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2 Play the Tips played Butler National on Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Butler National Golf Club

A Gentleman's Gentleman

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#1 - The opening tee shot
#5 - This par three is the first hole that brings the lake in to play
#8 - The second of four impressive one-shotters
#11 - A well-shaped shot is demanded here if you want avoid the bunkers or the water on the left
#13 - Another impressive view on the lake
#16 - This par 4 features some of the best bunkering on the golf course
#18 - The long and difficult par 4 is a fitting end - tough, but beautiful

You all know Bruce Wayne, right?  The handsome, thrill-seeking, Lamborghini-driving billionaire playboy with a crime-fighting alter ego?  Whether he's impressing the women of Gotham City's high society or combating the criminals of its dregs, he's got to be confident in his abilities.  Maybe his ego gets the better of him from time to time, but you've got to admit it: he's got quite a lot going for him. 

Now we all know that Bruce's parents were taken from him at a young age, so someone had to step in.  Someone who could handle Bruce's personality.  Someone who was willing to speak up; to put Bruce in his place when no one else is willing or able.  Someone who awards a job well done with a pat on the back, not a ritzy party and copious congratulations.  Someone who doesn't stand for mediocrity.  Someone who expects and rewards the best, because the best is all that's known in the Wayne family.

This someone is none other than the Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth.  A loyal man.  A traditional man.  A voice of wisdom.  A gentleman's gentleman. 

Since its inception, another Butler - Butler National Golf Club - has followed the same set of rules and beliefs that Alfred used with his billionaire Batman.  Keep 'em humble, keep 'em honest, teach 'em their limitations, and make sure they stay true to what they believe in, because without those beliefs they just wouldn't be the same.  And every once in a while make 'em smile when they realize they've got the best butler around. 

Butler tends to some of Chicago's finest with service that rivals a 5-star resort.  Upon entering, we were met with such service.  After warming up on the driving range (which were once the polo grounds), we headed inside for lunch.  We left the lunch table quite satisfied; now convinced that this particular club has more going for it than just the golf course.

Finally it was time to hit the course.  As we walked past the putting area toward the first tee, we both felt that Butler seemed to have that something special we keep an eye out for when playing great courses.  Now it was time to go find out for sure.  Stepping up to our first shots, we noticed a storm front in the distance promising the rain that would prove to predominate our day.  Off and on over the next four hours Mother Nature and Butler National joined forces, laying siege to our pride and our scores.  Wet conditions on a course this tough can make you feel like calling out for your mommy.  Sorry kid, she won't be coming to save you.  Not at Butler.

Butler was without a doubt one of the most difficult courses we've played.  To its credit, though, it's interesting, it's more fair than not, and it's aesthetically pleasing all at the same time.  In all honesty, Butler could host the world's best and easily keep them at bay for four rounds.  With the rough being a uniform 6 inches (and wet), we learned quickly that putting the ball in the fairway would be key to scoring well.  More than anything, Butler is a ball strikers golf course.  George Fazio put a premium on hitting the fairway here; almost every green on the course sits on a slightly awkward angle, demanding either an accurate tee shot for an easier approach, or an exacting approach from a less-than-ideal spot in the fairway or rough.  Take the par 4 tenth hole, for example.  This hole doglegs very slightly to the left, with water hugging the left side of the fairway.  The green here is angled away from the golfer and to the right, with a creek short of the green.  The closer your tee ball hugs the water, the better the shot you have to the angled green, particularly if there is a back pin.  The right side fairway bunker on this hole will gobble up a lengthy wayward drive, demanding your run-of-the-mill 175 yard bunker shot over a creek to a shallow, elevated green.  I know we all have that shot in our bags. 

Another excellent example is the par 4 fourth.  This dogleg right runs uphill, but you can't see the green from the tee.  If you happen to flare one out right here, you're in trouble.  This green is well bunkered and angles away from the golfer to the right.  An approach from the left side of the fairway is tough (long and uphill), but offers the only angle that allows a run-up of any kind.  Granted, it's only about 5 yards wide, but it's still better than having to hoist it over a deep greenside bunker and land it on a piece of green that runs away from you due to the back side of the bunker.  If you're firing this shot from the fairway, you can most likely rely on spin to hold the shot in place.  If you're coming from the rough, you might as well take out your sand wedge, as another bunker guards the back side of the green. 

The other key to scoring well at Butler National is playing the par 3s well - or at least not exploding on them.  This is definitely the highlight of George Fazio's layout.  The par 3s here are the best grouping of one-shotters either of us could remember playing.  Holes 5, 8 11, 13 demand well struck mid- to long-irons - maybe even a hybrid or two depending on the wind - and are masterfully guarded by water hazards that wait calmly, eager to devour any misstruck tee shots. 

Two of these par 3s, 5 and 13, provide the shoreline for a third of the most prominent water hazard on property. The other third is made up of the par 4 14th, a wonderful par 4 that moves from right to left around the edge of the lake.  All three of these holes provide excellent views of one another, and would provide for an amazing scene for spectators at a tournament.  The routing of these holes around the pond makes for a kind of 360 degree amphitheater, adding to the overall aesthetics and providing much of the OMG Factor at Butler National. 

The routing at Butler is definitely worth touching on.  There are many holes that utilize the creek that runs through the property, and as stated before, the holes around the lake are spectacular.  We are always fans of courses that return to the clubhouse between nines, as well as finishing holes that offer an impressive view of the clubhouse.  The routing of two of the par 5s, 7 and 15, is also very fun and interesting.  These severe dogleg rights are tough, but overwhelm the golfer with a feeling of awe and curiosity that outweigh the feelings of dread and low self-esteem that usually pervade the thoughts of those who play them. 

The only thing that we didn't like out here was the ninth hole.  This long, demanding par 4 is probably the toughest hole on the course.  Without question the most tree-lined hole on the property, the landing area for the ninth narrows as it nears the green.  The green is also elevated and guarded well by a left greenside bunker.  Additionally, there is a hazard to the left of the green.  This is the only hole on the course that quite literally demands that you place your tee shot.  A drive that winds up on the right side of this fairway has a decent chance of having no shot to the green - unless you're comfortable with a 15 yard cut with an 8 iron.  This green angles away and to the left, calling for a draw.  However, the only way to be able to hit a draw to the green is if you are on the far left side of the fairway.  Any other place, and your approach will most likely get caught up in the right side trees.  This hole is tough enough, and the angles call for a more open approach to the green.  If a few of those trees came out on the right side, we think the design would benefit quite a bit.  

Paul Butler had a great vision for the piece of land on which Butler National now lies; a piece of land that was not the best naturally occurring golf course land in the world.  He wanted a championship golf course brawny enough that even the worlds best wouldn't dare dream of going low.  Since his idea has become a reality through George Fazio's creation, Butler National has done its best to live up to Paul's idea of what a great golf course should be.  Butler National has done so, and in doing so one can say that it has even taken on a certain personality.  It lives and breathes (I daresay more calmly than the men that attempt to tackle it), protecting the vision that Paul Butler had.  Why does it give a damn, you ask?  Butler National gives a damn because a good man once had a vision for a championship golf course; one that would keep everyone humble and keep the integrity of this great game intact.  One that expects the best; rewards the best.  Butler National will always do that.  It's Paul Butler's gentleman. 

Nay... It's golf's gentleman.