81st US PGA Championship
81st US PGA Championship
Golf Today Home PageAll the latest golf newsCoverage of all the worlds major toursFor all your golfing needsGolf Course DirectoryOut on the courseGolf related travelWhats going on
Preivew of this years tournament
News and report from the 1st round
Scores from the 1st round
News and report from the 2nd round
Scores from the 2nd round
News and report from the 3rd round
Scores from the 3rd round
News and report from the 4th round
Scores from the 4th round
Information on the golf course
Details of the prize money for the tournament
Tournament Records
Golf Today report of last years event
Event Features
One players hopes up in ashes
Galway will be on Mark James mind
PGA to scrap sudden death playoff
Van de Velde relief as clubs show up
Leading contenders for US PGA 1999
Tee-off times in the first two rounds
Montgomerie still searching for elusive Major
Duval becomes golf's lightning rod
Ryder Cup cash row overshadows Medinah
Medinah will be a long distance test
Irwin returns to scene of triumph
Woods favourite to win second major
Faldo still not down and out
Couples ready to prove he's worthy of Ryder Cup
Top players complaining again....
Lawrie looking for more major success
Van de Velde says he can do it this time
Medinah hosts first PGA Championship

Medinah hosts first PGA Championship

Fitting for a golf course located a scant 15 miles from the nation's busiest airport, in a metropolitan area that serves as switching gate for half the country's rail traffic, Medinah Country Club sits at the crossroads of those peculiar trends and politics that now swirl around major championship site selection. When the century's final major -- the 81st PGA Championship -- is staged at Medinah this month, players and spectators will reacquaint themselves with an undeniably classic golf course that, nevertheless, has been repeatedly revamped, strategically elongated, and fully leveraged to meet 21st-century demands.

In an age when pre-major renovations have become routine, Medinah's No. 3 Course is one of the most-tinkered-with layouts in golf's major championship rota. At 7,401 yards, it is unquestionably the longest. Medinah is also one of several elite clubs that agreed to host the PGA Championship in order to get a grip on golf's new commercial grail, the Ryder Cup Matches. As part of its agreement with the PGA of America, Medinah will host the coveted Ryder Cup in 2011 -- by which time the club will have held not only this year's PGA but another in 2006.

Medinah has done things in a grand way from the beginning. When the cornerstone of the club's magnificent Byzantine-style clubhouse was laid three quarters of a century ago, on November 2, 1924, the event was attended by 15,000 people, or so reported The Chicago Tribune on its November 3 front page -- just below news of Al Capone having won $500,000 on the ponies.

The No. 3 Course was christened in 1928, laid out by the prolific Scottish-born course designer Tom Bendelow, who planned more than 400 golf courses throughout the United States. However, we might credit Bendelow for No. 3 in the same way we might credit Alexander Graham Bell for the cellular phone -- that is to say, not much. No. 3's current incarnation bears little resemblance to the original

The tweaking of Medinah No. 3 began almost immediately, in 1930, shortly after Harry Cooper shot 73-63 to win a one-day event called the Medinah Open, a stop-over exhibition scheduled between tour fixtures in St. Louis and St. Paul. It was the first professional tournament to be played around No. 3, and while the Shriners who formed the club's early membership were no doubt pleased their coming-out party had attracted the likes of Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, and Leo Diegel, they were horrified by Cooper's 63; so horrified, in fact, "They shut the course down because they felt it was clearly too easy," explains Wally Hund, the club historian. "Bendelow is credited with redoing the course, but Harry Collis might have helped him. We can't seem to pin it down."

One thing is clear: Harry Cooper didn't shoot 63 during the second Medinah Open, held in 1935. Indeed, he never broke par. Cooper carded a winning, four-round total of one-over par, and No. 3's long-standing reputation for "resistance to scoring" was born.

As the years passed, Medinah members watched proudly as No. 3 hosted a variety of prestigious tournaments, including three Western Opens; the 1949 U.S. Open won by Cary Middlecoff, who finished at two-over par; the 1975 Open claimed by Lou Graham (three-over); and the 1988 U.S. Senior Open won by Gary Player (even par). You'll notice none of the U.S. Open champions managed to break par. As we've learned, Medinah members take great umbrage at red numbers -- a characteristic they've consistently shared with the United States Golf Association.

"The course pretty much stayed the same until the early 1980s. That's when the USGA came in and said we needed a new 18th hole," Hund recalls. "We all recognized the old 18th wasn't a great hole: It was basically two 4-irons."

By 1986, architect Roger Packard had done more than create a new, man-sized (445-yard) finishing par four; he had revamped the first hole, too. He also created a new par-three 17th and authored major green renovations at 15 and 16, both par fours. In essence, the course featured an entirely new finish when the Open returned to No. 3 in 1990.

It's difficult to determine what exactly went wrong with the 1990 U.S. Open, and just why it left such an ambivalent taste in everyone's mouth. It never lacked drama: Hale Irwin drained a 45-foot putt on the 72d hole to draw even with the unheralded Mike Donald, and after celebrating his extraordinary stroke by high-fiving (on the run) a good portion of the gallery, Irwin earned his third Open title by taking a 19-hole playoff the next day.

Yet it seemed no one but Irwin was particularly happy with the event. The competitors openly griped about the 17th hole, which played 168 yards downhill, over water to a truly diabolical green-bunker-water scheme. Further, many a Shriner's fez was ill-cocked following the first round, during which 60 players shot par or better. The Open cut came at one-over 145 -- the lowest ever in relation to par. By the time Donald and Irwin had posted 72-hole scores of eight-under, the finger-pointing had begun in earnest.

As we all know, the USGA views such assaults on par as most unseemly -- an attitude wholeheartedly shared by the membership at Medinah who, accordingly, wanted to know why the Blue Coats had set up No. 3 to play "only" 7,185 yards (then an Open record), whereas it could have played nearly 7,400 from the tips. The club also wanted to know why the rough had been cut down prior to Thursday's opening round.

"It didn't play easy in the practice rounds," Irwin asserts, "but the rains came and scoring went pretty low. Eight-under is low for a major, but the soft conditions were the culprit there."

"Prior to the tournament," says one USGA insider, "I recall that P.J. [Boatwright, then the USGA official in charge of course set-up] was pretty nervous that No. 3 was the most difficult golf course he'd ever seen. Then it rained an inch and a half the night before. The weather hurt us a little bit, no question; scores were too good." But precipitation wasn't the only issue: "The new 17th was not well received. And the greens the club had redone weren't contoured in the same fashion as the original greens. They didn't match; they lacked hole locations."

Though they have expressed no complaints publicly, the folks from Far Hills haven't exactly rushed to schedule their next Open engagement at Medinah. In fact, when the U.S. Open returns to Chicago in 2003, it will be held at Olympia Fields Country Club, which last hosted the event in 1928. Ouch.

Perceiving the USGA's actions as a not-so-subtle snub, the proud membership at Medinah reacted predictably by 1) Resolving to renovate the course yet again; and 2) Snubbing the USGA right back. Hosting the 1999 PGA Championship doesn't necessarily prevent Medinah from hosting another U.S. Open. However, its agreement to host the 2006 PGA and the 2011 Ryder Cup does put No. 3 well off the USGA's near-term radar screen. "When new generations take hold at the USGA and here at Medinah, who knows what changes will come?" says one former green committee member at the club. "But for now, I suppose we've sort of tied our star to the PGA of America."

Medinah certainly has plenty of august company in that regard. As part of its contract with the PGA of America, this year's Ryder Cup venue -- The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts -- is scheduled to host the 2005 PGA Championship. Oakland Hills Country Club near Detroit is hosting the 2003 Ryder Cup and the 2008 PGA. Calculating? Perhaps, but not unprecedented. The USGA has frequently dangled the prospect of hosting a U.S. Open by gently encouraging clubs to first hold less lucrative, less prestigious events like the Senior Open; Congressional, Olympia Fields, Pinehurst No. 2, and Medinah are all examples of this dynamic. Credit the PGA of America for recognizing the Ryder Cup for the hot property it is, and for leveraging the Cup to secure for the PGA Championship the best possible venues.

There was little hand-wringing at Medinah in wake of the 1990 Open. Never hesitant to rip up golf holes and start from scratch, the membership promptly hired architect Roger Rulewich to reassess the No. 3 Course. A long-time lieutenant of Robert Trent Jones, Rulewich subsequently re-revamped holes 1, 2, 13, 15, 16, and 17. "We seem to have had some problems with architects coming in here and hodge-podging things," Hund says. "There always seems to be something found wanting -- but we think we got it right this time."

The 17th has emerged as a completely new par three: It now plays 206 yards to a green cozied against a grove of Medinah's enormous trademark oaks. "I suppose I, too, might have been critical of the old 17th," says Rulewich, who left Jones in 1995 to form his own design firm. "The old green was pitched so severely back-to-front, if you got into that back bunker, it was damn near impossible to keep the ball out of the lake." For PGA-caliber competitors, the water won't even come into play this August -- another subtle improvement as Lake Kadijah (named for one of the prophet Mohammed's many wives) remains very much in play on Medinah's other par threes.

Many of the changes centered on the putting surfaces; even if Medinah has "tied its star" to the PGA, the club hasn't ignored the USGA's misgivings about the greens. The gargantuan 452-yard 16th, where Irwin's birdie during the Monday playoff turned his fortunes, sports an entirely new putting surface, flanked by new bunkers. Ditto for the 1st, 2d, and 13th holes. All were rebuilt with an eye toward eliminating unfair slopes and creating more hole locations.

"I think the new greens are more in character now, though I'm sure there will be complaints," says Rulewich, who describes his major championship renovation work as "keeping up with the Joneses." "Personally, I'd much rather get a strong reaction -- good or bad -- than have someone simply say, 'That's nice.' I expect we'll hear things both ways."

There's sure to be discussion of Medinah's length. At 7,401 yards, No. 3 will play longer than any major championship course in history. "Are they really going to play it from there? Wow," marvels Rulewich. "We worked at Bellerive prior to the PGA back in 1992. I believe they could've played that course from 7,400-odd yards, but they chose play it at 7,100 or so. That dismays the members, of course. They always want to see their course play as tough as possible."

It's funny, though, how the players complain little and basically don't remark upon course length, unless they're asked -- and it seems people are always asking. Hale Irwin doesn't see how the PGA has any choice but to play No. 3 from what he terms "the tippy-tip tips. I've always enjoyed Medinah. I happen to think it's one of the best courses I've played," says Irwin. "But it's been nine years since we last played there, and equipment has certainly changed during that time. In 1990, for example, I went for the [par-five] 14th in two, but mostly I was trying to play the ball into the bunkers in front of that green. Many more players in 1999 would have the length to go at that green with an iron. In large part that's due to the equipment, so it's only right to play these courses from the very back."

Accordingly, the 14th, where the USGA moved the tee up to make the hole play 545 yards in 1990, will be set up at its full length of 583 yards this time. In fact, Medinah's length is a bit misleading. Much of it is due to the par fives, three of which play at least 580 yards. While few pros will be reaching them in two, it doesn't mean they won't be making birdies.

The one way in which Medinah is bucking major championship trends is that none of the par fives will be made into par fours, so the course will play to the members par of 72. That being the case, Medinah members will have to get used to the idea of the pros breaking par, even if there aren't as many red numbers as in 1990. But they'll be glad to see the pros walking all the way to the back tees this time -- and glad that Medinah's major championship tradition is continuing, whether it's with the PGA or U.S. Open.