If you want to know the secret to the success of Cog Hill, start with the garbage. That's where Frank Jemsek begins.
A warm September morning found Jemsek trolling through the parking lot at 7 a.m. The tall, angular figure stooped over every few seconds to retrieve a piece of paper, a stray scorecard, an empty can, and anything else that dared to litter the concrete.
Once when Frank was a teenager, Joe, who died in 2002, saw him picking up trash in the parking lot. Joe rushed to his son.
"He was as excited as I ever saw him," Frank said. "He knew that's what he wanted me to do."
It is attention to the little things, the tiniest details that make big things happen at Cog Hill. It has enabled this year to be a special one for the four-course facility in Lemont.
Joe Jemsek's crown jewel, the No. 4 course, turns the big 4-0. In 1964, the classically nicknamed, "Dubsdread," opened to golfers, transforming public golf in Chicago.
For the first time, regular players, the men and women who change their shoes sitting on the trunk of their cars, had a chance to experience a country club caliber layout. Actually, only a handful of country club courses in the area rate higher than the course, the home of the Western Open.
Joe's inspiration came from the 1949 U.S. Open at Medinah, according to Frank.
"He had so many customers tell my dad that they would like to play Medinah No. 3," Frank said. "He knew that less than 10 percent of them would ever get to play a course like that. That's when he got it in his mind to build a quality public course. It was his dream."
It seemed like pure folly back then. The idea of building a hard course for the public player wasn't considered good business sense. Most of the public courses in that era hardly had any sand traps.
"There was a feeling that public golfers wouldn't appreciate (a difficult course) and wouldn't play it," Frank said.
Joe, though, defied convention. Already the owner of St. Andrews in West Chicago, Joe purchased the Lemont facility from the Coghill family in 1951. Joe always loved the rolling terrain that was in stark contrast to the flatness of the region.
Cog Hill had only two courses. Jemsek quickly went to work building his dream course. But initially it wasn't a dream come true. Joe saw his layout wasn't a championship quality course. Several of those holes could be found on No. 1 and 3, also good layouts.
Joe kept trying and eventually contacted architects Dick Wilson and Joe Lee. He purchased more land, providing the designers with the type of topography needed to make No. 4 unique.
Eventually, Joe saw his vision come alive. In 1964, public golfers were introduced to a course they hadn't seen before.
It was hard, challenging, had sand traps and was well manicured. In short, a championship course.
The layout is a complete test. It starts with dogleg par 4 first hole. The front 9 features No. 4, a short but taxing par 4 into an uphill green. No. 6 is a difficult par 3 with several pin locations on a long green. The ninth hole winds it way through the trees for a taxing par 5.
The back 9 features No. 12, a downhill par 3 surrounded by traps. No. 13 is a menacing par 4 that has a gully in front of the green. The 16th is Cog Hill's picture hole with a creek running down the side of the fairway. And then there's finale. The 18th hole is a long par 4 that features an intimidating lake that brings down even the best golfers.
It is the kind of layout that routinely sees Cog Hill ranked among the top courses in the country.
A dream come true
Cog Hill isn't a country club, but Joe Jemsek and his family have always worked to make the public player feel special
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