This week the PGA Tour moves to Olympia Fields, IL for the BMW Championship, the second leg of the FedExCup Playoffs. Olympia Fields Country Club is one of the oldest and most prestigious private clubs in the United States. Located in the Chicago suburbs, it has been host to five major championships, including two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships. But how much do you know about the history of this club and its North Course?
The Country Club was founded in 1915 by a group of Chicago businessmen who wanted to create a country retreat for themselves and their families. They purchased 600 acres of farmland in Olympia Fields, which was then a rural area about 25 miles south of Chicago. The club’s name was inspired by the Greek mythology of Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. Once the North Course opened in 1923, the club boasted four 18-hole golf courses, designed by renowned architects such as Tom Bendelow and Willie Park Jr., a two-time British Open champion who also designed courses such as Maidstone and Sunningdale in England. Park called his creation of the North Course “the equal of any golf course I have ever seen. I know of none that is superior, either in beauty or natural terrain.”
The North Course features some significant elevation changes, a meandering creek and hundreds of native oak trees. It is considered one of the top three courses in the Chicago area, and is generally ranked in the top 50 courses in the United States. The South Course, which opened in 1916, was designed by Bendelow and later reconfigured by Park. It is regularly ranked in the top ten in Illinois.
When it opened its clubhouse in 1924, Olympia Fields Country Club was the largest country club in the world. The clubhouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a Tudor Revival style building that covers more than 100,000 square feet. It has a 10,000-square-foot locker room, which is still among the most massive in golf. The main dining room of the club is named after Amos Alonzo Stagg, the famous college football head coach and athletic director at nearby University of Chicago, who was the first club president.
Over the years, Olympia Fields Country Club has hosted some of the most memorable events in golf history. In 1925, Walter Hagen won the second of his four consecutive PGA Championships here, defeating Bill Mehlhorn in a 36-hole final. In 1928, Bobby Jones lost a 36-hole playoff by one stroke to Johnny Farrell in the U.S. Open, which was Jones’ only defeat in his quest for the Grand Slam. In 1961, Jerry Barber won the PGA Championship here in a playoff over Don January, after making a 60-foot putt on the final hole of regulation. In 1968, Jack Nicklaus won the Western Open here, one of his record 18 career major titles.
By the 40’s, it was clear that the size of the club was too expensive to run, so Olympia Fields sold two of their golf courses to make room for houses. They mixed up parts of the first three courses to make a new one with two loops that is now the South Course. The North Course, outside of slight redesigns, has stayed the same since it opened in 1923.
Before hosting its second U.S. Open in 2003, the North Course underwent some changes. The club hired architect Mark Mungeam to supervise the renovations, which included adding 350 yards to lengthen the course to 7,343 yards, relocating some bunkers and tees, and rebuilding some greens. The changes made the course more challenging for the modern players, but also preserved its classic character and charm.
The North Course has also hosted some recent championships that showcased the future stars of golf. In 2015, it co-hosted the U.S. Amateur with the South Course, which was remodeled by architect Steve Smyers. The winner was Bryson DeChambeau, who became only the fifth player to win both the NCAA Division I individual title and the U.S. Amateur in the same year. In 2017, it hosted the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which was won by Danielle Kang, who claimed her first major title.
Olympia Fields Country Club and its North Course have a rich history and a bright future. They are part of America’s golf heritage and continue to challenge and inspire golfers of all levels. The BMW Championship gets underway on Thursday and features the top 50 in the FedEx rankings in a no-cut event, with the top 30 in the standings moving on to the TOUR Championship at East Lake next week