Historic St. Andrews Golf Club in West Chicago shoots high, scores
WEST CHICAGO, Ill. -- To name your new golf club "St. Andrews" takes a great deal of kahunas. Anything associated with the game's foundation immediately and automatically demands greatness.
Needless to say, the historic St. Andrews Golf Club in West Chicago falls a bit short of the barren soil of which crashing waves meet land on the North Sea. But for a club to survive almost 90 years of tumultuous Chicago history, it must be doing something right.
St. Andrews originally began as a private 18-hole course in 1926, but was soon sold. By 1929, a second course, No. 2 was added and later named the Joe Jemsek Course.
The Great Depression brought more hardship to the course and ownership changed repeatedly. But a longtime owner was eventually found in Joe Jemsek, who took St. Andrews to a new level in Chicago public golf, becoming the first public club to host a U.S. Open Qualifier in 1947.
Today, St. Andrews remains largely the same as it was post-Depression, offering a traditional layout and facilities, from clubhouse and banquet facilities to the award-winning practice area.
You could never confuse West Chicago for Scotland, but this St. Andrews holds its own. Both courses are long, straight and wide. They have a traditional feel, which can be confused by many for blandness in the new era of course design.
The Saint Andrews Course plays at 6,920 yards from the tips and 5,183 up front. Jemsek is 6,770 from the back and 5,353 in close.
"I guess that is one complaint," said one member contrasting the two layouts. "You can sense that one course is different than the other. But with 36 holes, you might like the differences to be less subtle."
One couldn't call either course vanilla however, with an abundance of water and elevation changes. Undulations make up for otherwise straight fairways, and make it hard for a first-time player to size up the hole ahead from the tee box. The original St. Andrews Course is less hilly but more narrow than Lakewood.
"There are a lot of blind shots," Jason Ochwat of Schaumburg, Ill., said of the Jemsek Course. "That hasn't made it easy."
First-time visitors shouldn't find the Jemsek Course a greatly difficult challenge and turning in a number better than your handicap is a great possibility. It's very open and straight. Other than the par-4, 412-yard eighth, hitting a driver or wood from the tee is a no-brainer.
But No. 8 opens over 50 yards of water, which is flanked at the rear of the pond by a 75-foot elevation increase, leaving you with a blind tee shot to a slight dog-leg to the right. By aiming center-right at the patch of the fairway that remains visible, you're left with a middle-iron second shot to the green.
The par 3s on either course are long and challenging. From the tips, the majority of these holes measure at 200 yards or better, including No. 12 on the St. Andrews Course. A 224-yard, uphill shot that is frequently into a crosswind (left to right), should be rated one of the toughest on the course.
Both courses have been known for years for their strong finishing holes. On the Jemsek Course, you have gone eight holes since being last challenged by water hazards. To find the green successfully on Nos. 17 and 18, however, you will need to clear ponds placed in difficult positions and which present golfers a choice -- restraint or risk.
The 17th on Jemsek is the longest par 5 on either course at 543 yards. A pond longer than 40 yards rests 230 yards from the championship tees, meaning only the strong survive a driver on their first shot.
A 4-iron is sufficient for most, or in some cases a 5- or 6-iron is necessary. After a day of relatively generous greens, landing on the 17th is more difficult with a peanut-shaped and crowned, yet soft, green.
The 18th is a 392-yard par 4. Here, the water is more expansive and hidden by a decrease in elevation which makes the distance appear much shorter than it actually is and results in acts of bravery that, more often than not, lead to treachery.
Another iron (three or four) is the weapon of choice by most golfers with 260 yards to the water. That leaves only a short iron to a guarded green, with sand front and left and the rear of St. Andrews' expansive driving range to the right.
Speaking of the range, many feel the practice facility is the most prized possession of St. Andrews. A year-round, lighted driving, putting and chipping facility stays open from sunrise until 10 p.m. during golf's peak season. Private lessons are available throughout the day.
Flags are marked for distance and the multiple putting surfaces are recommended prior to tackling the triple-cut greens at St. Andrews.
May 31, 2005