The pride and joy of Chicago’s south suburbs, Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course, arguably stands as Chicago’s premier championship golf course (Butler & Medinah also have claims). The North Course is consistently ranked within the top 100 golf courses in the United States, and Olympia Fields got its place there because of the legendary Scottish architect Willie Park Jr. Over the years, the course has been lengthened, but nearly all of Park’s 1919 design and strategy remains intact as evidenced by the 1928 map below.
A little history on Olympia Fields C.C.
As you will notice from the 1928 map, the North Course was one of 4 courses at the South Side retreat. Olympia Fields is located in the small town of Olympia Fields, IL and in a golf mecca of Chicago with neighbors like H.J. Tweedie’s Flossmoor C.C. and a short drive from Donald Ross designs Ravisloe C.C. and Calumet C.C. The plans for Olympia were large when the club was founded in 1915 with a remarkable 674 acres of land with the dream of becoming the world’s premier and largest golf club. The first course was completed by Tom Bendelow in 1916, the second by William Watson in 1918 and the third a collaboration of Watson and Bendelow which opened in 1920. For the fourth course, the membership wanted to make a splash, eventually landing on the world renowned Willie Park Jr. to create a championship test on the beautiful property. While 72 holes of golf were unheard of for a club, the most remarkable aspect of Olympia Fields plans was the clubhouse. The club didn’t skimp, spending an unheard of $1.3 million on the project; it’s 80’ clocktower the most recognizable aspect of the property.
The Great Depression took a toll on the illustrious club and in the 40’s they were forced to sell off some of their land, resulting in the closing of their second and third courses and leaving just the original Bendelow design (South Course) and Willie Park design (North Course).
Olympia Fields history is rooted in championship golf, the prestigious North Course has served as host to two U.S. Opens (1928 & 2003), two PGA Championships (1925 & 1961), a U.S. Amateur (2015), U.S. Senior Open (1997), five Western Opens and is set to host next year’s Women’s PGA Championship.
While the North Course is one of the country’s finest championship tests, the South is hardly a slouch, consistently ranking as one of Chicago’s best. The two courses offer a nice contrast for membership, the North a stern championship test and the South is more grounded in playability and fun. Overall, Olympia Fields offers the best 36 hole private golf facility in the Midwest.
Playing Olympia Fields CC’s North Course
I have played each course at Olympia Fields a handful of times and the property stands out to me as one of the finest land sites in Chicagoland. Its rolling hills and meandering creeks are rare for the flat swamp city. An invite to play either course at Olympia makes for a nice day; playing both, a spectacular day.
In the summer of 2016, I played the North Course twice and it's one of the few courses that I don’t automatically go to the back tee box. The first round we played the back tees and got to see first hand the difference between a good amateur player and a Web.com Tour player as my buddy breezed to a carefree 69 and I got my ass kicked to the tune of a 78. The second go-around, we chose to play up a tee box and had a much more friendly experience. I have photos of every hole, unfortunately, not many of the greens and approach shots. My next trip out next year I will fill in the gaps and if any readers have photos that I could use, please let me know.
Hole 1 - 626/550 yards (tournament/championship) - par 5
Get ‘em early. The first hole at Olympia is your best birdie opportunity on the front 9 so best start fast. The tee shot is guarded by deep fairway bunkers on both the right and left sides of the fairway. While college kids were getting home in two from 626 yards during the U.S. Am, that’s not in a lot of guys bags which leaves a layup to get into wedge position. Look to avoid the fairway bunker on the left and find the fairway to approach the slightly uphill green that’s guarded by bunkers in front and left.
Hole 2 - 467/440 yards - par 4
The second is where players get their first test with the long par 4 that doglegs to the right. The inside of the dogleg is protected by bunkering and from the back tee the carry is about 280 yards. Willie Park demands the long hitter to challenge the bunker, if they bail left they will run out of fairway on the left and into the rough and or trees. A good drive will yield a mid-iron approach into a green that’s fronted by bunkers and has some good back to front pitch.
Hole 3 - 461/439 yards - par 4
Onto one of the best par 4s in all of golf, the 461 yard par 4 3rd, where players get an early look at one of the more dramatic parts of the property. The tee shot is blind and runs downhill to a wide open area and OB runs down the right side so the tendency is to bail right. The right rough yields a very difficult angle and uphill approach shot to the elevated green, so fairway is key here. The pushup green has bunkers on the right side and is volcano-like where a miss short, left, long or right is repelled further from the hole.
Hole 4 - 400/378 yards - par 4
After a couple of brutes, Willie Park gives players a couple of mid-length par 4s, each still very challenging. The 4th tee comes from low on the property and requires a very precise tee shot. This hole isn’t fun for anyone that plays a sweeping draw, as the out of bounds looms left and there are abundant trees right. I love how Park used the fairway undulation on this hole to challenge the player. Very rarely are you greeted with a level lie. Longer players are typically greeted with a wedge shot from an upslope to a small green complex, not an easy shot. The green has a lot of back to front slope and being above the flag can leave some delicate putts.
Hole 5 - 417/401 yards - par 4
After the 4th, player’s are greeted with a long walk back to the 5th tee and another tight chute to drive out of. I tend to lay back on this hole as the driving area is very narrow when bunkers pinch in at about 260 yards. This leaves a mid-iron approach to one of Willie Park’s signature tabletop greens. Park uses a fronting bunker in the middle of the fairway to deceive players. While it looks like the bunker is pushed up to the green, there is actually about 10 yards of space between it and the green.
Hole 6 - 187/179 yards - par 3
After the tricky 5th is the downhill par 3 6th. This hole is the only one on the property I feel doesn’t fit. It’s wide open and a beautiful hole, but the green is larger than most and has two distinct tiers in back and front. The hole plays about a club downhill so with a good mid-iron a birdie can be had.
Hole 7 - 452/425 yards - par 4
The other awkward aspect of the 6th is that the 7th tee box sits right next to the 6th, so players walk down to the 6th green and back to the 7th tee. The 7th hole demands a quality tee shot as bunkers pinch in on both the right and left side, narrowing to about 20 yards wide. From there, an uphill mid-iron approach is left to relatively flat green except for the front of the green which has a lot of back to front slope.
Hole 8 - 280/206 yards - par 3
Onto the 8th and one of the hardest par 3’s you will find anywhere. Stretching to a lengthy 280 yards from the back tee box, the 8th requires a precise 3W or driver for most. If you play up, there are tees at 255 yards and 230 yards as well. The green is fronted by bunkers on both the right and left as well as one in the middle of the fairway run up area. This bunker is deceiving from the tee, but there is significant room over it to allow for a ball to run onto the green and hold. The green itself is pretty large and has significant back to front slope, making the hole extra treacherous. To illustrate how stupid the game we all love is, in my two trips to Olympia this summer, I birdied this hole twice, making ridiculous 30+ft putts...golf is dumb.
Hole 9 - 472/460 yards - par 4
The front 9 comes to a close with the tough par 4 9th. The toughest aspect of this hole is the tee shot. Players are forced to make a decision because of the treacherous fairway bunkers on the left and right. Try to thread the needle with a driver or lay back with a 3W or hybrid/long-iron. The landing area is about 25 yards and a good drive can lead to a mid-iron approach as opposed to the long-iron left by laying back. I think the wise play is to lay back, leaving a long iron approach to a tough green complex. Bunkers sit on the left side and front right of the green that slopes hard from back to front and right to left.
Hole 10 - 444/429 yards - par 4
The turn yields a gettable stretch of holes from the 10th-13th, holes by which are in no way easy but are scorable for those on their games. The 10th tee shot is pretty tight and favors a draw. The wise play is to hit something about 270 yards off the tee which will leave a short to mid-iron. The key is to avoid the fairway bunkering, which will leave a clean approach to the green that has a lot of back to front slope so keeping it below the hole is recommended.
Hole 11 - 396/380 yards - par 4
The short (by Olympia standards) 11th is one that everyone can cut the driver loose, especially those who like to move the ball right to left. A good drive will yield a wedge to a difficult green that is slightly elevated. The green has considerable front to back slope on the majority of the green, but the left side falls off hard to the left. A pin in the middle of the green is tough as a shot that is slightly long or left will funnel all the way off the left side of the green.
Hole 12 - 389/389 yards - par 4
The beautiful 12th is up next. While only 389 yards, Park forces players to lay up towards the fairway bunker with a 225 yard shot, leaving another mid-iron into the green. The creek bisects the fairway making it tough for players to hit a driver or longer club and shorten the hole. The green slopes significantly from back to front. I love the naturalness of this hole.
Hole 13 - 168/168 yards - par 3
The scorable stretch of the back 9 ends with the short to mid-iron par 3 13th. The relatively benign par 3 is protected by a green that sweeps from left to right and back to front, making long putts difficult.
Hole 14 - 450/438 yards - par 4
The 14th signals the start to the challenging close at Olympia. The 14th is a picturesque par 4 from the elevated tee box that plays down into a valley. The longest hitters may need to pull 3W to avoid the creek that bisects the fairway, but for most, the call is driver. There are creeks on either sides of the fairway and a good drive will yield a mid-iron approach to an elevated green. The green has a lot of slope from front to back, and missing long is death.
Hole 15 - 576/559 yards - par 5
The 15th is by no means an easy par 5, and in particular, the tee shot is very challenging. Willie Park requires players to hit the ball down the left side of the fairway which is guarded by fairway bunkering to avoid being blocked out on the second shot, unless of course you are Tiger Woods.
For long hitters, the 15th is reachable. For most, the second shot is a layup to setup a wedge approach to a large green which slopes from back to front with the right corner falling off to the right.
Hole 16 - 215/196 yards - par 3
The final 3 kicks off with the beautiful drop shot 16th. A beautiful par 3 plays about a club to a half a club downhill and is a tough target to hit. The green slopes severely from back to front, making a long miss not ideal, while the creek guards the front. My advice, hit it the correct distance :-).
Hole 17 - 455/413 yards - par 4
The long par 4 is a beauty. Player’s tee it up from just in front of the road in and the fairway is guarded by fairway bunkers down the left side and a creek to the right. The approach shot is tough, uphill to a green that has deep bunkers on the right and left side. The green itself is very flat but in no way easy as overtime the land has settled and has subtle breaks that are tough to read.
Hole 18 - 498/445 yards - par 4
The closer is a dandy. The tee shot calls for a draw and the bunkers on the right side come into to play. A poor drive will most likely force a layup and a tough up and down due to the heavily sloped green
From an architectural standpoint, the North Course shows the brilliance of Willie Park Jr. In particular, his ability to use the land. A lasting memory is how Park used the most dramatic pieces of the property, two of the best par 4s you will find anywhere (3 & 14) as well as the unforgettable closing stretch of 16-18 (unfortunately, the USGA changed the routing for the'03 Open flipping making 2-9 11-18 & 11-18 2-9).
Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course is a course you play knowing that if you don’t bring your A-game it's going to beat you up. It tests all aspects of your game but where I find it tests the most is off the tee, almost every driving area is pinched by deep fairway bunkers. It’s pure championship golf, where the bigger you miss, the worse off you are. The course could probably use some tree removal to open up original corridors and intentions but for the most part, the trees remain out of play and as the 1928 map shows, the property had abundant trees to begin with.
In most cases, you walk off the 18th and the scores tell the story of who played the best. While the North Course is extremely difficult, not once do you feel that it is at all unfair. Every bunker, creek and hazard is visible. If I played the North course everyday, I’d hate my golf game even more than I do now, but that’s the beauty of Olympia Fields with the South Course offering ample birdie opportunities, playability and fun.