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Where to play in Chicago when you're not watching the U.S. Open

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

CHICAGO - Did you know Al Capone played golf? Legend has it he loved the game and played it often, albeit with an entourage of bodyguards. Cubs great, Ernie Banks, also was stricken with the golf disease. He used to sneak in nine holes at a course just a few blocks from Wrigley Field only a couple of hours before the first pitch. And "Da Coach," Mike Ditka, is as passionate about golf as he was about his days as the bombastic leader of the Super Bowl Bears. Playing 54 holes in a day is not out of the question for Ditka.

This should tell you something about the relationship between Chicago and the game of golf. And the fact that this year's U.S. Open is being played at Olympia Fields Country Club in the city's south suburbs, only fuels the fire in the belly of the city of broad shoulders.

Those of us who love this game, like the golf-crazed people of Chicago, know what a treat it is to be in the gallery of a U.S. Open. But golfers get a little antsy when they're just watching. They want to play!

If you're heading for Olympia Fields, gate pass and ticket in hand, don't forget to throw the sticks in the trunk. There are plenty of superb courses on which to knock it around and some are just a few miles from where Tiger, Phil, and Ernie will be striking it long and hard.

Odyssey Country Club

Curtis Strange was the design consultant for Odyssey Country Club in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park and he most definitely considered beauty and beast when he imaged this layout. The course measures more than 7,000 yards and is dotted with lakes, wildflowers, wetlands and gardens. The signature hole is a three-shotter with a sharp 90-degree dogleg that plays a bit downhill to an island green. Taking Odyssey on from the back tees gives you a nasty 73.1 rating and a 131 slope. But, at just 15 minutes away, it's also one of the closest public facilities to Olympia Fields Country Club.

The course can be played for $38 to $72, depending on the times. For more information, call (708) 429-7400.

Balmoral Woods

You like trees? You'll love Balmoral Woods. It is one of the more heavily tree-lined courses in the Chicago area and is just 20-minutes from Olympia Fields and 40-minutes from "The Loop." Balmoral is also hillier than most Illinois courses making its 6,700 yards and 128 slope an uphill, side-hill, downhill challenge.

The course can be played for $40 to $62, depending on the times. For more information, call (708) 672-7448.

Cantigny Golf and Tennis

What a stunning golf course this one is. It may be the prettiest and most secluded layout in all of northern Illinois sitting in the middle of the wooded estate of the former publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Colonel Robert R. McCormick made a pact in his will that this land would be used only for recreation and would be maintained through a foundation. His wishes have been honored and the facility, three nine-hole layouts, is a favorite for thousands of Chicago golfers. It's a bit of a drive from Olympia Fields, (about 50 minutes), but is worth every traffic headache.

Green Fee - $80-$95
The course can be played for $80 to $95, depending on the times. For more information, call (630) 668-3323.

Cog Hill

Cog Hill Country Club is where they play the PGA Tour's Western Open every year. The Dubsdread course is one of four public layouts at this facility in the suburb of Lemont and although it's the most challenging of the bunch, each one of the courses is very playable and well maintained. Cog Hill is not only one of the best overall public facilities in the Chicago area, it's also one of the best in the country.

Dubsdread can be played for $125 to $135, depending on the times. Courses No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 run $30 to $60. For more information, call (630) 257-5872.

Ruffled Feathers

Ruffled Feather is just down the street from Cog Hill in the suburb of Lemont about 40-minutes from Olympia Fields. Pete Dye and his son, P.B. are the masterminds behind the layout and that should tell you a lot about the character of this 18-hole design. It demands delicate shots and local knowledge to score well here, but it's also one of the best conditioned courses in Chicago's south suburbs. Be cautious with the quirky, short par-4s and the sometimes shag carpet rough.

The course can be played for $89 to $125, depending on the times. For more information, call (630) 257-1000.

Harborside International

This is Chicago's only premier golf course within the city limits. It sits next to Lake Calumet on the city's South Side and all 36 holes were built on a dump - yes, a real dump. It's an absolutely incredible environmental transformation of land by architects Tim and Dick Nugent. They turned the one-time sludge-filled landfill into a beautiful landscape and a primo facility with a great clubhouse and practice range. The courses, though, are obviously the centerpieces. The links-style Port and Starboard are tweaked, trimmed and touched-up to perfection.

The course can be played for $70 to $80, depending on the times. For more information, call (312) 782-7837.

The Glen Club

This would be your farthest trek from this year's U.S. Open home, (about an hour), but The Glen Club is not only Chicago's best public course, it is one of the nation's best new courses. So, you will not be disappointed after battling Chicago's highways to get there. Tom Fazio was the artist here and this may be his Picasso. It was built on the old grounds of the Glenview Naval Air Station in the city's north suburbs and the transformation is mind-boggling. The land was once flat and uninviting, but after Fazio brought in tons of dirt, thousands of trees and even built his own creek, the golf course was born. The Glen Club is also the new home of the Nationwide Tour's LaSalle Bank Open.

Green Fee - $110-$135
The course can be played for $110 to $135, depending on the times. For more information, call (847) 724-7272.

Kemper Lakes

Its name says a lot. There's plenty of water. But Kemper also has plenty of trees, rolling hills and slick greens. It is a traditional layout with one of the best finishes in Chicago golf. The 17th is a par-3 over water to a narrow green and the par-4 18th is a "bite off as much as you can chew" design that is nearly surrounded by water, tee to green. It'll take you about an hour to get to Kemper from this year's U.S. Open venue.

Green Fee - $135
The course can be played for $135. For more information, call (847)320-3450.

Windy City Sites

The Science and Industry Museum
5700 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois
(773) 684-1414

Shedd Aquarium
1200 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois
(312) 939-2438

Cubs/Wrigley Field
North Side
(800) 843-2827

White Sox/U.S. Cellular Field
South Side
(866) SOX-GAME

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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