Historic hole just part of Pottawatomie's charm
Mention the name Robert Trent Jones Sr. and many golfers immediately know who you are talking about.
The world famous architect has designed courses in 45 states and 35 countries, including Spyglass Hill in California; Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio; Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota; Point O' Woods in Benton Harbor, Michigan; and, obviously, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
But did you know Jones' first island green is found right here in Illinois?
Jones brilliantly used the Fox River in St. Charles to create Pottawatomie Golf Course in 1939 and created an island green on the 345-yard par-4 third hole.
Jones was hired by the St. Charles Park District in 1936 after much of the land was donated by the Lester J. Norris Family. Opening-day fees were 25 cents and replays were 15 cents.
Pottawatomie has many tenets of a Jones design -- tight fairways, well-placed bunkers and challenging greens. It plays just 3,007 yards from the back tees, but if you want to score you've got to think from opening tee shot to the final approach.
"Olympia Fields, Dubsdread, Butler National -- those are golf courses where the problem is in front of you," said course manager and club pro Ron Skubisz. "If you can't get the ball on the green, you don't want to miss side to side or long. So the smart play is always to approach from the front."
In other words, if your 160-yard shot is dicey it's OK to hit it 140, then try to get up and down.
"Then you have the opening to hit the shots," Skubisz said.
While the entire course is a significant challenge, No. 3 is a true knee-knocker. Even after a perfect drive many walk away with double bogey, triple bogey ... or worse.
"If you were able to take anybody and ask them to hit 90-100 yards they probably could do it 10 times out of 10 times," said Skubisz, who was general manager at St. Andrews in West Chicago for 23 years before coming to Pottawatomie in 2010. "Give them one chance on No. 3 and that same shot goes right out the window.
"Even in our city tournament -- when you had scratch players -- there were a lot of beads of sweat coming on those guys too."
The watery grave claimed one ball from our threesome, but I somehow managed to pure a 146-yard shot to the middle of the green. The key is taking an extra club and doing your best to forget about what's in front of you.
It's not always easy to find stellar, well-cared-for nine-hole tracks, but Pottawatomie impresses from beginning to end. And speaking of the beginning, don't just grab driver when strolling to the first or second tees. No. 1 is a meandering par 5 that takes a sharp right turn and features plenty of bunkers only 180-200 yards away. Going hybrid-hybrid-wedge is an excellent way to play it.
No. 2 is short, but extremely tight and features massive tress on both sides of the fairway.
There are truly no easy pars out here -- and that goes double for No. 9. The long, dogleg left finishing hole will test everyone's mettle and is Skubisz's second-favorite hole.
"If you're 150 away, do you have what it takes to hit a ball high and soft, but only into the middle third of a green?" he said. "If you hit it to the right third, it's going to roll to the right; if you hit it to the left third, it's going to roll to the left. You have to be able to hit that shot dead straight to the center portion of the green.
"It's unyielding. It will not give you a break if you mishit the shot. That's the sign of a great golf hole. ... It's a Masters-level shot."
Regular players of courses like St. Andrews, Prairie Landing, Tanna Farms, Settler's Hill and Highlands of Elgin will definitely love Pottawatomie.
• Just like the first two nine-hole courses we featured (Downers Grove and Cantigny Youth Links), Pottawatomie understands the importance of growing the game at the junior level. Resident kids under 18 can buy season passes for $125; nonresidents are $175.
Location: 845 N. Second Ave., St. Charles; Opened: 1939
Par: 35 (37 from yellow tees)
Yardage: 3,007 from black; 2,746 from white; 2,517 from yellow
Rates: Monday-Friday, $18; Weekend and holidays, $20; twilight, $15 (season passes also available
Punch cards: $90 for 6 rounds
Juniors: Season pass is $125 (residents) or $175 (nonresidents)
Course tour:No. 1, par 5: 489/476/411: This is the only par-5, but many players would be well advised to leave their driver in the bag because you only need 170-180 off the tee. Hit that club again and you'll likely need just a short iron to get on in regulation.
No. 2, par 4: 331/319/276. Just like the opening hole accuracy is key here due to large trees on both sides of the fairway.
No. 3, par 4: 345/330/326. The course's signature hole, this was the first island green constructed by world renown architect Robert Trent Jones Sr.
No. 4, par 3: 154/122/112. Club pro Ron Skubisz's advice is to take an extra club because it's imperative to fly the menacing front greenside bunker.
No. 5, par 4: 378/294/269. Now it's time to grip it and rip it on this long, wide open hole. Just be wary of OB on the left.
No. 6, par 4: 368/333/321. A straightaway hole with a large green complex that gives you a chance for birdie.
No. 7, par 3: 197/173/154. A big-shouldered par 3 that is going to require a lot of club. Green is well protected by two bunkers. Average players would be well advised to lay up, chip on and try to make par that way.
No. 8, par 4: 325/313/305. Dogleg left has plenty of trouble around a tricky green complex. Missing left, right or long can lead to big scores.
No. 9, par 4: 420/386/343. Very long finishing hole is the toughest on the course. It doglegs left and features an intimidating approach shot to an elevated green. Bunkers on the right can cause big headaches for average players. Bogey isn't a bad way to finish.