The completely overcast skies gave way to a few patches of blue as I completed my round at Shoreacres and drove from North of Chicago to Olympia Fields, just south of the city. I met Peter at Milwaukee Country Club as I played the thirtieth course on my one-year quest to play the Top 100 courses in America. Peter with his infectious smile approached my foursome as we stood on the ninth tee. It was our final hole of the day. Members with multiple guests at Milwaukee Country Club are required to tee off on the 10th hole during peak hours. Peter approached me and asked if I was the guy playing the top 100 courses in the country. One of the assistants in the Pro Shop had mentioned to him that I was on the course. I nodded yes. He asked if I had a host for playing Olympia Fields. I told him that I didn’t. He handed me his card and said, “You do now, I’m Peter, call me and I will host you.” This is a case where chatting with the staff in the pro shop led to access to another course.
Peter and I exchanged emails and phone calls over the next couple of days. He gave me the option of playing with him in the Spring or being sponsored as an unaccompanied guest within the next month or so. I told him that I’d wait for the Spring so that I could experience the course with him. My quest is about more than playing golf. It’s about meeting new people, hearing their stories, and sharing their courses and clubs with them. It’s about experiencing America and the people that populate it as often as I can. That includes the people I meet at the clubs and the people I meet along the way.
As the snow melted and the temperatures rose, Peter and I reconnected. We agreed to meet at Olympia Fields on May 22nd. I built the rest of my schedule in Chicago around that date.
I took the exit off interstate 294 and drove past signs that pointed to the Ravisloe, Idlewild, and Flossmoor Country Clubs. I turned onto a street that took me by the modest wood framed houses that lead to the entrance to Olympia Fields Country Club. The street became a parking lot as I drove past what must be the mother of all clubhouses. The Olympia Fields clubhouse is a Tudor style structure that stretches over 650 feet from end to end. It is anchored by an 80-foot-high clock tower with faces on all four sides.
The staff in the parking lot was waiting for me. They took my clubs from the trunk. I parked my car and met Peter back at the clubhouse where he introduced me to the Pro Staff. Brian Morrison, the director of Golf knew Mark Mongell, the Director of Golf at my club, Cherokee Town and Country in Atlanta. Brian raved about the facilities at Cherokee, especially the underground golf club storage area with its own elevator.
I had already played 18 holes of golf on this mild Midwestern Tuesday. I didn’t need much of a warm up. Peter and I headed to the first tee of the North Course at Olympia Fields. My journeyman caddie, Mark who couldn’t be much over 5’5” joined us along the way. Mark has caddied at Olympia Fields for just four years but has been around the game of golf for most of his life. He was excited about carrying the bag of the man playing the 86th course of his one year quest to play the top 100 courses in the country. He wanted to know my favorite. I told him I had several, but really like playing Augusta National, Cypress Point, Fishers Island, Merion, and Whistling Straits.
Peter and I choose to play from the member tees. The course measures 6498 yards from these tees with a rating of 73.0 for this par 70 course and a slope of 141.
The North Course opens with a 525-yard par five hole. The tee box is offset to the left of the narrow fairway. The fairway can’t be more than 25 yards across. Thick trees line the left side and sparse trees line the right side. There are fairway bunkers on the left at 205 yards off the tee and 125 yards from the green. The right side of the fairway has bunkers at 235 and 250 yards off the tee in addition to one at 110 yards from the green.
I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway leaving just over 270 yards to the flag. It felt great to hit that first tee shot into the short grass.
I laid up with a six iron on my second shot to stay short of the bunkers and avoid the narrow strip of fairway at 110 yards from the middle of the green.
I hit my third shot to the front of the green leaving a long birdie putt to a back-middle pin position.
My birdie putt stopped five feet below the cup. I made the inside right putt to open my afternoon round with a par. I felt relieved to be off to a good start.
The 426 yard second hole has a slightly wider fairway that bends slightly from left to right around a string of three bunkers off the right side. The bunkers start at 210 yards off the tee and continue to 290 yards off the tee. There are trees set back off each side of the fairway. The ones on the right are sparse and the ones on the left are plentiful but not as plentiful as the ones off the right side of first hole. I hit my second drive of the round at the trees on the left. The ball faded back to the middle of the fairway leaving 193 yards to a front left pin. My drives weren’t long, but they were landing in the fairway which meant my muscles were still relaxed.
There is a bunker on the left just short of the oval shaped green and two bunkers along each side of the green. The front of the green is wide open. I took aim at the right side of the bunker short of the green and tried to hit a fade. I double crossed. The ball moved slightly left instead of bending to the right. It dropped into the bunker short of the green.
I hit my sand shot right at the flag. The ball landed below the flag but didn’t check up. It rolled to fifteen feet past.
I missed my par putt and settled for a bogey.
The third hole is rated as the most difficult hole on the course. While this 439 yard par four is the same length as the second hole, the lay out of the hole makes it more challenging. There is a blind tee shot. The trees on the right are tighter, the fairway is more undulated and is interrupted by rough at 210 yards off the tee and a creek at 70 yards from the front of the green. Peter said this hole played as the toughest during the 2003 U.S. Open. Only a third of the field hit the green in regulation.
I popped my drive up. The ball went just 150 yards but landed in the left side of the fairway leaving 290 yards to the flag.
I hit my seven iron to 122 yards out to lay up short of the creek.
I looked up during my swing and topped the ball on my third shot. The ball rolled into rough that was almost up to Mark’s knees and just short of the creek.
We found my ball. I made a good swing but the rough closed down the club face. My ball landed in a bunker just short of the right side of the green. I hit from the sand to about 15 feet below the hole. Peter had hit his approach shot onto the green to about 20 feet past the flag. He waited patiently while it took me until my fifth shot to reach the green.
Peter’s putt helped Mark and me read the line for my putt. I made the fifteen-footer to save double bogey. This is without a doubt a difficult hole.
The fourth hole offered some relief from the tough third hole. The par four hole measures just 362 yards but has a fairway that is only 30 yards wide. The fairway has trees that are tight along the left side and just one bunker at 235 yards off the tee. It bends ever so slightly as it approaches the green. I hit a nice easy drive to the middle of the fairway.
I was left with a partially blind approach shot. Mark told me I had 155 yards to a front middle pin on a 25 yard deep green that slopes right to left. He said there was a bunker short of the green by a few yards on the left and bunkers that start off the front left and front right but run alongside the green. He pointed to a tree behind the green and said, “that’s your line.” I made great contact with the ball but didn’t hit it on that line. The ball landed in the right bunker just past pin high.
Peter again put his approach shot on the green and waited patiently as I hit my sand shot to five feet past the hole.
Peter’s 15-foot birdie putt helped with the line again, but I failed to execute. My par putt braised the hole and stayed out. I walked off with a bogey.
My first slice of the round came on my drive on the 360-yard par four fifth hole. The fifth hole runs parallel to the fourth hole, but in the opposite direction. A line of trees on the right side separates the two holes. The layout of the holes is similar. Like the second hole there is but one fairway bunker and it is on the left at 225 yards off the tee. There are three bunkers protecting the green, one 30 yards short of the front of the perfectly round green and one each off the front left and right. My slice drive ended up to the right of the trees that separate the fourth and fifth fairway.
My second shot got caught in the trees. My third shot landed on the green but rolled off the left side and into the rough.
I chipped onto the green with my fourth shot. The ball rolled 8 feet past the flag.
I made the putt to record another bogey.
Prior to heading to the sixth hole, we walked to the tee box for the seventh hole and hit our drives for that hole. Peter and I both hit our drives right down the middle of the fairway. We then walked over to the 167-yard par three sixth hole. Brandt and Mark were already on the tee. They asked Peter and me to join them. They introduced A.J., their caddie. A.J. was caddying while finishing medical school. He was weeks away from becoming a doctor. He is the first Dr. Caddie that I’ve met on my Top 100 Golf Course Tour.
The sixth hole plays across a creek that is about halfway between the tee and the green. The tee shot is all carry over rough and the green to a shaved apron that starts about 45 yards from the front of the oblong green. The green is guarded by a large bunker off the front left and two bunkers off its right side.
I hit my tee shot my tee shot to the middle of the green. The ball stopped pin high, 25 feet to the right.
My birdie putt rolled along the edge of the hole to six feet past. I missed the comeback putt for par and settled for a very disappointing bogey.
We walked onto the sixth green as a twosome but walked off a foursome. We joined Brandt and Mark to play the seventh hole. Peter and I walked across the rough to our balls in the seventh fairway. His was much closer to the hole than mine.
I had 194 yards remaining to a back left pin on this 425 yard par four hole. There were four fairway bunkers between my ball and the hole. All four were closer to my ball then the green. There was one just to my immediate left and one 40 yards farther up on the left. There were two others off to my right. The green was guarded by a bunker just short of the front left and another one off the right side.
I hit my approach shot right at the middle of the green. The ball landed on the green and rolled just off the back.
My putt from off the green hopped as it left the putter face. The ball stopped 10 feet from the hole. My heart sank as my par putt rimmed out and came to rest just inches off the edge of the cup. It was my second three putt in a round and a very disappointing bogey.
The eighth hole is the second of the par threes on the front nine. It is a fairly straightforward hole. There is no water, just sparse trees along both sides framing the circular green. The hole measures 189 yards from the middle tees. Like the par three sixth hole, there is an apron leading up to the green. A small bunker is cut into the apron about 20 yards off the front of the green. There are two bunkers, one after the other between the left edge of the apron and the left front of the green. There is a single bunker between the right edge and the right front of the green.
With a slightly wind behind me, I hit my five hybrid to just short of the bunker on the front right of the green.
I pitched over the bunker to just short of the right side of the green leaving 25 feet to the cup.
My putt held its line all the way to the hole and dropped into the cup. I felt as if I’d stolen a par but felt no guilt after three-putting the previous two holes.
The back nine finishes with the longest par four on the course. The ninth hole measures 438 yards from the member tees. The long narrow fairway flows between the trees on the left and the right. It dips and weaves through two bunkers on the left and one on the right starting at 250 yards off the tee. I hit my second slice of the round off the tee.
None of my three options were good. I could pitch out to left and back to the fairway but that would leave me over 250 yards from the middle of the green. I could hit to the adjacent fairway and get to green high, but there would still be trees between my ball and the green. The third option was a narrow opening through the trees ahead of me and to my left. I’d have to keep the ball low to avoid the branches. That’s the option I took. I hit the ball on line but hit it too low. The ball got through the trees but didn’t make it to the fairway. It got caught in the rough.
There was one tree still blocking the path to the green. I tried to hit a fade to curve the ball around the tree and to the green. I got too much grass between the clubface and the ball. The ball stayed out to the left and landed in the rough sixty yards from the back-middle pin.
There were also two bunkers off the left side of the green that I’d need to clear to reach the flag. I was so concerned about the bunkers that I hit my ball well to the right of the flag leaving a long putt to save bogey.
Mark gave me a good read. I hit the putt just hard enough for it to make it to the front of the cup and drop in to save bogey. I finished the par 35 front nine with a 43.
The back nine on the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club opens with a 410 yard par four. There is water off to the right as the narrow tree lined fairway begins. The fairway winds through two bunkers on the right and one on the left as it flows to another green with bunkers off its front that just barely continue along its sides. I hit my drive to the left rough. I could feel the fatigue in my muscles and the tension in my shoulders.
My ball was sitting up in the rough at 200 yards from a middle right pin. My view to the green was dominated by all the bunkers and trees between it and my ball. I hit my approach shot fat. The ball stayed left and landed in the rough, 75 yards from the flag.
I hit my third shot to just five feet right of the flag, creating a chance to save par to open the back nine.
My par putt slide along the left edge of the cup. I tapped in for a bogey.
We parted ways with Brandt and Mark after the tenth hole. I don’t know if it was my errant shots or whether they thought better of playing a match against each other while in a foursome. In either case Peter and I became a twosome again as we walked to the 10th tee.
The eleventh hole, measuring just 358 yards, is the shortest par four on the course. The fairway which doglegs from left to right is one of the widest on the course. This doesn’t mean much however, since it’s just slightly over 30 yards across. There are three bunkers each on the outside and the inside of the dogleg.
I topped my drive and pushed it into the right rough. My and shoulder muscles were certainly fatigued now. This was my twenty-ninth hole of the day, all walking. My body was starting to feel it. This was the last day that I was scheduled to play 36 holes. The remaining fourteen courses would be played on separate days.
Again, my club got caught in the rough behind the ball. I pulled the ball into the third of the three bunkers on the inside of the dogleg.
I hit my third shot out of the bunker to about five yards short of the green and chipped to within two feet of the cup. I made the putt to save bogey.
The twelfth hole at 378 yards is slightly longer than the previous hole but much more difficult. That nagging creek that meanders through the course comes into play again on this hole. It flows along the left side of the tee box and continues for 80 yards before bending to left to cut through the trees between this hole and 14th hole. It returns and bisects the fairway at 70 yards from the front of the green. Like most of the other fairways on the course the twelfth fairway is lined with trees on both sides. I hit a high popup to the left off the tee leaving 200 yards to the green.
With the creek bisecting the fairway at 75 yards short of the green, I chose to lay up. I was left with 140 yards over the creek to a green with two bunkers off the left and one that wrapped around the right front to the right side.
I pulled the third shot to the left. The ball cleared the second bunker on the left side of the green but rolled down the back slope of the bunker into the sand.
My first attempt to get out of the bunker was more an expression of frustration at missing the green than it was a golf swing. I hit my second sand shot to three feet and made the putt for a double bogey.
The afternoon got more beautiful and my swing got more labored as we approach the tee box of the picturesque par three thirteenth hole. The 150 yard hole plays over a ravine through trees on both sides that frame it perfectly. The tree behind the green seemed to stretch toward the sky which now had several patches of blue breaking up the clouds. Three bunkers along the front protect the slightly obtuse oval green.
The pin was positioned near the back of the green well behind the left most bunker off the front. My tee shot landed short of that bunker leaving an awkward angle for my second shot.
I hit a flop shot over the bunker that carried too far to the right and rolled down the slope away from the hole. I was left with a much longer putt than I wanted.
I made a good putt, but it slid along the edge of the cup. I tapped in for a bogey.
There is nothing easy and every hard about the fourteenth hole. It is the signature hole and considered one of the top golf holes in America. It is rated as the second toughest hole on the course and probably would be rated as the toughest if was on the front nine. For starters the par four hole is 438 yards. Trees on the left and right form a narrow alley off the tee box to a 35 yard wide fairway. The fairway starts at 150 yards off the tee and just beyond where that nagging creek crosses it before bending to run along its right side. The creek turns left again and crosses back at 115 yards from the middle of the green.
This is not a hole that you want to face after already walking 31 holes, but Willie Park, Jr the course architect didn’t asked me which hole this should be. I am grateful to him for not complicating the hole more by throwing in fairway bunkers. Fatigued and with sore muscles, I hit my drive just down the middle of the fairway leaving 230 yards to the hole.
Mark and I stood in the fairway discussing the options for the next shot. I wanted to go for the green. He said it was farther way than I’d hit my drive. That was enough to convince to lay up short of the creek which was 110 yards away.
I committed one of the cardinal sins in golf. I hit my lay up too far. The ball landed in the rough beyond the fairway. I was left with a 130 yard shot out of the rough to a back left pin.
I hit my third shot to the rough to the right of the green, chipped across the green with my fourth shot, onto the green with my fifth shot and one-putted for another double bogey.
As we approached the last four holes of my 36 hole day of golf, I needed to find the strength and the golf swing to score well enough be beat my morning round of 84 at Shoreacres. Through fourteen holes I’d taken 69 strokes. I needed to finish the last four holes in 14 strokes or less. The final four holes on the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club are a par five, a par three and two par fours – 16 strokes. I needed two birdies and two pars.
The par five fifteenth hole and the par three sixteen hole were probably my best bets for birdies. The fifteenth hole measures 544 yards along what is probably the narrowest fairway on the course at just 25 yards across. The thick trees on the left are slightly tighter than the even thicker trees on the right. The fairway has two bunkers off the left that start at 250 yards off the tee and one off the right at 170 yards from the green. It doglegs from left to right at about 310 yards from the tee.
I didn’t get off to a good start. I hit my drive to the right rough. That was not a good place to be with a dogleg right fairway.
Fortunately, my ball was sitting up in the rough. The dogleg right could work to my advantage. I could hit my driver and let the ball cut naturally across the trees and into the fairway. That was a great plan, but it didn’t quite work out that way. My ball stayed straight and landed in the right rough leaving about 160 yards to the pin.
I did have a good angle to that middle pin on an egg-shaped green with three bunkers along the right side and left front. I had just enough open room on the front of the green to take dead aim at the flag without having to carry a bunker. That fade I wanted on my second shot arrived a little late. It showed up just in time for my third shot. I missed the green short and to the right. My ball landed in the rough to the right of the first bunker off the right side of the green.
I pitched over the bunker to the right of the flag expecting the ball to come down. It didn’t. I was left with a 20-footer for par. I left my par putt short but made the next putt to save bogey and end my hopes of beating or even tying my Shoreacres score. I walked off the green not only physically drained but also emotionally drained. It is tough to mentally focus when the body is physically tired.
I felt confident that I would still break 90, but probably wasn’t going to shattered it as much I wanted. I still needed a goal to keep me focused on the last three holes.
We walked from the fifteenth green to the sixteenth tee. I looked out at hole and swear I hear it say, “hey bro, there ain’t no pars to be had here.” Looking down from the elevated tee box at the green with that nagging creek crossing about 15 yards in front of it and bunkers off the left and I front, I said, “you don’t scare me!” I mustered up all the concentration that I could and made the best swing I could. The ball landed slightly below the flag and 30 feet to the right. Take that!
The golf gods were not happy that I stuck my chest out so far following my first green in regulation on the back nine. My birdie put stopped well short of the hole. I made the second putt for my first par on the back nine.
The iconic and gigantic Olympia Fields Country Club clubhouse was off to our left as we walked to the seventeenth tee box. The seventeenth hole takes you away from the clubhouse. The par four hole measures 373 yards from the member tees. While that creek that just won’t go away runs along the right side of the fairway for the first hundred yards, this is one of the most wide-open holes on the course. The fairway is only 35 yards across but the trees that line it are in clusters and pushed almost 15 yards off both sides.
There is a bunker off the left side of the fairway at 250 yards out. I topped my drive. It went straight but landed short of the fairway.
I laid up out of the rough to 100 yards. I wanted to try and stiff a sand wedge to the pin.
I hit my third shot right at the pin but caught the ball fat. It landed short of the green.
I putted from off the green to 5 feet below the hole. I saved bogey and moved on to the thirty sixth hole of the day.
The closing hole on the North Course at Olympia Fields is a 419 yard par four that doubles back along side the seventeenth hole. It takes us back to the clubhouse. The fairway slopes slightly from right to left and bends right to left as it flows past sparse trees on each side and bunkers on each side at 190 yards out. A pond is off the right side from about 120 yards out up to the right side of a bunker off the front right of the green. There is another bunker behind that one and two more, one behind the other, on the left side.
As a farewell to Olympia Fields I hit my drive straight down the middle of the fairway. We walked to my ball. Peter smiled and said, “that’s what keeps us coming back!”
I was left with 200 yards to the final pin of the day. The pin was on the back left of the green on a line just inside those two left bunkers. I hit my three hybrid right at the flag. The ball faded and dropped into the front right bunker.
I hit out of the bunker onto the green and one putted to end my round with a par and a 44 on the back nine for a total score of 87.
I bid farewell to Mark and thanked him for carrying my bag. Peter and I returned to the clubhouse where he gave me a nice tour of the trophy room and the spacious meeting rooms, ballrooms and men’s locker room. He told me that I was welcome back anytime and should feel free to bring friends. He said he’d be delighted to host us.
Isn’t this a great game where a stranger comes up to you at a club that you both are visiting and invites you to play at his club. One of the neat things about my journey across the top 100 courses in America is that members and staff alike at almost top 100 course let me know that I was welcomed back anytime. The game binds us in so many ways. We are all linked, and it makes golf a special sport like none other.