We've played them all. Now it's time to give back. My buddies Jefe, Jimbo and I have spent the last 25+ years playing golf courses here, there and everywhere. From goat tracks to the some of the top courses in the world. Between the three of us, we've played over 550 different courses. We know what constitutes a quality golf course. And when it comes to Chicago-area golf, we have it covered. We've played pretty much every track worth playing. And now the list is new and improved as we've added the input and commentary from a dozen other avid Windy City golfers. We feel confident that we can publish the following Top 25 list and call it the Definitive Guide to Chicago Area Public Golf Courses. No agenda. No politics. No hype. No ranking courses to generate ad revenue. Just a friendly service to somebody who might be visiting Chicago and wants to experience the best public golf that this great city has to offer.
[Want your opinion to be heard? Follow the instructions here and submit your rankings and I may add you to the list of panelists in future updates.]
I've even plotted all of the top 25 courses using Microsoft's Bing map service, so you can see where the top courses are in relationship to each other (click on the birdseye view to get a very cool and very detailed aerial view of most courses). So if you're visiting your Aunt Mary in Cary, you can quickly tell where the closest quality courses are to where you are staying. You can thank me later. Just click on the picture below.
As an added bonus, I've added the drive times according to Google Maps from 3 different points - O'Hare Airport, The Loop and the intersection of I-294 and I-55. A course had to be in Illinois at within an hour of at least of one of those points to be considered eligible for the ballot.
Without further adieu, here's the top 25 as ranked by the Wegoblogger panel of experts.
1. Cog Hill #4 (Dubsdread)
Peak Price: $155 includes cart
Drive Time: 39/36/17 (minutes from O'Hare, The Loop, and I-294/55, respectively)
The cream of the crop. Long time site of the Western Open, now winding down as part of the rota for the BMW Championship as part of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup (can you just feel the excitement?). The Jemsek family spent $5 million to have the Open Doctor Rees Jones come in and renovate the course, mainly to improve its chances of landing a US Open. That appears to be $5 million down the drain, as the course arguably did not improve, Cog never really had a chance of getting the 2017 U.S. Open that went to Erin Hills, and the pros panned the course the last two seasons. Now the Western Open in heading to Cherry Hills. All while making the course too tough for most Joe Golfer's.
That said, Cog Hill is still by far the best public golf course in the Chicagoland area. Everything at Cog Hill is first rate, and with or without the pros, the complex is still a testament to the vision of the late Joe Jemsek, who always seemed to be there greeting golfers right up until his dying day. In addition to the four courses at Cog Hill, the Jemsek's own and operate Pine Meadow in Mundelein and the 36 holes at St Andrews in West Chicago.
[Note: Here's my favorite Joe Jemsek story: about 10 years ago I was driving down the road late one night, driving down Rt 59 a couple of miles from St. Andrews. I caught up to this giant white Cadillac that was driving about 10 miles below the speed limit...as I caught up to the car, I could tell it was an old guy (as if the white Caddy driving 10 miles below the speed limit wasn't a dead giveaway) who was lost...he had the dome light on and was looking at a map. As I passed him, I looked over and it's freakin' Joe Jemsek! The patriach of Chicago golf himself. As I saw the bewildered look on his face, it became painfully obvious that he was trying to find his way to St Andrews, the course that he owns! Now St Andrews sits prominently at the intersection of two major roads...you can't miss it. Everybody knows where it is and how to find it. At least, everybody except the guy who owned the place. Man, I miss Joe.]
JIMBO: "No doubt best course in area. Very classic design. Has the best set of par 3's in the Chicagoland area. The greens are slicker than Jefe's hair (circa 1988) full of AquaNet hair spray. Love playing where the pros play just so I can be reminded of how bad my game really is."
JEFE: "Overall solid, classic style course that is fun to play because you’ve seen it on TV. Has a cool Chicago style feel that all of the Jemsek courses have. One of the best bunkered courses I’ve played. The bunkers in front of a lot of the greens make the course that much more challenging, and prevent the player from being able to see the bottom of the pin on a lot of holes. The holes here have a lot of variety, you don’t get holes parallel to each other. One of the most hilly courses around Chicago, something that doesn’t translate from TV. The course will be closed for 9 months (I believe) following the September ’07 tour event there for a revamping by the Open doctor. Chances are you’ll see some of the local sports news anchors at this course."
DAVID H: "Just the best in every way, save for the expense (worth it - just not a course I can afford to play more than once a yer, if that)"
SVEN N: "Undoubtedly the toughest public course in town. If you like getting punched in the groin, this is the track for you. Best hole - 16. TOUGHEST TEST WINNER"
Peak Price: $95/$115 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 41/43/34
Cantigny is probably the most beautiful course in the area. Don't bother with shelling out the $17 for a cart. Cantigny is an easy walk, and much better to experience that way anyways (it saddens me when I go out there and 95% of golfers are out there whizzing around this beautiful parkland course in carts). The course has three nines...Woodside and Lakeside combine what would be considered the championship layout for the course. Hillside is a little more user friendly and maybe a half-notch below the other nines. They rotate which two nines comprise the 18 on a daily basis, so make sure you call out there to see which nines you'll be playing. They lengthened the course for the US Am Pub Links back in 2007...with numerous tight doglegs, it's a pretty good test at 7,000 yards.
My only beef with Cantigny is that it's full fare all day, all season. There are no discount offers, no spring rates, no twilight...nothing for the value-minded golfer (I was shocked when they actually offered a Groupon this spring). In years past, it was $85/$100 any time you wanted to play it. Now, the weekend rate is $95 with an extra double sawbuck for the cart. It's unfortunate because Cantigny is one of my favorite tracks and less than 10 minutes from my house, yet I hardly ever play it. The closest thing you can get to a deal out there is the nine-hole rate, where you can play the 'side that is the nine for the day for $35...perfect for a late Sunday afternoon round.
JIMBO: "Tremendous 27 hole facility. Course is always in great shape. Greens are speedy and very true. Would play here more if fees were a bit lower."
SVEN: "A wonderfully manicured set of three nines. Would be a tremendous course if you played the best 18. The water holes are generally the worst of the lot. Best hole - Woodside 2"
DAVID: "A little overrated by others, but hard to argue with the revamp of Woodside a few years back for the Pub Links. Best greens in Illinois."
WEGO: "A bit pricey, but a great course. Greens run very true."
MATT S: "Probably not the most difficult course you’ll ever play, but I challenge you to not have an enjoyable day at Cantigny. The facility is superb and the land has variety that really lends itself to a quality 'walk in the park'. It is usually in excellent condition, especially the greens."
DAVID: "Old school classic course where the huge greens will make you feel like a better ball striker than you are, and the worst putter in the world."
WEGO: "I believe the premier public course in the Chicagoland area. Perfect condition. Never crowded. A lot of fun holes."
SVEN: "Another good test of golf, if you're not hitting the driver well you're in for a long day. Best hole - 15"
MATT: "Pine Meadow is a brawny parkland test that really represents what most of Chicago public golf is about."
Prairie Landing is the type of course that is actually pretty scorable for the good player, but can be an absolute beast for the average or below average player. There are 5 par 5's and a couple of risk-reward par 4's that a low-handicap player can really take advantage of. In recent years, they've eliminated some bunkers to make it a little more user friendly (plus some bunkers were simply impossibly to maintain). Prairie Landing is always in excellent condition...when the course first opened, they probably could lay claim to having the best conditioned greens in the area. Some recent poa annua creep have hurt the greens a little bit, but they are still very smooth and very fast.
Prairie Landing is pretty steep on the weekends ($84 to walk), but sign-up for their online newsletter and you'll get deals like 2-for-1's roughly every other week.
SVEN: "Very good in parts, misses the mark in others. Lots of fun to play in dry conditions, as several holes have great ground game options. Best hole - 4"
DAVID: "I think that from #12-#18 this course might be the most enjoyable roller coaster in the area. Maybe the most difficult greens to put in the area, especially when it is dry and windy. The first green with the pin on the front right verges on unfair."
WEGO: "Likely my favorite course in the area. Grip it and rip it. Wide open fairways and large greens. Big
risk/reward off the first tee, opportunity to get home in 2 on par 5 4th and easy par 3's make the front easier. Go low on the front because the back is much tougher."
DAVID: "his might be the most enjoyable yet challenging course to play anywhere. Risk/reward on almost every hole. Beautiful always, and stunning in prime condition. I LOVE Holes 6-9! Score or die! With reduced rates the last couple of years, this course passed 2-3 others."
SVEN: "A good mix of woodlands and grasslands holes. The closing stretch of 16 to 18 is a great test. Best hole - 9"
The highest new entrant since the 2007 list is Bowes Creek in South Elgin. I haven't played the course yet, but I made the mistake of driving out there to watch Jefe and Jimbo tee it here up a couple years ago when it first opened. What started out as a crisp, sunny late fall day got progressively worse as I drove further and further west. By the time I reached the course, it was 40 degrees and blowing sideways. I had a cart boy drive me out to the course so I could surprise my two lifelong golf pals -- when I reached them on the 4th tee, I was greeted with a "what the hell are you doing here?"
Bowes had an interesting mix of holes and a surprising amount of undulation for a course built on Illinois farmland. The 18th hole might have the most elevated tee shot in Chicagoland. Architect Rick Jacobson mimicked the furry-edged bunkers that have been all the rage in the top modern designs -- after seeing it filter down to a municipal course in Elgin, I can't help but wonder if the design style has jumped the shark.
Even more unique is Bowes Creek's "member for a day" pricing policies -- a kind of cheesy marketing ploy but at least good for more than a couple dumb jokes between you and your playing partners ("member's bounce", "do you know a member?", etc.). The key is the all-day unlimited rate -- particularly intriguing for somebody known for playing 8+ rounds in one day. The dichotomy is that while Bowes Creek's rates are a good value if you are playing 2 or more rounds, $95 is way too much if you only have time to go around once. Still, a solid addition to the public golf landscape in Chicago.
DAVID: "I have only played it twice, and the front nine is a little bit of a yawner, but man, from #11 on, it is hard to believe you are even in Illinois. I can't wait to see how this course matures. The Member for a day pricing is a nice concept."
7. New! Ravisloe Country Club
MATT: "The conditioning (mind you I’ve only played it once) melded perfectly with the theme of width and options. So many of the shots required a true decision as opposed to mindless swinging away. I found hole #3 to be one of if not the best short par 4 I’ve played in the area."
DAVID: "If this course were closer to Chicago, it would be twice as expensive, and everyone would be talking about it. Can be VERY challenging with long Par 4s. The real winner are the holes through the line of woods through the center of the course #s 5, 6, 7, and 10 are really cool. #18 used to be a real nightmare, but they felled a bunch of trees on the right side opening it up a bit and taking away a little of the intimidation. Arguably the best value in the area."
MATT: "Holes 1 and 9 are by far the weakest on the course and it is too bad a course of this quality has two absolute snoozers, because once you get into the round, you’ll find some excellent holes. Parts of the course are built in a former quarry site which provides some interesting terrain."
See #14 below.
Drive Time: 49/33/29
24. Glenwoodie Golf Course
Peak Price: $52 includes cart
Drive Time: 59/41/38
I haven't played this course, so you'll just have to trust Jefe's judgment here: "A somewhat straightforward front nine gives way to a very challenging back nine. The back nine features one of the toughest par fours you will play, a long hole tight off the tee and then an uphill second shot over a ravine to a very shallow green."
Drive Time: 42/38/19
Peak Price: $77/$95 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 47/64/67
We have a mantra: Friend don't let friends play Art Hills courses. If you are an avid read of Wegoblogger31, then I consider you my friend. Therefore, I can't in good conscious allow you to make a tee time at Stonewall Orchard. I can't believe they sucker folks into paying $95. Yet another head scratcher in the not-so-illustrious design career of Arthur Hills (how did this guy get so much work?) The nicest thing that I can say about Stonewall Orchard is that it's not the worst Hills course in the area...
Drive Time: 41/38/19
CHICAGO VALUE CHART
2011 Peak Weekend Rate to Walk by Wegoblogger31 Quality Score
Here are the full rankings, with peak price and drive times from the three starting points mentioned above.
|1. Cog Hill (#4 Dubsdread)||9.31||$155||$155||39||36||17|
|3. Pine Meadow||8.26||$84||$84||37||54||57|
|4. Prairie Landing||8.05||$84||$96||51||53||44|
|6. Bowes Creek||7.69||$95||$95||53||68||56|
|8. Highlands of Elgin||7.48||$43||$62||42||62||57|
|9. Glen Club||7.43||$180||$203||20||30||39|
|10. Heritage Bluffs||7.40||$47||$62||54||50||31|
|11. Orchard Valley||7.34||$60||$76||47||53||40|
|12. Harborside (Starboard)||7.04||$95||$95||43||25||33|
|13. Shepard's Crook||7.00||$42||$55||56||66||71|
|14. Harborside (Port)||6.94||$95||$95||43||25||33|
|15. Chalet Hills||6.91||$75||$75||52||69||69|
|16. Foxford Hills||6.88||$79||$79||54||71||71|
|17. George Dunne||6.80||$52||$67||49||33||29|
|18. White Deer Run||6.60||$89||$89||36||53||55|
|19. Makray Memorial||6.58||$74||$92||34||50||49|
|21. Big Run||6.53||$50||$69||41||38||19|
|22. Village Links of Glen Ellyn||6.49||$59||$77||33||35||26|
|23. Cog Hill (#2)||6.45||$57||$73||39||36||17|
|25. Balmoral Woods||6.40||$52||$67||69||50||50|
|26. Whisper Creek||6.31||$68||$68||50||66||68|
|28. Ruffled Feathers||6.21||$95||$95||42||38||19|
|29. Water's Edge||6.10||$51||$66||39||35||18|
|30. Steeple Chase||6.06||$49||$65||41||58||60|
|31. Stonewall Orchard||6.00||$77||$95||47||64||67|
|32. Countryside Prairie||5.98||$35||$52||38||56||58|
|33. Golf Club of Illinois||5.92||$45||$59||47||64||65|
|34. Old Oak||5.83||$50||$67||46||40||23|
|36. Prairie Bluff||5.81||$44||$60||49||46||27|
|39. Seven Bridges||5.66||$107||$107||33||39||21|
|40. Green Garden (Gold)||5.64||$41||$57||65||52||44|
|41. Cinder Ridge||5.58||$35||$45||69||66||47|
|43. Oak Brook||5.54||$55||$70||20||26||17|
|45. Klein Creek||5.50||$79||$79||37||45||36|
|47. Maple Meadows (West)||5.43||$52||$52||19||31||25|
|48. Cog Hill (#1)||5.42||$45||$61||39||36||17|
|49. Green Garden (Blue)||5.36||$41||$57||65||52||44|
|53. Old Orchard||5.16||$78||$78||19||36||38|
|54. Oak Meadows||5.16||$40||$57||19||32||35|
|55. Cog Hill (#3)||5.12||$45||$61||39||36||17|
|56. Broken Arrow||5.12||$50||$67||48||45||26|
|57. Highland Park||5.10||$57||$75||27||34||47|
|61. St Andrews (#1)||5.02||$48||$64||43||53||43|
|62. Fox Bend||5.01||$47||$63||44||59||40|
|63. Blackberry Oaks||5.01||$49||$65||61||67||49|
|64. Foss Park||4.99||$36||$51||37||48||57|
|66. Marengo Ridge||4.97||$42||$56||58||74||76|
|67. Gleneagles (White)||4.94||$40||$56||40||36||17|
|68. Indian Lakes||4.93||$72||$89||28||39||33|
|70. Prairie Isle||4.88||$51||$67||53||70||70|
|72. Indian Boundary||4.74||$31||$46||13||28||32|
|73. Lake Bluff||4.63||$48||$65||35||46||55|
|74. Links of Carillon||4.61||$35||$50||44||41||23|
|76. Settler's Hill||4.58||$47||$65||51||55||43|
|77. Arlington Lakes||4.58||$36||$53||19||35||39|
|79. Coyote Run||4.53||$46||$61||55||38||34|
|80. Glenview Park||4.52||$48||$64||19||32||39|
|81. St Andrews (#2)||4.51||$48||$64||43||53||43|
|82. White Pines (West)||4.46||$40||$57||16||31||24|
|83. Carriage Greens||4.41||$59||$59||44||41||22|
|84. Nettle Creek||4.30||$36||$52||75||72||52|
|85. Gleneagles (Red)||4.28||$40||$56||40||36||17|
|86. Mill Creek||4.23||$55||$55||59||66||52|
|87. Crane's Landing||4.22||$75||$75||27||45||47|
|88. Buffalo Grove||4.14||$41||$58||27||44||47|
|89. Bartlett Hills||3.96||$47||$63||39||53||47|
|90. Mount Prospect||3.89||$51||$68||19||35||39|
|91. Village Greens||3.88||$44||$60||33||33||14|
|92. Highland Woods||3.78||$41||$56||23||39||41|
|93. Silver Lake (North)||3.64||$45||$61||46||40||24|
|94. Glendale Lakes||3.53||$53||$53||32||43||33|
|95. Hughes Creek||3.48||$60||$60||64||70||57|
|96. Fox Run||3.46||$41||$52||28||42||36|
|97. Poplar Creek||3.28||$65||$65||29||46||46|
|98. Randall Oaks||3.10||$50||$59||43||59||61|
|99. Fox Valley||2.68||$32||$46||47||53||40|
|100. Pheasant Run||1.34||$51||$51||45||54||45|
|101. Country Lakes||1.00||$35||$41||40||47||33|
The other great thing about Chicago golf, is that there's a slew of quality golf just a road-trip away. If you expanded the criteria to anything within a 2 1/2-hour radius, you'd pick up some great courses in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and some more in downstate or NW Illinois. Here's a sampling of some courses less than a few hourse away.
To the North:
Kohler, WI: Whistling Straits, Straits and Irish. Blackwolf Run, River and Meadow Valleys. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms is a Jack Nicklaus course that tries to capitalize on folks coming in and out of Kohler. Not quite Kohler caliber, but not quite Kohler prices either. Erin Hills is a solid course that is coming off the heels of a successful US Amateur tournament. It's big and brawny, and a true championship test if you're into that sort of thing. After going through a myriad of changes, the course is vastly improved, but the net result is that Erin Hills may be the worst routed walking only golf course on the planet. Buy some Trues and prepare for a 5+ hour slog.
To the Northwest:
University Ridge in Madison, WI is a personal favorite and a course that I play at least once a year. Bergamont is a decent, relatively new track nearby, but for my money I rather just play UniRidge twice.
To the West:
The General is the marquis course at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena, IL, but the North and South are also very good. In the quad cities, the TPC at Deere Run is a decent course and home of the John Deere Classic.
To the Southwest: Head down to Peoria and check out WeaverRidge. Not quite as good as some of the golf publications rate it, but still very solid. The back nine is very similar to what you'd find in Galena. If you're heading down there for the day, combine it with Coyote Creek, a course designed by Bruce Borland, who was on the same plane that killed Payne Stewart.
To the East/Southeast:
There's some quality golf for cheap in NW Indiana. I haven't played too many of them, but courses like the Warren Course and Blackthorn in South Bend and The Course at Aberdeen in Valparaiso might be worth checking out. The Kampen Course at Purdue University is a little bit further away but is worth a stop if you're heading down to Indianapolis. It's extremely penal so pray you're hitting it straight that day.
To the Northeast:
A lot of quality golf in SW Michigan. The best thing to do is to play courses like The Mines (a tremendous value), Yarrow, The Ravines on your way up to Arcadia Bluffs, a 5+ hour hike from Chicago but worth it for the views alone. Arcadia gets jammed up with once-a-year type golfers who are there for the eye candy, so book an early tee time or suffer through a 5 1/2 hour round. Or better yet, work some contacts and try to get on The Kingsley Club, one of the most fun golf courses you'll ever play.