People often ask me what public courses to play in Chicago, and my response is almost unanimously Ravisloe C.C. in Homewood, IL. It's a terrific blend of golden age architecture, fun and value that in my mind sets it apart from the other options in the Chicagoland area. Ravisloe won’t wow you with its ritzy service or amenities, but what you will find is a classic Donald Ross course that showcases his design brilliance by being extremely playable for a beginner while still challenging for a great player.
Ravisloe wasn’t always a public access facility, it was a private club for nearly 100 years. Ravisloe was designed by Donald Ross during his Chicago Tour which included projects such as Exmoor C.C., Beverly C.C., Skokie C.C., Calumet C.C. and Old Elm C.C. However, the Homewood area fell on hard times, and the abundance of good golf in the area didn’t allow Ravisloe to succeed as a private club. It was ultimately purchased by veterinarian Claude Gendreau in early 2009. Gendreau quickly turned the course into a public access facility and it immediately became one of Chicago’s best public golf courses.
Before going public, Ravisloe underwent a restoration by local architect David Esler. He did a terrific job restoring the bunkering and keeping the course close to its original design. Looking at aerials of Ravisloe from 1931 and today, it’s hard to find many differences from Ross’ original design except for a few too many trees!
Hole 1 - 395 yards - par 4
A great opener, the 1st hole at Ravisloe requires a tee-shot down the left side of the fairway. It’s wise to hit a ball in the 250-270 yard range in order to avoid the fairway bunker that juts into the right side of the fairway. The approach is a difficult one to a long and narrow green complex that has a severe drop off on the right side.
Hole 2 - 535 yards - par 5
The first of back-to-back par 5’s, the 2nd at Ravisloe requires a draw off the tee to reach the green in two. On the 2nd, you will see the first of many holes with Ross’ signature mounding that makes any shot in a challenging one. A good tee shot will leave a fairway wood or long-iron in for longer players, while a shorter-hitter will be forced to layup and decide whether to keep it short or play it past the fairway bunkering on the right. One of the things I love about this hole is the switchback nature of it as the ideal approach shot to this green is a cut, asking a good player to move the ball right-to-left off the tee before moving it left-to-right on the approach. The green at the 2nd is very challenging, falling off to the left side into a chipping area and sloping heavily from back-to-front.
Hole 3 - 490 yards - par 5
While the 3rd is also a par 5, the similarities end there. Ross was an expert at examining great players ability to move the ball in different directions and his skill is reflected here. At the 3rd hole, the play off the tee is the opposite of the 2nd. In order to get home in two, a left to right shot is needed off the tee as the hole moves to the right with out of bounds down the right side. If you pull off the shot, you will be left with a mid-iron into this severely sloped green. If you miss left, you will be forced to layup and avoid the fairway bunkering. The green complex is one of the best par 5 greens in Chicago as it has 3 distinct tiers and slopes heavily from back to front. It’s important to stay below the hole if you want to have a good look at birdie or eagle as anything pin high or above the hole will be a challenging two putt.
Hole 4 - 181 yards - par 3
Ross eases you into the start at Ravisloe with a few birdie holes before putting your game to the test at the challenging par-3 4th. A mid-iron shot into a narrow and long green guarded by extremely deep bunkering makes this shot a nerve-racking one. If you are unable to hit the green in regulation, your short game will be tested with challenging shots around this pushup green.
Hole 5 - 315 yards - par 4
While the 5th may look easy on the scorecard, this hole has given me fits over the years. The smart play on the short par 4 is a 210 yard shot off the tee. A player that can move the ball left to right off the tee can be more aggressive, but Ross employed some great cross bunkers that can make for a very difficult and awkward shot into the tough green if you find yourself in one. A layup will leave a wedge shot into a pushup green that is guarded by deep bunkers and out of bounds behind.
Hole 6 - 135 yards - par 3
Following the short par-4 5th, you will be faced with another test of your wedge game at the par-3 6th. The small but undulated green makes you pay close attention to the wind, distance and most importantly, spin control as it's easy to spin it off the heavily sloped green.
Hole 7 - 203 yards - par 4
The second of back-to-back par 3’s will test a player’s long-iron game as it requires a precise shot to a wide but shallow green complex. A particularly tough pin is on the back left portion. In order to get it close you have to fly the bunkers to the right, if you bail out to the right an awkward chip over a ridge will be left.
Hole 8 - 390 yards - par 4
One of my favorite holes at Ravisloe is the par-4 8th. I would love to see another tee added to make the large fairway bunker in play again. As it stands currently, a good tee shot goes over the center of the large bunker and will leave a short-iron into the green. On the second shot, Ross does an excellent job deceiving with the bunkering that appears to be pushed up to the green, but is actually set a good 20 yards short of it.
Hole 9 - 405 yards - par 4
The closing hole on the front 9 is not an easy par, requiring two strong shots. A good drive will leave a short-iron or wedge approach to a very challenging green complex. If you aren’t in the right section of this green on your second shot it will be a very challenging two putt.
Hole 10 - 395 yards - par 4
The back 9 starts with another mid-length par 4 that plays slightly downhill. A good tee shot will move right to left and leave a wedge into one of the more benign but subtle greens at Ravisloe giving you a great opportunity to make a birdie.
Hole 11 - 226 yards - par 3
The 11th starts a terrific stretch (11-16) of golf at Ravisloe and this is one of the toughest par 3’s in the area. My advice for the 11th, don’t miss left where nothing good can happen between the bunker or the rough. A great shot is to the front right corner of the green which leaves a right to left breaking putt on the narrow green.
Hole 12 - 400 yards - par 4
A very cool par 4 that is defined by the bunker that sits in the middle of the fairway. It’s 250 yards to carry, making medium length hitters choose right or left and long hitters make sure they hit it solid. The approach is also a challenge to the small and sloped green and putts from the right side to the left are very slick.
Hole 13 - 550 yards - par 5
The only par 5 on the backside lets you cut it loose. The ideal shot is a power fade that covers the fairway bunker on the right. From there, a long-hitter is able to challenge the small and heavily protected green in two. One of my favorite aspects of this par 5 is the layup shot. Ross uses cross bunkering to make players think it out in order to execute a smart layup.
Hole 14 - 410 yards - par 4
Another tough par 4, the key to the 14th is hitting a good tee shot avoiding the hazard on the left and the bunkers on the right. From there, you are left with a short-iron approach to another heavily sloped green.
Hole 15 - 146 yards - par 3
A beautiful short par 3 that has treacherous bunkers surrounding it. The 15th tee is set below in a valley making gauging the wind difficult, and the heavily sloped back to front green places an emphasis on distance and spin control in order to hit a shot close.
Hole 16 - 390 yards - par 4
A spectacular par 4 favors a left to right tee shot to the downhill fairway. The approach to the green is where the challenge begins with the tiny green sloping heavily from front to back making it extremely difficult to hit the ball close. Come up a little short and you are left with a long downhill putt, a little long you will find yourself in the back chipping area.
Hole 17 - 400 yards - par 4
The 17th turns and heads back to the clubhouse with a blind tee shot. An ideal line is directly over the small pot bunker you can see from the tee. From there, you are left with a short-iron approach to a subtle breaking green with a deep bunker guarding the right side and long rough protecting the left.
Hole 18 - 355 yards - par 4
The closer is a short par 4 which forces a decision, layup short of the bunkers leaving a short-iron in or play aggressively and try to thread the bunkers, leaving a pitch shot in. I always layup here and it leaves a wedge into a tricky little green that’s guarded by deep bunkers.
While there are a lot of public golf courses in Chicago that have more glamorous facilities and more picturesque settings, few rival Ravisloe’s architectural brilliance. The course is short but Ross’ subtle design skills make it a good test of golf for a scratch player while being extremely playable for the average golfer. I truly believe that Ravisloe could be a great course if trees were removed, and the maintenance budget was increased allowing for the course to play firmer and faster. Even so, it remains my favorite place to play public golf in Chicago.