Flossmoor Country Club: Chicago's Overlooked Gem

As the next-door neighbor to nationally-acclaimed golf paradise Olympia Fields Country Club, it’s easy to understand how Flossmoor Country Club gets forgotten when discussing Chicago’s best golf courses. The 1899 Herbert Tweedie design was the first championship golf course south of the city and remains one of the finest championship courses in all of Chicagoland.

The pro shop at Flossmoor. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

History

Tweedie was one of Chicago’s golf trailblazers. He grew up in England, at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where he had strong amateur record as a junior before moving to Chicago in the 1880s. Upon arrival in the US, he met? C.B. Macdonald and served as an instrumental resource when Macdonald laid out the original site for Chicago Golf Club. Following Chicago Golf Club, Tweedie became Chicago’s preeminent architect, designing Glen View Club in 1897 and Midlothian Country Club in 1898 before his work at Flossmoor was completed in 1899. Flossmoor evolved a good deal over the years, and had significant work done by Greenskeeper Harry Collis in the 1910’s. With Collis’s support and agronomy expertise, Flossmoor became one of the preeminent championship golf courses in the country. As noted by Golden Age great Robert Hunter, Flossmoor was considered one of the country’s elite golf courses. “I am printing below a table of American courses of the first class giving the yardage in each case,” he said.

Club:                     Yardage:
The National         6,163
Midwick              6,300
Brookline              6,350
Los Angeles          6,390
Engineers’             6,400
Myopia                  6,400
Essex County        6,410
Garden City           6,417
Mayfield                 6,440
Pine Valley             6,446
San Francisco        6,462
Flossmoor              6,475
Detroit                    6,502
Merion                    6,515
Inverness                6,569
Ojai                         6,625
Lido                        6,693
Oakmont                6,707

Flossmoor entered the national spotlight when it hosted the 1920 PGA Championship and 1923 U.S. Amateur. But while Flossmoor was hosting major championships, its new neighbor Olympia Fields Country Club was building one of the country’s finest golf facilities boasting four courses by 1925, and becoming Chicago South Suburbs’ best golf club. It inevitably cast a shadow over Flossmoor.

An early layout of Flossmoor. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

Over the years, Flossmoor became overgrown with trees, its bunkers eroded badly, and the greens shrunk. So the club hired Ray Hearn in the mid-2000s to lead a restoration of the course. Hearn did a remarkable job restoring the greens and removing thousands of trees (although a great many could still go), but his rugged bunkering style came out only so-so. Despite the average re-bunkering effort, Hearn won Golf Magazine’s Renovation of the Year in 2006. The renovation returned Flossmoor to the top 15 courses in Chicago, making it one of the area’s finest championship tests. 

Playing Flossmoor C.C.

I have played Flossmoor many times over the years, and with every round my appreciation for the golf course’s architecture and the strategy needed to score well grows. Its topography is a tale of two nines. The front is relatively flat, while the back nine moves to the more dramatic piece of the property with almost every hole featuring a significant rise or drop. Like its neighbor Olympia Fields’s North Course, Flossmoor possesses some world-class par 4’s most notably the 3rd, 6th, 15th & 17th holes.

Flossmoor’s single strongest feature is its incredible green complexes - some of the most strategic and challenging that you will encounter anywhere. The great variety in size and slope stand out, and they require players to be on the correct side of the hole to make an aggressive stroke. The challenging green complexes dictate the necessity for good ball-striking as approaching from the fairway is necessary in order to control distance and spin on the approach shot. While the tee shots generally have wide corridors, Hearn did a great job moving fairway bunkers to account for modern technology, and shrink landing areas for longer players. Let’s take a look at each of Flossmoor’s holes and the unique challenges each presents.  

1st - 499 yards - par 5

Flossmoor kicks off with the short par 5 which offers up one of the few good birdie opportunities on the course. The tee shot is made difficult by fairway bunkers on the right and left that pinch the fairway at about 290 yards. A tee shot that finds the fairway will give a player a chance to go for the green, while one that misses will likely lead to a layup shot. The hole is made tricky by the large green that severely slopes away from the player and from left to right. The slope makes it tough to hold the green on a long second shot, and wreaks havoc on any third shots that come from the rough and lack spin.  

2nd - 213 yards - par 3

The 2nd hole is the first of Flossmoor’s four par 3’s, each of which tests a different aspect of a player’s iron game. The long 2nd favors a right to left shot shape, and requires a long-iron. The green slopes severely back to front and is angled slightly to the left, making the best place to miss short of the green, leaving a simple uphill chip.

Flossmoor's par 3 2nd. 

A look at the par 3 2nd at Flossmoor. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

A look at the par 3 2nd at Flossmoor. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

3rd - 434 yards - par 4

Flossmoor now moves to the first of its many great par 4’s. The fairway at the 3rd is bisected by a small creek that runs diagonally and sits at roughly 265 yards from the back tees. Long-hitters can carry it, especially with a helping south wind. Laying up short of the creek will leave a mid to long iron approach to a magnificent green complex. The green viciously slopes from right to left with a subtle back to front slope. Any putt or chip shot from right of the hole is extremely difficult, making the ideal place to miss the green short and left.  

The tough par 4 3rd.

A look at the 3rd green.

The slope of the 3rd green.

Looking back from the 3rd green.

4th - 331 yards - par 4 

Few holes at Flossmoor present a player with more options than the short par 4 4th. While it only measures 331 yards, I have seen this hole ruin many rounds…including my own. I like to hit a 260-yard shot here, but longer players will often give the green a run with their driver. If a player’s tee shot finds a fairway bunker, it will leave an awkward 40-70 yard sand shot to a difficult green, with out of bounds long and left. The green is very narrow and slopes hard from back to front and left to right, making any putt difficult except for one directly below the hole. If played well, the 4th presents a great birdie opportunity but a poor shot can lead to a double or worse. 

4th tee shot at Flossmoor. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

The approach to the short par 4, 4th. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

5th - 445 yards - par 4

While the driving corridor at the dogleg left 5th is very wide, fairway bunkers on either side of the fairway pinch the landing area at about 280 yards. The 5th has one of the smallest greens I have ever seen for a 400+ yard par 4, and to make matters tougher the green has a spine that runs through the middle. The small green puts a premium on finding the fairway in order to control your spin and distance for the approach. 

The 5th tee shot at Flossmoor.

The approach to the tiny 5th green.

6th - 434 yards - par 4

I have nightmares about the 6th hole. As a player who likes to move the ball from right to left, its tee shot scares the sh** out of me. Bobby Jones called it “The Difficult Sixth” after playing it in the 1923 U.S. Amateur. The hole doglegs hard to the right and has out of bounds running down the left side. A miss left can lead to a stroke and distance penalty, and right isn’t much better as there is an abundance of mature oak trees. I have seen players hit everything from driver to 4-iron on this relatively long par 4. A tree overhangs the right side of the fairway, encouraging you to approach the narrow, two-tiered green from the left.

The tee shot at the 6th. 

The 6th green. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

7th - 173 yards - par 3 

The second of Flossmoor’s par 3’s is the beautiful 7th which plays over water to a plateau-style green. The tee box is set back in a heavily wooded area, making judging the wind extremely difficult. Misses left and long will find a runoff area leaveing a delicate pitch shot to a green that slopes from front to back and left to right. 

The par 3 7th tee shot.

Looking at the 7th green from the 6th green.

The left runoff area at the 7th. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

The look at the 7th green on the walk back to the tee. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

8th - 461 yards - par 4 

When Ray Hearn remodeled Flossmoor in the mid-2000s, he made a drastic change to the par 4 8th, and I think it’s a bad design. Membership refused to allow Hearn to take out some old mature trees which led to an incredibly awkward tee shot. Because of the trees, the ideal tee shot is a giant slice - I have never seen a player hit it too far right. Fail to slice it and the ball will end up in fairway bunkers down the left side or in deep rough, creating a difficult long-iron approach to a green protected by a lake. A good drive will leave a mid-iron approach to a wide but shallow green that slopes from back to front and left to right. I consider the 8th a birdie four/ bogey six hole.  

The approach to the 8th. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

9th - 626/560 yards - par 5

The back tee at the 9th makes this a stout three-shot par 5. In almost all tournament settings, this hole is played from a forward tee which makes it a reachable in two for a long hitter. The tee-shot is relatively wide open, but hitting the fairway is key to getting your second shot over the hill which obstructs the view of the green. The putting surface at the 9th is one of the most deceptive I have ever come across. From the fairway, it looks as though the green has considerable back to front slope, but in actuality it is very flat. It took me about ten rounds to figure this out. 

The tee shot at the par 5 9th.

The approach to the 9th.

The look from the left side of the 9th green shows how little slope there is. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

10th - 553 yards - par 5 

The 10th is the second of consecutive par 5’s and can yield disaster with out of bounds running down the entire left side. A good drive that finds the fairway and avoids the bunker on the right side will give a player a chance at getting home in two. This hole is where you begin to experience Flossmoor’s great topography. The green is situated in a valley and is extremely sloped from back to front. When the course is playing firm and fast, anything long is almost impossible to keep on the green. 

The downhill approach to the heavily sloped 10th green. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

11th - 187 yards - par 3 

A beautiful but befuddling uphill par 3. The tee-shot is semi-blind and plays about a club longer than you think because of the big hill. The real challenge is the green which slopes hard from front to back, making it difficult to get a mid-iron shot to stop. Any miss short will leave a delicate downhill chip shot, making a miss long preferred. 

The uphill par 3 11th.

A look at the 11th green from the 10th. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

12th - 417 yards - par 4 

The 12th hole is one of my favorite par 4’s in Chicago, and is a rendition of C.B. Macdonald’s “Alps” template. The tee shot comes from the same plateau that the 11th green is situated on, and plays right into the bank of another hill. Only the longest hitters can carry the hill and get a clear look at the green for their second shots. Most players are left with a blind second shot to a punchbowl green that once again slopes away from the player. The significant front to back slope makes distance control very difficult, especially from the rough. 

The tee shot at the par 4 12th.

The blind approach to the 12th. 

A look at the 12th green from 40 yards.

The front to back sloping punchbowl green.

13th - 135 yards - par 3 

Another hole significantly altered by Hearn who altered the green and moved the tee box to have the hole play in a different direction. For the most part, I have heard membership complain about the change. While short, the 13th isn’t a gimme par, as the green has a lot of slope making distance-control a must. 

The short par 3 13th.

The 13th green. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

14th - 366 yards - par 4 

The short par 4’s tee shot is made awkward because a large oak tree in the middle of the fairway. While the tree is only about 175 yards from the tee, it makes a player decide whether to thread the needle on the right or left side, or hit it over. I usually choose the later which leaves a flip wedge shot into the green. A subtle challenge to the 14th is the considerable fairway undulation that yields a lot of uneven and awkward lies. The green is also very difficult; it slopes hard from back to front, and a wedge shot with too much juice can spin right off the front.

The tee shot at the 14th at Flossmoor.

The sloping fairway at Flossmoor's 14th.

15th - 431 yards - par 4 

Flossmoor comes to a dramatic close starting with the course’s best tee shot, at the 15th. The ideal tee-shot moves right to left but avoids the large oak tree on the left side. A long drive will leave a short-iron approach over a creek which bisects the fairway to a small, well-guarded green. When it’s windy, this approach is particularly difficult as the green seemingly shrinks to a miniscule size. As is the case at many holes, being in the right spot on the 15th green is key as it slopes from back to front, and long putts are very difficult.

The great tee shot at the 15th.

The approach at the 15th.

A look at the 15th green.

16th - 425 yards - par 4 

While extremely wide off the tee, the 16th’s second shot presents quite the challenge. The double fairway it shares with the 17th gives players plenty of room to the left and no reason to go anywhere near the fairway bunker on the right side. A tee-shot into good position sets up an uphill approach to the plateau green guarded by a memorable fingered bunker. The green is very shallow and has a false front that rejects any shots slightly short or that have too much spin. A miss long is dead as the green slopes hard from the back to front.

The tee shot at the par 4 16th.

The approach to the 16th green guarded by the signature finger bunker.

Looking down from a top the 16th green. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

17th - 473 yards - par 4 

One of the toughest par 4s you will find. The uphill approach makes finding the fairway from the tee a must. A creek bisects the fairway at about 290 yards, taking driver out of some players’ hands. The approach shot, about a club longer than the yardage suggests, is played to a green perched on a ridgeline. The green is slopes from the right to left, and the green isn’t very receptive. It forces a lot of players to scramble for par. Much like the 8th hole, I consider the 17th a birdie four/bogey six. 

The tee shot at Flossmoor's 17th. 

The bridge over the creek to the 17th green. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

Looking back at the 17th. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

18th - 533 yards - par 5 

The round at Flossmoor comes to a close with a gettable par 5 that runs back uphill to the massive clubhouse. A long hitter’s line is over the fairway bunkers on the right side, leaving a fairway wood to long-iron approach to the perched green. A poor drive will force a layup which isn’t easy because of fairway bunkers on the left and right. The approach is deceptive as it looks like the slope of the green will funnel shots from right to left, but that never seems to happen. The green is actually full of subtle breaks, leaving most players confounded walking off. 

The 18th tee shot. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

The view up the 18th. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

Approaching the 18th green. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

Looking back at the 18th. Photo Credit: Ian Gilley @igilley

Reflecting on Flossmoor

I see something new at Flossmoor every round I play. The course has a spectacular blend of playability and challenge - it’s your quintessential “hard par, easy bogey” course. The majority of its driving corridors are extremely wide, but in order to score well, you need to play smart and strategic golf. Unlike many brawny championship designs, Flossmoor has a nice variety of differing length par 3’s and short and long par 4’s that test all of the clubs in a player’s bag. 

I do think the course can continue to improve with more work on the bunkers, and additional tree removal - particularly on the 6th and 8th holes. Hearn did a masterful job everywhere but the bunkers which look nice from a distance but up close reveal sloppy shaping work and a poor attention to detail. 

Unfortunately, the club is a victim of the economic downturn and a changing neighborhood demographic. These factors have turned what was once one of Chicago’s most prestigious clubs into one that’s offering discounted memberships in order to stay afloat.

While Flossmoor might get lost among the many great private golf courses in Chicagoland, it’s certainly one of the best. And you should jump at the chance to play it when in the area

 

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