Ryder Cup 2012: Medinah Country Club is rich in history

Kristen Anast

No stranger to historic golf tournaments, Medinah Country Club is prepared to impress the world as the host-site of the 2012 Ryder Cup.

The site of the 2012 Ryder Cup is as historic as the tournament itself. Medinah Country Club near Chicago, Illinois has shown it is not only a championship golf course, but also a prime location for hosting the biggest tournaments in professional golf.

Founded in 1924 by the Medinah Shriners, the club quickly grew in popularity and had more than 1,500 golfing and social members by 1930. The Great Depression threatened membership numbers, however, and prompted the club to waive initiation fees and lower membership dues in order to stay vibrant. In addition, Medinah's board of directors made a decision that would impact its history for decades: to begin hosting professional golf tournaments.

The Tom Bendelow-designed Course No. 3 at Medinah was completed in 1928 and was originally reserved for the lady members. This layout only lasted for three years before a major layout reconstruction that spanned most of the early 1930s. Following the redesign, the course was chosen as the site for upcoming professional tournaments due to its rolling hills, tight driving areas and punitive water hazards.

The first tournament of note to be held on Course 3 at Medinah was the 1939 Western Open. Over 11,000 spectators filled the tournament galleries to witness Byron Nelson win the event while news correspondents sent more than 150,000 words over the Western Union wires.

The success of the event paved the way for more amateur and professional tournaments to be held at Medinah, including the 1949 U.S. Open and two additional Western Opens in 1962 and 1966.

The U.S. Open returned to Medinah in 1975 where Lou Graham's score of 287 (+3) was enough for a two-shot victory in a playoff against John Mahaffey, and again in 1990 where Hale Irwin held off Mike Donald to capture his third major championship.

It wasn't until nine years later that Medinah truly entered the modern era, however, as Tiger Woods won his first PGA Championship in 1999. Woods' one-shot victory over a youthful Sergio Garcia would be a turning point for both players: Woods with his second major victory and Garcia as a fan favorite following a famous "blind shot" from behind a tree in his final round. Woods would return to Medinah in 2006 to capture another PGA Championship title, this time over Shaun Micheel by four strokes.

In 2002, Medinah's Course No. 3 would undergo its final redesign. Led by world-renowned golf architect Rees Jones, the championship course was overhauled and stretched to more than 7,400 yards, making it a true test for the world's best players and ahead of technology advancements in the game.

This week the biggest challenge players will face will be the toll a dry Chicago summer has taken on Medinah's grounds. Greenskeepers and tournament officials hope the recent brush of Chicago rainstorms will be enough to soften the course and counteract the drought-like conditions the Midwest suffered earlier in the year.

Players will be treated to pleasant skies come tournament time as temperatures are projected to be in the low-70s. This will likely benefit both teams during the week as American Captain Davis Love III hopes to set up the course in a scorable yet fair manner. Holes such as the newly-renovated drivable par-4 no. 15 could be a turning point in this week's matches, especially if conditions remain soft and greens remain accessible.

Rees Jones oversaw the renovation of no. 15, stating that he wanted it to be more risk-reward.

"I felt that the 15th was a hole where the risk-reward challenge could be strengthened," Jones said. "I felt a pond adjacent to the 15th green would give it plenty [of the risk-reward element], in a fashion similar to the 12th hole. It's now an important part of the round and extends one of the great finishing tests in golf."

This set-up will obviously favor the American team as it is saturated with long-hitters like Woods, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and others. The European team, however, will focus more on their deadly accuracy from players like Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy.

By any measure, Medinah Country Club is prepared and excited to serve as host of this year's contest. Hosting the 2012 Ryder Cup will unquestionably be another crowning achievement for a club that has impacted professional golf history for more than 88 years.

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