Chicago Golfs Kind of Town

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CHICAGO -- Chicago. One word that conjures up a kaleidoscope of images. It means different things to different people, depending upon ones connection to the city. When you hear the word Chicago, what do you think? Gangsters? Champions? Curses? Pizza? An Oscar-winning musical? A blustering wind than brittles the bones and burns the skin? Mustachioed men bellowing 'da Bayrs!' over beers?
 
Its all of the above. And its golf. Chicago may be known as the Second City, but many ' particularly locals with subjective views ' see it as second to none when it comes to the sport.
 
Theres Chicago Golf Club, Medinah, Cog Hill Dubsdread, Shoreacres, Skokie, Glen View, Kemper Lakes, Butler National, North Shore and Merit Club ' just to name a few of the notables layouts.
 
Theres the Western Golf Association in the northern suburb of ' yes, its true ' Golf, Ill. Theres the legend of Chick Evans, a life-long amateur who won 54 tournaments, including the 1916 U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur titles. And theres the Evans Scholars Foundation, administered by the WGA to provide college scholarships to caddies.
 
And, as a reminder to the collective conscience, there is Olympia Fields Golf Club, site of this weeks 103rd U.S. Open.
 
For the second time in its 80-year history, the now 7,190-yard, par-70 North Course is playing host to the nations premiere event.
 
A Closer Look at Olympia Fields
 
This is the 13th time that a Chicago-area course has hosted the United States Open. Five times such a course has done so for the PGA Championship; three times for the U.S. Womens Open.
 
In all, the USGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and LPGA Tour have conducted their business in excess of 100 times in Chicagoland.
 
Its easy to acknowledge, yet difficult to fully appreciate, the true romance between golf and the Windy City. But for now, theres a singular fling to focus on in the South Side suburb of Olympia Fields.
 
Weve always wanted to go back to the Chicago market, but weve just felt uncomfortable with the other venues that have expressed interest, explained United States Golf Association Director or Rules and Competition Tom Meeks.
 
Lets play two ' Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks
 
This is the second time Olympia Fields will play host to a U.S. Open. It first did so in 1928, when Johnny Farrell toppled legendary Bobby Jones in a 36-hole playoff.
 
Willie Park, Jr., a two-time British Open champion, originally designed the course, hand-crafting the greens. The course was near its original condition when Jerry Barber won the 1961 PGA Championship there. (It also hosted the 1925 PGA.)
 
It wasnt until 1997 that another major returned to Olympia Fields ' though it was the site of five Western Opens between 1920 and 1971.
 
The USGA came calling six years ago for the U.S. Senior Open, won by David Graham. The commission was impressed with the layout, and believed it could again host one of its competitions ' granted a few changes were made.
 
We did go back and gave them a very healthy checklist of things they would have to do in order to be eligible for the U.S. Open, Meeks said.
 
Most of the bunkers had to be deepened to make them more difficult. Several tees were added; two greens had to be rebuilt. Long story short, we gave them this checklist, they agreed to it.
 
Golf architect Mark Mungeam, whose alterations helped the course land the 97 Senior Open, made some more improvements ' which were done at a reported cost of $3 million ' at the behest of USGA officials. The changes were completed in Fall 2001. Meeks and company returned in November, and liked what they saw.
 
They did everything we asked them to do. From that point forward we just did some minor changes to get the golf course ready for a U.S. Open, he said.
 
Even though its technically only 24 yards shorter, Olympia Fields is not a monstrous venue like last years bully, Bethpage Black. The course has only one par-4 extending beyond 470 yards ' the 496-yard ninth. By contrast, Bethpage had four par-4 holes measuring in excess of 475. At 7,214 yards, the Black Course was the longest layout in Open history.
 
Nearly 350 yards were added to the total length of the course. The front and back nines were reversed ' with the excpetion of the first and 10th holes. It now starts with two par-5s over its first six holes. The place to get birdies here is 1-6theyve got a lot of work to do coming home, said Olympia Fields Director of Golf Brian Morrison.
 
With a par of 34 down the backstretch it is conceivable that the Open nine-hole record of 29 will fall this week. But Meeks believe the track will play tough enough to where the 72-hole record of 272 (12-under is the 72-hole championship record in relation to par) will stay intact.
 
Its not length that will defend against red numbers at Olympia Fields, its the tiny, severely contoured greens; the 3 -inch rough; the 24-28-yard-wide fairways, the frugal hole locations.
 
We are accused of trying to protect par, Meeks said. Our attitude when we set the U.S. Open golf course upusing the philosophy that the USGA has had over the years, there are some criteria that we use. Number 1 criteria is firm, fast greens. We really want the greens to be as fast as they can be and yet still be fair.
 
We also want to narrow the fairways, and yet still be fair. Our fairways are generally 26 yards wide. Several years ago, they were 28 to 30. Rough, we want a hard, tough rough. But, on the other hand, were not trying to make every shot in the rough a pitch out. The player should have a chance.
 
(At Pinehurst, the rough was actually lowered because the USGA wanted to allow players an opportunity to reach the small, sloped greens with long irons.)
 
Our hole locations (never call them pin placements in front of USGA officials) generally are the four most difficult on a green for a U.S. Open, and we try to balance them out as far as fronts and back, and lefts and rights, Meeks continued.
 
Meeks, who has been involved in championship course set up since 1975, said holes are usually placed around five paces (15 feet) from the edge, but will move closer depending upon the size of the greens. Expect tighter positions this time around.
 
After years of preparation, the course is set ' minus a little more tinkering here and there, and the players will full descend upon the area by Tuesday ' being that the FBR Capital Open wrapped-up Monday.
 
For many, it will be the first time theyve ever seen the course, and the same can be said for the public. Fear not, says Meeks.
 
I think the golfers are going to be pleasantly surprised about Olympia Fields, he said, and I think the viewing audience is going to enjoy it as well.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Open Mini Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • Olympia Fields Course Tour