Butler National Golf Club was the vision of businessman, philanthropist and sportsman Paul Butler, who was also the founder of the village of Oak Brook. Butler inherited the J. W. Butler Paper Company from his father and helped grow the company, achieving considerable wealth along the way. He eventually used his financial strength to buy over 3,600 acres of polo fields in Oak Brook so he could partake in his love of polo.
Butler eventually converted part of the land into the Butler National Golf Club in 1974. The course was designed by renowned golf course architect George Fazio on part of what was previously York Golf Club. Construction of the course began in 1972 was completed in 1974, just in time for its first professional golf tournament.
The surrounding area of Butler National Golf Club is a picturesque blend of residential charm and natural beauty. Just beyond the golf club, Oak Brook showcases a mix of luxury residential properties, high-end shopping destinations, including Oakbrook Center, and excellent dining establishments.
The Golf Course
The Butler National Golf Club course is a par-71 layout spanning over 7,523 yards. It is a testament to thoughtful design, strategic placement, and impeccable upkeep. The course is a renowned brute, combining long fairways, numerous water hazards, and strategically placed bunkers that test every aspect of a golfer’s skill set.
The course layout at Butler National is diverse, each hole offering a unique challenge. Hole 3, a 433-yard par-4, is a standout, requiring a well-strategized shot over a creek that cuts across the fairway.
The 11th hole, a par-3 stretching 193 yards, demands precision with a narrow green surrounded by water on three sides. The course’s finishing hole, a 484-yard par-4, presents an uphill battle to a well-guarded green, providing a fitting finale to a challenging round.
Celebrated golf course architect George Fazio played a crucial role in designing Butler National. Fazio’s vision was to create a course that was not only visually stunning but also strategically challenging, and Butler National is a testament to this vision. His emphasis on intricate bunker designs, the strategic placement of hazards, and diverse green complexes have contributed to Butler National’s reputation as a true golfer’s course.
Changes and Improvements Made Over the Years
Butler National has evolved since its inception in 1972, with several enhancements and renovations to maintain its high standards. The club has constantly strived to improve the course’s playability, aesthetic appeal, and environmental sustainability.
Upgrades have included the installation of a state-of-the-art irrigation system, re-modelling of certain bunkers, and subtle changes to some green complexes to ensure a fair but challenging test of golf. Despite these changes, the course has retained the essence of Fazio’s original design, continuing to provide a golfing experience that is both challenging and rewarding.
Membership and Exclusivity
As a private club, Butler National Golf Club is known for its exclusivity. With a limited membership roster, the club preserves an intimate environment and ensures that members enjoy the exceptional golfing experience that Butler National has to offer. The club has historically been an all-male institution, though this policy has sparked debate and controversy over the years.
Securing a membership at Butler National is a rigorous process that underscores the club’s exclusivity. Prospective members must be sponsored by two current members who can attest to the candidate’s character, love for the sport, and ability to uphold the club’s values.
“I love the air of secrecy about it, if you will” said Mike Tait, golf professional and owner of golf fundraising company SMT Events. “Of course there are other men only clubs, this one is different. The beauty of the course is obvious, the condition, beyond belief. But the way that they run the business is amazing as much as it is mystifying.”
Once a potential member has secured sponsors, they must pass through a series of interviews and assessments by the membership committee. Final approval rests with the existing club members, ensuring that every new member will positively add to the club’s existing community.
Major Tournaments and Events
Butler National Golf Club has a storied history of hosting significant golf tournaments, most notably the Western Open. The Western Open, one of the oldest professional golf tournaments in the United States, found its home at Butler National for 17 years. These events brought together some of the world’s finest golfers including legends like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Hale Irwin, while showcasing the challenging nature of the Butler National course to a global audience.
Considered one of the most challenging 18-hole golf courses in the Midwest, Butler National earned the respect of some of the top players in the world, including Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald. Both players believed the Oak Brook golf course would be a tremendous choice to host a major championship such as the US Open.
After playing a practice round at Butler National in 2010, Phil Mickelson commented to the Chicago Tribune “What I loved about Butler, the subtleties: where the balls break, the risk-reward, the ability to get to certain pins, the challenge of making pars on the hard holes, the challenge of making birdies on the easy holes.”
“I would love to see it,” Luke Donald said about Butler National hosting a major championship. “I’ve played it quite a few times. It’s a tough course, and they could make it extremely hard.”
Controversies and Challenges
Butler National hosted the Western Open on the PGA Tour from 1974 until 1990, when the PGA Tour adopted a policy of holding events only at clubs which allowed minorities and women to be members. This resulted in Butler National being replaced by the Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont as the Western Open host.
Despite having such powerful proponents, votes by Butler National Golf Club members continue to reveal a strong preference to keep the private club open to men only. Without female members, the club will continue be unable to host events such as the US Open, BMW Championship and Ryder Cup.
Many golf industry insiders believe Butler National is the perfect Chicago venue to host a major championship. With an easy-to-access location in the western suburbs, along with ample room in the form of polo fields land for parking and hospitality suites, the course could easily fulfill many of the obligations requested by the PGA Tour and the PGA of America.
The Future of Butler National Golf Club
The prestige of Butler National is undeniable, etched in its storied past and visible in its present-day operations. Despite controversies, the club’s commitment to providing an exceptional golfing experience remains unshaken. Looking forward, it will be interesting to observe how Butler National navigates the evolving landscape of golf, societal norms, and member expectations. It is anticipated that the club will continue to uphold its traditions while embracing necessary changes, further enhancing its reputation in the golfing world.
A round of golf at Butler National Golf Club is a bucket-list experience for any hard-core golfer. The chance to walk the same fairways as some of golf’s greatest players and to test your skills on this renowned course is truly special.
If given the opportunity, experiencing the rich tradition, challenging play, and exceptional amenities of Butler National is a must. It is a testament to the enduring appeal and grandeur of the sport of golf.
Butler National Golf Club
2616 York Road
Oak Brook, IL 60523