- Blue/White – 6,780 yards, 142 Slope from the Blues
- Red/Blue – 6,594 yards, 143 Slope from the Blues
- White/Red – 6,468 yards, 141 Slope from the Blues
The Chicago golf scene is a strong one and coming from the East Coast, the similarities and differences compliment each other nicely. The terrain is flatter for the most part throughout the immediate Chicago area, which impacts design style to some extent yet the rolls within the land are generally used very well. While the Philadelphia area enjoys a strong collection of Flynn, Ross, Tillinghast, Wilson and Findlay, Chicago has courses from a number of designers not generally seen much if at all in our area. Langord, Moreau, Colt, Alison; several courses out there had involvement by these historical figures that don’t generally have a presence out here (Colt being the exception with his work at Pine Valley). Of course there’s overlap, mainly with Donald Ross leaving well known courses in both places (and pretty much every where else). The biggest similarity between both cities is the sheer number of outstanding sleeper courses that don’t get talked about enough. The point is when I find myself in Chicago with time for a round or two, it’s always fun and refreshing seeing so many solid courses to choose from, many originating from architects I haven’t had the pleasure of playing too many of their courses. Many others aren’t familiar at first glance but once I started looking into them, I wonder why I haven’t heard anything about the place before.
Butterfield is one of those I didn’t know much about before arriving. In Oak Brook west of Chicago proper, with Butler National essentially next door and at least ten courses within a 15 mile radius, Butterfield was designed by William Langford in 1920 as a 27-hole facility. Much of his work was changed throughout the twentieth century but then in 2010, Steve Smyers came in and performed restoration work, bringing back the keen geomterical shaping of the greens, removing a significant number of trees to open up sight lines that had disappeared over time, restoring original tee landing areas of the fairways, developing additional strategic elements and renovating the waterways to more efficiently handle draining and flowing of the creeks and streams.
I played the Blue/White combo. The shaping was indeed breathtaking. Flashing bunkers of all different shapes and sizes carved into or rising out of mounding and hills; a thrilling set of greens accentuated with wild sloping collection areas and just the right amount of heroic carries made this a total and complete, yet welcome, unexpected surprise. While I didn’t really have any definitive expectations going in, it wouldn’t have mattered – I still would have been floored. The amount of character here was impressive. It was the kind of round I immediately wanted to go around again just to take different lines and approaches armed with the knowledge gained from the first round.
Unfortunately, my time here was more limited than I planned. Between a cancelled flight that had me coming in hours later than I was supposed to and a looming late afternoon thunderstorm, I was only able to finish the round because of my trusty caddie and the fact that most groups went in due to the weather. I then had to race to the obligations that brought me to the Windy City in the first place, not even having a chance to browse the pro shop and look for some kind of butter themed accoutrement that I would have got a kick out of for years. Ironically, another group from a Philadelphia club (Flynn) arrived at the same time I did, they were on the same flight. Like I said, you could have a full, rich golfing sense if you stayed between these two cities exclusively. After meeting my caddie and warming up on the range, it occurred to me that spotty play was going to be the theme of the round. Straight, majestic drive followed by dribbling worm burner approach, followed by brilliant wedge to the pin, followed by bad putting. And just reverse it for the next hole. Regardless, I’m a glass half full kind of guy and was feeling up to the challenge. As the storm clouds were in a holding pattern, their rumbles over head sounding more like laughter at the notion I would actually try to get the round in before they did their work, I began my march in the late summer haze.
The Blue Course
The First is a 390 yard par 4 (from the Blues). A forced carry tee shot over water to a narrow uphill fairway with trees on both sides right off the bat. After the fairway peaks, it opens up off to the right but there are bunkers lining the right side of the green and the area leading up to it. The green is uphill from the fairway, so most approaches will be blind but the left side is much more preferable. It can be used as a sideboard to bounce shots towards the green, which is the shape of a curved rectangle, popping fantastically.
The Second is a 363 yard par 4. The left to right cant of the fairway is stronger than it looks from the tee. Staying as high and left as possible is the best idea for the approach, avoiding the large bunkers off to the left that are very well below the green. The green is uphill and, staying true to geometry, is a large rectangle, deeper than it is wide. The green is not without its interior contours, with the rear right corner the highest side. A very cool par 4 and after the rigors of the First, the starting sequence is coming out hot.
The Third is a 408 yard par 4. We are now stalking the perimeter of the property. An elevated tee shot to a fairway sloping from right to left and bunkers, then trees, on either side, another very testy tee shot. The green is uphill from the fairway, this one trinagular in shape, with run offs on the front and back.
The Fourth is a 213 yard par 3. After a stiff opening trio of par 4’s, the first par 3 is fabulous looking. Almost a dual fairway look to it, sloping from right to left, a center line bunker bisecting each side. The green is a square, in shape, not attitude. The right side acts as a sidebar, throwing balls downhill towards the center, while hitting it short means the ball will roll to the center bunker. A great par 3 with several options and one of my favorites of the course.
The Fifth is a 563 yard par 5. A blind tee shot to a fairway that swoops downhill, out of the sight, bunches of trees obfuscating. My caddie earning his money here telling me I hit the furthest tee shot he had ever seen on this hole, God bless and forgive him. The fairway bottoms out and turns right, with a creek dividing the hole completely at the turn. After the creek, water is off to the right through the green while a large bunker is between the water and fairway after the creek. The ridge on the left leans towards the green, but three dotted bunkers make sure not just any old shot will do.
The Sixth is a 170 yard par 3. A group was nice enough to let us through here, which meant hurried photos to putt out and make sure we didn’t hold them up at all. If there’s a course where a caddie should almost be mandatory, this is it. The Red and Blue courses intermingle on a number of occasions and it would make sense to tee off on the other’s holes without knowing any better. As for this hole, the green is uphill, the hillside on the right full of bunkers and steep otherwise. The slope before the green tends to run steeply downhill, making any short shot a bad idea in general. While there are collection areas left and long, the movement of the green will make them tricky shots from those areas. Ney, left side of the green seems to be a calling. A very cool looking hole.
The Seventh is a 520 yard par 5. A dog leg right where the fairway darts down and to the right, like a fox in its fox hole. The trees threw me off and I thought we were going left, so belted a tee shot down to the tree line on that side. That’s what I get for not waiting for my caddie to properly advise but was still making sure we cleared the gracious foursome now behind us. The hole would be much better even with the thinning of the trees, which choke the middle of the hole too much and stifle the terrain. Closer to the green, however, the fairway whittles down, all short grass, until there is the green and the sloped bank on the left, feeding into it. The green has a fantastic alleyway running around it, similar to what we saw at Skokie the month before. This has balls running off the green and settling within it, making for devious recoveries back on.
The Eighth is a 400 yard par 4. The visuals of the course, especially with the flashed bunkers, are very much part of its character and certainly impact play. The Eighth is a prime example, with the fairway going up and over a ridge, the bunkers on the right littering the hillside, making it appear the fairway on the left is barely there. Those bunkers make it appear as if there is no other place to hit the ball, yet as the photo below shows, there is a good amount of room to the left and well, there’s always short, which would leave a blind long approach. The fairway heads down and to the right, wrapping around those bunkers we see from the tee, with an even steeper and massive greenside bunker at the front left. Yet another very cool looking hole that plays brilliantly.
The Ninth is a 426 yard par 4. An elevated tee shot that must carry a stream to a fairway that’s wider than it looks because of the masking by the trees. The hole bends a bit to the right, two bunkers at the front of the green pinching its entry point until it opens up. A bit of a let down after the holes before it yet a welcome and inevitable diminuendo.
The Blue nine is very strong. From its routing, going 3-5-3-5 at one point, to the unique way in which it utilized the terrain and its bunkers, both from a visual and functional perspective. There are some holes that could have trees removed a bit more, however. I would rank them 8, 4, 2, 5, 6, 7, 3, 1, 9.
The White Course
The First is a 519 yard par 5 (from the Blues). Leading back out and down hill, the fairway bends slihgtly left until ending at the same stream we crossed at Blue 9. On the other side, the fairway climbs uphill to the gree, bunkers on the left while the tree line hugs the right. The green is in a clearing, with short grass slopes short and rear right. Just like the beginning hole we saw on the White, the opener sets the tone early.
The Second is a 185 yard par 3. A terrific shaped green here, almost like a jewel, rounded off on the left while the right side is straight, up against bunkers on that side while another large bunkers is set off to the left, below the green. Lots of room short of the green but the slope will sends balls away downhill. Great green placement, on a hillside just before a couple large oaks. Another solid par 3.
The Third is a 395 yard par 4. We start back towards the interior of the course. The fairway is straight and downhill, leading to the stream we’re getting well acquainted with. The stream leads to a larger pond to the right, just before the green, so the approach is a forced carry; left side just over the stream, right side more carry over the pond but closer to the pin. The landing area for the approach is wide yet fairly shallow, with mounds sloping towards the green on the backside.
The Fourth is a 409 yard par 4. A hard dog leg left around water, the further your tee shot, the less fairway there is, yet the closer and more manageable the approach. And the approach is to a hillside green, the back side fairly high and can be used as a back board to pins on the lower shelf. The hollow in the center is a great touch, punctuating the back to front slope. A memorable approach.
The Fifth is a 405 yard par 4. The storm clouds, wavering the entire round, began to become impatient. The fairway is off to the left of the tee, bunkers on both sides with a hard slope from left to right. The bunkers make it seem like there’s little room further out but there is. A stream bisects the fairway and on the other side, the fairway climbs uphill to the green, all of the room you should need on the left.
The Sixth is a 173 yard par 3. Definitely getting to the point of we may not be able to get the entire nine holes in. Like a dam about to burst at the seams, it was a matter of time and the only question was, would we still be on the course when it happened. No one else was out at this point, at least from what we could see. Unfettered, we soldiered on. A volcano-esque green, ramping up on all sides yet a wide open entry point, anything even near the sides of the green run the risk of running off, either into the bunkers or the sloped collection area long left. And oh is that collection area a death trap. Really liked all of the par 3’s here a lot.
The Seventh is a 396 yard par 4. Determination took over at this point and things started moving quickly. Hit the shot, move, set up, hit the shot, rinse and repeat, all as the clouds became indignant we were even trying. A narrow fairway that finally curves left at the green. The tight fairway makes the tee shot a tough one, especially since you need it out there for a well positioned approach. Bunkers surround the green on both sides and with the angle it sits from the fairway, it’s a tricky shot.
The Eighth is a 388 yard par 4. Crossing behind the green of Blue 6 and teeing off next to Blue 7, we now go back up the hill we came down at White 6. The fairway is wider, which then turns left and uphill to the green. Another curved rectange green, more deep than wide, all uphill.
The Ninth is a 457 yard par 4. A slightly elevated tee to a fairway that dog legs right, tree on both sides to make sure only those who clear the turn have a look at the green. The green is a little uphill from the fairway, bunkers on both sides. A long par 4 to finish things off. And as soon as I hit my approach, the rain could wait no longer. We double timed to the green, I chipped to the pin, putted in and we made for the inside. Wishing I had more time to take in the course yet glad the rain held off so I could get the round in. And of course, two hours later, it cleared up and I ended up driving past on my way to a dinner where we ate outside. Of course.
The White Course has very strong par 3’s and some cool par 4’s. I liked the Blue better, but even though it wasn’t as flashy or unique as the Blue, it played very well and did have that panache in spots. There wasn’t a weak hole. My ranking of them would be 2, 6, 4, 5, 3, 1, 9, 8, 7.
Generally, Butterfield is one of those rare courses I liked even more as I did this review. Most of the time, I have a pretty good idea about my thoughts but as I looked at the photos more and more, my thoughts kept going back to the round, the greens, those bunkers, and appreciated it even more. The shaping, bunkers and terrain present so well. In fact, the presentation gives it the appearance of playing boisterous, almost hiding how challening it is. Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of fun here. Using those slopes and side boards, taking on those heroic carries; the rolling property used differently, with twisting fairways branching this way and that around the sculpted bunkers and greens, with plenty of options to choose from. Yet there is stoic challenge. Shots must be pulled off. Those who don’t execute will be penalized, severely at times. Other times, there are places to miss and hillsides to hedge on, which become more apparent for those that come to know the course, revealing its inherent strategy. And there’s still another nine holes here, intertwining with the others. An impressive design that made me think I need to make it to Chicago a lot more often and see all the other great courses that don’t get talked about enough.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: There were a few different buildings and the pro shop was set in its own structure. High end amenities that retain a sense of upscale surburban comfort.
Practice area: A full size range and short game area. I loved the putting green, sitting behind the First tee of the Blue, two shelves with water on one side, I can’t think of too many other ideal places to work with the flat stick.