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A Closer Look at Olympia Fields

Written by
Brian Morrison
Director of Golf
Olympia Fields C.C.

In June of 2003 the eyes of the golfing world will be treated to a step back in time. The North Course, at Olympia Fields C.C. located in the leafy, south suburbs of Chicago will play host to the 103rd United States Open Championship for the second time in its great history.
Willie Park, Jr., a two time British Open champion, was commissioned to build a championship course to complement the other three sporty courses that were already in play at Olympia Fields. A unique undertaking, Olympia Fields featured four 18-hole golf courses, swimming, polo, skeet shooting, horseback riding, bowling, tobogganing, ice-skating, and a host of indoor activities in its 200,000 square foot, Tudor style clubhouse: all in 1922!
1000 members strong, club president Amos Alonzo Stagg and his Board of Governors wanted to establish a tradition of championship golf at its highest level. Thus, the hiring of Willie Park, Jr., a golfing renaissance man from Scotland. He could play, teach, author books, and design golf courses. Known as the preeminent putter of his time, Parks course always featured devilish greens that featured severely sloping putting surfaces with an assortment of humps, bumps, and knolls.
Opening in 1921, the North Course played host to the 1925 PGA Championship, won by Walter Hagen. In 1928, the U.S. Open was played and ended in a tie, at 10 over par, between Bobby Jones and Johnny Farrell. Johnny edged the mighty Jones 143 to 144 in a 36-hole playoff that was played out with the roaring 20s of Chicago as the backdrop. Over the years, Olympia Fields has hosted five Western Opens, another P.G.A. in 1961, and the U.S. Senior Open in 1997, won by Graham Marsh at even par 280.
In 1998 the club retained the services of architect Mark Mungeam to renovate the course to prepare for the 2003 U.S. Open. Known for his expertise in old, parkland style courses, Mungeam did a masterful job of reshaping and digging out the bunkers, adding to or rebuilding 12 tees, and carefully pruning the aging oaks to provide the proper sightlines for the modern player. The routing of the course along with its wonderful vistas were not compromised. While all of the holes at Olympia Fields provide unique an individual challenges several holes do not stand out.
The fifth hole, a 44-yard par four, requires a shot from an elevated tee to a narrow, undulating fairway that is guarded on the left by trees and on the right by a creek that meanders down the fairway and then cuts back across 125 yards from the green. The second shot is over the creek and a tall burm to a well bunkered, severely sloping green. Balls that spin off of the front of this green will roll back down the steep face of the fairway leaving the player with a very difficult pitch back up to the green. At U.S. Open speeds, this green will be terrifying.
Olympia Fields - 17th holeThe twelfth hole is a 461-yard par four that starts off with a blind tee shot over a hill to fairway that is 30 feet below the level of the teeing ground. The second shot is to a small, elevated green guarded by bunkers and trees. If the player misses the green it is a tough up and down. This hole was the most difficult relative to par in the 1997 U.S. Senior Open.
The hole that may play the most demanding relative to par this year is number 17. A 245-yard, uphill par 3 this hole is nothing but trouble. It is fronted by large, deep, menacing bunkers that protect a severely sloping green bereft with ridges, shelves and undulations. The USGA added a collection area to the back right of the green to give the players a fighting chance to get up and down for par. Willie was in a bad mood when he designed this one.
Overall, the course tests every area of the players game. Some holes call for distance, some for accuracy as the course winds its way through numerous elevation changes with the ever present Butterfield creek weaving its way through the huge stands of specimen trees. The greens will determine that the 2003 champion has a deft touch to go along with an accurate long game. A one dimensional player at this U.S. Open is going to have the weekend off.
Related Links:
  • U.S. Open Mini Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • Olympia Fields Course Tour