Medinah No. 3 braces for its biggest overhaul yet


The members of Medinah Country Club have never been reluctant to order updates on their No. 3 course,  the most famous 18 holes in Chicago golf. The project that will be going on there this year, though, will go far beyond anything that has been done in the past.

Club president Williams R. Kuehn announced the latest project last December, noting that “the members voted with overwhelming approval of the Course No. 3 Master Plan.  This renovation is especially timely as the club looks forward to hosting the 2026 Presidents Cup.’’

The Presidents Cup, a team event between the best touring professionals from the United States and the rest of the World’s countries minus Europe, will be a fun event for the Chicago golf community but Medinah has already hosted much bigger things.

No. 3 was the site of the U.S. Opens of 1949, 1975 and 1990, the PGA Championships of 1999 and 2006 and the Ryder Cup of 2012.  Most recently the 2019 BMW Championship was played there as part if tge FedEx Cup Playoffs. Most all carry a higher profile than the Presidents Cup.

So, what’s this latest update all about? The complete renovation comes with a price tag of $23.5 million. Surely the club is looking far beyond a Presidents Cup, even though its spokesmen aren’t going into specifics. Kuehn’s initial announcement was just a starting point. This renovation will be followed by far more than just the Medinah membership from the time the hard work begins this fall until the first tee shot is hit in the next major event played there.

It’s been a long dryspell since the last one – the 2006 PGA Championship or the Ryder Cup, both played at Medinah — and it seems that Medinah is the only facility that has the wherewithal, the infrastructure and the enthusiasm to bring back those good old glory days.

America’s first 18-hole course was built in Chicago – by the Chicago Golf Club in 1892. The staging of the sport’s biggest events at Chicago courses were commonplace for decades after that, but that’s not the case anymore. Medinah can change that, and its members are more than willing.

Board member Ryan Potts made that clear in the aftermath of Kuehn’s announcement.

“As part of our strategic planning process we poll our membership as to what is important to them and what we, as stewards of the club, should try to accomplish,’’ said Potts.  “Our members, for better or worse, we could argue, told us they prioritize hosting championships.  We would like to host majors and desire to remain in the Top 100.’’

So the “investigative process’’ began and lasted over two years. A variety of architects were considered and OCM Golf, an Australian firm consisting of Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead, was chosen. OCM does not have a high profile in American golf, though Ogilvy did win the U.S. Open in 2006. He had not been on the Medinah premises before Kuehn made his announcement.

Only in 2020 had OCM tapped into the American market, renovating Shady Oaks – a Texas course designed by Ben Hogan. Medinah has a much high profile than Shady Oaks, and the present version of No. 3 was deemed worthy enough to host the President’s Cup. Still, Medinah went with the Australian group for the renovation.

“The PGA Tour staff all had experience working with OCM,’’ said Michael Scimo, the club’s President’s Cup chairman and former president.  “They were supportive of our choice and like the design.  All parties are on board.’’

A couple things undoubtedly weighed into the need for a major change.  Medinah members may play more times on their Nos. 1 and 2 courses but they’re proud of No. 3 and sensitive to low scoring there.  To them that suggests the course isn’t tough enough.  In the 2019 BMW Championship Justin Thomas covered the 72 holes in 25-under-par 263 that included a third-round 61 – a record on No. 3.  Enough said.

Those Golf Digest annual rankings were disturbing, too.  No. 3 was No. 60 in the most recent one after being as high as No. 11 in 2007.

Medinah members want their tournament course to be better respected. Respect comes from its position in the various rating surveys and its ability to land big championships.  Once the members are done enduring the eye sores that construction will inevitably bring they’ll have another course that they expect will be the envy of the golfing world.

This version may also be more user friendly, when played from the non-tournament tees, and more  attractive, with more of Lake Kadijah in play, if the OCM design pans out as planned. The present design has been criticized for three of its four par-3 holes being too similar.  Nos. 2, 13 and 17 all play over water.  That won’t be the case in the OCM design.

Like Medinah’s other two 18-holers, No. 3 was designed by Tom Bendelow.  It opened in 1928, four years after the Shriners established the club as one of the premier private clubs in the world. No. 1 opened in 1925 and No. 2 in 1926.

Over the years a series of architects  have been called in to improve No. 3 with Rees Jones the most prominent.  Working with co-designer Steve Weisser, Jones supervised major re-design projects in both 2003 and 2010.

Dick Nugent, in 1970, and Jones’ father Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Roger Rulewich, in the 1990s were other architects involved in work on No. 3 but OCM uncovered historical material from a visit by legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast in the 1930s that became a factor in the latest renovation plans.

The current No. 3 will remain in play this season. Scimo exected the moving of dirt will begin in October or November and work on the greens and bunkers will start in early 2023.  The course will be closed for all of 2023 with a re-opening in the spring of 2024 expected.  The Presidents Cup will be played there in September of 2026.