Twenty years ago, Jim Furyk claimed his only major championship victory by winning the U.S. Open on the North Course at Olympia Fields.
Only four players finished under par that week, as the USGA forced Olympia Fields to lengthen its North Course prior to the 2003 U.S. Open.
Those changes have paid dividends for the Chicago-area club, as the USGA returned to the North Course for the 2015 U.S. Amateur, won by Bryson DeChambeau.
Since then, the PGA Tour picked Olympia Fields to host the 2020 BMW Championship, the penultimate event in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
That week, Jon Rahm defeated Dustin Johnson in a thrilling playoff, as both players finished at 4-under for the championship. Similar to the 2003 U.S. Open, only five players finished under par during the 2020 edition of the BMW.
Now the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup standings will tee it up at Olympia Fields, hoping to secure a spot in next week’s Tour Championship.
The North Course is a challenging, major championship-caliber layout that will surely test the world’s best players.
So let’s look at four critical holes that will help decide the 2023 BMW Championship:
Hole 1 – Par 5, 626 Yards
Nicknamed ‘Railroad,’ the Chicago Commuter Rail runs parallel to the opening hole on the North Course.
The first is one of the easier holes on the course, as the prevailing southerly wind is most often at the players’ backs. Most of the field should be able to get home in two shots, although the wet conditions this week may prevent many from doing so.
Three bunkers guard the landing area, with one sitting left of the fairway and the two others sitting to the right. Anyone that finds the sand off the tee will be forced to lay up.
From there, players will have a straight view into the green, which is guarded by two front bunkers.
Like most greens at Olympia Fields, the putting surface at the first slopes from back to front, so keeping the ball below the hole is imperative.
Considering the difficulty of this course, players will look to begin their rounds with a birdie, or else they will lose a shot, or more, to the rest of the field.
Hole 8 – Par 3, 251 Yards
An absolute behemoth of a par-3, the 8th hole at Olympia Fields not only measures over 250 yards, but also plays uphill. It typically plays into the wind too.
Four bunkers protect the front side of this putting surface, catching anything that comes up short or any shot caught up in the wind.
A shortly-mown area behind the green will collect any shot that goes long. Any player that misses there will have a tough time getting up and down, thanks to the green’s many undulations.
A par is a terrific score here. Anybody that makes four threes this week will be more than satisfied.
Hole 15 – Par 5, 606 Yards
The second of two par-5s, the 15th hole plays much more difficult than the first. Players will find that the 15th does not yield many birdies, unlike most par-5s on the PGA Tour.
This hole is a sharp dogleg right, with trees and woods running down the right side.
The fairway also slopes in that direction, making it difficult to find.
If players want to try and get home in two, they have to put their tee shots on the left side of the fairway. Should they miss too far right, trees will impede their shots.
Of course, Tiger Woods hit it right of this fairway at the 2003 U.S. Open. He ended up pulling off one of the most ridiculous shots of his career as he sliced a three-wood around the corner and onto the green.
Nevertheless, if players miss too far left, two bunkers 300 yards from the tee will catch any pulled tee shot. If anyone finds those, a lay-up will follow.
If players decide to lay up—most of the field will likely do so—they must avoid the bunker on the right that sits 120 yards short of the green.
The putting surface is well guarded, with three bunkers sitting to the right of the green. Should the pin be on the right side, these sand traps are absolute no-go’s. Another bunker sits short and left of the green.
Like most others at Olympia Fields, the green slopes from back to front.
The 15th hole at Olympia Fields is one of the best par-5s in the country, and it will serve as perhaps the most critical hole down the stretch on Sunday. Players can make a birdie, but a bogey could be made just as easily.
Hole 18 – Par 4, 510 Yards
Unsurprisingly, the North Course at Olympia Fields has a terrific closing hole. It is long and challenging, and anyone that makes par here will walk away satisfied.
A draw is required off the tee on this dogleg left par-4. Like the 15th, being on the left side of the fairway is the favored position, as it completely takes the pond short and right of this green out of play.
Should players miss right, they may find the bunker on the corner of the fairway. Moreover, the large pond comes into the sightline of those playing from the right side, which never fails to intimidate.
Four bunkers guard this green that slopes severely from back to front. Two bunkers on the left and the front right bunker will snatch any mishit that comes up short. The fourth bunker sits to the right of the green and must be avoided at all costs.
The green also has a massive ridge stemming off that right bunker. Should the pin be on that right side, watch out for plenty of missed putts, as that ridge will fool many players.
Players need to be below the hole here, or else a three-putt is totally in play.