I hit a short drive to the right of the fairway. I was trying to stay as far away from that ravine on the left as I could. I laid up to 200 yards out with my second shot to stay short of where the ravine cuts across the fairway. There were only 25 yards between my ball and the ravine. The fairway resumes on the other side of the ravine. It has trees on the right and a series of long bunkers in its left side almost all the way to the green. The green has a small bunker off its left front and one off its right front.
I hit my approach shot a little fat, the ball still easily carried the 50 yards across the ravine. It landed just right of the third of the long bunkers on the left leaving 73 yards to the pin. I had to stand in the bunker for my fourth shot, putting the ball well above my feet. My ball landed on the front of the green leaving a 40 foot uphill par putt to the cup. I left the putt foot short but made the next putt to save bogey on a hole where I should have made an easy par.
The 409 yard par four sixteenth hole is the only difficult hole in that final stretch. It is rated as the fourth toughest hole on the course. The hole is straightforward, it’s just long. Honestly it wasn’t really that clear to me as to why it has such a low handicap. There is a short 170 yard carry to an undulated fairway with sparse trees on both sides and no bunkers. There is also a ravine off to the left.
My play on the hole also made me question the low handicap rating. I made a fairly routine par. I hit my drive to middle of the fairway. The sixteenth green is slightly smaller than most of the greens on the course and has bunkers along both sides and off the back. I hit my approach shot to the front part of the green leaving a 40 foot putt to the pin. My birdie putt stopped four feet below the cup. I made the putt for par and headed to the 17th tee box.
The 322 yard seventeenth hole is a nice and easy par four. Well it’s easy once you carry the 170 yards over the ravine between the tee box and the start of the fairway. The fairway is one of the narrowest on the course but doesn’t have any bunkers. The only trees that come into play are a few that are off to the right at the beginning of the fairway. I hit a three wood off the tee to the right half of the fairway.
My tee shot left me with 140 yards to the pin on a green with a small bunker off the left side front and a long one along the right side that curved around to one off the back. The pond that came into the play on the par three eighth hole is off to the left of the green.
With the wind blowing into me, my approach shot was playing 150 yards. I hit my 8 iron right at the flag. The ball landed 18 feet below the cup. Roberto gave me another great read for my birdie putt. The putt looked good all the way but stopped just inches short of the cup. I tapped in for my par.
The 548 yard par five 18th hole looked menacing from the tee box with its length and all those bunkers looming in the fairway that it connected to the ninth fairway on the left. There are trees lining the right side that separate it from the first fairway. My biggest concern was the cluster of bunkers on the left that start at about 200 yards off the tee and continue for a little over 100 yards. There is a lone bunker on the right that also starts at about 200 yards off the tee.
With all those menacing bunkers on the left, I aimed down the right half of the fairway. My ball landed in the fairway and trickled into the rough just past the bunker on the right leaving 330 yards to the pin. The rough was still wet. There are several bunkers along the left that could still be in play if the rough grabbed the club face and closed it down. The biggest worry was a deep bunker at about 100 yards out. I know that’s close and it shouldn’t be a problem but remember that I’m hitting out of thick wet rough.
Well the rough didn’t close the clubface down so my ball didn’t go left. It landed in the middle of the fairway. The only problem was that my 160 yard club only went 130 yards and I was left with 200 yards for my approach shot to the green. The pear shaped eighteenth green has a bunker on its right front that wraps around the right side, one off the left side and one off the back. I hit my approach shot fat. The ball landed 60 yards short of the pin.
My pitch shot landed six feet short of the hole but didn’t have enough spin on it. The ball released and rolled 15 feet past the hole. The good news was that Roberto and I were pretty sure of the line for my par putt after seeing the ball roll past the hole. The bad news was I fell in love with the line and left the ball one or two revolutions short of the cup. I tapped in for a bogey to closeout my round with a 42 on the back and a total score of 84. While I should have done better, I was very pleased with my round on this wet and challenging course.
After my round, I went to the Pro Shop to meet Peter, he hadn’t gotten to the course yet when I arrived earlier that morning. Peter offered to give me a tour of the clubhouse. The clubhouse is a beautiful facility that backs up to the shore of Lake Michigan. The beautiful setting on the outside is exceeded only by the interior design. There is a nice lawn off the back where I assume weddings are held. Peter and I also talked about Head Pros that he knew at other Top 100 courses. There is a nice sense of kinship among these head pros. There is also a nice kinship among the head pros at the Seth Raynor designed courses in the Top 100. Peter asked me to say hello to Tom Cecil at Camargo where I was scheduled to play later during the week.
Following the tour of the facility I returned to the locker room to change shoes, so I could head across the city for my afternoon round at Olympia Fields.