, Port Arthur, Texas

September 25, 2012

West on golf: Ryder Cup site Medinah holds special memories

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Like many golfers this weekend, my attention is going to be focused on the playing of the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.  It’s an event that’s long been right at the top of my must-watch sporting events, but never has my viewing interest been as intense as this year.

    Why is that? Well, it has very little to do with Tiger Woods or Rory McElroy, the matchups in singles or whether we can wrest the cup back from the Europeans.  In this case, it’s all about personal experience.

    Outside of a few courses in Southeast Texas, I’ve probably played more rounds of golf on Medinah’s three courses than anywhere else in the United States. Ron Ashworth, my best friend from childhood days in Centralia, Mo, is a member there and we’ve been playing in what is called the Medinah Classic every summer since  the early 1980s.

    From what I’ve been told, it’s the second largest member-guest type event in America, with 180 two-man teams playing 18 holes over each of Medinah’s three courses. Course No. 3 is the one where the Ryder Cup is being contested, and I’m guessing I’ve played it 50 to 60 times.

    I even broke 80 on it. Once! Most of my rounds on No. 3 have been in the mid to high 80s and more than a few were in the 90s. Yes, it’s hard. Very, very hard. Matter of fact, the only more difficult, more intimidating course I’ve every played is Pine Valley.

    Medinah No. 3 stretches well over 7,000 yards of hills, gnarly rough, deep bunkers, big trees and seriously undulating, lighting fast greens. It has a trio of par fours — No. 4, No. 12, No. 16 — I’ve only reached in regulation a couple of times each. Depending on where they set the tees, it has three of the scariest par 3s over water — No. 2, No. 13, No. 17 — that I’ve ever seen. There is no bailout.

    It also has two par 5s — No. 7, No. 10 — that often take me a driver and two more woods to reach. Okay, I’m not a long hitter, but we’re talking a couple of beasts if you are an average player. Beasts that are not only long, but require you to keep the ball in the fairway and negotiate a third shot over some gaping bunkers.

    Granted, much of this stuff won’t phase Ryder Cuppers who hit the ball over 300 yards off the tee. Plus, from what I’ve read, U.S. captain Davis Love is having the roughs cut way down and the fairways widened so his players can bomb away. I really hate that, but I understand this particular event is all about making birdies.

    Bottom line, though, you should get the idea why watching this Ryder Cup holds so much fascination for me. If I can’t relate to the shots the players are going to have to hit, I can relate to some of the treachery that awaits. I’m particularly hopeful they will play the par 3, 13th at its full length of 245 yards at least one day.

    I’ve never played from the back tee on that hole because I couldn’t carry the water with a driver. But I’ve walked back there just for the visual and it’s pretty frightening. The green looks like the proverbial postage stamp as it sits above Lake Kadijah. Should they play from back there, you will see some train wrecks.

    If there’s anything disappointing about Medinah, it’s that the 18th hole is not really a championship finishing hole. It’s a well bunkered dogleg left that plays 449 yards. Few players will hit driver and they will still have short irons into the green. In my opinion, the original 18th was a much better hole. But it was changed as part of an agreement with the USGA to get a U.S. Open.

    Several holes, in fact, have been revamped or completely changed, since I first started going there. The one that’s going to get the most Ryder Cup attention is the par 4, 15th. From a medium-length hole, it was shortened and a water hazard was added to the right of the green. It can be played at right around 300 yards. The hope is that some players will be bold enough to try to drive the green. Hello, Bubba Watson.

    Medinah, meanwhile, is a place that fairly drips with history and exudes elegance. It hosted the  U.S. Open in 1949, 1975 and 1990, the PGA in 1999 and 2006 and the U.S. Senior Open in 1988. It’s champions include the likes Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Billy Casper, Gary Player, Hale Irwin and Tiger Woods twice. Its downstairs trophy room is like a golf museum.

    Then there’s the stunning, sprawling, Byzantine-style clubhouse built by Shriners in the 1920s. Hopefully, part of the Ryder Cup coverage will include a video tour of the dining rooms, the massive men’s locker room, the ballroom and the rest of a remarkable edifice that must be seen and experienced to be fully appreciated.

    One of the dining rooms overlooks the 611-yard, 9th hole on Course 1 — that’s right 611 yards, and with water in front — as well as the No. 1 and No. 10 tees on the Women’s Course. Yes, one of the three courses at Medinah is designated for women members. It’s very good, too, and plays to about 6,200 yards when it’s used in the Medinah Classic.

    The main dining room and the verandah overlook one of the most unique putting greens anywhere — you will see plenty of it during TV coverage — as well as No. 1 and No. 18 on Course 3. The gigantic putting green encircles a dazzling floral display that shows off a huge M. From top to bottom, it stretches well over 100 feet and offers any kind of breaking putt imaginable.

    With some 600 members, including former hockey legend Stan Mikita and at one time NBA great Michael Jordan, the Medinah complex encompasses roughly 640 acres. It sits in the western suburbs of Chicago, some 30 minutes from O’Hare Airport and 45 minutes from downtown.

    From Friday through Sunday, it’s going to be a rocking, rollicking place to be. My buddy Ron is going to be in the middle of it all, and I’ll be there in spirit.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at