Chicago's Must-Play Golf Courses

Chicago’s Must-Play Golf Courses

Dubsdread is marked by tight, rolling fairways, plenty of bunkers and large trees.
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One of my favorite memories of the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was standing at the practice putting green when a mother and her young son approached two golf industry veterans, Joe Jemsek and Karsten Solheim. Mother hesitated, then said, “Excuse me, Mr. Ping, could I get your autograph?” Jemsek stepped forward and said politely, “M’am, his name isn’t Mr. Ping.” Mother quickly responded, “Oh, I’m sorry. Dr. Ping — could I have your autograph?”

It’s easy to understand why Joe or Jane Average might have called Solheim by the Ping name. Likewise, it would have made sense to call Jemsek, “Mr. Cog Hill.” Actually, there was a real Cog Hill, Bert Coghill, who with his two brothers developed the property and who built its first two courses in the 1920s. It was Jemsek, however, who grew up caddieing at Cog Hill Golf Club ( review), who brought the facility into national prominence.

Jemsek filled every conceivable position at Cog Hill, from caddie master to cook and bottle washer. When he bought the place in 1951, he knew it inside and out. He added a third course in 1963 and then in 1964, commissioned Dick Wilson and Joe Lee to build him what became his pride and joy, the No. 4 course at Cog Hill. In its early days, No. 4 was a supreme challenge. Back when 7,000 yards at sea level was considered a brute, Cog Hill No. 4 could be stretched to 7,300 yards. Toss in 100 good-size bunkers, half of them flanking the fairway landing areas, and you had one formidable test, one that quickly acquired the nickname, “Dubsdread.”

In 1991, Jemsek’s long-held dream of hosting the game’s best over his beloved No. 4 came to fruition when the PGA Tour’s Western Open made the switch from Butler National, whose men-only policy fell afoul of new Tour regulations. The course was an instant hit. Mark Calcavecchia said the course “could host a U.S. Open tomorrow.” Tiger Woods gushed, “There aren’t too many golf courses that you come to that you absolutely love the layout. I love this golf course. The holes look and fit my eye.”

Unfortunately, Jemsek’s ultimate goal for Dubsdread — to host a U.S. Open — went unrealized. Even though its list of champions is impressive, with Jim Furyk winning last year, Woods reigning in 1997, 1999 and 2003 and Nick Price winning in 1993 and 1994, the layout lost luster in the eyes of the USGA by yielding low scores to the pros and by serving up soft, inconsistent greens during the 1997 U.S. Amateur, won by Matt Kuchar.

Joe Jemsek passed away in 2002 at the age of 89. However, his legacy lives on through his son Frank, who has committed to going to the wall to bring a U.S. Open to the course that meant so much to his dad. Following this year’s Cialis Western Open, Rees Jones, the “Open Doctor,” will overhaul the course. Obviously, there are no guarantees. Yet, the much-beloved Jemsek was a Class A PGA professional from the early 1940s until his death. He was named PGA Professional Golfer of the Year in 1991. He was the first individual to represent public golf when he served on the USGA’s Executive Committee from 1988-89. With Rees Jones working his prepping-for-an-Open magic, and lots of sentiment directed the Jemseks way, don’t be surprised to see the national championship head back to the Windy City’s public golf mecca someday.

While Cog Hill No. 4 is the top public-access trophy course in the Chicago area, there are a others that come awfully close.

Kemper Lakes Golf Club, Hawthorn Woods review
This long-time Senior Tour host also was the site of Payne Stewart’s first major championship win, the 1989 PGA. The rugged, watery closing stretch gets all the ink, but the best holes come earlier, such as the dogleg-right, par-5 11th that offers a tree-lined tee shot, followed by a superb risk/reward second over water from a slight downhill lie. Play this one soon as it keeps threatening to go fully private.

Pine Meadow Golf Club, Mundelein review
The Dubsdread of the North Side is a gorgeous, Jemsek-owned parkland layout designed by Cog Hill #4 contributor Joe Lee. It was built on the grounds of an old seminary and is edged with forest preserves and dotted with lakes.

Orchard Valley, Aurora review
Illinois native Ken Kavanaugh returned “home” from Arizona to craft a course that blends classic Midwestern sensibilities with modern desert design. He infused the gently rolling layout with vast, sandy waste areas, greenside mounds and undulating putting surfaces. Mark Hensby once captured the Illinois Open here.

Cantigny Golf Course, Wheaton review
Robert R. McCormick, former publisher of the Chicago Tribune, decreed in his will that his estate should serve as a recreational spot for the people of Illinois, and these 27 holes occupy a substantial portion of that estate. The Woodside, Hillside and Lakeside nines are equally worthy, but the Lakeside boasts the signature hole, the watery par-4 ninth, with an enormous bunker in the shape of Dick Tracy.

Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]