A Guide to Medinah Country Club in Chicago
Who would have thought?
Just 25 miles west of the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago lies a peaceful country club that is pristine in all aspects. Sure, there are a handful of classic golf courses within the vicinity of the Windy City, but let us break the news right now.
None are as pure from top to bottom as Medinah Country Club. The #3 course at Medinah has been the home of U.S. Opens, PGA Championships, and even a Ryder Cup for the ages. We want to tell you all about those unforgettable events and reminisce about some highlights, but not until after we properly introduce the golf course.
We aren’t just talking about exploring the layout and signature holes of the crown jewel of Medinah CC. We want to take you all the way back to the beginning when the club first opened nearly 100 years ago.
That way, you get a good grasp of how much history and tradition is truly packed into this golf club.
It’s not just that the biggest tournaments in the world have been held at Medinah. It’s the fact that the quality of golf and intense drama produced during those events has captivated the golfing world, and the memories will last a lifetime.
If you are excited to learn about and recall these moments, you’ve found the perfect landing page. Take a quick peek at this table of some basic facts about Chicago’s finest golfing venue. It will help set the stage for what’s to come!
Medinah Country Club – Key Facts
- Medinah, Illinois
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated by
- Course Designer
- Tom Bendelow, renovated by Rees Jones
- 7,657 yards
- Host to
- U.S. Open (1949, 1975, 1990), PGA Championship (1999, 2006), 2012 Ryder Cup, 2019 BMW Championship
- Official Website
Getting Acquainted with Medinah Country Club
When you look at Medinah Country Club in the present day, here’s what you see: an absolutely stunning piece of property with tons to offer. We can start by telling you that the club has 3 golf courses for its 600 or so members, all originally designed by “The Johnny Appleseed of American Golf,” Tom Bendelow.
Rees Jones, sometimes referred to as the “Open Doctor,” has come in and refurbished parts of the golf course in advance of the big events, but the original design belongs to Bendelow. While the #1 and #2 courses at Medinah are no slouches, it is the #3 course that receives all the notoriety.
After all, it’s the one that the 5 majors and Ryder Cup were played on. Needless to say, it’s the toughest of the bunch. It’s also the centerpiece of this article, as we plan on unveiling all the unique characteristics of Bendelow’s pride and joy.
While the club was established in 1924, the third and most illustrious course wouldn’t be completed until 1928. It was sometime during the early 1920s when the Shriners from Chicago’s Medinah Temple decided that building a private country club was in order. This fraternity of men quickly sought out Bendelow, as he was the man that could handle the job.
Considering that the Scottish-American golf course architect is said to have designed around 600 golf courses, the Shriners felt confident that Bendelow could carry out their vision.
The first course was completed in 1925, and in September of that year, officials from the Medinah Shriners organization played their first round of golf at the club.
At a little over 6,700 yards and with a course rating of 73.2, this is a fair but difficult test of golf. On a side note, in 2014, the #1 course at Medinah was restored by esteemed designer Tom Doak and is a real treat for the members.
The second course at Medinah was finished in 1926 and is said to be the easiest of the three tracks. When you take into account its 70.1 rating and compare it to the astronomical 78.3 rating of Course #3, that statement seems to ring true.
Before we hop into a detailed discussion about Medinah #3, we should quickly reference the exquisitely-designed clubhouse. At 120,000 square feet, this elegant space is without a doubt one of the standout features of the property. When you consider how brilliantly and carefully it was crafted, there should be no arguments.
Built by Richard G. Schmid when the club was first opened, the ceiling in the massive rotunda is a hand-painted mosaic. The murals on the walls in the grand ballroom were also applied by the hand of one of the club’s members, Gustav A. Brand.
It’s easy to confuse some of the rooms with those in an Italian cathedral – that’s how eloquently they are designed.
The good news for the golfers is that the design and layout of #3’s 18 holes are just as divine.
Looking at Medinah #3
Did you catch the snippet above where we referenced the course rating? If you missed it, allow us to refresh your memory.
Medinah #3 has a 78.3 rating, a 152 slope, and tips out at 7,657 yards. On paper, that is one brutal golf course. In person, it’s just as difficult. Medinah #3 is par 72, and it has four par 5s, but don’t expect to go on a birdie binge here. Two of the par 5s are over 600 yards, and the par 3s are no bargain.
Three of the four par 3s are guarded by a body of water that protects short of the green. That body of water isn’t just any random pond, either. It’s a notable lake.
Lake Kadijah is the massive lake that the layout is fitted around, coming into play on more than one occasion, as you’ll soon find out. The clever design of having Lake Kadijah intertwine its way through multiple holes is a special touch that needs to be appreciated.
Any mis-hit shots will wind up in the hazard, leaving you scrambling just to save a bogey. The two par 3s on the back side represent two of the more popular holes at Medinah, but it’s hard to single out one as the very best.
Our golf enthusiasts won’t choose just one hole, but instead, they’ll tell you about four, starting with the longest par 4 on the course: the 6th.
The 6th Hole
The difficulty of the 6th hole is undeniable, as it is the #1 handicap hole on the entire golf course. It might appear as a straight hole, but it’s actually the slightest of dogleg rights when being technical.
A right-handed player can sure use a power fade off this tee, as he or she will want to avoid the triad of fairway bunkers that lurk on the left edge of the fairway.
Given that the putting surface is multi-tiered, and there is a sand trap guarding each of the four corners, making par on this hole with even a perfect tee shot is a challenge. Should you miss the fairway and wind up in the bunkers or long rough, bogey or worse is almost a certainty.
The 13th Hole
Many call 13 at Medinah the signature hole of the course, and we can get on board with that claim. At 245 yards and over water, this is about as demanding of a par 3 as you’ll find, especially if the wind is swirling.
The green undulates from right to left, making any pin position on the right-hand side of the green incredibly treacherous. At the 1999 PGA Championship, this was where Sergio Garcia holed his birdie putt and unforgettably pointed back at Tiger Woods, essentially telling him that it was “game on.”
The sportsmanship paid off, as Tiger was visibly shaken and went on to double-bogey the hole and bring Garcia even closer to the lead.
As for the most famous moment of that Championship, that came just 3 holes later.
The 16th Hole
Remember that remarkable shot that the 19-year-old Spaniard played on Sunday? The one at the ’99 PGA when he was trying to chase down the seemingly invisible Woods? You couldn’t possibly have forgotten about that miraculous shot that Sergio hit from behind the oak tree with his eyes closed, could you?
Perhaps you were too young to see it live, but surely you have seen the replay. Here is the feed from the live coverage when it all went down.
You can hear Gary McCord and Peter Kostis muttering in disbelief as Sergio unleashes a straight-faced iron shot that somehow, some way, ended up on the putting surface. It’s almost impossible to have a legitimate discussion about the 16th hole at Medinah without bringing it up. That’s how incredible it was.
With its added length, the 16th hole is even harder than it was in 1999, now playing over 480 yards. The right trees and right rough over by where Sergio played from are frequented by plenty of players thanks to the fact that the hole bends sharply to the left right about in that area.
If you don’t shape your tee shot correctly, you’ll probably have to pitch back out to the fairway and hope to make par the hard way. Or, of course, you could try and be a hero like Serio was in 1999 and go for the gusto! Either way, once you play the 16th hole at Medinah #3, you won’t ever forget it.
The 17th Hole
Many will argue that the 13th hole is the best par 3 in the course, and it’s a valid argument indeed. However, those that consider the 17th as the marquee hole will get no complaints from us.
Like the 13th (and also the par-3 2nd), Lake Kadijah plays an integral role in the tee shot.
Whichever way the ripples are moving through the water is the same direction the wind will push your ball once it gets airborne and is traveling some 195 yards over the lake. This green isn’t as severely sloped as some of the others, but that doesn’t mean shots that miss the green won’t wind up in precarious spots.
Although, if you were Justin Rose playing against Phil Mickelson at the 2012 Ryder Cup, missing the green a hair long and left proved to be the perfect place to miss.
Now that we have warmed you up with a description of the keyholes and alluded to some of the finest moments of tournament golf at Medinah, let’s take it a step further. Let’s break down each of the major events.
A Trio of U.S. Opens at Medinah
While the 2012 Ryder Cup and past PGA Championships are freshest in the minds of the golf community, we can’t forget the three times the United States Golf Association (USGA) utilized the #3 track at Medinah to host their National Championship.
As you’ll learn below, all three were closely contested and came down to the wire. In fact, the first time the U.S. Open was held at Medinah was the only one of the three that didn’t require extra holes. Take a look.
The 49th U.S. Open was the first time the championship was held at Medinah Country Club, and boy was it a tough test. Playing a par 71, the 6,981 yards were extreme when you take into account the kind of balls and equipment the players were using.
The last man who was left standing when the week concluded was Tennessee native Cary Middlecoff. The former dentist, who would go on and win a total of three majors, captured his first right here at the 1949 U.S. Open, but it sure didn’t come easy.
After opening with a disappointing round of +4 75, Cary knew he needed to make up ground on Saturday, the day of the 2nd and 3rd rounds. All Middlecoff did was bounce back with sizzling rounds of 67 and 69, good enough to propel him all the way to the top of the leaderboard.
Paired in the final group with American Clayton Heafner, the two battled all day, with the lead changing hands multiple times throughout the day.
Cary Middlecoff was officially a U.S. Open champ.
By the time the USGA returned to host their flagship event for the second time, the course was even longer. Medinah #3 clocked in at 7,030 yards for the 1975 U.S. Open. Over the first couple days, the course yielded plenty of good scores.
In all, 6 men were in red figures at the halfway point, led by a 25-year-old kid from Kansas City named Tom Watson, who was at -7 after rounds of 67 and 68.
So how in the heck did 3-over-par win the tournament if 7 under was leading after 36? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s because Medinah decided to show its teeth, and it jumped up and bit the players. For the likes of Watson, the course didn’t just take a nibble out of him; it took a big gaping chunk.
Rounds of 78-77 over the weekend left Watson in a tie for 9th place with Arnold Palmer and Pat Fitzsimons.
At the conclusion of play, two men had posted 287 (+3) and were headed to a playoff. Four men finished just one shot back, while Jack Nicklaus and Peter Oosterhuis came up two strokes shy of the playoff.
Memphis State University alum Lou Graham had won two PGA Tour events prior to this week, but he never had even recorded a top-5 in a major championship. His opponent in the playoff was former Houston Cougar standout John Mahaffey. The two men were headed for a Monday morning “date with destiny.”
Despite Mahaffey playing rock solid and making 16 pars, it wasn’t enough that day. Graham shot even-par 71 to clip John by 2 shots and secure the title.
When the 1975 U.S. Open was held at Medinah, Hale Irwin finished in a tie for 3rd, one shot short of the playoff. Irwin had a chance to redeem himself at the private country club outside Chicago 15 years later in 1990. This time, he made sure he wouldn’t come up short.
Compared to the previous two Opens at Medinah, the conditions were relatively benign, and scores were out there to be had. All you have to do is glance at Thursday’s first-round leaderboard, and you’d quickly realize that the USGA allowed the players to go out and make some birdies.
The course was changed to a par 72 for the week, and the first day, 11 men broke 70. Steve Jones and Mike Donald shot five-under-par and were in a tie for 4th place!
By the time that Sunday morning arrived, 45-year-old Hale Irwin was a complete afterthought, starting the day tied for 20th. However, Irwin came to the 72nd hole of the championship 4-under-par on the day, needing to make something happen. Well, then this happened.
You can see Irwin famously running around the green in his bright-red pants, high-fiving the crowd in sheer disbelief. To the pleasure of Irwin, his total of 8-under-par would be enough to earn himself a Monday morning tee time with Mike Donald. Hale’s chance at a third U.S. Open was staring him right in the face.
The next morning in the playoff, things weren’t looking too promising for the former Colorado Buffalo golfer, as Irwin found himself trailing Donald by 2 strokes standing on the 14th tee.
That’s when the tide turned. Hale played his final 5 holes in 2 under, while Donald played them at even.
The two men had now completed 90 holes, yet were still right where they started, tied with one another. Fortunately for Irwin, he needed just one additional hole to complete his triumph.
Hale birdied the 1st hole (91st of the Championship), and the trophy was his for the third time. Just 13 days after celebrating his 45th birthday, Hale Irwin was now celebrating as the oldest U.S. Open champion in the event’s 90-year history.
Tiger Tames Two PGA Championships
Two PGA Championships have been hosted at Medinah Country Club, yet one man’s name covers them both. Perhaps you have heard of Eldrick Tont Woods, otherwise simply known as “El Tigre”? Does that name ring a bell?
If you have been reading this passage closely, then you already know what happened. This was the tournament that a 23-year-old, baby-faced Tiger Woods was able to hold off an extraordinary late rally by a 19-year-old kid they called “El Niño.”
Tiger would finish the tournament at -11, 277, one shot ahead of Garcia and enough to put his name on the Wanamaker Trophy for the first time.
We already showed you the clip of Sergio hitting that astounding shot from behind the oak tree that led to his memorable “high-kick” as he scurried up the fairway. It was the least we could do, being that it’s one of the most replayed golf shots in the last 25 years on tour.
Playing in the penultimate group and in front of Woods on Sunday, Garcia birdied the 10th to reach 10-under-par for the week. When he made a gorgeous deuce on the par-3 13th and reached 11-under-par, he signaled to Woods that he was coming for him.
Just minutes later, Tiger made double, and Sergio was now just one back. Game on.
If you remember, Mike Weir actually started the day tied for the lead with Woods. If you don’t think that playing with Woods in the final group on the Sunday of a major is any pressure, just ask the Canadian lefthander who had to experience the crowds and the cheers that day. Weir shot 80 and fell back into a 6-way tie for 10th.
The day would no doubt belong to Tiger and Sergio, as their battle down the stretch was the beginning of what has turned out to be quite a rocky relationship.
This may have been the first time the two men would battle, but it’s safe to say that Tiger and Sergio have never quite seen eye to eye.
If the Tiger-Sergio duel at Medinah in ’99 got your blood flowing, Tiger’s performance seven years later when the PGA of America returned to Medinah was epic. Garcia wouldn’t finish as the runner-up this time around, but the Spaniard did shoot 12-under-par and finish third. Nothing to hang his head about.
Unfortunately for Garcia, and the rest of the field for that matter, there was nothing he nor they could do to stop Tiger from winning the Wanamaker Trophy this week. While his wins in 1999 and 2000 (in a playoff over Bob May at Valhalla) were closely contested, the 2006 PGA was not.
Woods absolutely bludgeoned the golf course, dismantling the Rees Jones restoration hole by hole. This was the 12th time he either shared or co-led a major after 54 holes. Lo and behold, he went on and won in all 12 of those instances.
Not only did Tiger break par each day, but the highest round he shot was 69. His rounds of 69-68-65-68 totaled 18-under-par, five shots clear of 2003 PGA champion Shaun Micheel, and 6 shots clear of Garcia, Adam Scott, and Luke Donald.
The 2012 Ryder Cup
It is hard to sum up the 2012 Ryder Cup into words, but the best way we can describe it is to call it an “instant classic.” If you appreciate comebacks and riveting finishes, this is right up your alley.
After splitting the opening session of foursomes on Friday morning, the American squad won the next two sessions 3-1 to take a commanding 4-point lead.
In fact, the Americans had a chance to step on the Europeans’ throat and sweep Saturday afternoon’s four-ball session, which would have given them a 12-4 unsurmountable lead heading into Sunday’s singles.
Instead, the duo of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald defeated the tandem of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 1 up to cut into the deficit.
In the anchor match, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter rallied to beat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson by the same mark of 1 up. If you want a shade under 5 minutes of tantalizing snippets from the last 5 holes of that match, watch the video below.
Watch the back-and-forth action between Ian Poulter and Michael Jordan, who was assisting the United States team that week as a quasi-assistant. Good luck not getting goosebumps listening to MJ talk about the heroic performance from Poulter that day, because our skin was covered.
Michael subsequently had this to say to The Golf Channel.
“In the Ryder Cup, he has it. I don’t know how, what he does. He has it. I’ve learned not to mess with Poulter. I can’t get underneath his skin.”
If you don’t think Poulter birdieing the final five holes in succession late on Saturday afternoon had a positive impact on Sunday’s outcome, then you just don’t understand how momentum works in the game of golf.
Still trailing 10-6, the Euros needed to be more than impressive on Sunday. They needed to flat-out dominate.
Front-loading his roster with a number of heavy hitters, captain José María Olazábal’s squad won the first five matches out of the gate on Sunday and announced to the United States’ team that this was going to be a dogfight of an afternoon.
The first big swing was when Justin Rose flipped the script on Phil Mickelson, birdieing 17 and 18 to steal the match 1 up. Once Garcia defeated Jim Furyk in the 8th match of the day, Captain Love knew that his American squad was in the midst of letting this one slip away.
A six-footer for par on the 18th in match 11 by German Martin Kaymer sealed the deal. Olazábal let the tears stream out. The Europeans had completed the comeback and retained the cup by the slimmest of margins: 14 ½ – 13 ½.
Was this a miracle or a meltdown? We’ll let you be the judge, but regardless of which side you’re on, this was arguably the most eventful and drama-filled Cup that has ever been played.
A Sports Town Like No Other
We have given you loads of detailed information about the #3 track at Medinah Country Club. Now we want to tell you a little bit more about the Chicago suburb in which the course is located. Unfortunately, your chances of playing a round at Medinah are going to come down to you pulling a few strings.
We suggest making friends with a longtime member and trying to score an invite that way. Otherwise, you may have to resort to attending the 2019 BMW Championship scheduled to be played at Medinah.
The cool part about the area is that while it is a relatively quiet and quaint area, the unincorporated community of Medinah is just a short commute from downtown Chicago.
Want to catch a Cubs game while you’re in town? Perfect, because Wrigley Field is less than 30 miles from the golf course. As for our White Sox fans, you need not worry. Guaranteed Rate Field, the home of the “South Siders,” is about the same distance away.
If baseball isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps catching one of the other professional sports teams in action will be. Not only do they have a pair of MLB franchises, but the Windy City is home to the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, the NFL’s Chicago Bears, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, and MLS’s Chicago Fire.
If you can’t pick a sport out of that bunch to follow, then that’s on you. You may want to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you really are a fan of professional sports, because Chicago has it all.
Don’t forget to stop by Willis Tower or Millennium Park while perusing around town. The sights and attractions in Chi-Town are quite the scene, as gigantic buildings and high-rise skyscrapers surround the heart of the city.
We don’t pride ourselves on being tour guides, but we will give you one final recommendation.
Now, it won’t taste the same in other cities, and I promise that your grandmother doesn’t season the beef like they do at the go-to spots in Chicago. Until you visit the city and try them for yourself, you’ll just have to take our word for it.
Some Finishing Remarks
The most exclusive and top-notch golf courses in the country are the ones that have hosted major championships – that’s just the way it is in the world of golf. We can also tell you that the USGA and the PGA of America have an extremely diligent procedure they undergo when selecting venues to host their championship events.
The fact that Medinah has been home to multiple U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships, and a Ryder Cup places it in rarefied air when it comes to golf facilities in the country.
We told you how and when it opened and mentioned that Tom Bendelow designed three courses on site. The fact that the #3 Course has blossomed into what it has become is a testament to how pure the track is.
With some new upgrades and improvements on tap for 2020, the country club will only be getting better.
Perhaps you can make it to Medinah in the fall of 2019 for the BMW Championships. If you are lucky enough to be a spectator, consider yourself blessed. Just don’t leave without trying that Chicago beef sandwich we told you about. It’s almost as good as the golf course!