6,593 yards, 136 slope from the Blues
In Glencoe, IL sits Skokie Country Club. While Skokie is also a town in the Chicago suburbs, it’s about 15 minutes away. In fact, Evanston Golf Club is in Skokie proper, even though Evanston is a town in its own right. This all intrigues me, in large part because I was born in Evanston and lived in Skokie during my wee years until my parents decided to move out west to Pasadena. So in some bizarre six degrees of separation way, I felt a sense of familiarity as I pulled into the parking lot. Despite these geographical naming issues, Skokie CC sits in the idyllic suburb of Glencoe, among peaceful streets of charming colonials. I think I saw a few Save Ferris signs about.
As for the course, its history is impressive. Designed by Thomas Bendelow in 1904, the course was then re-designed by Donald Ross in 1914. In 1938 and after the acquisition of addional land, Langford and Moreau re-designed and re-routed to incorporate the additional land. Rees Jones then made changes in 1981. Then in 1999, Ron Prichard was retained to restore the course back to its Ross roots, with Tyler Rae included in that work. Prichard’s restoration included restoring greens and fairways to their original size, flattening out the bottoms of bunkers and removing a lot of trees that accmulated over the years. The greens, however are the heart of the course. Large and diverse, most ramp up from the fairway with hearty entrypoints. Sides are pushed up by bunkers, swales and undulations can get sophisticated. The size and shape of the greens define a lot of the identity of the course and distinguish it from most parkland courses, which typically offer greens that are smaller and undulate a lot more abruptly. All of this is more impressive since it’s done on relatively flat land. Yet the bunkering placement coincides with the fairways and greens to create elevation changes, and even the appearance of elevation. I often found myself as far as 150 yards away frm the green wanting to punch my approach so it would scamper onto the green, using the contours to my advantage. This seemed preferable to hitting a full shot and either getting the yardage wrong or ending up a little too far sideways, in one of these treacherous bunkers.
What I really enjoyed here were the firm and fast conditions. First, the course is designed to accomodate it. And any course where you could hit stingers, punches and bump and runs all day are my favorite. These conditions typically engage an entirely additional aspect of the game and here, added to its strategy. Course knowledge is also important, especially becoming acquainted with the greens and their various desirable and riskier spots. And knowing how the ball will move and roll after it lands.
Of course, firm and fast can be done well or not so well. Some times it makes sense while other times, not so much. Skokie some what deceives, whether intentional or unintentional. Visually, it appears in many respects like a parkland course that should be played aerially yet into the round, you realize there are a lot of similarities here to links play and may do well to play it more in that regard. The blend of visuals and incorporated styles, links and parkland, jives well. The course plays fantastically firm and fast, with the fairways leading up to and through the large greens, their larger size creating an array of lines and angles, all of it various playing options, captivating golfers of all size and shape, promoting an ideal match play arena.
My bucket list is a bit different than others but Skokie has been on it for a while. A history of legendary designers, restoring and moving forward in an admirable way, for the sake of great golf above all else, my intrigue level was strong from the get go. So on a hot dry day that seemed uncharacteristic for Chicago, the sun had to have been directly above the entire round. Baking for eighteen holes with my caddie, yet able to see every detail of the course, I was able to carry my intrigue for this course further and experience it myself.
The First is a 420 yard par 4 (from the Blues). An elevated tee shot from the ridge upon which the clubhouse sits to a fairway that turns right then left to the green. Two large bunkers are before the green and for the uninitiated, it may appear they are just before the green. They are not, there is still a ways to go. After the bunkers, the fairway feeds to the green, which then ramps up towards its rear in splendid fashion. Tons of pinnable areas instantly changing the dynamics of the hole as well.
The Second is a 187 yard par 3. Slightly downhill from the tee but flat for the most part, the green looks inviting enough while bunkers along the sides lurk beneath the surface. Hitting the green is the first order of business. Making sure it stays on and doesn’t roll off into one of the bunkers is an entirely different matter altogether.
The Third is a 532 yard par 5. The number one handicapped hole as we see a good amount of diversity with the opening sequence. The hole turns left all the way to the green while the hazards keep goading you to the right. It starts with the tee shot, which is a forced carry over water, and a bunker on the left side. The bunker and mounding blocks your view of the fairway while trees further up block your view of the left side even more. The fairway continues to the green, branching off to the left into bunkers on that side, with the main tributary more to the right. The fairway leads up to the green, with water on the right and greenside bunkers on each side. A tough tee and second shot to set up the approach, with lots of visuals suggesting different directions to the green.
The Fourth is a 425 yard par 4. A more straightforward fairway, meaning thw two bunkers off the fairway need to be avoided on ether side, the fairway bends slightly left with a bunker encroaching the fairway on the right a little further out. The fairway then leads up and on to the green.
The Fifth is a 165 yard par 3. The green is shaped like an upside down triangle, with the rear wider and front narrower. Bunkers are along the front sides as well, so everything wants you to go towards the rear of the green. Of course the front is more desirable. I hedged, hit to the center of the green and tried my best to act nonchalant about it in front of the foursome that graciously waved me through. Again, lots of interest on flat terrain.
The Sixth is a 378 yard par 4. Similar to the Third, the hole turns to the left while hazards protect that side, persuading you to the right and alas, further away from the hole for the approach. Another bunker on the right encroaches on that side further up, then on the left further up, a staggering of perpendicular bunkers to the fairway. The green is immense with an interesting alley around the back of the green, collecting those overly aggressive approaches and confounding recovery shots.
The Seventh is a 495 yard par 5. A slight double dog leg if you will, turning slightly right then slightly left. The first turn must be contended with off the tee, as it’s possible to hit it through the fairway into the bunker on the far side. Trees block the angles to the faurway after the turn to some extent, so a nice left to right tee shot should get you where you want to be. The second shot opens up a little but as we’ve seen, bunkers are built up from the fairway and are effective at demanding attention, encroaching on the fairway and affecting views beyond it. The green is large and subtle, running from back to front with pin placement dictating a lot.
The Eighth is a 419 yard par 4. Heading back to the ridge upon which the clubhouse resides, trees line both sides of a wide fairway, with the first and only fairway bunker on the left and the rest near the green, which start on the right side. The green is uphill on the ridge, making the approach longer but there’s plenty of room to get it on.
The Ninth is a 151 yard par 3. A forced carry over water, the green is wide yet runs hot from back to left and with a short grass slope short of it, balls in that area could possibly run all the way down, maybe even into the water. I learned this the hard way when I had to chip from the back of the green and what I thought was a nice line to the green kept running past the hole, all the way down. Much shorther of the green is short grass tilting right into the water but that really shouldn’t come into play. I mention it because while it seems you can use the ground to reach the green, it’s near impossible without ending up in the water. It’s very much an aerial shot.
The front nine is a solid routing with varied play and strategic shots all on mostly flat terrain with greens and bunkers built up, creating a treasure trove of interest. I would rank them 3, 1, 6, 2, 9, 7, 4, 5, 8.
The back nine starts with the 402 yard par 4 Tenth. Coming back down the ridge and parallel with the First, the fairway invites off the tee, sloping gently from right to left. The challenge is near the green, where the bunkers are below ground on either side, creating a wide area more off to the left before the green, which then feeds right up and through the green. Moving back to front, the green seems to beg to be used as a back board and adds to its fun.
The Eleventh is a 542 yard par 5. As the number one handicapped hole on this side, the fairway turns left after the tee shot, through trees closely guarding on both sides before opening up after the turn. Water and bunkers on the right have you steer to the left while the fairway opens up even more before the bunkers, creating a space for an ideal approach angle. After these bunkers, the fairway leads up to the green but the water is still on the right. The decision to make on the second shot is a critical one and there are several paths to take.
The Twelfth is a 175 yard par 3. A forced carry over water to a raised green, perpendicular to the tee, wide as hell and lots of terrific interior contours. There’s lots of bail out room off to the left for the conservative amongst us. The green is one of my favorite on the course. Generous enough in size, visually intimidating and a different set of challenges once on it, it makes this hole one of the more notable on the course.
The Thirteenth is a 502 yard par 5. The routing placing the holes as the land dictates, I’m a big fan of the 5-3-5 routing, or even 5-5. Straightaway off the tee, the staggered placement of bunkers on either side of the fairway demands you encounter one of them off the tee or on the second shot. After the fairway bunker on the left, the fairway narrows and water starts along the right side. Avoid that side, yet mind the greenside bunker on the left. Yet another great use of staggered placement of hazards on either side, demanding attention and forcing you to decide which ones to encounter and which to avoid.
The Fourteenth is a 405 yard par 4. A wider tree lined fairway off the teeis an opportunity to set up the approach, which is to a green with sunken bunkers on either side before it, creating a false front, and two on either side of it. Nailing the approach is vital to avoid a bevy of difficult recovery shots just waiting to ruin your score here.
The Fifteenth is a 319 yard par 4. The shortest par 4 on the course happens to be one of my favorite. Encroaching bunkers and accompanying mounds complicate lines off the tee while the fairway crooks right before heading to the green. Deciding where to go, what bunkers to take on or avoid are all pondered off the tee. The green is protected by a larger bunker on the front right but there’s an entrypoint on the left side to the green. The bunker placement on this hole is brilliant, creating strategy on each shot. Lots of fun.
The Sixteenth is a 207 yard par 3. The path home starts here, with an inviting, longer par 3 with bunkers lurking before, beside and beneath the green. The green is large enough for the longer tee shot but as we’ve seen, missing the green or hitting away from the pin means challenging recoveries.
The Seventeenth is a 418 yard par 4. A dog leg left with trees on both sides interspersed with long grass, clear the tree line off the tee for a clear line to the green. A sole bunker is on the right to collect overambitious tee shots as the fairway seems to keep turning all the way to the green. A narrower than typical fairway and a smaller than typical green, one gets the feeling the challenge ramps up on the closing holes. As the number 4 handicapped hole, it’s not just my imagination.
The Eighteenth is a 451 yard par 5. While a par 5 from the Blue tees, it’s a par 4 from the Championship tees. After a missed short putt, I silently cursed myself for ending on what I thought was a double bogey but literally as I’m writing this, just learned I was playing it as a par 5. So instead, I’ll silently curse myself for missing a par putt. The hole moves up the clubhouse ridge on the other side of the course from the Eighth, the fairway heads uphill. Tree line on the left, bunkers then water on the right, stay on the fairway. The green is on top of the ridge and on the far side is the rear alley we saw at the Sixth. Holing out, the course is below and before you with the clubhouse steps away, a splendid way to end the adventure.
The back nine loops around the other side of the property and while features more trees, remains diverse with a solid routing. I would rank them 11, 12, 15, 10, 16, 18, 17, 14, 13.
Generally, Skokie is an interesting classic parkland layout that relies on an excellent set of greens, brilliant bunker placement and selective width to allow a strategic round that makes its firm and fast conditions work well. All the more impressive on the relatively flat terrain, a combination of building up and below creates constant interest while trees and water are incorporated effectively in spots. The greens are really the soul of the course and because of their size can dramatically change the dynamics of the hole based on pin placement. They also saved some of the holes from being a bit redundant. I also enjoyed the fescue on the high side of the bunkers, which inserted a lot of randomness into those shots flirting with the bunkers. In all, Skokie is a terrific example of a well pedigreed classic course evolving through the years and now restored in a way that highlights its strengths. The strategic paths to the green and the greens themselves make it a course with complexities that its members strive to learn with each round.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Classic, unimposing, tasteful.
Practice area: A range was wedged between the Eighth and Tenth. Those at the range must be mindful of groups playing these holes and it’s best to altogether avoid hitting when they’re present in the fairways.