MEDINAH, Ill. – Golf course architect Tom Doak will love to hear what the players said about his re-imagination of Medinah Country Club’s Course One on Monday.
“It’s a thinking golfer’s second-shot golf course,” said Beverly Country Club professional John Varner after a 2-under-par 69 in the first round of the 93rd Illinois PGA Championship. “I love it. It’s about hitting more shots on the ground than usual.”
“I found myself looking at the yardage book and the green contours,” said Matt Slowinski of Conway Farms following a 3-under-par 68 on the 6,873-yard adventure.
“It’s just so different, just the look of it,” Steve Orrick mused, thinking back to the original Tom Bendelow version, after a course record 4-under-par 67 earned him the first-round lead. “In some cases, if you’re off the green, you’re in better shape than if you’re on the green (above the hole).”
Orrick was in the right spot more often than not, scoring five birdies against a single bogey in his round in the heat of the afternoon. And he followed his only miscue, a bogey 4 on the par-3 seventh, with his longest birdie putt of the day, a 20-footer for a 3 on the par-4 eighth.
For Orrick, the round came at the best possible time.
“This year for me, I’ve played the least golf I’ve played in a while,” said Orrick, who represents the Country Club of Decatur. “The last month or so, I’ve been a little more confident playing. Today I was feeling real confident over the ball.”
The payoff doesn’t come until Wednesday in the 54-hole test, but Orrick’s been in this rodeo before. He won at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club three years ago, and was runner up to 11-time winner Mike Small both last year at Stonewall and in 2008, on that occasion on the Bendelow version of Course One.
Orrick’s 67 knocked Jim Billiter off the leader’s perch. Billiter, winner of this year’s Illinois PGA Match Play title, was the first player to finish, and his 68, buttressed by four birdies in the first six holes, held up as the lead for nearly six hours.
“I started leaking oil on the back nine,” Billiter said. “I honestly left three shots out there. But I’m genuinely happy where I’m at.”
Conversely, Curtis Malm of White Eagle Golf Club closed with a rush, an inward 4-under 31 that featured three straight birdies and four in a five-hole stretch on the back nine. Malm joined Billiter and Slowinski a heartbeat behind Orrick at 68, with Varner two back at 69. That fivesome comprised the under-par brigade.
Four more players, including Medinah teaching pro Travis Johns, were tied for sixth at par 71. Seven players are tied for 10th at 1-over 72, including Small, who headed for the range immediately after signing his card, and Biltmore Country Club assistant Katie Pius, the only female in the field of 133 starters.
The field averaged 77.26 strokes in the first round, between the 78.59 average of 2008 and 76.90 in 2011, the most recent two playings on Course One.