Short work with Tyler: Skokie

An update on Tyler Rae's short course at Skokie Country Club


Let’s get up before dawn to arrive at a world-class golf course at sunrise…without clubs. Bright ideas like this one are common at The Fried Egg, and they often result in special experiences. In our new Field Report series, we’ll share our stories with you. We hope to hear from you about your exploration and discoveries too.

The 18th, 17th, 1st and 10th holes at Skokie C.C.

What brought us to Skokie Country Club on a beautiful summer morning was the chance to visit with golf course architect Tyler Rae, a previous guest on the The Fried Egg podcast who is a long-time associate of Ron Prichard and principal of his own firm, Tyler Rae Design. He was in town to shape a new three-green short course that doubles as a practice area. As Tyler describes it:

“The Short Course project at Skokie Country Club currently sits on a small, open triangular piece of land in between Holes #2, 3, and 11. It was previously used as a sod nursery and occupied by only one bunker. The membership would visit this area infrequently and hit a bunker shot or two onto the nursery. It was terribly under-utilized and awfully boring and bland. Our new concept, with three Ross, Langford & Moreau-inspired topsoil push-up style greens, allows for two loops of play – three clockwise holes and then three counterclockwise holes, giving the membership six short holes in total ranging from 58 yards to 110 yards. The three greens have a mix of variety, with one laying more flat, directly on the ground, mimicking the Ross greens found on the course’s #2 and #7. Another green is perched with quite a bit of slope in it, mimicking the Langford & Moreau greens found at #6 and #16. The third green is a bit of blend of the Ross and Moreau styles and is tilted back to front considerably to receive the under 100 yard, lower trajectory shot. There are also bunkers sprinkled throughout the area offering a wide range of shots, from a steep greenside bunker all the way up to 60+ yards. The entire area will be bentgrass maintained at fairway height to present players with every possible short shot they will find on the main course. The existing golf course, with its wonderful perched greens and depressed bunkers, was what we were trying to emulate. We really wanted the membership to feel like they can practice all the shots they’ll find during a round.”

Creatively designed spaces like Skokie’s short course are popping up everywhere. They are fun for architects to design and build, and even more fun for players to play. Imagination is unleashed across the board when the bounds of 18-hole, par 72 golf are removed. Stay tuned for more coverage of this trend – we’re all in on shorties.

The new short course at Skokie C.C. under construction

As happens when geeks get together at a great course, our conversation turned to the architecture of Skokie, which is criminally underrated. The course was originally laid out by Tom Bendelow in 1904. Donald Ross re-designed the course in 1914, retaining only one hole (the 8th) from the Bendelow’s routing. The club sold off a section of the property for housing development in the mid-1930s. Langford & Moreau were brought in to add seven new holes on an adjacent parcel in 1938. Tyler has seen hundreds of courses, including Ross’s best work, and he thinks that Skokie is unique:

“The blend of two different Golden Age architects, and the bold features that protrude from the landscape really make Skokie standout from Chicago’s North Shore neighbors. The putting surfaces found at the 1st, 4th, 6th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes are VERY special. There is just so much internal contour and fascination within the perched fill-pads. For an early Ross and late Langford & Moreau, it has incredible quality and craftsmanship throughout the property.”

Having multiple architectural styles runs the risk of making a course feel disjointed. That is not the case at Skokie. The Bendelow hole, Ross’ ten holes, and Langford’s seven holes have distinct feels, but they flow together nicely, and they all share one common feature – bold greens. Oh my, the greens! A set as good as any in Chicago, with the exception perhaps of Chicago Golf Club. The greens act as an anchor that allows the tee-to-green variety to be interesting and additive, rather than confusing. Another aspect of Skokie’s design that’s fascinating is the routing and its variety. Golfers only play the same par consecutively once, the par-4 14th and 15th.

In 1999, the club brought in Ron Prichard for a restoration. Working with Superintendent Don Cross, considered one of the best in the business, Prichard expanded greens, removed trees, remodeled bunkers, changed fairway lines, and generally brought Skokie back to its Golden Age Glory. During the restoration, Ron further unified the aesthetic. According to Tyler:

“Ron did a masterful job at keeping the Langford & Moreau scale and style and placement of hazards from their bold work found at Lawsonia Links, Spring Valley, Kankakee Elks, West Bend CC, etc., while trying to keep the early Ross 1915-era rugged style of grass-faced bunkers and fill pads. The blending of the two architects’ styles, and having it permeate seamlessly from the first tee to the final green, has created a very unique golf experience that will stand the test of time.”

We had the pleasure of running into Don and his Assistant, Jacob Miskiewicz, during our visit. They relentlessly push forward with fine tuning the course in all ways big and small, which brings us back to the short course. Members and guests who already have the pleasure of navigating Ross’s and Langford’s strategic challenges, taking on an outstanding set of par-3s, and replicating Gene Sarazen’s historic shot to win the 1922 U.S. Open on the 18th, will now also have their own golf playground. Tyler hopes they love it:

“Our sincere hope is that it is an area where people come to spend an hour playing, if that is all the time that they have. We all know the pressure of getting off work, trying to squeeze in 9 holes, making our spouse and kids unhappy, arriving home at dark when the kids are going to bed and missing dinner. Instead, come out here after work, hit shots under 110 yards for an hour, stop in at the club for a pint and order food for the family, get home at 6:30pm with dinner in hand. You put the kids to bed and look like an all-star, all the while still getting in solid practice for your weekend game and keeping life in perspective and the family happy. Boom!”

Without a doubt, Skokie CC is one of those places worthy of an early wake-up call, and it just keeps getting better.