Medinah Puts Restored Course In Play With Golf For Life

Medinah Puts Restored Course In Play With Golf For Life
A view of the Medinah clubhouse from Course Two, the club’s recently restored Tom Bendelow design.

Medinah Puts Restored Course In Play With Golf For Life:

The fabled Medinah Country Club recently opened its Course Two after a year-long restoration directed by Rees Jones. Course Two, like the other courses at Medinah, originally was designed by Tom Bendelow in the 1920s. Unlike Course One and the famous Course Three (host of three US Opens, two PGAs and a Ryder Cup), however, Course Two had not been modernized since it opened in 1925. Working from 80-year-old photographs, Jones, his associate Steve Weisser and  Medinah’s Director of Golf Operations Curtis Tyrrell returned fairways, greens complexes and bunkers to their original sizes, shapes and locations. The new greens complexes in particular were rebuilt to reflect what they knew about the original contouring and play.

Rees Jones explains restoration decisions on Medinah’s Course Two.

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to take a look at the course before it opened with a group of other golf journalists. Rees Jones was on hand to explain how the restoration proceeded, and to offer insights into how Bendolow’s design was intended to be played and where accommodation of the modern game was integrated. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to play Course Two, but later, I did have the opportunity to play Course Three, adding another feather to my golf course bonnet.

But neither the restoration of a classic course, nor the GolfBlogger’s round is the real story here. The real story is that Medinah seized the opportunity provided by the restoration to think outside the box about what it means to play golf in the 21st century.

Golf faces a well-documented set of challenges. For many the sport takes too long and is too difficult (which feeds into the “too long” issue). So many other easier and less time-consuming options are available.

My observation has long been that the reason golf takes so long, and is so difficult is that most are not playing from the correct tees. Playing too far back forces big driver swings, which increases the chances of missing the fairway. Playing too far back also forces longer shots into the green, which results in fewer greens-in-regulation. Missing greens adds up shots with chips, pitches and lobs. Even when a long shot manages to find a green, it too often is away from the hole, which piles up putts.

What Medinah has done is to build seven sets of tees into the restored Course Two, each of which is color coded, and linked to a particular skill level and driver distance. The seven tees are part of “Golf For Life,” the brainchild of Marty DeAngelo, Medinah’s Director of Golf.  The idea of “Golf For Life” is to start juniors at appropriate tees, and then systematically move them up through the colors as they mature as players. Conversely, as players get older and physical ability begin to decline, they can then move back down. All the while, Golf For Life lets players shoot good scores from tees appropriate to their skill levels.

Part of the restored Course Two at Medinah

While nearly every course has three — or more — sets of tees (although I know of several with just two), Golf For Life distinguishes itself in several ways. The first is in the granularity of the tees. I often find that the middle tees of a three tee set are too far back on some holes, and too close on others. What I find myself doing at many courses is moving back and forth. Forest Dunes in Michigan has a neat set of  “hybrid tees” on their scorecard, where an imaginary set of tees at interim distances is created by moving players back and forward between tees.

An Ann Arbor area course has introduced a set of markers along the fairways called “The Wee Tees” for kids. There are no formal boxes, however, and the name is a bit unpleasant. I can’t imagine an adult of any skill level stooping to play the “Wee Tees,” even if they should.

Medinah has formalized the idea with a more granular system with seven tees, six of which are long enough to individual slope and course ratings. The scorecards also have specific target scores for each tee. In general, the tees match the following handicap/driver distance benchmarks:

 

HandicapTeeTotal Distance (Driver)
5 & BelowGold250
6-10Silver225
11-15White200
16-20Green175
21-25Yellow150
26-30Blue100
30+Orange75

At the start, participants in Medinah’s Golf For Life program will be evaluated by the golf  staff, who will make suggestions about appropriate tees. The staff will also make recommendations for improvement to move up to the next color. The key will be to challenge players to improvement (or, conversely, easing them down), while still keeping the game fun. Too easy is not fun. Too hard is not fun. Goldilocks had three beds to choose from. Medinah’s golfers get seven tees.

For both enjoyment and improvement, the seven tee system will offer positive reinforcement as players move up. It also will be easier to recognize even small levels of improvement. Moving from the forward to the mid tees in a standard three tee system is a big — and sometimes painful — step. Moving from the Blue to the Yellow in the seven tee system should be more natural and rewarding.

In addition to properly scaling the course to match player skills, the seven tee design offers additional benefits, such as more evenly matched competitive events and the opportunity for golfers to play in what before was unequal groups. A family with younger children, for example, might play from the yellow tees. That might be a full length course for the kids, but for the parents, either an “executive” or “par three.” Targeted scores for the players on the cards will still keep the competition interesting.

I also can imagine a number of fun competitions employing various combinations of players and tees.

The eighth on Medinah’s Course Two. credit: Nick Novelli

The Golf For Life program at Medinah is similar to the Longleaf Tee system promoted by the Society of Golf Course Architects and the US Kids Golf Foundation. Longleaf, named for Longleaf Golf & Family Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina, is another initiative to create more teeing options. Beginning in 2016, Longleaf increased the number of tees it offered to seven per hole. Players are encouraged to use the tees that equate to how far they hit their driver.

Significantly, Rees Jones, who oversaw the restoration of Medinah Course Two, also is involved with the Longleaf initiative.

I think that the examples of Medinah and Longleaf offer a way forward for golf clubs faced by the prospect of losing players because the game is too long and too difficult. With more tees to choose from, the game should be neither difficult nor too time consuming. Golf is more fun (and quicker) if you are playing from the correct tees.

Medinah’s Golf For Life program, though, takes the concept a step further. The evaluation of player skills, recording of measurable data and teaching programs geared to specific groups turns the addition of tees into a workable program.

The question is whether public access courses can — or want — to pull off something like Golf For Life. I actually think they can — and should. They may even need to. Perhaps Medinah, as one of the most historically important clubs in the country, can help lead the way. It would be significant if Medinah could reach outside its confines to become an active participant in helping other courses realize a similar program.

 

 

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