6,321 yards, 127 Slope
Course: Ravisloe is in Homewood, IL, which is part of the suburbs south of Chicago. The course was private until a few years ago, when it opened to the public. Apparently, dwindling membership caused it to turn public, but the remaining members have done a terrific job keeping this course in great condition, even springing for restoration work as well by David Esler in 2001. Now the club appears to be flourishing and came up in almost every conversation I had when asking where to play when I was in Chicago.
Personally, I was interested in playing the course because it’s considered a Donald Ross design. The original course dates back to 1901, when Theodore Moreau and James Foulis designed about 101 acres. William Watson then revamped the entire course in 1910, along with an additional 55 acres. Ross was asked by the membership in 1916 to renovate the course, which he did from 1917 through 1919, then fine tuned until 1924. Along with Esler’s restoration of Ross’ work, Ravisloe is certainly a Ross design and many of the distinct features of his were immediately recognizable.
The clubhouse is also worth mentioning. It’s impressive classic Spanish architecture that towers over the course. It definitely adds to the experience here, as these kinds of grandiose clubhouses are becoming rarer as time goes by.
The course itself features creative bunkering, signature Ross mounds, a few water hazards and unique routing in a park land setting on a relatively flat piece of land, save for some elevated greens and a few gentle slopes here and there. The greens are also the most challenging I’ve seen on any Ross course. More than most, I actually felt like I was in a park during the round. There are no houses and no streets with traffic around (except for the Sixth I believe). Most of the time, though, you’re amongst the many trees and ponds that make up the course, which makes for a pleasant setting. Ravi challenged you in a lot of different ways and usually penalized bad shots with making you hit out of severe bunkers. You will use all of your short game shots as well, as there are a variety of hills, contours, and undulating greens to account for. I found it a little more daring in its bunkering and routing than LuLu, but that’s the great thing about Ross; I’ve found thus far that his courses maintain unique within his design characteristics. Overall, I was right at home here and loved the course.
We arrived fairly early after spending a night downtown. It was Friday so we expected crowds almost as big as we saw at the Ryder Cup the previous day, but on the contrary, there were only a few people about. I got one of the coolest divot tools I’ve seen and after warming up at the range, we were off.
You know the other thing that was off? My short game. This is definitely not the course where you should lose all semblance of a short game, so things were relatively rough for me. The rest of my game kept me decent, but those holes I ended up in one of several nasty bunkers was a lot of medicine to take. After a couple weeks though, I re tooled my wedge shots and am playing much better, so not to worry. Just wish I could go back and see what I could do now…
The First is a par 4 at 395 yards. The tee area is lined up with the left side of the hole, where there are a few trees and a bunker. So a draw is preferred off the tee. There are bunkers on the right side that come into play on your second shot while the green slopes towards a bail out area to the right. There is no fringe here, so it’s feasible that overly strong putts to pins set towards the right could roll off into this area. A bunker is left of the green, making a difficult out when you have this sloped bail out area on the other side.
|Approach shot at the First|
The Second is a 535 yard par 5 featuring a narrow fairway lined with trees on both sides that proceeds gently downhill. There bunkers on the left side of the fairway around the landing area of tee shots while Ross signature mounds are across the fairway on the right in the same area. The fairway runs right into the green, which is another Ross favorite, the turtleback green designed to repel approach shots off the green.
|Tee shot at the Second|
|The turtleback green at the Second|
The Third is yet another par 5 at 490 yards. The tee shot is to an uphill fairway, with a bunker towards the right on both sides of the hill. Another bunker is further down the fairway on the left side. The approach shot here is one of the more interesting, as bunkers swarm, surround and protect this green like they’re the Secret Service. So I think I’ve coined a new design term here, “swarm style” bunkers. Any time bunkers basically overwhelm a green, then you have swarm style bunkers. Or something like that. The green slopes from back to front and there is an opening in front of the green to allow room to roll it on, in true Ross fashion.
|Tee shot at the Third|
|Approach shot at the Third with the swarm bunkers|
The Fourth is the first par 3 at 181 yards. Swarm bunkers every where. They line the hole from the tee area to the green on both sides, then surround the green on all sides, except the front. The bunkers are deep, so getting out and on the green is a huge ordeal and it’s rather easy to actually hit into another bunker further down the hole. Trouble here can multiply pretty easily.
The Fifth is a 315 yard par 4 that dog legs right. The fairway is divided by a diagonal row of bunkers around the tee landing area. The green is then angled about 2:00 from that landing area and has some swarm bunkers of its own. There is a bail out area over on the right side of the green, which also helps. You could also try and carry the mid-hole bunkers, which gives you a shorter, and more manageable, approach shot.
|Tee shot at the Fifth|
|Approach shot at the Fifth|
The Sixth is a shortish par 3 at 135 yards. The green is rather large and slopes back to front and left to right and there are bunkers around the green, one long one along the right side, and two on the left side. Keep in mind that most of these bunkers are deep and severe. Hitting out of them to set up for an up and down is much more difficult than most shallow green side bunkers you come across.
The Seventh is the second of back to back par 3’s, but is much longer at 203 yards. You have to carry a water hazard to a generous green, with a bunker on the left. There is bail out room front and right, so getting over the water should be relatively easy. There’s also places along the left to lay up, as it is.
|The Seventh. Turn the fountain off, you guys.|
At this point in the round, I was not playing well. It was tough to hit the ball for some reason and when you get to that point, you start to try and figure out what the problem is. You can blame the course for taking you out of rhythm or being too difficult/gimmicky or just giving off bad vibes; you can blame your equipment for basically being crappy and outdated and/or defective; you can blame your playing partners for being lame; or you can blame yourself for just not having it some times. I blamed myself, which tells you something about this course; I liked it so much I didn’t turn on it. Oh, and yeah, I switched back to my old wedges and my short game is much better now that those lame defective wedges are out of my bag. Despite my struggles, I was enjoying the course and its design and eventually came out of my funk.
The Eighth is a 390 yard par 4 that slants slightly to the right. There is a rather large bunker complex with island roughs on the right. The fairway is blocked on the front by a bunker and there is another once that runs the entire left side of the green. This is one of the rare Ross holes that is virtually inaccessible at the front of the green.
|Approach shot at the Eighth|
The Ninth is a 405 yard par 4. The tee shot is slightly uphill, which then gently crests to a gradual downhill until the fairway ends about 100 yards out with cross bunkers on either side. There are trench bunkers running along the left and right side of the green as well.
|Approach at the Ninth|
I really liked the front 9, which I would say is very good. The routing was unique, but as with all great routings, the holes seem to flow together and I didn’t realize there were back to back par 5’s and par 3’s until after the round when I looked at the scorecard.
For my patented ranking of the front 9, I’d go 3, 4, 5, 2, 1, 6, 9, 8, 7. The par 5’s were exceptional, the par 4’s were interesting and diverse and the par 3’s were great one shotters, except for the Seventh, where I feel you can find a longer forced water carry most places.
You don’t come back to the clubhouse after nine, so you have another hole to go before getting to a nice halfway house to stock up on food and, well, beer.
The Tenth is a 395 yard par 4, where you tee off over the road you came in on to a narrower fairway. There’s a ridge that runs across the fairway about 150 yards out and with the rough on it, can make your second shot a little tough if your ball gets onto it. There are bunkers around the green and what struck me here are the severe lines and rigidity of the bunkers and edges of the green. This gives character to each bunker and makes the holes have personality. You also have to think your way out of the bunkers, as going out to the pin is not always an option.
|Off the right side of the Tenth, about 150 yards out.|
|The Tenth green. Note the rigid bunker edges.|
|Another look. Still don’t feel the photos capture the severity of the mounds.|
The Eleventh is a 226 par 3, but it played forward to about 186 yards for us. There are deep bunkers on the left side of the green, which slopes in that direction as well. The right side is actually safe all the way up, but going too far right risks going into a bunker or into trees.
|The Eleventh. Nice little bunker formation there on the left.|
The Twelfth is a 400 yard par 4. You tee off to a generous fairway, but there is a bunker in the middle of the fairway that probably comes into play for longer hitters off the tee. Two bunkers on the left side while contours on the right guard the green, which makes you use some imagination on your approach to get to the pin, as flopping it close may be too much of a risk.
|The Twelfth green
The Thirteenth is a 550 yard par 5 and an outstanding hole. The tee shot is a little off right of the fairway, which is narrow and rolls up and down to the green. Large 30 yard trench bunker on the right of the fairway about 228 out, then small pot like bunkers about 80 yards further up on the left side. Moving up another 100 yards, the fairway bottlenecks to a ridge and cross bunkers. This area spans 100 – 60 yards from the green, which has a horseshoe shaped bunker on the left and another bunker along the front right. The contours, ridges, hills and narrowness of this hole make it visually appealing while downright challenging.
|Tee area of the Thirteenth|
|Approach shot at the Thirteenth|
The Fourteenth is a 410 yard par 4 with a tee shot over a creek that runs across the hole. There are two bunkers on the right of the fairway in the tee landing area, then multiple bunkers on the right as you proceed to the green. There are trees that come into play on the right of the fairway and the rear of the green, which is tilted towards the left and slopes form right to left. Actually, trees frame most of the hole as well, as can be seen below.
|Tee shot at the Fourteenth|
The Fifteenth is a 156 yard par 3 that also goes over a creek that runs across the hole. The green is elevated and this is a big swarm style bunker hole. There are three that line up on the right side of the green and pretty much the entire right side is one huge bunker. You should hit the green here, or be lucky like me and hit it to the right of the green on the six inch strip of grass between humongous bunkers.
|The Fifteenth, in front of the tee area.|
The Sixteenth is a 390 yard par 4 where you encounter more of those contours along the right side of the hole near the tee landing area then cross bunkers about 50 yards from the green. The bunker on the left is large and has those rough green islands scattered in it. There’s also a false front here, so bear in mind that the green is much smaller than it looks.
|The approach at the Sixteenth|
The Seventeenth is a 400 yard par 4 that features an uphill blind tee shot, with a tree lined fairway that goes uphill, then downhill, then uphill to an elevated green. The green has a few levels and undulates.
|Tee shot at the Seventeenth|
The Eighteenth is a 355 yard par 4 that bends a little left and can almost be labeled as the supreme swarm style bunker hole. There’s one short right to collect badly struck the shots, there’s a row of 6 on the left that begin about 235 out, which sit diagonally across from a Q shaped bunker, then you have six surrounding the green, three on the right and three on the left. The play on this hole appears to be to hit it just short of the string of bunkers on the left, which leaves you about 120 to the green. That should be safe enough to give you a good opportunity to hit the green and avoid all those bunkers. I played the hole nothing like that, but next time, that’s my play.
|The string of bunkers along the left on the Eighteenth, the supreme swarm style bunker hole|
|Approach shot at the Eighteenth|
The back 9 finishes with a bang, as the Eighteenth gave you a lot of trouble to deal with, yet rewards good shots. Ranking the back 9, mine would be 13, 18, 15, 10, 17, 16, 14, 12, 11. The one par 5 on this 9 was fantastic while the barrage of par 4’s were different enough to remain interesting. The par 3’s were nice, but didn’t have the same originality as the other holes.
The cart girl was nice and came around enough, they give you a nice course map for free and everyone had that Midwestern charm.
Generally, I thought this course was tougher than its 127 slope. I’d probably put it at 131. The bunkers were relentless and the contours and ridges made for a lot of awkward lies. It tested your skills without ever creating a sense of impossibility. There was some amount of strategy here, but the emphasis was more on how creative you could get with your short game. On most of the holes, laying up short, then a bump and run to the hole would be a smart play. The bunkering and contours here had a Seth Raynor quality to them, more geometrical, that I actually enjoy seeing on a course. The distinct design, aesthetics and history of the course made for a great round, even if it wasn’t my best scoring day.
I’m glad that this course found a way to survive and is now thriving. Courses like this, which are rich with history and provide a window into the past, how golf used to be played and what was emphasized all while being one of a kind never to be replicated, are important to show how little and how much golf has changed. And yes there are a number of courses that give you that, with Merion, National Golf Links and Pine Valley to name a few, but the exclusivity of most of those courses doesn’t give the average golf enthusiast a chance to appreciate those same ideals. Places like Ravisloe do and for that reason alone, hope to see it in the same or better shape next time I stop by when I’m in town.
Gripes: Nothing major. There’s a road with some traffic along the Sixth that was noticeable, some of the tee areas were a little beat up and it was a little but of a hike from the city.
Bar/grill: Very nice. Bar area was well stocked and large, and there were tables as well. Further down the room, there were lounge chairs, then a separate lounge area. And TV’s all over the place so we could see the U.S. kicking butt in Ryder Cup until their big choke on Sunday.
Clubhouse: Well stocked and sized with decent shirts and hats. As I mentioned, they also sell the best divot tool ever.
Nearby: Kind of near where my Dad grew up and other family are still nearby. Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine.
Getting there: About 45 minutes south of downtown Chicago.