In the past month I had the opportunity to play two wonderful Seth Raynor courses – Chicago Golf Club and Blue Mound Golf & Country Club. For those who appreciate architecture from earlier days, these two layouts offer incredible examples of classic design.
Raynor was mentored by Charles Blair Macdonald, the noted architect who crafted the National Golf Links of America. The two collaborated on many superb courses including Chicago Golf Club, Yale Golf Club, Camargo in Cincinnati and The Country Club of Charleston (SC). The interesting characteristic of these courses is certain hole designs are repeated at each venue. If you tend not to notice such similarities, you still may walk away with the feeling that you’ve played a certain hole before in another place.
Raynor often incorporated hole designs Cape, Redan, Short, Biarritz, Alps, to name a few. The features migrated from layouts in the British Isles. If you examine courses on Google Earth it’s easy to spot common characteristics in the green complexes and surrounding bunkers. While the holes aren’t exact duplicates the strategy employed to play the holes are the same.
Playing with two longtime friends at Chicago Golf (some aficionados like to simply call it Wheaton), I progressed through the round absorbing the many subtleties Macdonald and Raynor employed. It wasn’t my first time around the venue. I played it back in the persimmon/muscleback era with balata ammunition. Despite the advances in technology the course more than held its own. Yes, some of the approaches to the greens may have been a bit shorter but undulations, false fronts, and strategic bunkering demanded precision. I remarked to my buddy RB on the twelfth (punchbowl), how amazing it was to take a straightaway hole and give it movement through the use of cross bunkers and sweeping fairway definition. Top it off with the elevated punchbowl green and number twelve at CGC is one of the finest par fours you can play.
I had never played Blue Mound so the experience would be similar to opening the pages of a new book. The course has been compacted by the urban sprawl surrounding the property but the routing is well thought out with the outward nine surrounding the inward. EJ, the retired starter told us to watch out for the three-tiered putting surface on the second. Little did my nephew and I expect the tiers would not run up the green. Instead they were placed left front, right front, and back right, three different elevations that offered a stern putting challenge. After that encounter the par-three third threw a Biarritz green at us and we were on our way. I managed to sling a five iron to the back of the green at the Redan (#13) although the flag was placed in the middle of the heaving putting surface. The Redan at Blue Mound is fun to play. At Chicago, it can be excruciatiing
Holes eight and nine are excellent models of solid par-fours. The long, uphill eighth offers players a ground option to its punchbowl although you’d better not be short as a cavernous bunker left of the green swallows the weak appraoch. The shorter ninth leads players back to the wonderful lannon stone clubhouse through a maze of cross bunkers to a deceptively sloping green. It is a wonderful finish to a solid outward nine.
Both courses feature unremarkable property. However the ingenious talent of the architect(s) more than compensates for any deficiencies. The green complexes at both offer marvelous tests. While Chicago intricately mows square edges on their putting surfaces, Blue Mound still maintains the integrity of their design at a well-manicured level. The start in Illinois will quickly grab your attention (450, 440, 220) whereas the initiation north of the state line is a bit more cordial. The first green at Blue Mound does remind the player of what is to come with its two-shot Redan. As severe as the yardage test is at Chicago on the opening threesome, you had better bring your best putting touch to Blue Mound’s starting trio.
I’m often asked to name my favorite course. I’ve played tournament courses, sleepy country clubs, ranked resorts and upscale muny’s. I’m lucky to have seen so much and been able to bring a decent (some might debate this) skill level to these offereings. Yet when I’m asked to name a favorite it has to fall under the category of “a course I’d enjoy playing every day”. Certainly CGC and Blue Mound fit the bill. While both venues fall well short of 7000 yards, they prove themselves is so many ways. Yes the design features are markedly similar but in reality show me a modern day architect who doesn’t employ the same tendencies from course to course. Dye, Fazio, Trent Jones and Nicklaus have the same things up their sleeves as Macdonald, Raynor, Ross and MacKenzie. Great design is timeless.
As years roll by and the adage “the older I get the better I used to be” rings true, I understand the importance of walking off the eighteenth green with an appreciation of all the game has given me. Whether it’s a decent score, the beauty of the day, the camaraderie of close friends, an admiration of the architecture, or some combination of these factors, a day on the golf course is always an enjoyable privilege.
Another good friend, JV, contends that to play a “shrine” is a very special golf experience. They’re out there but most players don’t understand the connotation. Most don’t take the time to appreciate what they are walking across. Most see it as sport rather than a game. With sport, the only thing that matters is winning. However, playing the game of golf affords several chances to win regardless of the numbers on the card. Holing out on the final greens in Wheaton and Wauwatosa allowed me to put many “W’s” on my memory scorecard. The essence of PurePlayGolf was very evident those two fall days.
Raynor’s works granted me a chance to step back in time and see that indeed great design and great golf are truly timeless. Before the snow flies get out and open your eyes to the many wonders golf provides. Get out and PurePlay.