Embraces Amateur Game
You have to tip your cap to the leadership and membership of Olympia Fields
Country Club, south of downtown Chicago.
For in a time of transition for many private
clubs in America, Olympia Fields is giving
up its courses in order to host amateur
The club was recently selected to host
the 2015 U.S. Amateur. And, unlike recent
venues that have hosted the Amateur
(Chambers Bay, Erin Hills, Merion, etc.),
this comes with no guarantee that a U.S.
Open is soon headed its way. And that is
fine with Olympia Fields.
There remains some lingering angst
about the 2003 Open on the North Course
at Olympia Fields. Someone not named Tiger Woods won, disappointing more than a
few. The weather didn’t cooperate, causing
the course to play completely differently
(i.e. easier) than intended. And then there
was the small problem of “fees” required
by Chicago politicians.
It was this and more that caused the
USGA to effectively abandon Chicago as a
men’s Open host for the foreseeable fu-
ture. Despite pleas from Cog Hill, the next
midwestern Open will be played in south-
ern Wisconsin, which is not to be confused
with suburban Chicago. Erin Hills, host of
next summer’s U.S. Amateur, will host the
2017 Open. All of this does not concern the
membership of Olympia Fields. They think
it was a fine national championship, and
they make no apologies. The club is having
too much fun hosting amateur tourna-
ments to worry about what the blogo-
sphere thinks about 2003.
These tournaments can also irritate
the membership by inconveniencing them,
particularly in a short golf season. It helps
that Olympia Fields has 36 holes, so that
when some of the smaller amateur events
are played, there are still 18 holes open
for member play. But in the case of the
Amateur, the USGA will be around all
summer, phasing in tournament conditions. Handicaps are sure to rise, and not
everyone will enjoy USGA-style rough.
But this club presses on. This spirit
goes back to its founding in 1915. The
club’s first president was Amos Alonzo
Stagg, an icon of amateur sport who
served on the U.S. Olympic Committee.
This spirit of amateurism continues today.
To forgo revenue during these econom-
ic times is admirable. But it may be a very
shrewd longer term move. Private clubs
are under pressure, due to the economy
as well as changing social priorities and
behavior. The American golf marketplace
will continue to see the number of pri-
vate clubs decline in the years ahead. In
buttressing its global prestige by hosting
important amateur events, Olympia Fields
may well be writing its own insurance
policy. People are likely to gravitate to
more prestigious private clubs rather than
just the ordinary place around the corner.