Monday, July 06, 2009

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!

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