A small design firm in Melbourne, Australia, has won the contract to fully redesign Medinah Country Club’s famed No. 3 course outside Chicago – after making their entire pitch remotely via Zoom.
The company – OCM, which stands for Ogilvy, Cocking and Mead and boasts 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy as one its principals – was informed late last year that it had won the job, despite being in COVID lockdown and not actually visiting Medinah during the tender process.
Relying on Ogilvy’s knowledge of the course – he played the 2006 PGA Championship there months after winning his only major – and extraordinary forensic research from partners Ashley Mead and Mike Cocking, the team, by all accounts, made a strong initial impression. Among the OCM discoveries was rare aerial footage of the course from the 1930s as well as evidence that A.W. Tillinghast, the great American architect who was responsible for Winged Foot and Baltusrol (among many others), might have influenced some early decisions at Medinah.
But the clincher came when Medinah’s powers-that-be travelled to Shady Oaks Country Club in Texas – where OCM had recently conducted a redesign of both the Little Nine and the main layout – and sought feedback from Ben Hogan’s old club about the experience with the boutique Australian firm. Such was the positive commentary about OCM’s work, the head of the Medinah sub-committee rang Cocking shortly after to deliver the good news.
“It’s an enormous honour – I can’t think of an Australian firm that has won a project like this at such an established, high-end country club in the US,” Cocking told GGP.
He said the OCM team had to be resourceful to overcome the significant obstacle of being based in Australia, while both countries were in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, and having to conduct all their interviews and presentations via Zoom.
They were able to source early aerial footage of the course which overlaid on top of pictures of the existing layout, just to show the Medinah committee how much the course had changed over the past 90 years.
… Medinah’s committee was unhappy with the way their course was plundered by the players during the BMW Championship in the 2019 PGA Tour playoffs.
All that information, combined with advanced Google Earth searches, archival research and Ogilvy’s clear recollections of the course, gave the OCM outfit all the data it needed to present a comprehensive pitch.
“We presented a broad vision for the course which struck a chord with them,” Cocking said. “And to put it all together from the other side of the world, I think that really blew them away.”
It is believed that Medinah’s committee was unhappy with the way their course was plundered by the players during the BMW Championship in the 2019 PGA Tour playoffs. Justin Thomas won with a score of 25-under par, while Patrick Cantlay (-22) and Hideki Matsuyama (-20) also gorged on the birdie-fest in conditions that were soft and conducive to good scoring. Despite Medinah’s formidable length, which can stretch to 7,613 yards, the pros made a mess of the place, with an average score for the week of 69.92.
The feeling among the club committee was, enough is enough. It was time to restore Medinah to its rightful place among the country’s elite courses. Medinah had been ranked as high as No.10 in Golf Digest’s top 100 US courses. But that was in 1990. By 2019, it had slipped all the way down to No. 53 despite hosting five majors and the 2012 Ryder Cup.
With the club being awarded the 2026 Presidents Cup, there was reason to move swiftly to get a quality redesign drawn up. Ogilvy, who has always had a keen interest in architecture, said his experience playing Medinah at the PGA Championship 14 years ago gave his colleagues some important insights.
The affable major champion remembers the course well because it reminded him in many ways of his hometown. “Medinah is a cool place – it’s a bit like an Australian club in that they have lots of members,” Ogilvy told GGP. “It’s a pretty site with beautiful old oak trees. And Chicago feels to me a bit like Melbourne: a city with a great golf culture and a great history.”
The former world No. 3 was at the peak of his powers then and, as PGA Championship tradition dictates, was grouped over the first 36 holes with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, then the reigning British Open and Masters champions.
Ogilvy more than held his own with the game’s two superstars, being right in the mix after three rounds, before falling away on the final day to finish in ninth place.
The No. 3 Course that week was, until that point, the longest in major championship history. Unsurprisingly, Woods won.
“Using my memories of the course, satellite images, an advanced version of Google Earth where you can actually do measurements – and then internet archives – we were able to piece together every relevant bit of information,” Ogilvy said. “Michael and Ashley did an unbelievable job in pulling it all together.”
So now, subject to a vote of the full membership, the hard work begins with the construction phase. And when it’s all done, Medinah members can expect to see quite a different course.
The fairways will be wider, greens will be bunkered in such a way as to favour shots from a certain part of the fairway, areas around the greens will be mown shorter, and some of the original bunker designs will be reinstated.
Then the three par-3s – the second, 13th and 17th, which all require a long carry over water – are likely to be changed to make them less daunting to the mid-handicapper: “We’d like to improve the variety there,” says Cocking.
“Hopefully what we end up with is a more interesting, thought-provoking golf course. Nirvana for golf course architects is a layout that’s fun and interesting but still very challenging for the better player – that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Top: Geoff Ogilvy. Photo: Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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