Best in State
The best golf courses in Illinois
Golf in Illinois is famously top heavy. Of the 30 courses in this year's Best in State ranking, 28 are in or near the Greater Chicago area. The quality of golf is so deep that the seventh-best course in Chicagoland, Old Elm, is ranked among the 200 best courses in America.
The city's 11th best course, Beverly, would be the highest scoring course in metropolises like Houston, San Diego, Kansas City and Miami. You can't drive more than a mile or two without bumping into a great course. And the two courses not located up state?
Those would be fourth-ranked Canyata, an exclusive 100 Greatest invite-only club in east-central Illinois, and TPC Deere Run in the Quad Cities on the Iowa border.
Below you'll find our 2023-'24 ranking of the Best Golf Courses in Illinois.
We urge you to click through to each individual course page for bonus photography, drone footage and reviews from our course panelists. Plus, you can now leave your own ratings on the courses you’ve played … to make your case why your favorite should be ranked higher.
(Parentheses indicate the course's previous ranking.)
Lake Bluff, IL
Oak Brook, IL
Medinah No. 3 is Exhibit A for the notion that great golf courses aren’t created, but evolve. A major tournament site since 1949, it has undergone a succession of remodelings and has improved with every session. Its par-3 17th is the most prominent example. It was shifted to a new location in 1986, to precede a whole new 18th hole. (The original 17th is now the 13th.) Ten years later, the 17th green was moved away from a lakefront to a spot atop a hill, but after Tiger Woods’ first (of two) PGA Championship victories on the course, the green was moved back down to water’s edge, where it remains today. Time will tell if that trend continues: after falling from No. 11 in the rankings in 2007 to its 2023-'24 position of 93, the No. 3 course will undergo a major revamping once again by the Australian firm of Ogilvy, Cocking and Mead in 2023 in preparation for the 2026 Presidents Cup.
Olympia Fields, IL
Sugar Grove, IL
Highland Park, IL
Lake Forest, IL
Olympia Fields, IL
Highland Park, IL
The John Deere Classic began in 1971 as the Quad Cities Open (named for the four cities—Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island and Moline—that border the Iowa and Illinois sides of the Mississippi River, respectively). It moved to its current home, TPC Deere Run, in 2000, a layout designed at that time by former PGA Tour player D.A. Weibring and design partner Steve Wolfard. The architecture is befitting of a course that came off the desk of a tour pro and was calibrated to host a professional event: Though the strength of the field is typically diluted given the tournament’s traditional place on the schedule the week before the Open Championship, it’s a venue the players who participate in the John Deere Classic love.The routing constantly switches directions as it winds through a wooded property near Rock River, and most holes have some degree of left-to-right or right-to-left movement caused by doglegs and bunkers. At just over 7,200 yards and yielding winning scores around 20-under, it’s an attractive test for shorter players who like to work the ball as well as for those in dire need of seeing plenty of birdies on their card.
From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
If difficulty was the sole criterion used to rate golf courses, Bull Valley Golf Club in Woodstock, Ill. would have become a household name a long time ago. It’s that tough. Even for the big boys.
It’s not that long, relatively speaking, but it has several holes that force big hitters to leave driver in the bag, which big hitters hate. It also has lots of trees in annoying positions and water hazards on nearly every other hole, as well as greens with contours that can sweep missed putts down to far corner pockets.
Bull Valley was founded in the mid-1980s by prominent Chicago landscape architect Harry Vignocchi, who wanted it tough. That was back in golf's age of unreason, when every owner wanted a man-sized course that would make golfers squeal.
Landmark Land probably started that mania in 1986 when it had Pete Dye conjure up the original PGA West in California. That was followed closely by Jack Nicklaus and his “owner-made-me-do-it” Bear at Grand Traverse Village in Michigan. Heck, even Tom Fazio was making them hard back then. His Hallbrook Country Club near Kansas City, built in 1987, remains the toughest track he’s ever devised.
In 1985, Vignocchi discovered a failed dairy farm outside the Chicago suburb of Woodstock, a chunk of land full of rocks, ravines, pines and oaks that held golfing promise and, more importantly to his pocketbook, glacial moraines that offered potential elevated homesites. He spent two years working out a land plan, and with the help of his childhood friend Steve Sidari, who would become Bull Valley’s first pro, he routed 18 holes around his 187 home lots.
But Vignocchi figured nobody would travel 50 miles north of Chicago to live and play golf unless the course was “special,” meaning headline-grabbing hard, more nasty than even Butler National and Medinah No. 3, the Nitti and Capone of Chicago golf in those days.
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