Four Winds Golf Club: The Brown Deer of Chicago

By Jay Mankus, Contributor

MUNDELEIN, IL - Since Tiger Woods joined the PGA Tour in 1996, it is hard not to forget all of his victories, especially his two major championships. Yet, few people can remember where Tiger made his professional debut. If you said, "the Greater Milwaukee Open," you are correct!

Home of the Brown Deer Golf Club, this is one of the shortest courses on tour at 6,700 yards, but it is also one of the tightest. Built on county parklands, Brown Deer is a forest of rolling hills.

Former U.S. Open champ Andy North, who recently redesigned Brown Deer along with his partner Roger Packard, called Four Winds Golf Club, "the Brown Deer of Chicago."

An hour south of Milwaukee and 45 minutes from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, Four Winds is located in Mundelein, Illinois off Of highway 176, easily accessible from I-94.

Once a turf grass farm before 1963, these rolling hills were molded and fashioned into a demanding, yet pristine golf course. During the seventies, this course entertained the likes of Evil Knevil, who was a regular customer for several years.

Today, golf course superintendent Gary Schweber continues the tradition of maintaining excellent turfgrass while preserving aesthetic beauty. Four Winds Golf Club is one of the few courses remaining in Chicago where you will see more wild life than houses. County wetlands surround 3 holes and form canal like waterways which come into play on 9 of the 18 holes at Four Winds.

Besides golf balls, these waterways spawn egrets, blue heron, several species of regional birds as well as an occasional swan. If you are on vacation, don't forget a camera! Once your score is unsalvageable, enjoy this beautiful landscape while you can.

Like Brown Deer, Four Winds is a relatively short par 71 golf course at 6,501 yards from the tips, 5,884 from the middle, and 4,943 from the front tees. Once at 6,561 yards, the 239 yard par 3 9th hole has been reduced to a slim 179.

However, don't be fooled; this hole is still uphill to a partially raised green. If you miss the green left, you will find a long, relatively deep sand bunker and to the right a miniature forest will make 3 a highly improbable score.

Before I even mention the mature oaks that majestically stand and overhang almost every fairway, remember this is Four Winds, where the wind direction will dictate what kind of score you will likely have. If the winds are blowing straight downwind on the first fairway, you will likely have good scoring conditions.

This wind condition will make long carries over water on holes 4 and 13 that much easier, leaving one carry into the wind on the 7th, between 175 and 200 yards over water. Obviously, when the first hole plays into the wind, tee shots on 4 and 13 will take mental toughness and some skill to stay dry. If the winds are blowing from right to left on the first tee, play quickly because the course seems to play much easier.

With two of the most demanding par 4's on the course, holes 3 and 11, playing straight down wind, players can reach these two holes in two with regularity in this wind condition. However, if the wind is reversed, blowing left to right on the first hole, out of bounds comes into play on one while holes 3 and 11 become like par 5's.

If there is one word that describes playing a round at Four Winds, it is target, as in target golf. With several thousand oaks lining these rolling hills, you almost have too many targets.

When you play Four Winds for the first time, you will wish you had a caddie. Ask your playing partner(s) for suggestions because accuracy, distance control, and positioning for your next shot is key or else trouble is lurking all around you.

With several thousand oaks lining these rolling hills, you almost have too many targets.

For example, the first hole is a short par 4, only 307 from the middle tees. From the tee you drive up and over a ridge slightly downhill to an open green. While a long straight drive might give you an eagle putt, anything 15 yards to the right or a drive over the green will likely fall off a steep rise out of bounds.

A short iron to the 150 marker is recommended, but anything left or right might be blocked by trees or find one of the fairway bunkers on either side of the rough. Play to your strengths, but be careful on your second shot. Any wind at your back to a downhill green will carry well struck balls much further than you think, over the green and most likely out of bounds.

This lack of depth perception continues on the second hole. Like the 12th hole at Augusta National, minus the legendary backdrop, the 154 yard par 3 2nd is a treat to play. With an elevated tee shot to a downhill green perched on a hill 10 feet above a canal like stream, club selection is everything. You can try to keep a short iron under the treeline, but you don't want be long.

A back bunker somewhat hides the appearance of this slick fast green which runs back toward the water. A tee shot above the tree line will be affected by the wind blowing in from an adjacent field, pushing balls over, short, or just on this circular green.

While these first two holes are not as easy as they appear to be on the scorecard, most solid players will leave the 2nd hole at one over par or better. As for the remaining 16 holes, you won't find any better assortments of par 3's, 4's, and 5's in all of Chicago. In fact, the remaining par 4's, except for the 18th hole, are some of the toughest par 4's per yard you will ever play.

Take the 3rd hole, 375 yards from the middle tee and 428 from the tips, it appears to be a simplistic straight hole. Yes, there is out bounds all the way down the right side, two fairway bunkers, and an amphitheater of trees, but it shouldn't be that hard. From the tee, you drive over a ridge to a blind landing area that shifts slightly to the right and then back to the left at the 150 yard marker.

Beyond this ridge the fairway narrows downhill to about 15 yards wide, where a cove of massive oaks introduces you to a slippery raised green. If you are fortunate enough to have an open second shot, don't go long, left or right. Stay below the pin or else your hopes of making 4 or 5 might go slip sliding away.

If 3 doesn't get you, the tee shot on the 396 yard par 4 4th will test Your nerves. Your tee shot is from an elevated tee downhill to a large landing area, but it is all carry. A long pond awaits any ball that carries less than 175 yards from the middle tees or 210 yards from the tips. You can lay up, but your friends might tease you since you will be left with at least a 225 yard second shot uphill.

Once you clear this body of water, most players will be left with a short or middle iron uphill to a huge green on a hillside, severely sloping from the back to front.

Finally, the last par 4 on the front nine, is what I call the hidden green hole. The 393 yard 5th hole is the last of 5 consecutive straight holes with O.B. on the right. A dense forest hugs the right rough while a fairway ridge secretly shifts the fairway to the left. At 125 yards, the fairway falls left off into a gully, then narrows right slightly uphill to a blind green. Even with a poor tee shot, this green can be reached in regulation.

However, the green on number 5 is everything. As the fairway ends, it drops nearly two feet to a green that slopes away from you to the right. I recommend making sure you have enough club, just not too much since the entire right side of the green is surrounded by out of bounds. Make sure you catch a glimpse of the wildflowers behind this green where rolling hills lead to the Lakewood Forest Preserve.

After a long par 3 and short par 5, you approach the first of 3 signature par 5's at Four Winds. At 592 yards from the tips and 524 from the middle tees, only the likes of Tiger Woods will reach the 8th hole in two.

Not necessarily due to the length, but because of a stream that crosses the fairway 75 yards in front of the green. This long canal-like stream makes the 8th a great 3 shot par 5.

The tees at 8 lie back in a chute of trees that open to a wide fairway guarded by a variety of young trees. The tee shot is slightly uphill and blind from a ridge that runs across this fairway, 275 yards from the green. Though a safe drive is important, the most essential shot at eight will be your lay-up. Since mature oaks encircle the final 225 yards of this fairway, you will be faced with one of the most intimidating lay-up shots of your life.

While duck hooks and chuck slices are common, a straight lay-up downhill will leave players with a mid to short iron shot over water to a large elevated green. The key to this green is staying below the pin, anything long or right might leave you feeling defeated.

If you are discouraged after nine, the 10th hole gives you a break. This short par 3, 159 from the tips, plays downhill to a heavily guarded green. Steer clear of the bunkers left and right of the green, avoid the steep drop-off behind this green, and you might regain some of the confidence lost on the front.

Finishing the 15th hole with the same ball will be an accomplishment.

In baseball, the number 3, 4, and 5 hitters are the heart of a lineup, at Four Winds, 11-17 is the heart of this golf course. Aesthetic beauty, difficulty, and shear architectural genius describe these holes.

In fact, the 11th hole was so difficult, Four Winds recently built a new tee for the men. Now only 360 yards from the middle tees, it's a far cry from the tips, 425 yards. Elevated tees look out to a severely sloping fairway, from right to left. With only a few trees down the right rough, it is hard to keep your tee shot on the high side.

Most balls tend to slide left into the rough or into a dense grove of oaks which taunt players with their branches. While a second shot may appear easy, swirling winds, an elevated green, and slick putting surface await eager victims.

On the 365 yard par 4 12th, placement is everything. This dogleg to the left combines the beauty of massive oaks with a beast-like difficulty. While the fairway is twenty to thirty yards wide in places, only from the left center of this fairway will players have a clear shot to this green. Limbs overhang almost the entire right side of this fairway and the left edge. Years ago, you could have cleared the trees on the right and gone for the green, yet today players must hit a drive between 180 and 220 yards.

Any shorter and you will be left with a lay-up, any longer and you will have to punch out of deep woods. If this wasn't already enough, the fairway bends to the right, goes over a rise at about the 150 marker, then shifts left causing long straight drives to carry into the left rough. Fortunately, the fairways widen to a green surrounded by bunkers on three side except for in front.

At 425 yards, the par 4 13th may be the hardest hole on the course, if Not the hardest to reach in two. With a 100 yard carry over water, most players will be more concerned with driving the ball down the right side of this semi open fairway. A forest of trees run down the entire left side of this dogleg to the left, making it almost impossible to reach this green in two from the left side.

Since there is ample room on the right, players will hit second shots with fairway woods or mid irons uphill to the deepest green on the course.

Though the 496 yard par 5 14th, 473 from a new tee, is in Chicago, it has the appearance of being a hole on an intercoastal waterway. An estuary runs down the entire right side of this dogleg to the right, then runs across the fairway, 200 yards from the green, in the form of a canal-like waterway.

Even as you look to the right as you drive or walk over the bridge connecting the fairway, you think, "this isn't Chicago!" A poor drive on 14 forces a layout to about 215 yards from the green, but a drive attempting to cut the right corner over tall trees can produce an long iron or fairway wood to the largest green on the course. Beware of the overhanging branches on your second shot, just a clip could spell disaster or a splash. Beside the 7th hole, this is the only other par 5 I recommend trying to go for in two.

One great hole leads to another, yet this time it is in the design, not The aesthetic beauty. The score card says, 380 from the tips, 350 from the middle. Without the wind, I would say this is just another hole, with it you have a great golf hole. An elevated tee points you toward a fairway that seems to narrow the further you drive the ball. Out of bounds on the right is guarded by trees,while a marsh guards the left rough. Surrounded by a forest, this marsh is fed golf balls by a severely sloping right to left fairway. Though the marsh ends about 100 yards from the green, your second shot at 15 may be more difficult than the first.

Situated on a plateau, above surrounding farmlands, the 15th green is in an ideal position for swirling winds. In addition, this long narrow green is the smallest putting surface on the course. Anything long is likely out of bounds and anything left or right will find sand bunkers that surround this green. Finishing this hole with the same ball will be an accomplishment.

As you head toward the final stretch of holes, the par 3 16th is the gateway to the wetlands which surround the final 2 holes. This straight away par 3, 151 yards from the middle trees, will give you one last look of the magnificent oaks which provide a back drop for the 16th green. If you keep your tee shot from going over this green and stay clear of the 3 bunkers, par will be a likely score.

The 17th hole at Four Winds Golf Club is final exclamation point to a fantastic stretch of holes. This 545 yard par 5 signature hole, 482 from the middle tees, may be the finest 3 shot par 5 in the country.

It has the beauty of a treelined fairway, wildflowers along the right rough, and a wetland water hazard that surrounds the front half of the green. From a plateau teeing area, players shoot down into a valley that falls right toward the water. As the valley rises, it shifts left away from the wetlands to a crest about 225 yards from the green. Players are left with a blind lay-up shot to a fairway the doglegs to the right. Overhanging branches on either side of the fairway will penalize players with poor second shots. Meanwhile, others will be left with a short iron third shot to a large generous green.

Crossing the bridge at 17 might cause some a sigh of relief, yet others Will be hit with the realization that their round has almost come to an end. While Four Winds is a golf course, it is a nature walk through an incredible piece of property. As you turn up the final hill, the dogleg to the 310 yard par 4 18th hole, one last look will bring you back again.

Four Winds Golf Club may not have the exposure of a Kemper Lakes or Pine Meadows, just 5 minutes away in each direction, yet it is the best bang for the buck.

For the price of four weekend greens fees at Four Winds, you will get you only two at these other courses. At $39 during the week, $52 on the weekend, Four Winds is a must play golf course if you are ever in the north west Chicago suburbs. Four Winds, a piece of history, a place of majesty, and an experience of a lifetime.

Four Winds Golf Club
23110 W. Highway 176
Mundelein, IL 60060

Jay Mankus, Contributor

A former golf standout at Concord High School in Wilmington, Del., Jay Mankus graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Recreation & Parks Administration. Before graduating, Jay spent time as an intern at a golf club in the east suburbs of Cleveland specializing in golf course maintenance and design.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Four Winds Golf Course Closed Years Ago

    Sam Tumino wrote on: Aug 6, 2010