Jones’ Vision For Medinah
Includes Ryder Cup Drama
Rees Jones returns to Chicago this week. Another one of his course restorations will be on display. This time it is Medinah No. 3 for perhaps the biggest event in golf, the Ryder Cup.
“We started working on the course in 2001,” the noted golf course architect said. “It’s been 11 years in the making. I’m really excited to see how it will play.”
Jones felt the same excitement about another course restoration in Chicago: Cog Hill No. 4. He thought he nailed it when the course reopened in 2009.
“Now all the greens should be firm and fast. They should be at 13 (on the Stimpmeter) for the Ryder Cup.” — Rees JonesHowever, several players reacted differently, rapping Cog Hill and Jones in particular with unprecedented harsh and pointed criticism. Phil Mickelson, never a Jones fan, said: “We all wish that it had turned out differently.”
Always one to embrace the media, Jones has remained mostly silent about the critical reaction to Cog Hill. Naturally, though, with Cog Hill just a few miles south of Medinah, the subject comes up.
“If you redo a course the players never have seen, they’ll accept it,” Jones said of Cog Hill. “If you redo a course they’ve played and make it harder, they’ll complain. I saw it happen to my father (Robert Trent Jones). I expected it.”
Nevertheless, Jones acknowledged that he thought the criticism “was a little over the top.” He also thinks the new Cog Hill is “a U.S. Open course.”
“We brought it into the 21st century,” Jones said. Jones, though, doesn’t want to dwell on Cog Hill this week. He’s here to talk about Medinah. Jones’ most notable alteration to the course is on No. 15. Previously, it was an uninspiring, short par 4 that seemed out of place in the gauntlet that is Medinah No. 3. Jones called it “a stepchild hole.”
In its place is a drivable par 4 that can be played close to 100 yards shorter than it once was. The addition of a new pond lurking right of the green adds a risk-reward element to the hole.
No. 15 also comes at what should be pivotal points in the matches. Depending on where the scores stand, players will be faced with the choice of playing it safe with an iron off the tee or going for broke with the driver.
Suddenly, a dull hole could be the most exciting hole during the Ryder Cup.
“It seems like every Ryder Cup has a do-or-die hole,” Jones said. “It requires the players to make choices. It makes them think about that hole. A lot of things can happen, good and bad. All I know is if (Bubba Watson) is 2 down, he’s going to go for it.”
Jones also oversaw the renovation to all of Medinah’s greens. It was done in two phases, with the final 11 greens being redone after the 2006 PGA Championship.
Jones said he “added some subtle contours” to the green and created more hole locations. “Now all the greens should be firm and fast,” Jones said. They should be at 13 (on the Stimpmeter) for the Ryder Cup.”
The bunkers also were restored, making them more consistent with the style of original designer Tom Bendelow. Mercifully for the wayward drivers, the redesign work also saw the removal of more than 1,500 trees.
“There’s more of a breezy effect,” Jones said. “There’s more of a chance to recover (from the trees).”
The regulars and critics might beg to differ. Medinah No. 3 never has been embraced like other major championship venues.
Alistair Cooke once called the course “a claustrophobia of woods.” In his book “The Confidential Guide,” architect Tom Doak wrote Medinah’s biggest weakness is “a total lack of finesse play required.”
In assessing Medinah, David Feherty recently said it was “a good but not great course.” “I’m trying to remember the last time I was there, and I don’t remember holes.” Feherty said. “I remember specific holes but I don’t remember where they occur on the golf course. There are a lot of holes that look the same.”
Indeed, the prime knock on Medinah is a lack of variety. Three of the four par 3s play over Lake Kadijah, and the majority of par 4s are long and narrow. Jones obviously begs to differ with those views. He contends Medinah No. 3 is “the ultimate championship course.”
As for criticism about a lack of variety, Jones points to the final five holes.
“I think the finishing holes are going to be terrific,” Jones said. “(No. 14) is a wonderful par 5 with the green surrounded by sand. There’s 15 (the drivable par 4). Sixteen (at 482 yards) might be the hardest par 4 on the course. Seventeen is a terrific drop-shot par 3 (downhill at 193 yards over the lake), and 18 (par 4, 449 yards) could be a great swing hole to finish a match.
“Those are five entirely different types of holes. They are going to be exciting holes.”
Jones intends to be at Medinah and plans to do plenty of walking on the course during the matches. More than a decade has passed since he first started working on Medinah in anticipation of this Ryder Cup. Now it is here.
“I’m pleased with the way it turned out,” Jones said. “I think it’s going to be a great Ryder Cup.”
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