Willie Park Jr.’s 1923 creation will test the best of the PGA Tour this week with a major championship-like presentation
Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club’s North Course, a 1923 Willie Park Jr. design and the site of this week's BMW Championship on the PGA Tour, consistently ranks among the top 100 on most architecture lists.
Park, a two-time British Open champion (1887, 1889), rose to course-design prominence with his creation of Sunningdale Old near London in 1901 upon heathland terrain that had been regarded as unsuitable for golf.
Olympia Fields, in Chicago's southern suburbs, originally consisted of four courses, with each first tee visible from the top of the club’s 80-foot clock tower. Today, only the North and South courses remain, but the club owns a deep history as host of some of golf’s biggest championships.
Though Olympia Fields hasn’t welcomed the PGA Tour since the 2003 U.S. Open, the club is among only a handful of courses to have hosted two U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships, a U.S. Senior Open and a U.S. Amateur.
In the years after the 2003 U.S. Open, won by Jim Furyk, North Course conditions deteriorated. Sam MacKenzie was hired as the superintendent and began to turn around the club’s maintenance issues.
"The putting greens will defend this golf course," MacKenzie said in a recent interview with Chicago’s NBC affiliate, WMAQ-TV (Channel 5).
Now, the North Course is back in the spotlight, with the top 70 players from the FedEx Cup standings descending on suburban Chicago. The players should face a stiffer test than what TPC Boston provided in last week’s Northern Trust, which Dustin Johnson won at 30 under. Given the North Course’s 76.6 rating and 150 slope with a par 70, the BMW Championship could look and feel like one of golf’s majors.
No. 3, par 4, 461 yards: The hardest hole on the course comes early in the round. The blind tee shot will be played out of a chute of trees to a steep, narrow fairway. From a good fairway position, players face an approach shot to a small, elevated green that features more slope than most of the other putting surfaces. Beware shots that come up short to a front hole location because they could roll back down the hill fronting the green, leaving a 30-yard pitch shot.
No. 14, par 4, 450 yards: The No. 2 handicap hole presents a challenge from tee to green. Butterfield Creek cuts in front of the tee about 125 yards out, then runs down the right side of the fairway until it veers back across at the end of the fairway. The end of the fairway is about 300 yards and will force most players to dial back on the tee shot. The approach is uphill to an elevated green that slopes severely from back to front. Par will be a good score here.
No. 15, par 5, 606 yards: One of the most difficult holes on the course also is the site of one of Tiger Woods’ most epic golf shots. This brute of a par 5 requires a tee shot down the left side of the fairway for any hope of hitting the green in two, given the severe dogleg and trees guarding the corner. However, in 2003 Woods was barely in the first cut of rough and seemingly blocked from the green by trees. But from 247 yards, he sliced a 3-wood 40-plus yards around a tree and onto the green for a two-putt birdie.
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