Tuesday, September 08, 2009


About 42 miles west of downtown Chicago sits the city of Aurora, IL. Despite being the 2nd largest city in the State of Illinois, it is generally regarded as a suburb in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area. Home of the famous Paramount Theater, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar of Wayne's World fame, as well as of the greatest meteorologist ever, WGN's own Tom Skilling, you might not think of Aurora as a golf destination, but you would be wrong. Two nearby private courses, Stonebridge Country Club and the Jerry Rich creation Rich Harvest Farms have hosted LPGA events recently, and the city itself maintains an excellent municipal track that will always be absent from any Top 100 lists. That municipal course is Orchard Valley, and it is where I call my golf home (well, for handicap purposes anyway).

The Orchard Valley Golf Course clubhouse is well designed and more than adequate to support a medium sized pro shop as well as a pleasant bar, and nicer dining facility complete with outdoor seating overlooking the eighteenth green. The course itself, while relatively short (only 6,745 yards from the tips), plays much harder as evidenced by its 72.4 rating and 134 slope. The reason for the short length and challenging slope is the fact that water comes into play on 11 holes, you can hit it out of bounds on 10 holes, and almost every hole features hazards that will cost you at least a stroke should you get careless with your swing.

What makes Orchard Valley golf special is the combination of conditioning, value, and risk/reward opportunities everywhere. I've made four eagles in my life, and I am surprised to say none have been here. If you are ever going to play a course where you have a better than average chance for exciting eagle and birdie opportunities, this is the place! The fairways are most often firm enough to allow some roll on your shots, but soft enough to make hitting off them a dream. The greens are most often smooth and fast, but never unfair.

I do have a complaint that I mentioned in my post from earlier this year about golf carts. There are way too many opportunities on this course where paved cart paths can play a devastating role in your round. On no fewer than 10 holes you can hit a marginally bad shot that will bound off a cart path and out of bounds where no cart path would result in a bad lie at worst. This course is a VERY easy walk, and with the exception of the 15th where they removed a foot-bridge whilst adding more cart paths a couple years ago, there is little need for carts to speed things up. Certainly just a gravel or grass cart path would be sufficient in a number of these areas.

With all that said, let me give you the hole-by-hole breakdown, complete with the official hole names. Though the Black "tips" are a good challenge for single handicap golfers, my breakdown assumes the Blue tees which offer plenty of course for most golfers, and great scoring chances for the low-handicapper.

#1 - Options Galore - Par 4. This might be my favorite opening hole anywhere, save for

perhaps the 1st at Pacific Dunes. You can literally hit any club in the bag off the tee and make par, but if you want to have fun here, think bigger! At 300 yards, but often playing up to 20
yards shorter, this hole offers a rare shot at going 2-under right off the bat. If you are up for it,
pull out the big stick and fire directly over the bunkers on the right side of the fairway - clear them and you may be putting for eagle. This is not without risk, of course. Land in those bunkers, and you will be faced with a difficult 60-70 yard blast with more bunkers protecting the left side of the green. Miss long and left, and you may be dropping and hitting your 3rd over those green side bunkers with a grove of trees between you and the hole. Take all the risk out and hit a medium iron to a hybrid left of the fairway bunkers, and par is very achievable with birdie still in play.

#2 - All Or Nothing At All - Par 3. Remember, my breakdown is from the Blue tees, the Black tees here are simply nasty; take a peek before you cross the bridge to hit your tee shot. The shot from the Blue tees is no picnic either. Only 150-170 yards, I have recently heard it muttered that this is the hardest short hole in Chicago. Whether you agree or not, pay attention and hit it long and left or you will be hitting your third from a "rugged" drop area about 65 yards from the green. Par here is a good score.

#3 - Eye Of The Needle - Par 4. Oh, another nice short Par 4! Well, at 350 yards, you are right about the short part, but the nice part would be misleading. Pull one left and the best result you can hope for is a punch shot through some huge oak trees, but it is likely you will need to hit another off the tee because OB runs up the entire left side with that clever cart path "helping" the ball find that 2-stroke hazard. Hit it right on the other hand, and the wind will help your ball find the long bunker that runs up the entire right side, if it doesn't hit hard and bound into the water, that is. Should you pull off the tee shot and find the fairway, you should have a manageable shot to a heavily contoured green with the bunker and more water waiting to gobble up any shots missing short and right.

If you survived the last two holes, you are in good shape, but don't put it into cruise control, you still need to hit good shots. Stay in the game and you could be looking at birdies on the next five holes.

#4 - As Much As You Can Chew - Par 5. At 513 yards, this hole is very reachable, but it all depends on how much you are willing to gamble off the tee. If you tend to miss right, I suggest just playing this as a three shot hole, and hitting it further left than you might think off the tee. The second shot should be played up the left side as the mounds along the left edge of the fairway should kick any shots right toward the green. Shots missed right will land in a large bunker guarding the green. The green is two-tiered, and if the tee is on the upper-tier, birdie becomes tremendously challenging.

#5 - The Big Apple - Par 4. This is the first hole's evil twin. Another hole measuring about 300 yards, and often 10-15 yards shorter, this is the definition of risk/reward. Hit it 232 yards straight over the right bunkers, and you might have another look at eagle, or miss a little right and short for a short pitch from the upper fairway to set up a birdie putt. Lose it moderately left or right, however, and you will likely be getting bogey at best, and possibly a BIG number. I always hit driver, by the way.

#6 - Waste Not, Want Not - Par 3. The shortest hole on the course at 143 yards, this little Par 3 should be a cupcake. You shouldn't be hitting much more than a 7-iron with the prevailing wind behind you, so just take a smooth swing at the middle of the green. If you miss a little left, you will end up in either a large waste bunker or one of two deep pot bunkers green side. From these hazards, par is a great score. The green breaks hard toward the back left, so take the time to read your putt well.

#7 - Over The Hill - Par 4. At 385 yards and often into a stiff wind, this isn't the easiest tee shot to hit long, and the hole may require a longer iron than you have hit all day, but the fairway is wider than it looks, and in fact hitting it over the large mound on the right will kick it into a landing area behind that is not visible from the tee. You don't want to miss this green as there is a large depression on the right and mounded rough on the left. The green slopes from left to right, and can be quick.

#8 - Devil's Triangle - Par 5. Remember, you came here to have fun, so swing hard and hope you hit it off this tee. Your goal off the tee should be to land just short of the second bunker on the left side of the fairway. At 483 yards, a good drive there should leave you a shot at the green which is well protected with a cruel sand bunker pocked with tall grassy mounds. The left side of the green opens up and is fronted by a landing area, so even if laying up, try to stay left, hitting either short of or over the final left side fairway bunker. If you are lucky enough to get a pin on the lower (left) tier, go for it, but if it is on the upper (right) tier, take a par with pride.

#9 - Sherman's March - Par 4. There is not much too worry about on this hole except that it is 458 yards (sometimes longer) and plays into a prevailing hook wind. Both sides of the fairway are bordered with big mounds that will kick errant shots back down to the fairway, unless you hit the top of the left mounds, that is. This is the most noticeable place where the course added a long cart path along the top of the mounds. Hit that path with an errant hook and you are not only out of bounds, but risk hitting cars on Orchard Rd. traveling 45 mph. This was an incredibly dumb place to add a trampoline to hard hook shots with the prevailing wind helping, simply stupid. Back to the hole, you will have a long second shot into a very large green bisected by a ridge that moves shots one way or the other. Leading up to the green, the fairway has a series of mounds that can kick your approach shot anywhere, and often stops it in a tough spot. Par is a great score here, and bogey is perfectly acceptable.

#10 - Doggone Dogleg - Par 4. At 358 yards, the smart play is either a long iron or hybrid up the fairway on the left leaving a short shot into a severely two-tiered green. The riskier play is to shoot a 3-wood or driver between the bunkers to the right of the fairway and get to a short wedge approach perhaps allowing control to hit the right tier. The riskiest, and most fun play is to literally cut over the houses and OB on the right where a well struck drive (especially with the wind helping) can get onto the green, or leave a short chip, making eagle a possibility yet again. Once on the green, the challenge really starts, and landing on the correct tier WILL save you at least one stroke.

#11 - High Low - Par 5. A very short, 475 yard par 5, this one has birdie written all over it. Often, this hole is actually shorter than the Par 4 9th, and both play into the same wind. The ample fairway allows a drive to be hit almost anywhere. If you have no fear of hooking it, play a strong drive down the left side where a ball carried over the hill can leave you with less than 200 yards to the green. A well-struck drive down the right side is fine as well, but leaves you a slightly more difficult angle if going for the green in two. If laying up, the fairway splits about 110 yards from the hole, the right side playing lower and leaving you a blind shot over a ridge to the green, and the left playing level with the green and wide open. The green isn't overly challenging, so take the good score...you'll need it!

#12 - Beauty And The Beast - Par 3. A pretty looking hole that will range from 145-155 yards, and varied angles over the large lake to a two-tiered green. Even though it is safer to miss right, it still leaves you a shot from a deep bunker or deep rough with water lurking just across the green. The best miss is actually short and a little right, but why miss at all. You should have a confident club in your hand, so swing smooth, take the par and don't make this harder than it really is.

#13 - Just A Hard Hole - Par 4. This might be the most fitting title of any hole on the course. This hole plays all of 445 yards, often into the prevailing west wind. The first problem is that a marsh sits right in the middle of the hole about 256 yards away. Big hitters need to leave driver in the bag or may be rewarded with a penalty stroke for even a well-struck shot. Don't be too weak on the drive either as there is a ridge you need to run past to roll down to the end of the fairway, where you can hit a mid-long iron in. If your drive finished short of that ridge, you will be looking at a 220-230 yard shot from a downhill lie over water to a green protected on the right by deep rough and lakeside bunkers...oh, and OB left! Remember, this is a Par 4. If you do go into the lake, don't get too bent out of shape, there is a drop area on the other side about 125 yards from the green. Once on the large green, putting is mostly simple unless you get a back left pin placement where you'll have to deal with a large ridge making putts extremely difficult. Like #9, par is a great score here.

#14 - Sentry - Par 4. This hole isn't a breather, but it is the simplest hole left on the course, so pay attention. Carry the lake with your drive to the right side for the best approach angle, but don't get carried away, that OB can sneak up on you. The left part of the fairway isn't too bad, but you'll be hitting a blind approach shot to the well-bunkered green. Miss the fairway left, and you are likely in jail or lost. The approach seems to play a club longer than you'd think, so don't under club. The green has some breaks in it, but is relatively easy to read, so take the par.

#15 - The Brass Ring - Par 4. I really have very little good advice for you on this short, but challenging Par 4. I love the risk/reward aspect of carrying the large lake right at the pin, but you'd better be sure you can carry 240+ yards, or you'll be hitting your third shot from the same place having to try again, or take the "safer" route. The safe route begins with any shot from 155-270 yards up the left side. Land safely, and you have a mid-short iron to a very shallow and contoured green over three large and contoured bunkers. Go long and you will either lose your ball or will have a downhill pitch from deep rough to a green running away from you. If your drive does carry the lake, you will have a less than 100 yard pitch or chip shot that appears easier than it is. Putting can be a big challenge depending on pin placement. A fun hole to be sure, but don't take it lightly.

#16 - Snakebit - Par 5. Like so many holes at Orchard Valley, this one can be had, but it can also eat you for lunch. At 499 with the prevailing wind often helping, you can get two controlled shots home, but don't try to take off too much on the drive. Due to the snaking shape and the long bunker lining the right side of this dogleg, it is a longer carry than it appears. Aim just right of the far left bunker from the tee and hit a powerful fade for the best results. The green is the craziest on the course with a large ridge running horizontally across the middle of the green forcing you to stay on the correct side or face a breaking uphill then downhill putt. This one is easy to 3-putt, so get on as quickly as you can, and don't mess around with that right side!

#17 - Home Stretch - Par 3. This hole looks really difficult, but it is really just difficult. If the pin is on the right, just ignore it. The green is 185 yards away and everything slopes from the left side towards the lake. The carry also gets longer with each small amount of fade or push you give the drive, so stay left, but stay short too. Long left leaves you in some kind of trouble with a shot that can't stop running right towards that lake. One putts are tough, so lag it close and take the par if you can get it.

#18 - Left Is Right - Par 4. If you are still in the game, congratulations! You are far from done, however. There is a sign on the 18th tee suggesting to golfer that to avoid accidents, aim well left on this hole. They aren't kidding! Everything conspires against you on this hole to pull your ball into the lake on the right, or worse, OB! At 398 yards, there is plenty of room to run a solid drive well left of the waters edge. Do that and you will have a mid to short iron into the green. Just hope for the front left pin placement where this hole kind of lays down a little bit and nicely says goodbye. Back right is killer with any club in your hand, bringing all kinds of trouble (including that water again) back into play. Par here is a good score, birdie is great, and bogey is common.

So, how did you play, check the card. You likely feel like you left some shots out there, and maybe scored surprisingly worse than you thought. I hope you had fun on most of the holes, and noticed the condition of the course because I'll bet you will be back!

If you have played, or do end up playing it, let me know what you think. How did you play? How did you score? Was it a good value, or overrated? The only thing I don't want to know is if you rode in a cart...save that for someone else.

For some great 360 photos of Orchard Valley, check out LookAroundGolf.com here.

Fairways and Greens!

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How often can you say that you have golfed in the shadow of a prison? Not just any old jail, mind you, but one serious, don't-ever-want-to-end-up-here maximum security prison? In fact, the very prison where the notorious serial child-killer John Wayne Gacy met his maker?

OK, so maybe there are more than one out there, but I bet the answer would be "rarely, at best." If you like solid golf courses with excellent conditioning at a GREAT value, then I would strongly suggest you give it a try at Prairie Bluff Golf Course. Nestled in a corner of Lockport, IL, and surrounded closely by neighboring Joliet (thus, the prison), Romeoville, and Plainfield, Prairie Bluff may not look like much, but it offers the aforementioned qualities, and does have a few surprises in store for the average golfer.

If there were ever a review you should take at my word, this might be it. I have played Prairie Bluff at least 65 times since discovering it myself back in 2000. It certainly isn't the greatest
course I have played, and not even the greatest course within 5 miles, but I guess every golfer has a course where the price doesn't cause financial pain, yet the golf experience is generally enjoyable...this happens to be mine.

Topping out at $43 for non-residents on weekends, this is easily among the best values in Chicagoland. The price is fair, and believe me when I tell you that the conditions are excellent. The greens run as smooth as most courses in the area charging double the greens fees, and the fairways are generally pristine, though can get pretty soggy in the early season. As you can imagine, it isn't the most challenging course around, but played from the back tees, it offers plenty of course for most golfers, and anyone with a double-digit handicap should strongly consider the Blue tees. It can get very windy out here as there are a complete absence of buildings, trees, and yes, even houses to get in the way of that Illinois prairie wind, so the course can, and often does play much longer than the yardage on the card would indicate.

A couple of caveats, to be fair. This course (probably due to the value) is quite popular and gets a lot of play. This is one of the reasons the excellent conditioning is so impressive, but alas, the course can play slow...VERY slow. One of the issues at play is the routing. They start you off with a medium Par 4, followed by a short Par 4 and then a Par 3. For whatever reason, this causes a logjam with even a handful of groups headed out. Another issue is the number of "recreational" golfers out there to ride a cart, hack at the ball, and rap with their buddies. While not overly challenging for those who can hit the ball relatively straight, this course will KILL the crooked shooter. Late in the year especially, the no-mow surrounding most holes can grow thick
and deep (this was productive farmland at one time). Most balls finding the really deep stuff are D.O.A., and even the primary rough can result in an embarrassing hack back to the fairway. After a slow start, don't fret too quickly, the course often loosens up after the 4th hole, but not always, so relax, and enjoy the slower pace if you can.

Also, don't even think of asking the rangers for help with the pace...help will not come. I once spotted a leisurely 5-some a couple holes ahead of my group slowing the entire course. Upon mentioning it to the ranger, who spent a lot of time "patrolling" the course, he responded with a meek "what am I supposed to do about it?" WHAT?! Apparently this crew doesn't attend the obligatory starter/ranger asshole classes given for free to any interested party. I think their true purpose is to search for lost Pinnacles and Top-Flites to sell out of the jar in the clubhouse.

So, what about the course? I guess if I've gotten you to read this far, I owe you some idea of what you will be seeing out there, and maybe I can save you a ball, or better yet, get you a birdie! I will give yardage from the Gold (back) tees as that is where I most often play, but the
advice will not be too different for any tee. Also, I will attempt here, for the first time ever, to personally name each of the holes, so please forgive if some come off rather lame...ONWARD!

#1 - Don't Worry, Nobody Is Watching - Par 4, 413 yards
I've seen the small pond framing the tee boxes come into play far too often on this hole...IT IS NOT IN PLAY! Trust me, the hundred other golfers all standing way too close to the teeing area here as if it will make their round of 102 happen sooner, will never remember you or your shot off the first tee, so relax, and hit it forward in almost any direction. Hitting it too hard too far right can be bad as there is another lake over there, but unless you are lefty, a slice off this tee will be weak enough to finish short of that lake. Hit one extra club into the green to avoid the bunker guarding the front right and you will have a relatively easy-breaking putt. The bunker doesn't look like much, but it often steals at least a stroke, and often two from the unfortunate
golfer not yet ready to swing one through the sand. To be safe, play the entire hole up the left side and you should be just fine.

#2 - Easy Does It - Par 4, 369 yards
Of course you can carry the bankers on the left, right? Well, probably not, and even if you do, what have you gained? Carry them and you are faced with an uphill shot with about a half-
wedge over the green-side bunker to a shallow green running away from you. Do yourself a favor and hit one straight up the fairway, and for many, the driver is not the best club here. A well-struck long iron or hybrid should be enough to get inside 150 yards to the green, and an approach from the right side of the fairway will get you the best angle to the deep side of the green. The green itself can be a little tricky with a front pin, but middle or back is pretty straightforward.

#3 - Underestimated - Par 3, 183 yards
The pin placement is everything on this hole, as it is for most Par 3s. A front right pin offers a direct look at the flag, but also offers the most treacherous putting and the narrowest portion of the green to hit. A middle or back pin brings the
bunkers into play, but could offer an easier putt, assuming you stay left off the tee. The front and left bunkers aren't the toughest in the world, but will cost you a stroke more often than not. The worst place to miss might be right due to the severe undulation on the right side of the green, and lucky you, the prevailing wind wants all shots to go right. This should be a par opportunity, but don't be surprised if this hole bites you.

#4 - Pardon The Interruption - Par 5, 544 yards
This is one of the few holes where the tees you play makes a significant difference. From the Blue tees, the fairway bunkers are more in play off the tee, but the hole is reachable in two strokes, while playing from the Gold tees provides a slightly easier tee shot, but brings other things into play later. Layup shots on this hole are aggravated by a river of medium depth rough bisecting the fairway at a great layup distance and lie. The main fairway runs downhill right into this rough area causing many layup attempts to miss the fairway and land in this rough. Even if you do keep your layup short of this rough, you will have a downhill approach shot waiting for you into a large undulating green sloping primarily from back to front. If you can't get home, it
still might be a good idea to hit as much club as you can on your second shot in order to fly over this rough area and into the secondary fairway which runs all the way up to the green. Oh, and try to avoid those last two bunkers on the left side of the second fairway, unless you like 50-70 yard bunker shots that is.

#5 - Right Leaning - Par 4, 401 yards
Another innocent looking hole, that will yield par if you let it. Here, you are standing on an elevated tee box staring at a wide fairway with a slight dogleg to the left. The dogleg is protected by a triad of bunkers that you are sure you can carry. Remember, these objects appear closer than they really are. I've seen these bunkers carried from the tee, even done it myself once or twice, but it isn't worth the risk. Play straight up the fairway and you will have a direct line into a relatively flat green with a mid to short iron, possibly even a wedge. Caution, do not hit a hard hook at any point on this hole...at best you will not find your ball in the tall and thick weeds, at worst, you will be OB and smacked with an unnecessary 2-stroke penalty.

#6 - The Valley Of Death - Par 3, 161 yards
This hole is arguably the easiest hole on the course, and should offer plenty of pars with loads of birdie opportunities. The green offers some subtle breaks that will protect against too many birdies, but this hole only has one real defense, coming into play on any shot hit short and
left. Even a well-struck shot hit pin high can end up in the Valley of Death if played to far left of the hole. This area is a closely mown collection trough that runs up the left side of the green and offers a decision along with a darn tough shot. If the pin is in the front, hit the Texas Wedge and get on the green anywhere near the hole. If the pin is middle or back, you can always putt, but if you have confidence in your chipping game, there is usually plenty of green to run one up to the hole. If you do end up here, don't get too cute and bring double into play, take your medicine.

#7 - Marathon - Par 4, 448 yards
I've heard it elsewhere, but this is one of those holes that should be a Par 4.5. There isn't a whole lot to tell you here, but hit it long and straight. Played most often into the prevailing wind, most will be hitting a fairway wood or hybrid into this green, even with the best of tee shots. Understanding that you are likely to end up short, try to make sure your approach blast misses to the right side, leaving you a straightforward pitch or chip to a green that slopes more than you might think from right to left. Misses to the left of the green are going to leave a challenging shot, especially if the pin is placed anywhere on the left half of the green. Make you putt for par, and you have accomplished something to be proud of. If you take a bogey, don't fret, I would bet it is
the best score most have gotten on this hole.

#8 - Sneaky Dangers - Par 5, 514 yards
Like all the Par 5s on this course, the Gold tees make a big difference. A bold shot from the Blue tees might be able to cut the corner of this dogleg right, depending on the wind direction. From the Gold tees, you can cut a little bit off, but it is a 293 yard carry over that second fairway bunker, so probably better to just hit up the right center of the fairway. Shots that do find the fairway could offer a good look at the green in two strokes...especially as the second shot often turns with the prevailing wind. Caution, there is a small stream that runs up the right side of the rough, and while small, it will suck up an errant shot or two. About 75 yards short of the green, this stream heads underground for another 40 yards emptying into a larger lake waiting for any bold shots that miss right of the green. This lake is not visible from the fairway, so be aware that missing the green even a little right could spell disaster. The green itself is slightly elevated and is surrounded by rough, so it is tough to run a shot up the fairway onto the green. Once on the green, you will be faced with another undulating green that will make one-putts difficult. Like most of the holes here, if you just take it easy, this one should yield par or bogey at worst.

#9 - Loch Port - Par 4, 392 yards
This is one of the few holes where you need to be careful about hitting your drive too far. If you never hit it left, aim at the scoreboard in the distance and rip a driver up the right side as there is plenty of fairway to hit. If you have a tendency to hit hard hooks with your driver, best to leave it in the bag as there is a large lake on the left side 267 yards from the Gold tees and only 247 from the Blue tees. This lake comes into play all the way up the hole, so you would do well to hit a controlled fade into this green. The green slopes hard from back to front and left to right save for a small flatter area in the far back of the green. Two-putts are the norm.

The halfway house offers decent food, but not great food. Sometimes on summer weekends, they will be grilling outdoors on the patio which upgrades the dogs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches if you prefer.

#10 - The Sandless Bunker - Par 4, 387
A generous start to the back nine here with the easiest Par 4 on the course. Blast your drive almost anywhere for a straight shot into the green. A miss right could get you in some trouble with a few small pine trees blocking your look at the green from a severe side-hill lie while a miss left will almost certainly leave you in a small low patch of grass that once was a fairly penal fairway bunker. I'm not sure why they removed the bunker as it was the only thing that really protected this hole off the tee, but take advantage, and if you are going to miss the generous fairway, miss left. The green is quite large, and breaks predictably, so if your distance control with the approach is good, you might have an easy putt for birdie. If you don't hit the green near the pin, a 3-putt will be possible.

#11 - Jail! - Par 4, 426 yards
From this tee box, you will be looking directly at "Stateville" Prison. Best to play the tee shot straightaway...just pick some feature from the prison, and hit straight at it. Missing right on this dogleg left makes for a long hole, but missing left can be very bad. There lies perhaps the most "in-play" water hazard on the course, a small pond extending from 229-281 yards from the Gold tees, and will catch even more from the Blue. If the wind is howling behind you, and you can really drive it, you can fly the pond, but again, it is probably not worth the risk. The approach shot from the middle of the fairway is fairly uneventful, though the green does fall off from the middle down to the left side. A right pin placement means you will have to carry the greenside bunker, but the green in large enough to do so safely.

#12 - Pushover? - Par 5, 524 yards
Though the OB right can come into play here, especially from the Blue tees, don't be afraid to play up the right side of the fairway with your drive...and hit it hard. From the right side, the green is accessible in two shots, and a low runner can roll up onto the right side of the green. From the left side of the fairway, you might be able to get home, but it will require a blind shot through a "goalpost" in the trees blocking your view. The layup shot is a piece of cake, but the green is well protected by a gaping green side bunker fronting from the middle to the left side. The green itself is a shallow one on the left, but deep on the right. Putts will break toward the open portion of the green, but do so with some consistency, so the putts aren't as challenging as they might appear. A good par hole.

#13 - Easy As Pie - Par 3, 146 yards
Though I've seen loads of shots come up short of this green, it is a deep one, so take the higher club, and hit it solid. The green is well-protected from poorly struck and errant shots, especially left of the green where a steep hill drops balls into scrub rough leaving a very difficult shot back to the green. The green itself breaks a lot with two ridges crossing through the middle breaking putts to back left, back right, or down front. Don't make this hole harder than it is.

#14 - Tree Monster - Par 4, 378 yards
Though the cards still say 378 from the tips here, I just played off the brand spanking new back tees that has stretched this already difficult hole out to about 400 yards. Every shot you play on this hole is intimidating. First, you must fire your drive at a fairway that doglegs from right to left, and appears extremely narrow due to a HUGE tree on the left edge of the fairway. Drives that stray too far right will find water, or can easily get O.B., so don't fall for that temptation. You also can't go around the tree left as there is a lake extending almost all the way to the green. Go in that lake, and you will be dropping in rough about 165 yards from the green with a third shot that is all carry over that same lake to a shallow green with bunkers to the right. The best thing to do is to ignore the tree and hit a straight shot just to the right of it...trust me, there is more fairway there than it appears. Another option, if you can hit it very high, is to go right over the top of that tree. If you can pull off that shot, you will be very close to the green and have a good look at the pin. Finally, and this might seem crazy, but you can also aim well left of the lake and play up the 15th fairway. This is not the easiest approach to the green, but does take both O.B. and the tree out of play (just make sure you have GPS or a laser range finder if you choose this route). The green is back to front with front pin placements, but breaks much more in the middle or back. Personally, I think this is hands down the most difficult hole on the course.

#15 - You'll Never Make It - Par 5, 573 yards
The longest hole on the course, and one that most often plays into a stiff wind, will challenge your long game every time. Blast a driver to the wide fairway, then hit everything you've got just to get to a good layup distance. If the wind is helping rather than into you, be careful to avoid the right side fairway bunkers with your second shot...you want no part of them. Once you have reached a good short iron or wedge distance, make sure to check the pin placement, you want to be on the correct tier with your putt, especially if the pin is in the back. The green features a large ridge through the mid-back that will speed up any putt coming from front to back. This is a decent par hole, but birdies are rare.

#16 - Stamina - Par 4, 438 yards
So, how windy is it? Do you have enough left for yet another long Par 4 into the breeze, this time up a large hill? Give it a go, and don't be overly afraid of hitting your drive up the left side of the fairway as it will offer the best approach angle to the green. Any approaches from the right will have to carry a small but deep bunker fronting the green, and the course seems to enjoy tucking the pin just behind said bunker. In any case, your approach will likely be with a mid-long iron, so strike it well. The green is large and mostly flat, so the putting will be the least of your worries if you can hit this green in regulation. Once you hole out, don't drop your guard, this one finishes tough.

#17 - Subtlety - Par 3, 182 yards
They saved the hardest Par 3 for last, and for your sake, you got lucky with a SW wind. This hole is protected by a lake that runs up the entire left side of the hole with a gradually longer carry the further left you go. You may remember this lake as the one who stole your ball off the tee on #11, right? This green features large contours that will put a premium on distance control, though with a front pin, you can actually hit one a little short of the green and it may run right down to the hole. A back left pin is treacherous as even a well-struck shot that carries left may find a small bunker or deep rough. Oh, and while missing right isn't dead, too far right will be. Watch that wind, because a sliced shot may just reach another small lake that shouldn't even be in play.

#18 - A Watery Grave - Par 4, 414 yards
Yes, the lake is very much in play off the tee. If you hit it anywhere right of the barber pole with any kind of fading movement to it, even an adequately struck ball is going to be wet...trust me, stay left of the 150 pole, and if you can, hit a draw. You are probably a little fatigued after the last four holes, so don't let that swing get lazy, because your second shot is no piece of cake either. That lake stays in play until you are on the green here, so play to the left whenever possible, and hope for a middle pin placement. Do not fire at a short right pin as the putt will not be too bad from the middle to there. You might also be careful firing at a back left pin, as a bunker front and left is waiting. Don't forget, the 18th counts the same as the 1st, so stay focused until you sink that putt!

I hope this helps, and you are able to score well on your first or next visit to Prairie Bluff. Unless you live far north of the city of Chicago, please make a visit and let me know what you think...your wallet, and perhaps your scorecard might just thank me.

Fairways and Greens!

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