On Saturday, Medinah Country Club’s membership passed a vote to renovate its iconic Course 3. Carrying out the renovation will be Australian design firm OCM, which consists of Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking, and Ashley Mead. OCM’s work will start at the end of 2022 and finish by the summer of 2024. As previously reported by The Fried Egg, the club hired OCM to create a master plan in December 2020.
Medinah’s Course 3 has long been a respected championship venue. It has hosted three U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships, three Western Opens, and a Ryder Cup. In 2026, it will be the site of the 16th Presidents Cup. Course 3 has also made regular appearances in magazine rankings, rising as high as 10th on Golf Digest’s 1989 list of America’s greatest courses.
Originally designed by Tom Bendelow, Course 3 at Medinah has seen many changes in its 93-year history. It has been worked on by Dick Nugent, Robert Trent Jones, and most recently Rees Jones. These renovations focused on modernizing the course for the elite championship game and adding difficulty through length, rough, and narrow playing corridors. In this way, Course 3 evolved as nearly every other championship course in America did in the late 20th century.
The 6th hole at Medinah's Course 3 as it exists today. Photo credit: Andy Johnson
But time and technology kept catching up. In the 2019 BMW Championship, the last big tournament Medinah held, Justin Thomas shot a course-record 61 en route to a winning total of 263 (-25), 24 shots better than Lou Graham’s victorious effort at the 1975 U.S. Open.
The selection of Ogilvy, Cocking, and Mead is an indication that Medinah’s leadership wants to move in a new direction. In America, OCM is a fresh name in golf architecture. While the firm has worked extensively in Australia and is particularly noted for its designs at the Peninsula Kingwood’s North and South courses, its only U.S. project so far has been a redesign of Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. By choosing OCM, Medinah has signaled a willingness to rethink what Course 3 represents and, more broadly, what championship golf could look like in the 21st century.
“There’s so much to the project that excites us,” OCM partner Mike Cocking told The Fried Egg. “It’s a pretty dramatic piece of ground—surprisingly undulating, with some really big-scale movement. And then Lake Kadijah and old oaks make for a pretty spectacular backdrop.”
OCM's map for the proposed renovation of Course 3 at Medinah Country Club
Those are the basics; let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
The key word in Medinah’s announcement is renovation. Over the past 15 years, the watchword in American golf architecture has been “restoration.” Many of the country’s best-known championship courses have gone under the knife with the intention of bringing back original design features. This has been a healthy trend, but as the number of remaining restoration opportunities dwindles, it’s time for us to start looking at good properties that never had great courses. So perhaps the most exciting aspect of OCM’s Medinah plan is that it calls for a departure, not a return.
Course 3’s best ground lies along Lake Kadijah, which is currently used up by only three holes. All of these are par 3s that play straight over the water. While these one-shotters have dramatic views, they provide little challenge for skilled players and create a sense of repetition in the layout.
The lake holes at Medinah's Course 3 (background: No. 13; foreground: No. 17). Photo credit: Andy Johnson
OCM intends to reroute the closing stretch of the course so that four of the final six holes play along the lake. Here’s how Cocking explains the alterations:
“There were a couple of elements to the design of the last six [holes] that we felt could be improved. First, the 13th and 17th are very similar holes playing alongside each other, both over water and even in the same direction. We also thought there was a chance to create a world-class short par 4, and to be honest, that was one of the areas where the idea of rerouting started. Every time we looked at the 17th, our eyes were drawn along the bank to the right of the green and over toward the 14th tees, which set the lake edge on a diagonal and reminded us a little of a Cape-style short par four.
“The more we looked at the last six, the more we felt there was a chance to create an even more memorable and dramatic finish to the course. Aside from the quality of the holes, one of the things we also liked was how much action would take place around the lake for the final few holes, and with the area shaped like a natural amphitheater, it could make for a pretty stunning conclusion to a tournament.”
(The first 12 holes will stay in their original corridors.)
Another important part of OCM’s plan is the widening of fairways. Long, narrow courses with thick rough may (sometimes) defend par, but they have tended to produce one-dimensional championships dominated by power players. Also, they haven’t proven terribly functional or enjoyable for daily member play. So by widening corridors and reconfiguring hazards to guard preferred angles, OCM hopes to make Course 3 more dynamic in tournaments as well as more playable and strategically interesting for the masses.
In addition, OCM will overhaul the course’s shaping. This is long overdue; Course 3 currently features Rees Jones’s signature aesthetic style, which has come to look more and more uninspired and dated in recent years.
OCM’s decisions around bunker shaping will be particularly telling. According to sources within the club, there is an appetite for the course to blend in more seamlessly with the surroundings of a mature oak forest. OCM’s renderings, done by Cocking and the Harris Kalinka team, reflect this effort to link artificial features with the natural landforms and vegetation.
Finally, the rerouting of the final six holes will provide space for a new short course designed by OCM, which will be called the Camel Trail.
Medinah Country Club’s decision to renovate Course 3 is a gutsy one, and it’s big news for Chicago golf. Ever since the PGA Tour effectively erased the historic Western Open by absorbing it into the FedEx Cup Playoffs, one of the most active American golf cities has been under-served by professional tournaments. The last men’s major held in the city was the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah. These days, we’re lucky if the former Western Open, now known as the BMW Championship, shows up every three years. With the PGA Championship moving to May, the reality is that if Chicago doesn’t get a U.S. Open soon, it won’t see a men’s major for a long time.
Will OCM’s redesign pique the interest of the USGA? Time will tell. But right now, it looks like Course 3 is on track to become the most viable major venue in America’s third largest media market.
Header image credit: Harris Kalinka