Cog Hill No. 4 in Lemont, Illinois, named Dubsdread, an aptly named golf course if ever there was one, was my initial foray into the list of Top 100 Public Golf Courses in the United States. Chris invited me up to Chicago if I would be interested in playing golf at Cog Hill with him and his Dad, Tim.
I love a golf trip like I need hot coffee in the morning, so, of course I said yes before I even knew what Cog Hill was or any of the history of the club or course. The intervening weeks would allow me plenty of time to figure out exactly what I’d signed up to take part in.
As it turns out, I brought The Wife along with me to the Windy City and we made a weekend of it with Chris, Tim, and their respective wives, Leah and Jan, four of my favorite people. The whirlwind Chicago tour included a couple of great dinners out on the town, golf, and tickets to the Saturday night performance of Book of Mormon (Side Note: I’m not a Broadway guy, but see this play if you have the chance; I can only describe it as this generation’s Blazing Saddles).
On Saturday morning we loaded up for the short drive to Lemont from downtown. The first thing to hit me upon arrival was just how enormous the Cog Hill complex is. There are four full length golf courses at Cog Hill, each with a distinct identity. You could fit a decent sized executive course into the parking lot and almost need to golf cart to comfortably get from the practice range to the Clubhouse or Dubsdread.
Nationally ranked since its opening in 1964, Course No. 4 was given the nickname “DUBSDREAD.” The name DUBSDREAD is derived from the idea that a “dub” or poor golfer should beware and served as a warning of the challenges forthcoming. True to its name, this natural-style championship course places a high demand on shot making ability ability by providing tight landing areas combined with heavily bunkered, large undulating greens. – http://www.coghillgolf.com
To say I was nervous or anxious at how my golf game would hold up on such a venerable tract as Cog Hill No. 4 would be an understatement. It’s a venue with a great history, and everything I had read prior to arrival described on how incredibly difficult the course was even for the most skilled amateur golfer. Dubsdread, designed by Joe Lee and Dick Wilson, opened in 1964, receiving rave reviews as having brought high-end, country club quality golf to the public.
Since it’s opening, the course quickly became steeped in PGA and USGA history. Cog Hill hosted the PGA Tour’s Western Open from 1991 – 2006 and the BMW Championship in 2007, 2009-2011, and the USGA U.S. Amateur Championship 1997, the U.S. Amateur Public Links 1970 & 1989, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur ,Public Links 1987. The course was subject of a $5 million renovation from the “Open Doctor” Rees Jones in 2008, presumably to make the course a more desirable location to host a future U.S. Open. So, we were about to play a course that had been graced by some of the greatest golfers ever to play the game. No big deal.
We played the member, or “Combo,” tees, an amateur friendly combination of the blue and white tee positions. The Combo tees play to 6,564 yards, with slope and course rating of 72.9/136, which seemed like a remarkably high degree of difficulty for that length golf course. But the course earns every bit of that degree of difficulty and more. The Championship tees that the pros play from measure 7,554 yards with a slope and course rating of 77.8/151, which after actually playing Dubsdread, seems incomprehensibly difficult and unfair.
To my surprise, the course is relatively flat for playing so difficult. The length of the course and the incredible bunkering are the main defenders of the golf course and determinants of play. This was especially on the four par 3 holes. Though not necessarily intimidating on the scorecard, with the exception of No. 2, the par 3’s all played significantly longer than their indicated yardages, either due to the wind, protecting bunkers, elevation change, or all three elements. Tim warned me before arrival to be sure to bring a good wedge, so it should be no surprise I spent an embarrassing amount of time with my toes in the sand.
I managed to card three pars on the day, on No. 5, No. 6, and No. 17. Those were the few highlights of the day. Number 5 is a 479 yard Par 5 that handicaps as the 3rd hardest hole, so I take great pride in having gotten up and down for par. I hit a hard drive over the bunkers to the right rough and punched out to about 120 yards. The greens were surprisingly hard and fast, particularly given the recent late summer thunderstorms. After air-mailing my approach to the back fringe, I was able to chip it up close and make the putt to momentarily stop the bleeding.
Number 6 is a 173 yard Par 3 that played into the stiff breeze, which meant that it played to probably 200+ yards. I tried to hit a 3-iron as hard as I could, and predictably missed the green left, badly. I was short of the green several yards to the left of the bunkers guarding the green. By some miracle, I hit my flop, which had to carry the bunkers, to within a few feet of the cup and tapped in for par. Number 17 is a 399 yard dogleg right par 4 with a generous landing area for a drive. The approach is into a green backed by a thick stand of trees and surrounded by bunkers. To be honest, I was so mentally beaten down by this point, I have no recollection of this hole at all.
That concludes the highlight portion of the round. In full disclosure I carded three 7’s and three 8’s within the first ten holes. Tallying up my score at the turn, it took playing all of the tenth hole to accept that fact that I was 19-over par on the front 9. Somewhere between the 10th green and the 11th tee I decided to accept the fact that the golf course was better than me and that I should just enjoy the remainder of a beautiful day with some great friends.
The 11th hole is a long par 5 with an uncharacteristically wide fairway. So, naturally, feeling liberated from trying to score well, I swung as free and as hard as I possibly could and promptly bombed my best drive of the day down the left middle of the fairway. The congratulatory laughter and looks of disbelief at my result that my drive produced from Chris and Tim made the day for me. That moment may be what I always remember and associate with my Cog Hill experience. When Tim asked where that drive had been all day, I stepped out of character and replied honestly that, “Once I got to 20-over par, I stopped worrying about it.” I managed to shave six strokes on the back nine to card a crowd-pleasing 104.
Dubsdread’s Number 18 is a finishing hole that is as scenic and beautiful as it is difficult and terrifying. Trouble on both sides of the fairway is only the beginning, as the green is guarded by a lake short and left. With a back left pin location, it would require a forced carry over the length of the pond to get it close. With a manageable short iron in hand, I completely bailed, fanning my approach to the hillside short and right, and meagerly chipped up to finish off the round.
Standing on the 18th green, I remember feeling beaten up, both physically and mentally. It is a beautiful finishing hole, the perfect setting to exchange the customary handshakes and cheapshots that typically accompany the conclusion of any round with Chris and Tim. But at the same time, I felt satisfied, as if I would have gotten my money’s worth, had I actually paid for the round myself.
On that note, a very special thank you goes out again to Tim and Jan, whose kindness and generosity made the entire weekend possible. Without them, it might have been just another weekend, but now it is a memory filled with stories that I will never tire of retelling.
If you get a chance to play golf Cog Hill, take advantage of the opportunity. It is a wonderful golf course that is as beautiful and well thought out as it is intimidating and infuriating. Leave your pride in the parking lot and just enjoy walking in the footsteps of the giants that have been there before you.