Smyers Restoring Olympia Fields' South Course

Olympia Fields Country Club's North Course has hosted many major championships over the last 85 years. Now the South Course, which has been ranked nearly as high among Illinois' illustrious golf courses, is going to receive a major restoration which course architect Steve Smyers said "will make it competitive for the next 40 years."

"We have a strong group of players because the North Course attracts a good caliber of golfer," said Grounds Committee Chairman Mike Drew, "but a lesser-known asset of the club is our hidden jewel the South Course."

"We want to celebrate what was originally here and bring it up to modern standards," added club manager Russell Ruscigno of the Tom Bendelow-designed track, which was built shortly after the club was formed in 1915.

Smyers, who recently rebuilt Isleworth Country Club, the home of Tiger Woods and a dozen other PGA Tour players in Windemere, Fla., said he intends to restore, yet modernize, the South Course, reintroducing its original style and strategy, which had been lost over the years and through a couple of renovations decades ago. Irrigation and drainage will also be improved.

"Its a very good golf course," he said. "We are rereading the land, restoring shot values and the historical landing areas, which means moving the tees back. The course has lost its original strategy. We will restore it while adding about 500 yards to push the championship-tee distance over 7,200 yards."

Drew said that while all of the attention was given to the North Course over the years, maintenance and upgrading of the South Course suffered. Greens have changed from their original shape, while bunkers have deteriorated, lost their style and were even inexplicably added along the top of a ridge.

"Were very excited about the plans," Drew said. "We believe the changes will result in a top-100 course with enhanced playability for the majority of our members."

Smyers, Drew said, was engaged "because of his sensitivity to the historic nature of the course, and, certainly, his enthusiasm. He saw the property as a tremendous, varied topography, with tree-lined fairways and Butterfield Creek running through the whole course . . . His vision for the entire property has the membership inspired."

Smyers said permitting is underway and he hopes construction will begin in late July or early August.

Olympia Fields became the largest private country club in America by the 1920s, boasting the North and South courses and two others. Financial troubles caused by World War II led to two courses being sold for residential development. At that point three holes from one of the sold courses were implemented into the South Course's design. Those holes were designed by the talented architect Willie Watson, and Smyers foresees no problem in maintaining continuity of design for the revamped South Course.

Smyers has designed three courses that are listed among the top-100 modern layouts in America: Wolf Run Golf Club in Zionsville, Ind., Old Memorial in Tampa, Fla., and Southern Dunes Golf & Country Club in Haines City, Fla. Steve Smyers Golf Design is located at 2622 W. Memorial Blvd., Lakeland, FL 33815; telephone (863) 683-6100.