Top 10 Toughest Golf Course Greens in Chicagoland

After finishing a round at any given course newcomers might believe that the greens were difficult, while long-time regular golfers who are acquainted with all the subtleties of the greens can putt ‘lights out’. Each course’s superintendent and head professional may believe that their course has the trickiest greens, while the members say that all other courses have tough greens.

What factors create difficult putts? Straightforward characteristics regarding the shape of a green including size, slope, and undulation correlate to the number of putts taken. The surface of the green also influences putting numbers: type of grass and height of grass (i.e. green speed).

For northern Illinois golfers, the type of grass used for green surfaces is almost exclusively bentgrass, either creeping bent or any strain of pencross bent. And quite fortunately for us, bentgrass, unlike bermudagrass, contains no/minimal grain. The height and speed of the greens are the proprietary choice of the individual course superintendent.

The location of a green can also work to increase the number of putts taken — water hazards or deep bunkers immediately adjacent to a green; a green is seriously elevated above a fairway (blind landing); or, land surrounding the course mysteriously affects all putts.

During golf television broadcasts, announcers will remind viewers of the “Indio effect” in Palm Springs, CA, or the “Valley effect” in Phoenix, AZ, or the “Ocean effect” for the tournaments played in Hawaii. Finally, and perhaps most influentially, there is hole location on the green.

Did the greenskeeper have a bad night and intentionally cut today’s hole on a crowned area or near a ridge? Throw in a dose of ‘golf voodoo’ and oftentimes putts refuse to drop.

Discounting abnormalities such as aeration holes, topdressing, and disease, which can cause putting problems at any course, several facilities in the Chicago area quickly come to mind as having difficult greens to putt.

10. The rolling hills and fairways of Balmoral Woods Golf Club add to the difficulty of the greens of this course in Crete. Moderately paced, Balmoral’s greens are often sloped from back to front, which can be difficult to see from the fairway on the uphill holes. Finding the right line on these greens takes patience and practice.

Foxford Hills Golf Club

Foxford Hills Golf Club

9. Experienced golfers have learned that whenever the word ‘Hills’ (or ‘Mountain’ or ‘Valley’) appears in the name of a course, they should be prepared for difficult greens, and so it is at Foxford Hills Golf Club. Point the finger at the architect or the construction company, but there are only two greens at this course in Cary that could be classified as close to being flat.

8. Broken Arrow Golf Club in Lockport offers 27 holes and dual greens on their North Course. These massive green complexes not only require laser-like approach shots, but a tremendous amount of courage due to their speed and tilt. Be cautious with your lag putting with downhill putts, as it’s easy to compound mistakes if you miss the hole on either side. Poor putters can leave Broken Arrow feeling like they’ve been on the losing side at the Little Big Horn.

7. Chapel Hill Golf Club near Johnsburg starts by welcoming golfers with three long par-4’s, each containing a very large, rolling green. The remaining 15 holes have more than a fair share of quirky greens. The 15th green is a hidden undulated target resting in a valley; this is the hole with the old chapel, so golfers can say a prayer to attain a two-putt on number fifteen.

Flagg Creek Golf Course

Flagg Creek Golf Course

6. A 9-hole facility in Countryside, Flagg Creek Golf Course offers very large greens that are typically of moderate pace. However, these greens can become extremely challenging depending on the pin positions.

For example, a top pin position on the par-5, fifth hole always requires an approach below the hole. It’s nearly impossible to stop errant downhill putts on this hole and on many others at Flagg Creek. Golfers dream of sinking 9 one-putts, but near misses here at Flagg Creek can cause a nightmare putt total far in excess of 18.

5. With 27 holes comprised of the Woodside, Lakeside and Hillside courses, the greens at Cantigny Golf are typically large, fast, and undulating. A corps of regular golfers at Cantigny believe that there is a secret to good putting on their course–beware of any green that is closely guarded by nearby trees, such as #9 on Woodside; the speed on these greens can be a little slower than the other holes that are sun drenched throughout the day.

The First Division Museum and Cantigny Golf are both located on the grounds of the former McCormick Estate in Wheaton and whichever two of three nine hole courses comprise your round at Cantigny, you’ll feel as if you’ve fought 18 putting battles.

4. Ten thousand years ago ice-age glaciers helped to form the landscape of the Kettle Moraine and the Chain O’Lakes. Today, eighteen finely manicured emerald greens rest atop the landscape known as Fox Lake Country Club. FLCC is a series of hills and valleys, with an occasional flat fairway; its putting surfaces average 9,215 square feet, requiring many above average lag putt lengths. One of the four greens with serious slope is number twelve green, a par-5. Situated in a valley, the green slopes with a 5 degree grade (golfers swear it’s 45-degrees); should the hole location be placed near the top back of this green, your putter will think it is a piece of equipment in the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb.

The Glen Club

The Glen Club

3. It is difficult to imagine that this parcel was once flat landing runways for naval aircraft, but architect Tom Fazio has designed a superb layout at The Glen Club that gives golfers eighteen wild rides if they leave their approach shots a hefty distance from the pin. Especially treacherous are the two lakeside par-3 greens on the backside, #11 and #17. Should golfers hit either green in regulation, a score of ‘3’ is not guaranteed due to the putting challenges faced here.

2. In addition to their large size, several undulations, and a few unusual shapes, something mysterious affects the pace of the greens at Harborside International. The clue may be the proximity to Lake Michigan, which can add moisture to the greens and thus affect their speed. On the other hand, perhaps it’s the souls of the victims of the sinking of the Lady Elgin causing putting woes.

Shepherd's Crook Golf Course

Shepherd’s Crook Golf Course

1. The top of the list is located at the top of the state, as Shepherd’s Crook gets my vote as ‘Chicago’s Toughest Greens’. Their shape and numerous strategic undulations are two influential factors adding to the difficulty of these Zion, IL greens. But the number one characteristic, and hence top challenge, of these greens is the firmness.

Approach shots to The Crook’s targets, be they either low run-ups or highly lofted shots with plenty of spin, when reaching the firm surfaces will most always get funneled away from the hole. As a helpful aid, the Shepherd’s Crook scorecard shows the shape of each green, the choice of six different hole locations, and the swales and ridges present on each green, but despite this additional help the greens always win.


Greg Miles

Greg Miles has been a writer following golf in Chicago since 1990. For the past 30 years he has been a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and currently is classified as a GWAA "Life Member". He played his first round of golf on his 11th birthday, and since then has played more than 7,300 rounds of golf in his lifetime at 517 different courses. He has interviewed more than 280 golfers across all the professional tours along with famous celebrity golfers. Additionally, he is a member of several other competitive and honorary golf associations, as well as the Golf Nut Society.

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  1. I think Makray Golf Course in Barrington Hills have the toughest greens in Chicagoland. If you haven’t played Makray you gotta go. The course is awesome, but the fast, sloping greens can quite often feel unfair.

  2. Bonnie Brook in Waukegan has some of the best greens not only in Chicagoland but in Northern Illinois

  3. I played settlers hill today and not only are these greens lightning fast but there are no flat putts and if you not on your game it’s easy to roll off the green for a 3 or 4 putt.

  4. I read the comments about Macray’s greens and agree that are tough to the point of being unfair. To these courses, I would add Ravisloe (a Donald Ross gem that can be hard to putt when speeded up), Old Oak (like right now when the course is fast and firm), and Schaumburg. And I wonder why Cog Hill’s No. 4 course is never at the top of this list?

  5. Toughest greens in Chicagoland are Mt Prospect… Crazy slopes on smallish greens means you have to be in the right place to have a chance

  6. Big run, because they are all weeds and ball marks

  7. I would second the comments of Makray. This year the greens were borderline unplayable. Concrete hard and fast with pins placed on slopes made for many unhappy golfers.

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