Skokie Country Club
Green Keeper: Don Cross
Such is the timeless charm and appeal that Skokie possesses today that onewould imagine that littleever happened tothe coursesince its original inception. And yet, nothing could be further from the truth!
The first version of the coursewas built by the membersjust before the turn of the 20th century and was a nine hole course. Tom Bendelowexpanded and modified the courseto eighteen holes in 1905. Donald Ross’s 1914 revision ofBendelow’scourse became thethird version and was deemed good enough to host the 1922 U.S. Open, won by Gene Sarazen.
Fourteeen years later as Europe plunged into World War II, the club gave up several Ross holes when it soldto a real estate venture the land around the presentfifteenth andsixteenth holes. In the process,it picked up additional land south of its existing border. Rather than go back to Ross, Skokie hired the local architect firm of William Langford and Ted Moreau to design the holeson the newly acquired property. Thus,thepresent third, fourth, fifth, sixth, eleventh, twelfth, andthirteenth holes were created withLangford/Moreau tying the remaining Ross holes into these sevennew ones.
WhetherRoss’s 1922 courseorLangford/Moreau’s1938 versionwas the designzenithof Skokie is a matter of conjecture but the author sides with the 1938 one. The introduction of the stream and lake at the south end of the property was adistinctplus asthe resultingthird, eleventh, andtwelfth holes add variety to the overall challenge and are undoubtedly among the finest on the course. Plus, Langford/Moreau’s exaggerated bunker walls are a handsomeadditionto the subdued topography.
Unfortunately, from WWII until the mid 1990s, anumber of lesser architects tinkered with the course to the point where neither Rossnor Langford/Moreau wouldlikelyhave recognized it: cross bunkerswere removed, other bunkerswere softened and became maintenance nightmares thanks to their high sandy faces which werein voguein the 1970s, moundswere added for ‘framing’, and the putting surfaces shrunk to where many greens were bland ovals.In addition, tree encroachment continued unabated, thus negating many ofthe playing angles within the holes. With the most interesting hole locations gone and the strategic requirements reduced, the course was a shadow of its formerglorious state.
The Green Committeeconcisely outlined theseconcerns in 1999 to the membership in a very well produced six page fold-out brochure entilted Course Restoration Plan.A full color aerial rendering of the course was included by Ron Prichard that showed the course’s features before and after the proposed restorative work. Also, several of the most potentially contentous issues wereaddressed head on, such as tree removal, how long the course would be closed and how much it would cost.
In addition, the Green Committee made it clear to the membership that there would be no cherry picking of Prichard’s ideas: the plan would be accepted in its entirety or not at all. As they wisely noted, ‘ It is best to stick with plans drawn by an experienced professional. No matter how good the intention, modifications made by amateur hands tend to produce unsatisfactory results.’
Oncepresented with the facts, the membership voted to pursue restoring the course in a comprehensive manner as outlined by Prichard.Working closely with Green Keeper Don Cross and his crew, Prichard’s work came in on time and on budget. The result is a startingly transformationthat returned the coursetoa centerpiece of classic design.
While every phase of the project was a complete success, Prichard’s fairway bunker workis especially noteworthy. Here-introduced cross bunkers, herotated the axis of numerous fairway bunkers 90 degrees so that the bunkers once again protrude into play as opposed to just paralleling the fairway, and he gave hands on attention to ensuring the grass bunker walls hadirregular shape and flow to them.
With conversation tending to center around Skokie’s distinctive bunkering and interesting green contours (e.g. thesixth and eleventh), overlooked can be the fact thatSkokie also possesses length. With the course having expanded nearly 1,000 yards since Bendelow’s effort, the Championship Card showsa course that measures 7,020 yards against a par of 71. Indeed, its three hole finish of 250 yards, 445 yards and 465 yards isas demanding a stretch as one would ever wish to find.
Still, length for length’s sake is boring but it is important that Skokie possess it. Why? Without it, the cross bunkers which add so much to the course would be meaningless. Afterall, cross bunkers 40 yards shy of a 360 yard hole or 100 yards shy of a 500 yard hole only trap the duffer in this modern age of aerial golf. However, those same bunkers on a 440 yarderand a560 yarderremain in play for all levelsof golfers. Thus, though many courses claim to do so, Skokie accurately enjoys thereputationfor providing an engagingchallenge toall levels of players.
Holes to Note
First hole, 440 yards; Hard to imagine a more appealing opener. From the elevated tee 20-25 feet above the fairway, the golfer is afforded a clear view down the broad fairway, which he’ll want to hit as carrying the restored cross bunkers fifty yards shy of the green can be difficult from the rough. Of course, when Ross first built these cross bunkers, the golfer would have been trying to just carrythemwith a spoon, in hopes of watching his ball bound along the groundfor forty yards and onto the green. Nonetheless, these cross bunkers remain much in play for the modern game for all but a well placedtee ball.