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Pioneering Golf Development: Medinah Country Club Unveils “Golf for Life” Program

Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill., has a rich history, three world-renowned golf courses, and is notable for, among other things, hosting five major championships and the 2013 Ryder Cup. It’s no surprise then, that the mention of Medinah invokes images of top golfers competing at world-class golf tournaments. Medinah’s challenging golf and historic beauty has drawn golf legends, film and television stars, professional athletes and politicians from all over the globe. It is an honor to play at Medinah, but for many, the prospect of teeing off is daunting.

However, the club is undergoing a new initiative to make the game more accessible. In concert with the completed restoration of Course No. 2, Medinah Country Club is unveiling a pioneering concept that will place the club at the forefront in golf development programs for players of all levels while expanding its already significant junior golf initiatives.

Golf for Life: Growing the Game

Robert Sereci, CCM, Medinah’s GM/COO, notes, “The program is a joint effort to grow the game in a meaningful way, and to engender a love of the game.” He says, “Golf for Life is the brainchild of Medinah’s Director of Golf, Marty DeAngelo, who has researched the technical aspects of the program and put all his passion into developing a system that will grow the game and enhance the experience for golfers of all skill levels, especially those who are developing their game.”

Golf for Life is a program designed to benefit all golfers, from novice to low-handicap, by giving golfers specific targets to work toward, while allowing them to improve within the confines of their skill sets. In this new program, DeAngelo has included elements from the USGA and PGA of America’s “Tee it Forward” concept, along with ideas from the Longleaf system, which is a program that uses distance to determine from which tees a golfer should play. Medinah’s Course No. 2 already had a reputation as being family-friendly, and now, with its modified restoration project completed, the club decided to unveil DeAngelo’s innovative new program on this beloved course.

Marrying Tradition with Innovation: Restoring Course No. 2

Like the club’s other two courses, No. 2 was originally designed by Tom Bendelow. But whereas No. 1 and No. 3 were significantly modernized and updated (No. 1 renovated by Tom Doak, No. 3 by Rees Jones), No. 2, which opened in 1925, has been restored as much as possible to its original design and its most significant features improved to remain relevant to the game as it’s played today.

Leading the restoration, Medinah’s Director of Golf Operations, Curtis Tyrrell; Golf Course Architect Rees Jones; and his associate, Steve Weisser, used 80-year-old aerial photographs as their ultimate guide to restoring greens complexes and bunkers to their original sizes, shapes and locations. They studied every hole for its playability and considered which features were critical to its restoration and whether any new features would enhance the original intent of the hole and the course overall. But just as important was addressing how short the course could play—with multiple tees to suit different kinds of players—and the proper landing zones, widths, placement of fairway bunkers, approach angles to greens, receptiveness of greens, and the placement of greenside hazards and runoffs to fit each course variation. The team realized that Bendelow was decades ahead of them, having already provided a clever template for appealing to golfers of all types.

Bendelow’s forward-thinking design made Medinah’s plan to implement its pioneering program one that will enable golfers of varied skills and handicaps to compete on a more level playing field.

The Seven Tees

As the restoration team worked toward developing the Golf for Life program, the renovation design plans included an unusual feature: seven new tees to accommodate every different skill level in Medinah’s golfing community. The cost to install this unique feature was negligible.  

Each of the new seven tees is designated by a color and corresponds to a skill group. This Golf for Life system sorts golfers based on criteria including, but not limited to, handicaps, age, gender and level of interest. Essentially, the course is customized to different levels of play.

Six of the seven “courses” will be long enough to have individual slope/course ratings. Scorecards provide a target score that will challenge participants to achieve their goals. The seven tees will be used in special events with new and exciting formats to be tested.

To start, Medinah’s golfers will be segmented into four groups correlated to the seven sets of tees, which are now designated, longest to shortest, by color: Gold, Silver, White, Green, Yellow, Blue and Orange.

Gold/Silver: Pro/scratch, or highly accomplished golfer with years of experience and an established handicap index between plus numbers and the low teens. They likely play at least two rounds per week.

White/Green: Appropriate for most of the club’s golfers, including most seniors and women, who love the game and play often. Handicaps range from the mid-teens to high 20s. These golfers take occasional lessons, sometimes practice, but mostly just like to play as often as possible.

Yellow/Blue: The mid-20s and higher handicappers, plus beginning golfers of three types: Someone who likes the game and has played a few rounds; a young beginner who has recently started playing; a younger golfer who is getting stronger and/or more skillful while growing. This category also includes the casual golfer who enjoys the game but doesn’t want to ruin the experience by making it competitive, as well as those golfers who prefer playing nine or fewer holes.

Orange: The novice or true beginner who has never played; is just getting started; or a youngster who plays just a few times in the summer.

A New Way Forward

Initially, Medinah’s professional staff and teaching professionals will work with each golfer to assign a tee color at which to begin and will recommend steps golfers can take to improve their game and advance to the next color.

There are various usage options for each of the four groups from all seven sets of tees. The USGA assisted Medinah in developing the following charts (subject to updates for accuracy as the program is implemented) to help categorize players into the program:


Handicap Tee Total Distance (Driver)
5 & Below Gold 250+
6-­10 Silver 225
11-­15 White 200
16-­20 Green 175
21-­25 Yellow 150
26-­30 Blue 100
30+ Orange 75


Handicap Tee Total Distance (Driver)
Pro Gold 225+
0-­5 Silver 200
6-­11 White 175
12-­21 Green 150
22-­30 Yellow 125
31-­39 Blue 100
40+ Orange 75

How Will Medinah Golfers Benefit from the Golf for Life Program?

General Manager/COO Robert Sereci, CCM, is confident that there are many benefits to the Golf for Life program, starting with the opportunity for each member to meet with the golf professional staff, get evaluated, and begin a structured system for improvement. He outlines other benefits to the club:

      Multiple tees allow creating competitive events and formats to satisfy any golfer and any time table.

      Forward tees make for a faster round when time is tight.

      The teaching staff will offer “on course” instruction regardless of skill level.

      Beginning golfers receive positive stimulus from even small improvement.

      It’s easy to recognize improvement at every level.

      By managing the tee sheet, social networks can be created that group similar golfers together, making the experience less stressful and more enjoyable.

The first step in the process, Sereci notes, is educating Medinah’s members about the program. As it is rolled out this golf season and Medinah’s golfing members begin enjoying the benefits, they will likely make adjustments and tweak certain details. “We anticipate that this unique brand of, for lack of a better term, course customization will prove to be successful. We will then look forward to encouraging other clubs to look at implementing similar programs. It’s Medinah’s way to encourage a love of the game and ensure that an enjoyable golf experience is accessible to all of our members and their guests, no matter their level of play.”

Club Trends Spring 2017