Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Western DuPage County is an interesting place. From above, you can see the huge 6,800 acre piece of land in Batavia that is used by Fermilab. Fermilab is essentially home to the world's second largest energy particle accelerator, as well as a small herd of Bison. Not too far too the north of Fermilab lies the 2,800 acre DuPage airport which serves as a reliever airport for both O'Hare and Midway airports. Part of that 2,800 acres owned by the DuPage Airport Administration is a world-class Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed golf course appropriately named Prairie Landing Golf Club.

One thing that you will be keenly aware of by the time you finish your round at Prairie Landing is transportation...perhaps even before you begin play, the planes, trains, and bicycles will make themselves known. Prairie Landing is directly in the flight path of the aforementioned DuPage Airport, which lands some surprisingly large aircraft. Additionally, the southern edge of the course is flanked by an oft-used railroad carrying frequent Metra trains as well as long freight trains, which do occasionally prevent on time arrival to the course. In fact, for those coming to this course from points east on I-88, I suggest driving all the way to Farnsworth Rd., heading North to Rt. 38, then coming back to the east to reach Prairie Landing to avoid the potential train/tee time stymie. Finally, as you play the front nine, you will cross the Illinois Prairie Path before and after you play holes number 5 and 6, and will likely see more than a handful of cyclists pedal by.

As you arrive at the course and make your way up Longest Drive, take note of the long prairie grasses that surround virtually every mowed surface of the course, this grass will likely be playing at least a minimal role, and potentially a great part in your game today. The clubhouse is not huge, but nice, and offers all the amenities you might expect from an upscale public course. Be aware that they have a better than average locker room downstairs from the pub, so a post round scrubbing is available before a long drive home.

Prairie Landing prides themselves on their vast practice facilities. I was once impressed by the setup, but have grown increasingly apathetic to the offering. The driving range offers many flagged targets which is good, but the hitting area is surprisingly small, and seems to be getting more and more beat up every year. It is apparent that it gets a lot of play...more than the allotment of grass can accommodate. The stretching rack is a nice touch, but I have yet to see anyone actually using it.

Once done with the range, you can move over to the two full-sized practice holes. Yes, there are actually twenty holes on this course, and what better way to get those bad first swings out of the way than on two actual holes that don't count? Sounds great, but again, I have become less enamored with this concept each time I go there. It seems to me that a lot of land is used for these two practice holes that could be used for a larger and better conditioned driving range. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea, but perhaps it is overkill. Hidden way at the back of these two practice holes is a nice and extensive pitching/chipping area...but who knows it is back there? I think in all the many times I have played this course, I have seen someone using that area only once, since they changed it from a third practice hole, that is. Finally, next to the first practice tee lies the larger of two putting greens. This green is nice, but a tad far from the first tee for walkers...though there are many ways this course is a bit tougher on those of us out for a little exercise as well. The smaller putting green is right next to the first tee, and is serviceable in preparing you for the fast sloping greens soon to be encountered.

Prairie Landing offers five tee options providing extremely fair playing conditions for all levels of golfer, though anyone not in control of their rights and lefts will suffer from even the most forward tees. This review will be based on the Gold tees which are the last tees before the Black "tips" and play to a rating of 71.3 and a slope of 130 at a 6,580 yard Par 72. One of my favorite features of this Par 72 course is that is has 5 Par 3s and 5 Par 5s.

They don't start you off with a piece of cake at Prairie Landing, though it will feel like one if you manage to hit the perfect long tee shot over the lake in front of you. If you aren't feeling up to the 210+ yard carry over the water on your first official swing of the day, you can hit almost any club in your bag other than Driver up the left fairway on this 330 yard Par 4, then take a short iron into the green over the second water hazard short and left of the green. If the big stick is your friend, well go ahead and aim for the right side of the green from the tee...a well-struck shot just might get home in one, or will at least leave you a very short second shot. Whatever you do, get on the green in as few strokes as possible, especially if they give you the nasty front right pin placement. This green is very fast and slopes very hard from right to left, sometimes leaving you with damn near impossible putts, and often taking three to get into the hole.

Stay relaxed on number two, and save the greed for later. This relatively short 350 yard Par 4 dares you to hit it anywhere but straight ahead. Do yourself a favor and leave the driver in the bag for this one. Unless you can bomb it 350 yards uphill into a prevailing wind, just pull a 3-wood, hybrid, or even a long iron, and get onto the fairway. This is another sloping green, but nothing like the first, so get near the hole and a birdie or par is not too tough.

Proceed with caution on number three. The first of five Par 3s doesn't look like much. A 178 yard shot to a green fronted by a bunker and framed behind by hills makes this shot look shorter than it really is. Hit an extra club than you want to, and do whatever you can to get onto this green on the first shot because most of the pin placements on this green are evil. Almost every putt, no matter how short can break a full cup in either direction. I am sure birdie can be had here, but I've never seen one that I recall.

The fourth hole brings with it something new...hit your drive anywhere, and you will probably be OK. I am serious, the fairway of this very reachable 513 yard Par 5 must be at least 100 yards wide where most golfers land their driver, and big hitters can get over the crest and down the hill, sometimes leaving a short iron to the green. For those players, eagle is in play, but birdies are common, and par should be your goal. This is also one of the more puttable greens on the course.

Cross the Prairie Path, avoiding the hardcore bikers, and the 390 yard Par 4 5th will open up before you. If they named their holes at Prairie Landing, I think this one would be called "Options", because you have several. A stream bisects this fairway running parallel to the direction of your drive. A fairly straight drive up the right fairway should avoid the stream, but presents a very difficult approach shot over the "pond" portion of the stream to what from that angle will be a wide, but shallow green that will run short and right shots well off the green, and potentially back into the water. I believe the more advisable play off the tee is to cross the stream, and don't be afraid to go farther left than it appears you can. The fairway opens up just beyond the large hill to the left, and any well-struck shot landing in the visible fairway left of the stream runs the risk of bounding into the stream anyway. A shot to the left side of the left fairway also offers the best angle to approach this green. Once on the green, a 2-putt should be achievable.

Before heading back across the path, there is the matter of the Par 3 6th. With three tee box possibilities, this hole can play anywhere between 174 and 125 yards long. I almost always hope for the "East" tees for an easier approach usually impacted by a crosswind, while the "western" tees will often be either dead into or dead with the wind making the tee shot very difficult. This is another tricky green, so don't get too greedy for birdie, and be happy with a 2-putt.

The Par 5 7th is, in my opinion, one of the most intimidating looking holes on the course, especially when the wind is blowing in your face. At 555 yards, it is unreachable in two for most, but you will still want to hit driver, as the first shot offers the widest fairway on this hole. The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green, so if you are going to miss, try to stay right to avoid the deep prairie grass and stream running all the way down the left side to the green. This green is enormous, so make sure you choose your approach club wisely or another 3-jack may be in your future.

Leave driver in the bag again on the 360 yard Par 4 8th, it is the dumbest decision you would make all day. Just hit something 200-220 yards straight at the bunkers through the fairway, and you will have a fairly easy approach shot to a green that breaks left to right. The pin position makes this hole, so just hope for any pin situated center or left on the green. The back right pin placement is very challenging with any shot short and/or right being gobbled up by deep rough at best, water at worst.

The front nine ends as tough as it begins with the longest Par 4 on the front at 408 yards. Play your drive a little further left than it appears you should and the mounds on the left should kick you ball down to the fairway with a little bonus distance. If you miss left often, just aim up the center of the fairway for the same effect. Missing too far left leaves you a blind shot from the 1st hole. The 9th fairway tightens up substantially as you approach the hole, and the green is very long sloping hard from back to front, and having at least two tiers. Get that approach close to the hole and take your par.

Grab a dog at the snack shop, and take the long hike past the driving range to the 10th tee. If you are walking, cut off some distance by cutting through the parking lot rather than following the cart path...thank me later. Number ten is a straightaway 530 yard Par 5 that seems like it plays tougher than it looks. The fairway is wide almost all the way to the hole, but missing the fairway either left or right is quite penal, often costing at least one stroke just to get back to a clear shot. If you aren't trying to get home in two, which you probably won't be, the layup is fairly easy, but don't lose focus. The large green features two very distinct tiers, and a miss long is dead gone lost ball. Even a found ball presents a very difficult uphill pitch to a downhill green. Get on the correct tier in regulation, and par should be yours...maybe even a birdie.

Number eleven is another wolf in sheep's clothing. At only 335 yards it demands nothing more than hybrid or 3-wood off the tee at the very most. The swamp that runs across the middle of the hole is closer than you might think, and a driver can get into a lot of trouble. Short and right can be just as bad or worse however, as the trees will block your approach to the green, and might be bad enough to force a chip-out layup just in front of the swamp. The green should be easy enough to hit, bit it is another long one with some sneaky slopes, so be satisfied with par here despite the short length.

Turn the corner and face the signature hole of this course in my opinion. The 208 yard Par 3
12th is a good 180 yard carry all over water, and looks longer than that. Leave it short and wet, and you will next be hitting from perhaps the most difficult drop area I have ever played...a mangled patch of deep rough pocked by divots about 85 yards from the green and slightly blocked by hanging tree branches on the left...ouch. Even carrying the water isn't the only challenge from the tee. Should you clear the water, but miss too far left or right, you may be dropping a new ball with deep woods surrounding the outskirts of the hole. Resist the intimidation, make a smooth swing with one bigger club, and take your two putt par.

The 549 yard Par 5 13th is next, and is my nemesis. This is a narrow par 5 with mounds on the right and big trees up the left. Played with a straight well-struck drive, the layup is relatively easy, leaving a short approach shot over another stream to a simply gigantic green with a back to front and right to left slope in the whole thing. Just keep your ball in play and take a par, or play like me, and bring a few extra rocks to hit the rest of the way.

Climb the hill behind the 13th and another Par three awaits you, hopefully playing the same ball you finished number 12 with. At 171 yards, this is one of the more manageable holes on the course, and the first time you might be hitting directly at a passing train. Avoid the multitude of bunkers on this hole, but definitely don't miss left as the deepest of prairie grass awaits your ball. The green, of course is sloped, but not so severely that a 2-putt is overly difficult. Number 14 is the beginning of a three hole stretch where I think you can make up some ground.

The Par 4 15th hole is another short one at 363 yards. Don't be afraid to hit driver here as you could get over the crest and be very close to the green on your first. Don't be afraid to hit a long iron or hybrid either as this approach shot is perhaps the easiest on the course, and the green is perhaps the most straightforward. This is your best chance for birdie all day.

Did you like that hole? Here it is again, but much longer. At 414 yards, the 16th is the longest Par 4 on the course, and is the number 4 handicap hole. I'm telling you now, it's not that hard. Make a smooth swing off the tee to a very wide fairway, knowing that you will have to hit a longer club than normal on your approach shot. On the approach, don't worry, this green is enormous, and hitting it with a reasonably good shot shouldn't be too hard. Your miss here should favor the right side to avoid the prairie grasses. Though the green does slope somewhat severely from right to left, a 2-putt is in order.

Another walking hint here. Instead of walking the long cart path around the back of the 16th green, just head up over the hill on the back right of the green and you will pop out right at the 17th tee. The final Par 3 of the day, and definitely the most challenging, this 207 yard tee shot will challenge your you still have a solid strike with a long iron or hybrid left in you? Getting onto the green is only the beginning as this is probably the most ridiculous green on the course. A deep trough runs through the middle of the green from the very front to almost the very back funnelling shots from all sides and back of the green down into it. If the pin is down there too, great, but if not, a 2-putt is outstanding as is a par.

Finally, the eighteenth hole is another with lots of options. At 545, the safe play is down the right side of the fairway, right of the bunkers, a layup to the right side corner of the fairway, then a wedge home all avoiding the lake on the left, but when is safe any fun? Play at the bunkers or left of them with a well-struck drive and this hole will beg you to make one last attempt at glory or ruin with a shot that is all of 200-250 yards of carry all over water to what is almost always a front-tucked pin. Neither option appeal to you? There is always option number three of yanking a big pull hook into the ninth fairway, then playing a shorter shot over the lake from that side. Depending on wind direction, that could be the best route! The big green slopes from back to front, and the bunker on the right is not too bad a place to be in two, or even three.

Head into the quaint, but nice little pub for a drink, or even a bite to eat, and you will not be the beverage, I will not comment on your score. Don't forget that locker room downstairs complete with showers. If you have been tramping through the prairie all day, your legs will be itching by now and a quick rinse takes care of that in a snap.

Prairie Landing Golf Club offers an all-around excellent golf experience. They regularly have special deals, though their standard rates are a tad high, and can be difficult to figure out. This course, while challenging, is quite walkable, and the pro shop is accommodating to walking as an option, bravo! If you do choose the cart, they offer full GPS to help with distances and speed things along. I recommend that everyone try to get out to Prairie Landing this may just find your new favorite Chicagoland course.

For some great 360 degree photos of Prairie Landing, check out

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Thursday, July 16, 2009


As you have likely read by now, I play a lot of golf. I don't play as much as I like, and certainly not as often as some others, but I play at least once every week, sometimes more, and at least once a year take a pretty aggressive golf vacation consisting of 36 holes a day for several days straight. You also might already know that as often as possible, I walk the course. That, along with the fact that I like getting new stuff, has caused me to buy more than my share of golf shoes over the years.

I have worn several models of FootJoy, Etonic, Ecco, Nike, and even those Bite golf sandals for several unfortunate rounds back in the day. No shoe from then until now has ever impressed me more than the FootJoy much so that I have recommended them to several others who have tried them and love them as well.

The funny thing is the way I discovered them. One morning, I was running a little late for my tee time at Bolingbrook Golf Club (a really nice, but overpriced track in Chicago's SW suburbs - but we'll touch on that in a later post). Well, it wasn't until I parked the car that I realized I had forgotten my golf shoes. I knew I couldn't be the only person to ever do this, but felt pretty dumb nonetheless. Time was not on my side, so I would have to bite the bullet and buy a pair in the clubhouse.

Ack! I was sure that the course markup was going to make this one hurt, and since I was buying shoes anyway, I thought, why not get some good ones, like DryJoys, maybe? I quickly perused the selection in what is a very fine pro shop, I must admit, and grabbed a pair of DryJoys. Double Ack! They did not have my size in the DryJoys, so I grabbed a different pair that looked nice enough. I had never heard of FootJoy Contours (must be new), but they looked good and were significantly less expensive than the DryJoys, bonus!

They had my size, so I paid the $90, plus my ridiculous Greens Fee, and put on my new shoes. Then, and only then, did the dread set in. You know that torturous walk that is the traditional breaking in period for golf shoes. I was sure to be treating some large blisters that evening, I thought. I only hoped that it wouldn't impact my game too much.

Of course, as always, the only thing that impacted my game that day was my inability to hit the ball well. What did not impact my game were my new shoes. Oh my God, these new shoes had to be the most comfortable shoes right out of the box I had ever worn...and I mean compared with ALL shoes, not just golf shoes. I walked the course that day with nary a blister, and an only mildly bruised ego after playing the brutal closing holes at Bolingbrook.

I have since purchased no less than four additional pairs of Contours, and yes, did buy a pair of DryJoys as well since. I can tell you without a your money, and buy Contours before you ever buy another shoe. If they aren't the most comfortable golf shoe you have ever worn, be sure to let us know right here on this blog. If you love your Contours, of course, let us know that too! FootJoy makes the Contours for both men and women.

Oh, and by the way, several pairs are on sale now at Golf Galaxy for only $79.99. Just click on the Golf Galaxy link on the right to take advantage of this weekend's sale good through 7/18/09.

Fairways and Greens!

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Monday, July 06, 2009


While I experience some level of anticipation before every round of golf, there are some places before which I have actually felt butterflies in the gut. Rounds at such courses as Bethpage Black, Pinehurst #2, Doral's Blue Course, Arcadia Bluffs, and, of course, Bandon Dunes have all been precipitated by that same feeling of excitement, hope, and trepidation that I am bringing anything less than my best game to the course. Erin Hills fits into this category.

Not more than a 2.5 hour drive from downtown Chicago, the Erin Hills golf course sits on surprisingly rugged land smack in the middle of Wisconsin. As you approach from the east on Holy Hill Rd. take note of the Basilica of Holy Hill perched atop what I have to call a mountain peak relative to the otherwise pancake-flatness of the Midwest. You can see this Basilica from almost anywhere on the nearby Erin Hills course.

Beware as you approach the entrance of the course. You will shortly discover that Erin Hills golf is minimalist in every way...almost to the point of secrecy. As you approach from the east, you will cross highway 83, past the Subway on your left, and drive for 1.1 miles. Keep your eyes peeled on the left side of the road you might catch a glimpse of the front entrance as noted by the tiny sign saying Erin Hills golf course (see below).

Drive up to the small parking lot where staying on the paved lot is apparently optional as several cars were simply parked on the grass. We guessed that those were likely the staff's vehicles so that golfers could use the small lot. The service right off the bat was outstanding. The driving range sits adjacent to the small lot, so we left our clubs with them and headed over to the clubhouse to pay, and hopefully grab a bite to eat before our Noon tee time.

Entering the clubhouse felt a bit like breaking and entering into someone's country cottage, though admittedly we did enter through a side door rather than by the (front?) deck area near the putting green and pro shop. We checked in and paid a very friendly and loquacious fellow for our round. I purchased a logo ball as well because I collect logo balls for all the courses I play. The logo ball simply has Erin Hills in their branded script...minimalist, I like it.

We took a seat at the bar in the small dining area and ordered a quick lunch. My burger was very good, Brad claims his chicken sandwich was as well, but the best part were the delicious fries. What else should we have expected from a little piece of Ireland in Wisconsin? During our meal we even got to catch about 20 minutes of the 5th set of the Federer/Roddick Wimbledon Final. It was tied up at 10-10 when we had to scoot out to the range to warm up.

Our clubs were waiting for us, and we had about 15 minutes to bang on some Titleist NXTs at the range while warming up our swings after the 2.5 hour car ride. After getting some feel for the greens (firm and fast), we were greeted by a most helpful starter who escorted us to the first tee. Our first dilemma before even hitting a shot came next - what tees to play?

Don't get overwhelmed by the six tee options when you arrive. First of all, the "Back Black" tees which stretch the course to over 8,000 yards and include 5 holes well over 600 yards in length aren't even available to play right now. The course is still under quite extensive construction, something I will touch on later. We opted for the Green tees playing at something like 6,500 yards on the card, but as I mentioned, the course was still under extensive construction, so that is just an approximation. I would take one step back and play the Blue tees next time as a 9 handicap, but anyone playing over a 10 handicap should probably swallow their ego, and play the Green least the first time there.

The important thing to remember is that this course was modeled after true links courses in Ireland, and I have to admit, I was surprised how much like a true links course it played. The entire course is very firm and very fast. Low running shots are definitely the best way to play this course, and the yardage is long because it has to be. Between the firm ground and the significant changes in elevation, it plays much shorter than the yardage would indicate.

So, on the first tee listen to the starter, or your caddies should you choose to take them. While I am at it, let me suggest you take at minimum a forecaddy for your group, if only to navigate you from hole to hole. There are blind shots everywhere on this course, and often you would actually need to walk 200 yards ahead just to see what direction you want to go. The Par 5 first hole, while not "blind" is no exception. The tee shot plays much longer than it appears due to undulations all over the fairway, and you do not want to go left on any shot through this entire hole. This might be the first hole I would like to replay. Hit a good drive to the middle of the fairway, and you will be left with a decision to lay up or go for the green. I hit my drive about 295 yards down the center of the fairway and was left with 220 to the green. Instead of risking the disaster area on the left side, I grabbed my 8-iron and hit a very solid shot down the middle of the fairway. Ah, but that 8-iron hit hard and ran much farther than I expected, leaving me only 75 yards from the green running away from me. Next time, I would hit a 5-iron or 4-iron down along the same line and let the course bring the ball down to the green for a chance at an eagle chip or putt.

The second hole is a blind Par 4 with a ridiculous green that falls away on every side. My advice is to hit driver off the tee and get as close to the green as you can on your first shot. It might take a chip or three to get the ball to stay on the green, so aim for the middle of the green regardless of where the pin is. Don't let the hole placement even enter your mind until you are holding a putter and marking your ball.

Number three is a Par 4 that looks harmless enough, and plays off an elevated tee. Hitting the fairway isn't the challenge here, but getting your approach shot onto the correct tier of the green is crucial. If the pin is on the bottom tier, and you are up high...good luck, a 3-putt is likely in your future.

Another harmless looking Par 4 awaits on the 4th. Get that drive down there to have as short an iron coming in as you can. I would also advise staying left on this one. This might be the most difficult green to hit on the course, especially if that pin is on the right side. The day we played it, I would call it borderline unfair, but that's the breaks, right?

Assuming you can find the tees, the Par 4 5th hole is a great chance for you to hit one of the biggest drives of your life. Hit a solid draw up the right side (even to where it appears to be too far right) and your ball will carry almost all the way down to the green some 390 yards away. This is a big green with only minimal trickiness so great chance for birdie.

The next hole is the first Par 3; a hole with no real hazards save a 50 yard deep green. Just check the pin placement and hit the club that the yardage calls for as the wind will likely help offset the uphill shot. Depending on the wind and pin, you might be able to hit any club in the bag on this hole! Aside from being enormous, the green is relatively docile once you get there.

The seventh hole is possibly the one most impacted by the ongoing construction. A Par 5, but playing well under 500 yards, this is an excellent chance for birdie. Hit a solid driver in the fairway, and at most it will be hybrid or long iron to the uphill, but large green.

Number 8 demands a forecaddy...or print this review and bring it along. This Par 4 is not long, and a good chance for par assuming you know where to hit your drive. From the tee it suggests a slight dogleg left, but you can go much more left than it appears. Go ahead and hit your driver over the top of the hill on left of the fairway and you will end up in a great position. Don't do what I did and aim down the middle, then hit a big slice down by the trees right of the fairway. Even if you find your ball (I didn't), you will be looking at a long uphill shot from some decent rough.

The Par 3 ninth plays short from the elevated tees, but protects the pin very well with a multitude of wild and deep bunkers and a very fast green with a crazy depressed area on the middle right side. Though you will likely be hitting no more than a short iron here, you should be most pleased with a par.

Grab a quick snack at the quaint halfway house; you don't want to play the back nine on an empty stomach. Oh, and now would be a good time to find that forecaddy because the 10th hole is a mystery. A long Par 5 on the card, the first riddle to solve is where to aim the tee shot. It's anyone's guess, so we aimed down the middle of the visible fairway at a tall tree in the distance. Directly at that tree or 35 yards right of it is all good, left of that tree isn't disaster, but it makes the hole significantly more difficult. Next comes the conundrum; where is the green? The left side is fairly well defined by a series of deep bunkers edged by brown scrub grass. Stay right of those, and the hole will open up for you. The green is amazing and ridiculous, shaped like a saddle flipped upside down, and measuring something like 75 yards long. I'm not a fan of the 10th hole.

The Par 4 11th is another birdie opportunity. Not too much off the tee, just hit it to your favorite yardage, get on the green close, and make that putt. The green slopes very hard from left to right, but will roll true.

Number 12 is another Par 4 with a completely blind tee shot. This time, aim off the right side of the fairway, and hit it hard. If you can execute that shot, your ball should funnel down to a low area of the fairway, from where you can hit a solid approach to another undulating green. Take your par if you played it right, then move along.

The Par 3 13th features the only water hazards on the course, though they really shouldn't come into play. You will suddenly feel out of place on this hole, though it is the one hole that is most similar to the actual landscape surrounding you in south central Wisconsin. The shot calls for a mid to long iron from the tee, and the green is plenty big. Don't get cute with this shot, just hit it hard and take your par.

Here is where I felt like the course really geared up for the finish. On number 14, you are looking at another reachable Par 5 with a very difficult green. Hit a solid drive, and again you may be reaching for an iron to get home. Chances are you will miss just a little short and right of the green and funnel down to an area some 25 feet below the putting surface. Getting up and down from here will be very difficult, so unless you can get onto that green in two, walk away pleased with par.

The Par 4 15th begs you to hit driver as it is barely over 300 yards from the Green tees. Don't give in! This green is another diabolical one with crazy breaks, and a patchwork of sodded grass right now...hardly ideal for delicate downhill putts. Hit to your favorite distance off the tee again to make sure you get on in two...a 3-putt is a very real possibility here.

The sixteenth might be my favorite hole on the course. A medium length Par 3, the green is protected by bunkers on all sides that run right into the edges of the green. This hole reminded me a lot of Pacific Dunes in Bandon, and probably reminds others of some of the classic courses in Ireland. The green slopes hard from back to front, so stay below the hole if you can.

Number 17 is a little boring, actually, after the ride this course has taken you on. Another blind tee shot on this Par 4, so keep your drive left to allow it to funnel down to the middle of the fairway. The green is big, but very firm, and long low shots will likely run off the back to a landing area. Get on the green and close to the pin to make your par with a well rolled putt.

Finally, the closing hole! Number 18 appears as though you will never get home, but don't let that distance spook you. With the prevailing wind at your back, just stay out of the bunkers which are very well placed to catch any but the longest of wayward drives. Land in the bunkers, and par becomes a chore, but hit the fairway, and you may be surprised how far your ball rolled. Can you hit your 3-wood far enough to get home for glory? If you don't know by now, than you haven't been paying attention. Just don't go left into the minefield of bunkers that may have actually been dug by WWI soldiers, and you will at least be chipping for the eagle. A layup is fine, but watch that green sloping hard away from the clubhouse. Miss that chance for glory, and a par to close is always nice.

We were greeted at the eighteenth by a kind gentleman with a extended cart to drive us back to the clubhouse, and after a rugged walk, it was welcomed. Once at the clubhouse, I would recommend a shower in the locker rooms downstairs. You will be surprised how dirty you got, even if you avoided to omnipresent sand all day. Remember to tip your caddies, and perhaps order a drink and relax on the outside deck for a while to discuss the round (or not).

Sounds great, doesn't it? Not so fast!

Erin Hills opened 3 years ago to rave reviews. One of the three course designers is Ron Whitten who happens to write for Golf Digest magazine; the same publication that ranked Erin Hills the best new public course the year they opened. Erin Hills was also the first course to be awarded the U.S. Amateur tournament before anyone had even played a round of golf there. It is widely speculated that they are going to be awarded to 2017 U.S. Open as well (yup, before Cog Hill gets it!). So, why, if it was so good, are they doing some rather massive reconstruction of the course after only three seasons? They must have known they were going to try for the Open, so why not build it that way to start with?

We were told before coming up that the rates were reduced because it was their re-opening week, so they were offering a special rate (still $100). It was not advertised that virtually the entire course was still under construction making an enormous amount of the course unplayable, assuming you don't play down the middle of the fairway all day long. At best, the course looked extremely terrible, at worst it played that way. In several places, even on the fairways and greens you encounter fresh laid turf and a patchwork of grasses. They claim to serve up a rough style of golf on their website, but this is extreme, and disappointing to say the least.

And minimalist is cool, but please...a little help. At the starter station, we were offered a complementary bottle of water, but never saw water again until one of our foursome spotted a small cooler of the stuff hidden next to the ladies tee on #14. There is not a single large cooler or dispenser on the course, and if you buy that same bottle of water from the beverage cart it will cost you $2. Not cool, and not environmentally friendly either.

Read my earlier posts, and you will know that I believe in walking a course, especially a links style course like this. Hey, Erin Hills, how about some signs? We managed to find our way around, but it took some navigation and more than a few shortcuts were missed along the way as the cart paths were usually our only lifesaver. Don't force me to purchase a forecaddy (yes, I did recommend them) just to find the holes. And as for all those blind shots, I am just not a fan. You may be modeled after Ireland, but you are in America, and therefore will be compared with courses like Bandon Dunes and Arcadia Bluffs among only a handful of others...they don't have blind shots! Blind shots are boring and for me, take away from the enjoyment of a course.

So, in the end, Erin Hills Golf Course was really a mixed bag for me and my companions. The course concept is outstanding, and when they are finished building it, I am sure it will be consistently rated in the Top 50 public courses in the country. I feel somewhat deceived, however, by the fact that they re-opened under pretense of construction being complete which it most definitely was not. I will be back, but perhaps not until 2011...playing in the U.S. Amateur, perhaps? One can always dream!

Fairways and Greens!

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GOLF COURSE REVIEW: Ravisloe Country Club

Ravisloe Country Club was established way back in 1901, and was a private course right up until April of this year when the new management group opened the doors to the public. This is a very good thing for Public Links golfers in the area, because this course is a beauty! While not a true Donald Ross course, at least portions of this course were redesigned by the famed golf architect, and David Esler's 2001 renovation of this course most certainly kept to Ross elements quite intact.

I am sorry to say that I do not have any photos to post on this course yet. On the day I played, it drizzled rain through almost the entire round requiring me to negotiate my bag, umbrella, and yardage finder...a camera would have required a third hand for certain.

First, Ravisloe Country Club is only about a 30 minute drive from downtown Chicago in light traffic, making it an attractive draw right off the bat. We paid $69 to walk the course on a Saturday morning - and by the way, please walk this course, it might be one of the most walker-friendly courses I have played in this city. This is not an unusual price to pay for an upscale public course in Chicago, but once you cross that $50 threshold, it better be good!

At Par 70, and only 6,321 yards from the back tees, I have to admit to being skeptical about the challenge going into this round. I have read some of the early reviews from others on the course, and have heard more than a few suggest it is too short for an accomplished golfer.

So, despite my early skepticism, let me just say that I am hopeful to see a few more private courses fall by the wayside and open their doors to the public. Ravisloe Country Club is a terrific track, and a great addition to Chicago golf.

Having played Pinehurst #2 just a couple of summers ago, I know all too well what a Donald Ross course will do to your game. Though some might consider6,321 too short, my guess is that is just their ego talking. This course is a true golf course, and at Par 70, that 6,321 plays more like 6,700 yards on a Par 72, a yardage that only very low handicappers should be stepping back from. Ravisloe features 3 Par 5s, one of which, the 490 yard 3rd, is forgettable. The 535 yard 2nd is acceptable and the 550 yard 13th is spectacular. The five Par 3s (honestly, who doesn't love playing Par 3s?) measure respectably at 181, 135, 203, 226, and 146 yards. The only thing that might make someone consider this course "short" is the lack of any true bomber Par 4s, with the longest measuring 410 yards.

What the course may lack in distance for some gorillas out there, it makes up for in shape, contour, challenging greens, and, oh those wonderful Ross bunkers. Ravisloe will make you think about how you want to approach each hole from your drive to your approach. The bunkers are deep and wild, but maintained beautifully so that a good crisp shot with the right club will get you out of every one without too much headache. As at Pinehurst, the bunkers protect every vulnerable area of the fairways and greens very well, and if you are able to negotiate them, the greens will get you next.

Most of the 18 greens are heavily contoured, firm, and relatively fast as compared with other public courses. While challenging, they are almost all fair, and as with the bunkers, well struck putts will roll true (if you read the greens correctly, that is). Of special note is the Par 4, 390 yard 16th and its diabolical green. From the fairway, this green appears as basically flat, but sloping from front to back. Beware, however, that even an normally good shot that lands on the green will careen off the back side in the blink of an eye. If you are going to miss the 16th green, go ahead and miss it long so that you have an uphill chip and putt for par.

So, to sum it all up, I am more than a little pleased to have this "new" course available to play. An old school beauty, and definitely the purest Ross design I have found outside of Pinehurst, I will most certainly return there this summer to attempt a round without the umbrella. Do not let the length or the Par value scare you away! As I mentioned, unless you are able to qualify for the U.S. Open, this course is plenty challenging for you, and since when is having the opportunity to shoot a good score a bad thing? I do think that the cost is a little high at $69 to walk with an extra $16 for a cart (remember to keep that $16 for a round of drinks and get yourself some exercise). With other high quality options nearby like Balmoral Woods and George Dunne, they should drop that by about $10 to make it a top draw for residents of Chicago proper.

Finally, to those former members of the private Ravisloe Country Club including as Bert Winston, Steve Goldberg, and Josh Krengel, let me say that your "loss" is Chicago's gain. While I can't say I wouldn't want to be a member at a private club if I had the means to do so, it is frustrating that as a lover of the game, I can not play some of the most storied and famous tracks in the land. While Ravisloe is far from Augusta, it is a delightful place to spend an afternoon of golf and conversations, and I am pleased that I can do so now without dropping several Gs.

Fairways and Greens!

GOLF COURSE REVIEW: Spirit Hollow Golf Course

In this first of what I intend to be a rolling series of course reviews, I would like to share with you one of my favorite "hidden" golf courses, Spirit Hollow.

Spirit Hollow Golf Course is a public daily fee course in Burlington, IA. Burlington is about an hour's drive south of the Quad Cities, and almost equidistant from both Chicago, Des Moines, and St. Louis...not exactly on most people's "beaten track".

Burlington is not so quaint that there is nothing to do, however. They have a multitude of dining options, including some very nice upscale fare at restaurants like The Drake and Martini's. They have a Resort Hotel/Water Park/Casino/Bowling Alley/Arcade known as Fun City, and even feature a minor league baseball team, the Burlington Bees.

Spirit Hollow is a short drive south of the city proper along Hwy. 61. The upscale 18 hole track plays mostly through a small river valley which contributes to its picturesque holes and significant elevation changes. The course conditioning is top notch with bent grass tees, fairways, and greens. The greens are firm and fast with very deceptive breaks...more on that later.

The clubhouse features a friendly and professional staff. On the evening before my most recent rounds there this past week, I went out to get in some practice. When I arrived, they had just sent off their last tee time of the day, so technically the range was closed. With nothing more out of my mouth then "oh, that's too bad", he told me I could go out and hit whatever balls were left on the range and use the chipping area and putting green as long as I wanted to...for no charge! I hadn't even indicated I was going to play a round there yet. That is rare customer service!

One of my only complaints is that the course requires you to take a cart. With that said, the cart is fully furnished with GPS, course routing, playing tips, 4 cup holders, and even a holder for things like cell phones and keys. Also, this is a course that I would not call walker friendly with some sizable gaps between holes, and the aforementioned significant topography. I would have preferred to walk, but it would have been a workout.

Spirit Hollow offers four distinct tees from which to play the course, and they differ enough that anyone can have a challenging and fair experience. From the back Gold tees, the course stretches out to 7,301 yards with a daunting 74.8 rating and slope of 134. I noticed that on almost every hole they have tucked away special tee boxes that would surely allow this course to stretch out even further...probably past 7,500 yards. I acknowledged my 9+ handicap, and chose to play the Black tees at 6,580/71.4/124. I have played harder courses, but those Gold tees were a bit much for a casual round on my own. The forward White tees play to 6,010/69.0/117, and the Ladies' Rust tees at 5,053/70.3/116. The ample fairways and landing areas constrain a higher slope and rating from all but the back tees, but beware, there are plenty of opportunities for lost balls and wasted shots on this course.

The first hole is outstanding! No need for the Driver right from the start as this 391 Par 4 plunges over 100 feet into the river valley as it doglegs left. A fairway wood or even a hybrid or long iron will leave you a mid to short iron off a downhill lie to a good sized green protected by a bunker on the right. Don't get over-excited and try too much here...take your 2-putt par and move on.

Number two is a reachable Par 5 playing at 507 yards...but you best have a controlled draw off the elevated tee if you want a shot at glory. Most of us will just hit it to the right rough, layup with a medium to long iron, and take a wedge into the green. I will guarantee nobody a 2-putt par here as you better start paying attention to the prevailing landscape as you read the greens. The greens may have breaks that appear to impossibly break uphill. The lie of the land might have more sway over putts here than anywhere I have ever played outside of Kapalua in Hawaii!

The Par 3 141 yard 3rd hole is a beauty. Pick your club to hit the distance, then put it away and take one extra. Do not miss this green short! You will be faced with a severely uphill lie in some nasty rough at best...a water ball at worst. Another hole where putting will be at a premium and Par is a good score.

The fourth hole is a 532 yard Par 5 reachable only by the biggest of hitters. This hole takes you back out of the valley and plays more uphill than it appears while facing the prevailing wind. Keep it left and swing smooth and getting home in three should be a walk in the park. Miss right, and this hole opens up some large numbers. Beware the front pin placement as the green has a crazy slope on the right front edge.

Number five is one of the easiest holes on the course...aside from its exposure to the wind perhaps. At 384 yards, the Par 4 plays pretty much straightaway and is protected by a small handful of bunkers to collect poor drives. Keep it out of the sand, and you should have a relatively easy approach shot to a green that behaves like it appears. If you are going to make a birdie, this might be a good place for it.

The Par 4 6th is not as difficult as it looks. This hole's 408 yards can play significantly shorter if you hit the right shots. Though you don't want to go too far left, an easy draw off the tee should bring you close enough to hit a short iron on your approach, perhaps taking the pond on the front and left side of the green out of play. Hit too far left, however, and assuming you can find your ball, you may be facing a difficult side hill lie above your feet from deep rough over the water to a tucked pin...good luck.

Number 7 looks like, and should be your second good birdie opportunity. This Par 3 measures 136 yards on the card, but can vary by 10-15 yards shorter or longer depending on the whim of the greens keeper that day. It also plays about a club longer than the yardage because it is much more uphill than it appears. Take a smooth confident swing with one extra club, get on the correct tier, and make your birdie putt.

The Par 4 390 yard 8th is another hole that looks more difficult than it is. The big gorge you need to carry off the tee is really not in play with any decently struck drive. Before you tee off, check out the back deck of the house to the right...incredible, this is Iowa? Once you cross into the fairway, the approach shot is very straightforward. Rule of thumb should be center-left on the drive, then center-right on the approach. Do this, and you will make a happy par.

The tee on number nine is the beginning of the most beautiful stretch of holes on the course. Get ready to enjoy the ride, but don't forget to pay attention to what you are doing. The Par 4 9th measures only 365 yards, so just swing a comfortable club off the tee...a hybrid worked perfectly for me. Once you get your ball comfortably in the fairway, you will be looking almost straight downhill maybe 80 feet to a long narrow green with a stream running along the left side. If you miss on this shot, miss to the right as there is a landing area in front of the green and everything funnels the ball to the left towards that stream. Par is a good score, though I made a sweet birdie by holing a 28 foot putt. I would love to hear if anyone has ever tried hitting driver straight at the green from the tee. It appears as though a 290-310 yard drive could get home directly over the lake and trees in front of the tee box.

Grab a quick bite and a beverage, then stop a moment and admire the view up the 10th hole from behind the gold tees. Now, back to the game, the 502 yard Par 5 10th is definitely reachable in two, but don't get crazy and pull one left. Hit one in the stream, and you will have no shot at the green and will be lucky to make bogey. I made birdie here with a well-struck drive to the right side of the fairway, a 2-hybrid just short of the green, an average chip, and another great putt from about 18 feet.

The 338 Par 4 11th is not my favorite hole out here, but it sneaks up on you just the same. You need to hit a short-ish club into the fairway laying short of the stream that twice meanders across your line. Do that well, and keep it left to get the best approach angle on a very difficult green guarded by a false front and a very deep and well-placed bunker. Play your first putt too aggressively, and you may be looking at a big score here as well. Still, you should make par.

On 12, you will face a very innocent looking Par 3 measuring 186 yards. Listen to the course advice here and do not miss left. It looks like that is exactly where you want to miss it, but if you do, even a putt from the fringe might roll off the other side of the green. Hit the green near the pin, and you might make birdie, but if you miss, short and right isn't bad.

Round the corner to the Par 4 13th, and catch your breath again. This hole is simply stunning from the tee, and at 418 yards, plays tough, but not as tough as the course would lead you to believe. Hit a solid drive to the left side of the fairway, not too far left, though, we don't want any severe side hill lies on the approach. From the left side of the fairway the green is easy enough to hit with a middle iron, but miss right off the tee, and the HUGE trees will surely have you chasing bogey. Should your fortune bring you this situation, heed my advice, take your medicine and chip back to the left side...nothing is getting over or through those trees. Once on the green, just remember that everything will be fast towards the clubhouse even if that looks uphill to you.

Number 14 just keeps the scenery coming. At 393 yards, this Par 4 plays shorter than its big brother the 13th, but you would do well to have a controlled draw in your bag to stay on the left side of the fairway. I find that approaching the green from the right makes this hole slightly more difficult than 13. On the green, remember what you learned on the 13th and ignore the read, but heed the big hill to the left.

Ah, finally a sweetheart of a hole. Assuming you don't have the inability to hit over any body of water, this short Par 3 is a birdie opportunity for sure. At 145 yards, and with a big green backed by bunkers, a well struck short iron, or even wedge is all that it takes to get one close enough to give it a run. Just remember that the green is very fast towards the lake, and you will be fine.

Could the 378 yard Par 4 16th be yet another birdie? Maybe, but surely a par at least, right? This hole is not terribly difficult if you can do a couple of things. First, play your drive down the left side. I mean really left...the only shot from the tee that is too far left is in the weeds left of the cart path. Once your ball rolls from the left side of the fairway all the way down the hill and across to the right side, you will be staring straight uphill to the average sized and contoured green. Take one, maybe even two extra clubs for this shot, and strike it well or it may roll backwards for a while. Once you are on, make your birdie or lag it close enough to tap in for par, you will need all the shots you can get for the finish.

The 17th is a big 445 Par 4 on the edge of the course, unprotected from the wind. The only hazard to worry about from the tee are the woods on the right side, but you need to hit everything you have here, or treat it as a Par 5. Get a great drive close enough for a mid to long iron in, and you might survive with a par, but don't lose your approach shot left as there are three bunkers waiting to grab your ball if you are lucky. Go right of those bunkers, and you may be gone. Once on the green, remember that the ball will break down to the woods hard.

Gosh, are we done already? Not yet...the Par 5 is an outstanding risk/reward hole, and easy on the eyes to boot. Measuring 521 yards, the elevated tee makes it play no more than 500. Hit a well struck driver right of the large tree straightaway, and you will be hunting an eagle on the last. Miss left of that tree and all is not lost, just stay left of the stream that bisects the fairway and you will have a very manageable approach shot to an well contoured green that acts more like a backstop the closer you get along the left fairway. Despite the fair chance at eagle and birdie, be happy with your par, and head up to the clubhouse for an after round beverage.

Spirit Hollow has reasonable rates for anyone used to playing upscale public courses, though the lack of resident and twilight rates make it pretty expensive for the folks in Burlington. It remains a must play in my mind if you are "in the area", and by that I mean anywhere from Peoria to the Quad Cities to Iowa City. Despite its beauty, for $60, it would be tough for me to suggest that anyone travel more than 60-90 minutes to play here though, so maybe I should just suggest you find a reason to visit the area, and definitely play the course along your way. Look into touring the Great River Road from Dubuque all the way down to Keokuk, you won't be disappointed.

Fairways and Greens!

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