Playing nine doesn't have to mean wimping out on real golf

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

River Bend Golf CourseCHICAGO - Playing nine holes of golf is, to many of us, the truncated version of the real thing; it's "golfus interruptus", if you will. After all, the game is supposed to be played through 18 holes, right? If you're going to play the game, finish the job, right?

Wrong.

Nine holes of golf can be just the right amount to successfully scratch that nagging golf itch. Squeezing in nine late on a summer day, over a long lunch break, or before work can be just enough to satisfy your cravings or help tune up your game.

It can also be a great way to get beginners to test the shallow water before jumping in the big end of the pool. There's nothing wimpy about playing nine holes. It's cheaper, quicker and the Chicago area may have some of the best nine-hole layouts of any big city.

Here are five of them:

Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course - Chicago

Marovitz Golf Course, better known by many as Waveland, is Chicago's most celebrated nine holes - and it may be the most unique setting for a city golf course anywhere in America.

The course sits hard against Lake Michigan on the edge of the city's Lincoln Park. Chicago's famous Lake Shore Drive is just to the west and anywhere from the course you get a view of the city's skyscrapers.

The setting is marvelous and the course is demanding. At more than 3,200 yards, Marovitz is far from a pitch-and-putt. The 505-yard fifth hole is the toughest when the raw lake winds are whipping around.

The rap on Marovitz has always been the conditioning and the pace of play. Since the city-owned course employed a new management team a few years ago, playing conditions have improved, but it can be a slow nine holes at times. Three hours is not out of the question. Still, when you're not in a hurry this unique setting can be very cool.

River Bend Golf Course - Lisle, Ill.

About 25 miles west of Chicago's downtown, nestled inside a busy suburb, is one of the tougher nine-hole layouts in Illinois. River Bend Golf Course is loaded with wetlands where nearly every hole has water you must negotiate. Par on this course is a very good score.

River Bend has the feel of an upscale facility. There are bent grass fairways, tees and greens; there's a new stately clubhouse with a comfortable grillroom and pro shop and the conditions are quite good.

Sometimes the superintendent allows the greens to grow a bit long when the weather is extremely hot making putting inconsistent. Plus, the course sometimes is over-watered. But all in all, the playing surfaces are far better than most traditional municipal courses.

The management at River Bend recently adjusted the routing of the holes and made the old final hole and new first. The routing is better, but the final hole is now a mid-length par 3. A strong par 4 or par 5 would have been better.

Downers Grove Golf Course - Downer's Grove, Ill.

Pine Valley Golf CourseHere is the Chicago area's most famous nine-hole course. In fact, it's one of the most famous short layouts in America in.

Downers Grove Golf Course is among the 100 oldest courses in the nation and is listed by the United States Golf Association as one of the first clubs established in the U.S. It was the original site of the Chicago Golf Club and the original design is by Charles Blair Macdonald, a key figure in the founding of the USGA and the first U.S. National Amateur champion in 1895.

The course, with its rolling terrain, meandering creek and tight, tree-lined fairways had some design touch-ups in 1976 by David Gill and by Steven Hallberg in 1992 for Downers Grove's 100th anniversary. Still, elements of the original design can still be found.

The course also maintains its challenges. It plays at slightly more than 3,200 yards from the back tees, not long, but the slope is 128. Even from the middle tees, the slope is still a rather hefty 123.

The Legends of Bensenville - Bensenville, Ill.

The Legends of Bensenville in Bensenville is one of the newest nine-hole courses in the area and it's also one of the most ambitious. The Legends is just what the name implies, a series of legendary holes. The course is a replica layout of eight of the most famous par 3s and one par 4 in American golf.

Certainly these copycat holes can't be exactly like the originals, but there are key elements of design that make them a lot of fun to play. Here's the list of holes and the famous layouts they attempt to replicate:

• No. 1 - Pine Valley, 10th, 136 yards

• No. 2 - Pebble Beach, seventh, 124 yards

• No. 3 - Oakmont Country Club, sixth, 169 yards

• No. 4 - Riviera Country Club, 10th, 310 yards

• No. 5 - Winged Foot - West, 10th, 168 yards No. 6 - National Golf Links, sixth, 114 yards

• No. 7 - Bel-Air Country Club, 10th, 172 yards

• No. 8 - Shinnecock Hills, seventh, 189 yards

• No. 9 - Pebble Beach, 17th, 165 yards

Replica courses are not new, and in fact, in some cases the owners of such courses have found themselves in trouble legally because of their copycat ways. But at The Legends, there's no such trouble. Here, the approach is to pay tribute to the beauty and challenge of the designs, not to steal any architectural artistry.

Shiloh Park Golf Course - Zion, Ill.

One of the prettiest nine-holers in the Chicago area is Shiloh Park. The course, built in 1963, sits in the northern suburb of Zion, Illinois, very close to the Illinois-Wisconsin border and about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Although Shiloh Park isn't a long course at slightly more than 2,800 yards and a par 35, it requires straight shooting. The fairways are lined with large, old oak trees and every green is guarded with bunkers or water.

Shiloh Park gets its share of play, but nothing like the Marovitz nine-hole layout. Weekends can be busy, but getting out on the course during the week is usually not an issue.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner


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