OCM Golf’s redesign work on Course Three at Medinah Country Club, near Chicago, is complete and the new layout is now growing in ahead of a planned reopening in 2024.
“The project is best described as part restoration, renovation and redesign, with the major routing changes occurring in the last six holes,” said Mike Cocking of OCM Golf.
Referencing old aerial imagery, hand drawn plans and photos from the 1920s, the design team had a clear picture of how the course has evolved over the past century. “Early aerials showed a very interesting bunker style, somewhat reminiscent of other Golden Age courses,” said Cocking. “They were rugged, natural looking hazards with fairly irregular shapes. There were also some great ground shots of holes three and four, which showed a very dramatic bunker arrangement – something we have looked to restore.
“Then there were several holes where we’ve retained the basic structure, and the changes are mainly to the green and bunker style. Holes like the old seventh [which will become the tenth], eighth [eleventh] and twelfth are good examples.”
The most significant of OCM’s changes have been to the closing six holes. Rerouting now sees a new thirteenth hole that plays alongside Lake Kadijah, a shortened fourteenth, removing the old fifteenth, converting the old par-three seventeenth into a short, Cape-style par-four sixteenth, a new par-three seventeenth that plays back across the lake on the diagonal, and the eighteenth that plays up the original corridor alongside the first hole.
“There were a number of reasons behind the development of this concept, including the similarities between the second, thirteenth and seventeenth,” said Cocking. “There was also the lack of a truly great short par four; Lake Kadijah being repeatedly used across the line of play when golf’s most exciting water hazards are positioned diagonally; the potential to make a more dramatic finish; and most importantly, our aim to improve the architecture and variety of shots.”
The course closed in October 2022 for tree removal and the demolition of old paths and irrigation. Construction began in April 2023 and by mid-October all shaping and grassing has been completed.
One aspect of the project has been to reduce the elevation of some elements of the course. “The most recent version of the course had many tees, greens and bunkers elevated well above the natural ground,” said Cocking. “It created a somewhat artificial appearance, and, in some areas, the natural character of the land had been lost.
“Course Three sits over some wonderfully undulating ground, and we felt it didn’t need this additional height to add drama, so one of the first things we’ve done on each hole is to remove the features and return the land to how it once looked.
“Some bunkers – especially on the fairways – had been placed on flat ground which wasn’t necessarily suited to building great looking hazards. It seemed like these sites had been chosen because of the distance they measured from the tee rather than how the land moved. And to be visible, they had been built well up and out of the ground. In contrast, our bunkers have been built where they best suit the land – into natural rises – to create more visual interest. This also results in bunkers scattered at a range of distances to ensure a wide range of golfers will have to deal with a bunker at some point in their round.”
The number of bunkers has been increased from around 70 to 100. They are generally placed close to the line of play, and at the greens the bunkers are much tighter to the putting surface.
Water, which previously wasn’t much of a threat for better players, is now more in play. And at holes five, six and seven, OCM has reintroduced a boundary fence, making out of bounds a strategic hazard.
At holes six, seven and eight (the original sixth, tenth and eleventh), OCM has returned the character of the land. “There are still some bunkers, but this part of the course was originally an oak savannah and so we’ve established some broad sections of fescue rough to reintroduce that feel,” said Cocking. “We hope these changes make for a much more natural looking course with a scale that’s more in keeping with the broad and expansive nature of the site.”
Read more: Mike Cocking picks out some of his highlights of the redesign.
OCM has also emphasised angles and contour. “Every hole is wider,” said Cocking. “If fairways are 25 yards wide the game just descends into a test of execution. But when the fairways are 40, 50 or even 60 yards wide, and you have a green where one side is heavily defended, you can create angles to both reward and penalise depending on which side of the fairway you play to. We like to place a hazard somewhere near the ideal position to play into the green to help create some thought-provoking decisions back on the tee.
“There are some holes where contour short of the green, or a putting surface that tilts away from the fairway, really encourages golfers to use the contour to feed the ball towards the pin. So there has been a lot of work in the approaches to try and make sure they play firm for most of the year.”
Course Three will host the Presidents Cup in 2026.
This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.