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2 Play the Tips played Bob O'Link on Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bob O'Link Golf Club

Your break from reality (and from the ladies)

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#1 - A fairly typical Ross opening hole
#2 - A well-protected green on the second
#5 - The first par 5 on the course
#7 - A short risk/reward two-shotter
#8 - Results of a recent storm behind the green
#9 - A sizable green on the front nine's closing hole
#12 - A large bunker protects the left side of this one-shotter
#18 - A nice view in to the clubhouse from the finishing hole

The man cave.  Every guy wants it and some are lucky enough to have wives that allow it.  Your own little retreat from the outside world: flat screen on the wall, beer in the mini-fridge, and the peace of mind that comes with the idea that this is your world.  There are no bosses here.  No annoying co-workers.  No one here has expectations of you, lofty or otherwise.   And what happens in the man cave stays in the man cave. 

Well, folks, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I know about one such man cave.  It’s in Highland Park, IL, and it has the COOLEST back yard you’ve ever seen. 

Come, readers, and join me on a hypothetical that would make Martha Burk cringe.  You and your buddies are just moving past your formative years and are growing tired of the tree house you built adjacent to your favorite baseball field.  You’ve grown up now, and ‘the Sandlot’ scenario isn’t really working anymore.  You still love the camaraderie and the youthfulness that comes with having a good old-fashioned testosterone fest with your buddies, but you're looking for a newer, classier way to do it.  Golf is your game now.  You love the nuance of it.  The solitude.  You no longer await the roar of the crowd, but rather the chirping of the birds.   You come in to some money and you meet a really nice guy from Scotland who goes by the name of Donald…

Bob O'Link Golf Club was built in 1916 and originally designed by Donald Ross, but modernization of the surrounding areas forced the club to redesign the course in 1924.  Having to tear up a Ross design is a bit of a travesty, but when you have C.H. Alison and H.S. Colt coming in for the redesign, it tends to soften the blow.  Only a few of the original Ross greens are still in existence, but Alison and Colt did a extraordinary job keeping his theme in mind.  As someone familiar with Beverly Country Club, I can definitely say I see a lot of Donny's hand still left in the design at Bob O'Link.  While the trees are obviously more prominent than Ross would have liked, the green complexes and the routing would undoubtedly garner a nod of approval from the Scotsman. 

For a course that is named after a bird, it sure doesn't tend to give up too many of them.  If you can hit driver straight ALL day, you'll have a decent chance to come in with a good score, but the green complexes and tight angles will still put up a hell of a fight.  Reminiscent of pre-Pritchard redesigned Beverly Country Club, a missed fairway almost certainly calls for a direct punch-out.  (Trust me, just punch out.  It's your best bet.  Learn from my mistakes.)  After even a perfect punch-out, though, you are still faced with a number of impressive greens that are perched atop mounds and guarded by severe bunkers.  The front nine (most affected by the redesign), features a number of short par 4s (and two short-ish par 5s) that demand great feel and accuracy from the golfer on the approach.  Other holes apply their pressure on the tee shot, like the par 4 second.  A pond that cuts in from the left side of the fairway takes driver out of the golfer's hand, and favors a cut shot with a long iron or hybrid from the tee to a blind landing area.  One of the more impressive-looking approach shots on the course favors a draw over water in to a green that slopes back-left to front-right.  Two bunkers guard the front of the green, with the deeper of the two on the left.  While the depth of this bunker may seem overly penal, it is actually a bit of a savior.  Any over-hooked approach shot is bound to end up here instead of kicking left in to the lake.

Bob O'Link is an excellent example of a course getting as much out of the land as possible.  Packed in to a tight area, the course defends itself nicely using the surrounding nature.  While I would normally deduct points for design due to the fact that the course more 'demands' shots than 'suggests' them, I make a special case for Bob O'Link because thats the whole point.  It needs to defend itself.  If you cut down trees, the course will open itself up too much and the intended angles of play will be compromised.

Bob O is also an excellent example of what I'm going to start calling 'golf yin-yang' (Copyright 2011 Dave Fudacz).  It seemed that each hole had a green complex with a level of difficulty that was perfectly inverse of the tee and approach shots.  Examples include the par 4 third: a well struck tee shot will leave you with a short iron or wedge, but a well-elevated undulating green framed tightly with deep bunkers makes you think over that approach shot a little harder.  The par 5 5th: although reachable with two solid shots, the green here is very shallow and guarded by five bunkers (one directly in front) and a creek short of the green.  A pond on the left side of the fairway makes a lay-up shot considerably more difficult, but if you pull it off, the green is not so severe that you can't hit a close approach with a wedge.  The par 4 7th is the definitely the best example on the front nine: this short one begs you to take a rip with driver.  The closer you get to the green, though, the harder the approach seems.  The elevated green makes for an extremely tough pitch shot, and if you wind up short or long, the most severe bunkers on the course will exact some harsh punishment.  The par 4 ninth features one of the more demanding tee shots on the course, calling for a cut off the tee to avoid the fairway bunker on the left, but finishes off with the largest green on the course.  This monster slopes back-right to front-left and features a multitude of interesting pin placements.  A back right pin locale will bring the large green side bunker on the right in to play, making an aggressive approach much more difficult. 

The back nine opens up a little more, starting right off with two par 5s in a row.  (That is another interesting point: all par 5s at Bob O'Link are back-to-back - the 5th and 6th, and the 10th and 11th.)  The long 10th is a true three-shotter with a well-protected yet mild putting surface.  The 11th lacks the length of its predecessor, but dares you to take advantage of it.  The pond that tightly guards the right side of the green will gobble up even a slightly misdirected long approach.  The length on the back nine seems to tame the green complexes, demanding more from one's long irons and less from his wedges.  One exception is the par 4 17th; a short dogleg left that dares the long hitter to take it over the trees (yes, of course I did).  This is another example of the 'golf yin-yang'.  A misplaced driver can end up in some tough places, as the trees on the left are among the thickest on the property.  A shot to the fairway is no sure thing, either.  One of the best-framed holes on the course, the 17th defends itself quite well against the layup tee shot with a difficult elevated green and a few perfectly placed bunkers.  The home hole lacks the imagination seen on many of the other holes, but makes up for it by being framed beautifully and giving the golfer a perfect view of the clubhouse that awaits him.  An extra tee box built recently gives the long hitters an opportunity to give it one last rip before heading inside for a few drinks and some delicious food.

The Bob O'Link clubhouse is unlike most other places you've been.  It's not that it features architecture you've never seen, or spectacular vaunted ceilings or fancy decor.  It's the simplicity of it.  That's really the theme at Bob O: simplicity.  Everything you need, nothing you don't.  Do whatever you want as long as you aren't pissing anyone else off.  "Feel like going shirtless for your round today?  Sure, go ahead."  "Want to see a menu?  We don't have menus.  Tell me what you want and I'll make it."

Bob O'Link Golf Club is less of a golf club and more of a hang-out.  Caricatures of every member hang in the entrance hall between the lockers and the dining room, each one depicting some unique characteristic of its subject.   These frames exhibit the individuality of each of the Bob O'Link men, and serve as a testament to the uniqueness of the club.  The mood is not pretentious.  It's not stuffy.  There are all sorts of little things that make your day there better, almost without you realizing it.  The on-course coolers filled with water bottles, the caddies that are more friend than servant, the staff that seem to have the ability to predict your needs.  It's the kind of place that has Taylormade Penta practice balls, yardage guns, and alignment sticks (not to mention snacks and drinks) on the range, not because someone complained and demanded them, but because, well, that's what you would want in your backyard, right?

And now, a final note for the ladies.  Male only golf clubs have been a point of contention in the past, and while not currently at the forefront of the public’s mind, still make some members of the fairer sex, shall we say, discontent.  As someone who has been to a number of male only clubs, I can firmly state to the ladies that they (especially Bob O’Link) aren’t really somewhere you would care to find yourself.  Wanting access to the course is one thing (most male only clubs have excellent tracks), but when it comes to the actual club, protesting male only establishments is like picketing outside the men’s locker room at the Boca Raton Health Club – nothing behind that door is anything you want to see.  The first time my dad ever walked in to the Bob O'Link clubhouse, there was a man ordering a drink at the bar just inside the front door.  The man was probably in his eighties, somewhat heavy-set, and stark naked; a fitting welcome to one of the more unique Chicagoland golfing experiences. 

Bob O'Link Golf Club scorecard is not available