Best golf courses in Illinois, according to GOLF Magazine’s expert course raters
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For every great course that made GOLF’s 2020-21 ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S., dozens of more must-plays were left on the outside looking in — including at least a handful in your home state. Some of these designs just missed out on a Top 100 nomination, others finished deeper down the ranking, but all are worthy of your time. To shed light on the best courses in every state, we broke out the full results of our Top 100 Courses polling into state-by-state lists. Here’s a closer look at Illinois.
Illinois golf by the numbers:
Number of courses and U.S. rank: 657 (8)*
Number of golfers per capita rank: 19*
Average public-course greens fees: $$ out of $$$*
Average daily temp and rank: 51.8 (23)
Annual precipitation and rank: 39.2 in. (27)
*Source: National Golf Foundation
Best Illinois golf courses (2020/2021)
1. Chicago GC (Wheaton) [1, 2]
One of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association in 1894, Chicago Golf Club was the site of the nation’s first 18-hole course; it also was the first course outside of the Northeast to play host to the U.S. Open. Seth Raynor retooled his mentor C.B. Macdonald’s course in 1923 and not much has changed since as its slew of exemplary template holes make it just as relevant today as it was in the age of hickory golf. Holes 1 through 3, which include a road and Biarritz template, represent one of the game’s great starts.
2. Shoreacres (Lake Bluff) [1, 2]
Steep ravines affect play throughout holes 10-15, its famed stretch. The rest of the property has more modest topography, but you are unlikely to notice, as the expansive greens offer such interesting targets. Ironic for an architect who built template holes, but the best hole on this Seth Raynor design may well be the thoroughly original, risk-reward, 520-yard, par-5 15th, which doglegs left over and around a ravine.
3. Beverly (Chicago)
4. Olympia Fields – North (Olympia Fields)
5. Medinah – #3 (Medinah)
6. Old Elm (Highland Park)
7. Skokie (Glencoe)
8. Medinah – #1 (Medinah)
9. Butler National (Oak Brook)
10. Bob O’Link (Highland Park)
11. Cog Hill (No. 4) (Palos Park) [P]
Book a tee time at Cog Hill.
12. Olympia Fields – South (Olympia Fields)
13. Black Sheep (Sugar Grove)
14. Flossmoor (Flossmoor)
15. Merit Club (Libertyville)
1 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the U.S.
2 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the World
3 = GOLF Top 100 Resort
P = Resort/public golf course
Ed. note: Some courses were omitted from our rankings because they did not receive enough votes.
Course spotlight: Beverly Country Club (Chicago), ranked 3rd in Illinois. Prichard and Rae’s restoration should be compulsory viewing for any course operator lucky enough to have a Donald Ross design. They took out over 900 trees, and the bunkering was updated to fit the modern game, while using aerial shots to replace “lost” bunkers. The terrain is unique to Illinois, and the green complexes are memorable but can be maddening as you scold yourself for being past the hole (again). ‘The Bev’ is also proof that not all top-rated courses need to be in plush, suburban enclaves. — GOLF Top 100 Course Rater
The 14th hole at Olympia Fields during this year’s BMW Championship.
How we rank America’s best golf courses
For the newly released 2020-21 U.S. list, each panelist was provided a list of 489 courses. Beside that list of courses were 11 “buckets,” or groupings. If our panelists considered a course to be among the top three in the country, they ticked that box. If they believed the course to be among Nos. 4-10 in the U.S., they checked that box, followed by 11-25, 26-50 and so on.
Panelists were also free to write in courses that they felt should have been included on the ballot. (We had fewer than a handful of such additions in the U.S. vote).
Points were assigned to each bucket; to arrive at an average score for each course, we divide its aggregate score by the number of votes. From those point tallies, the courses are then ranked accordingly. It is an intentionally simple and straightforward process. Why? Because it invariably produces results that are widely lauded. Like the game itself, there’s no need to unnecessarily overcomplicate things.
For much more on how we rate courses, click or tap here.
Meet our course raters
We empower and hold accountable a group of 97 well-traveled — and well-connected — golfers/aficionados, each capable of expressing their own sense of design excellence at the highest level. The group is seasoned and experienced — we look for raters who know what’s out there, what’s changing and what’s coming down the pike. And from judging posts across four continents, our panelists are positioned to place courses from different regions around the globe into proper context, one of the main reasons GOLF’s Top 100 Courses rankings are the most esteemed in the game.
Other ranking outlets employ thousands of raters. Our less-is-more approach creates a more meaningful and thoughtful list. Think about it: When you plan a golf trip, do you call every golfer you know for their take? No. You contact a handful of people whose opinions you value most.
Meet our full crew of panelists here.
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