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Len Ziehm On Golf

Playoff loss to Lopez doesn’t cool Inbee Park’s enthusiasm for the Olympics

Not even these lights could keep the playoff for the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions going.


LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. — Already the youngest player to earn her place in the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, Korea’s Inbee Park – now 31 — hasn’t been anxious to get her seasons started. That changed this year, and for a good reason.

“I always started a little bit late, probably the end of February or early March,’’ said Park. “I’m starting early because it’s an important year, with the Olympics in the summer. There’s a lot of tournaments before the Olympics, and I just wanted to play courses I haven’t played before.’’

The Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club was the first, and Park played it well – except for one hole in Sunday’s playoff for the title in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. That’s the first event on the LPGA’s schedule.

Park, who has 19 PGA Tour victories, was in position for No. 20 to start 2020. She took a two-stroke lead into the final round, lost it briefly but wound up in a playoff with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez. Only the 211-yard par-3 eighteenth was used in the playoff.

On the third time around Park put her tee shot in the water, and her tournament was over. Hataoka and Lopez struggled through two more playoff holes before darkness halted play at 6:04 a.m. The playoff will resume at 8 a.m. on Monday.

“It’s a different experience,’’ said Lopez, “but I’m just happy to be able to have a chance for tomorrow.’’

She made it pay off, winning the title with a birdie putt on the seventh extra hole.

Hataoka, whose country will host the 2020 Olympics, had no problem with the stoppage in play on Sunday. “It was really tough to read the greens,’’ she said.

For Park is was a tough loss, but she wasn’t deflated.

“I played good golf this week, just not great today,’’ said Park. “I feel a lot of confidence after playing this week.’’

Japan’s Nassa Hataoka putts in the playoff with Gaby Lopez and Inbee Park looking on.


Park won the gold medal in 2016 in Brazil, when the sport returned to the Olympic Games. The other medalists – Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Shanshan Feng of China – bypassed the Tournament of Champions, an event that also included a celebrity division.

John Smoltz, one of the legendary pitchers in baseball history, defended his celebrity title without much of a problem, but the LPGA players were a much more competitive bunch. Park, Lopez and Hataoka were 13-under-par for the regulation 72 holes. Korean Mi Jung Hur charged in with an 8-under-par 63 and finished one stroke out of the playoffs, in a tie for fourth with Canadian Brooke Henderson. America’s best, Annie Park, finished with a 64 and wound up solo sixth.

Though Park was a five-shot winner in Brazil four years ago there’s no guarantee she will mount a title defense. She has to make the Korean team first, and last year she didn’t even win a tournament. Her Korean rivals, though, won 15 times in 2019. The U.S. was second in wins last year with just six.

“The U.S. men’s team is pretty tough but, in women’s golf, Korea has to be definitely the toughest team to make,’’ said Park. Sei Young Kim, paired with Park in the last group on Sunday, tied for seventh with American Lexi Thompson. Kim gave Korea three players in the top eight on Sunday.

Only four players per country can compete in the Olympics, which run July 24-Aug. 9 in Tokyo. The golf will be played at Kasumigaseki Country Club, which has hosted the Japan Open four times and most recently was the site of the Asian Amateur in 2010.

Only 26 LPGA players competed in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. The first full field event starts Thursday in Boca Raton, FL. It’s new $2 million event, called the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.

Seven didn’t turn out a lucky number for Small, Wu

This was a weird first tournament week of the season for two of Chicago’s most prominent golfers. Both Mike Small and Dylan Wu blew seven-stroke leads in their 2020 tournament debuts but still finished as runner-ups in their events.

Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach who owns 12 wins in the Illinois PGA Championship and four titles in the Illinois Open, didn’t compete much in 2019. There was a good reason for that. A shoulder injury that required extensive rehab limited his tournament play, but Small is on the comeback trail now.

This week he competed in the PGA Winter Series for the first time and opened 65-66 in the PGA’s Senior Stroke Play Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL. The hot start gave Small a seven-stroke lead in the 54-hole event for players from across the nation in the 50-59 age group.

The 76 he shot in Tuesday’s final round cost him the championship but was hardly deflating. Small finished a stroke behind New York teaching pro Frank Esposito.

“I just came down here to see how the shoulder was,’’ said Small. “I had no expectations and was thrilled to be 13-under and make eight birdies in the first two rounds. I showed some resiliency.’’

GAINEY’S DAY: Wu, a 23-year old former Northwestern star, was seven ahead after two rounds in the first tournament of the Korn Ferry Tour season but he couldn’t hold his lead in the opener of the PGA Tour’s alternate circuit.

After opening 67-66 Wu slumped to 76-72 in the final two rounds and wound up in a tie for second, four strokes behind champion Tommy Gainey in the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. It was Wu’s second runner-up finish on the Korn Ferry circuit, the first coming in the Lincoln Land Classic in Springfield last year.

Andy Pope of Glen Ellyn, back on the Korn Ferry Tour for the first time since 2012, tied for 44th in the season opener while the Korn Ferry’s other two Illinois players, Vince India and Nick Hardy, missed the 36-hole cut. They’ll be back in action quickly, as the second tournament – also in the Bahamas – tees off on Sunday.

CLOSINGS: Chicago’s local golf media contingent took a big hit this week when two long-time outlets announced their closings on the same day. Chicagoland Golf had published for 31 years as an in-season print publication, and The Scorecard on the Score was featured on WSCR Radio for 10. Both closed up shop in Monday and will be missed once the next season kicks in.

Chicagoland Golf was founded by the late Phil Kosin in 1989, and publisher Val Russell took it over following Kosin’s death in 2009. Russell directed the operation for 11 years. Ed Sherman and Steve Olken were co-hosts of The Scorecard, a popular weekend show throughout the local golf season.

HERE AND THERE: Kevin Buggy, a seven-time club champion at Park Ridge Country Club, is the new chairman of the Western Golf Assn. The 68th chairman in WGA history, Buggy succeeds Glen View’s Frank Morley.

Batavia-based Tour Edge has renewed its endorsement contracts with PGA Champions Tour stars Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Tom Petrovic and Duffy Waldorf.

Andy Micheli has left Cantigny as the Wheaton facility’s sales manager to become assistant general manager at Butler National in Oak Brook.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Myrtle Beach is going after golfers — from Alaska?!

THE `NEW’ INNISBROOK: All the rooms at the Innisbrook Resort near Tampa, FL., were remodeled in honor of the facility’s 50th anniversary. Here’s what they look like now, and they’ll be filled when the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship is held on Innisbrook’s Copperhead course from March 19-22. Innisbrook, which has 72 holes, has hosted a nationally-televised PGA Tour event for the past 30 years.

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship is already the world’s largest tournament with its annual entry number around 3,200, but that’s apparently not good enough.

When the event tees off for the 37th straight year on Aug. 31 tournament director Scott Tomasello is hoping for a change in the field. There hasn’t been a player participating – at least in recent years – from Alaska so “The Last Frontier Sweepstakes’’ has been created to entice Alaskan golfers.

The winner will receive an expense-paid trip to Myrtle Beach for the 72-hole event that runs through Sept. 4. Players from 49 states and about 20 foreign countries will be there, but Alaskan representation remains a problem.

“If golfers from South Africa, Japan and India – among other nations – can annually play in the event we believe at least one Alaskan can join the party in 2020,’’ said Tomasello.

Time will tell if Tomasello is right, but the Myrtle Beach March Championship – dubbed the `Mini’ World Am, is already a sellout. It’ll have at least 224 players and a waiting list is being created for more. Deadline to enter the World Amateur is Feb. 23.

Another of Myrtle Beach’s most popular tournaments has a new name. What was the Calabash Cup – a 54-hole two-person team event – now has GolfTrek as its title sponsor. The sixth annual event, renamed the GolfTrek Challenge, will be played from June 11-14.

FRENCH LICK EXPANSION: Indiana’s French Lick Resort, which will again host tournaments on both the Symetra and LPGA tours this summer, has completed a major transformation project.

The six-story, 71-room six-suite Valley Tower has been opened adjacent to the resort’s casino and event center. It includes French Lick’s first ever Sports Book and Sports Viewing Lounge and its Valley Bar is the only 21-and-over eating establishment at the resort.

French Lick will host the Donald Ross Championship on the Symetra Tour from July 7-12 and the Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course from July 29 through Aug. 1. The Senior LPGA, which was the first major championship for senior women when it made its debut in 2017, will have a new format. The championship will be played over 36 instead of 54 holes and two pro-ams will precede the main event.

The Valley Bar, the only 21-and-over eating establishment at French Lick Resort, is one of the features of a recent expansion project that resulted in a major upgrade at the Indiana resort.


IT’S SHOW TIME: Next week’s PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL., will have an expanded travel program for golfers.

Its Travel Pavilion, located on the main floor of the center, will feature destinations from Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Scotland, South Africa and Thailand.

There’ll also be a Golf Travel Forum, presented by PGA Magazine, at 9 a.m. on Thursday and hundreds of golf travel products will be included in the exhibits from more than 1,000 participating companies and brands.

HERE AND THERE

North Carolina is a state loaded with good courses, and a layout from the Outer Banks, The Pointe Golf Club, jumped into the latest Golf Advisor Golfers’ Choice rankings of the state’s best courses. The Pointe was No. 7 on the list, ahead of such favorites as Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst No. 9 and Tobacco Road.

Barefoot Resort, in North Myrtle Beach, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It became famous in 1999 when its four championship courses opened simultaneously. They were designed by Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. To commemorate the anniversary the resort is offering stay-and-play packages that included three rounds for the price of four and a three-night stay with a fourth night for free. They have to be booked by Jan. 31.

The Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at Desert Highlands, in North Scottsdale, Ariz., has re-opened following a $7 million renovation. Desert Highlands also recently welcomed Curtis Tyrrell as its new director of agronomy. Tyrrell was director of golf operations at Illinois’ Medinah Country Club before coming to Arizona as the replacement for the retired Phil Shoemaker. Shoemaker started at Desert Highlands in 1982 and was involved in the construction of the course.

The North Course at Florida’s Daytona Beach Golf Club has re-opened following a six-month renovation project. The renovation included a re-routing of the back nine holes. The previous version had par-5s for both Nos. 17 and 18, and they were among the hardest holes on the course. Now the old No. 17 is No. 10, which altered the rest of the back nine. Only the 18th has its same place in the rotation.

The Citrus Golf Trail, a group of courses in the Sebring, FL., area, has announced its participating courses for 2020. It includes the Sebring International Golf Resort, which was formerly Spring Lake Golf Resort. Other courses on the trail are Pinecrest, River Greens, Sebring Municipal and the Deer Run and Turtle Run courses at Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club. Inn on the Lakes is the hotel partner.

Diamondhead Country Club’s Cardinal Course, near Biloxi, MS., has re-opened following a three-month greens renovation process. Dan Hamman has also been hired as the superintendent at the 36-hole facility.

REMEMBERING PETE DYE: A giant in golf course architecture

It was back in 2010 that then Indiana governor Mitch Daniels triggered the creation of the Pete Dye Golf Trail to stimulate tourism in the Hoosier State.

The following year Joy and I became among the first to play all seven courses on it. Back then I wrote that Dye was the most innovative golf course architect of our time.

Dye died on Thursday at age 94, but nothing has changed in my assessment of his talents. No disrespect to Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones, Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse or any of the other celebrated architects of my generation, but I maintain that Dye was the best.

Among the stops when Joy and I toured the Pete Dye Golf Trail was at his first 18-hole design. The Indianapolis course is now called Maple Creek, but it was known as Heather Hills when it opened in 1961.

Though he didn’t do much work in Illinois Dye was prominent in Wisconsin (Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits) and his native Indiana (Crooked Stick). And, one layout that bears his name – The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort in the southern part of the Hoosier State – may be the best of his creations.

Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass, as annual PGA Tour sites, have higher profiles and the Ocean Course at Kiawah in South Carolina has had its share of big events, too. Comparing Dye courses can be a thankless task, but playing them is always a treat.

His only Chicago area creation was Ruffled Feathers in Lemont (done with son P.B. Dye in 1991). Dye’s other Illinois credits are Oakwood, in Coal Valley; Tamarack, in O’Fallon; and Yorktown, in Belleville.

In 2020 the Western Amateur will be played at Crooked Stick, the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits and the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick in addition to the The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town. Those big events will underscore what a great architect Dye was.

For Joy and I his passing might fittingly trigger a return to the Pete Dye Golf Trail. In our first time around we played five of the seven courses in five consecutive days. We might not try that again, but we won’t forget the enjoyment received while playing Dye-designed layouts.

Our visit to Hilton Head Island, S.C., last fall included a visit to the Pete Dye Room in the Harbour Town clubhouse. It offered a photo tribute to his illustrious career.

World Handicap System will have a unifying effect for golfers

No, Tiger Woods didn’t win his record PGA Tour record 83rd tournament this week to break a tie with Sam Snead. In fact, Woods didn’t even play in the Sentry Tournament of Champions – the PGA Tour’s first event of 2020 that concluded on Sunday with Justin Thomas’ playoff win in Hawaii.

What did happen this week is — in many ways — more important to more golfers than all that. The new World Handicap System went into effect.

A five-day blackout throughout the U.S. for posting scores came to an end on Monday following the updating of computer systems world-wide. Players who have their handicaps computed now have different numbers to use in competition.

CDGA executive director Robert Markionni was part of the 25-member committee that spent four years creating the World Handicap System.

My handicap climbed a half-stroke in the transition, and locally the change will affect 80,000 players in Illinois and parts of Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan who have their handicaps computed by the Chicago District Golf Association. The CDGA has been computing handicaps since the 1930s, but the way of doing it is different now.

Robert Markionni, the executive director of the CDGA, was on the 25-member committee that implemented the transition to the World Handicap System.

“It was about four years worth of work, but a privilege to sit in on this committee and see how the world came together,’’ said Markionni. “The handicapping system was the last aspect of golf to be globally administered.’’

Golf is a global game, and the various organizers had already dealt with alterations to the Rules of Golf and requirements for amateur standing. Six different associations, however, had their own methods for handicapping the players who form the bulk of the game’s participants. Now the associations are operating under the same set of guidelines.

Here are the major ways the new handicap system will affect the most serious Chicago golfers:

The maximum score accepted on a hole for handicap purposes is now net double bogey, regardless of ability. In the past some players (me included) could post a triple bogey. For high handicap players this would seem to make a major difference, but Markionni downplays that.

“When all the research was done by a bunch of PhDs who calculated all this stuff the reality was that it probably will have little effect,’’ said Markionni.

Handicaps will be posted on a daily basis instead of the every-two-weeks system the CDGA had been using, and it’s doubly important for players to post scores on the day they play rather than wait a day or two.

“Computers will now calculate playing conditions into the handicapping process,’’ said Markionni. “This is new to the U.S, but not new in other parts of the world. It’ll intrigue people.’’

Post late and a player’s score won’t reflect the playing conditions on the day he played his round.

Eight rounds, instead of the previous 10, will be used to calculate a handicap and a cap will go into effect to determine how high a handicap index can climb in a 12-month period. A soft cap is three shots and a hard cap is five.

There is no need for American courses to be re-rated, as the World Handicap System adopted the course rating system that has been used in the U.S. for many years.

“The important thing is that it’s good for the game,’’ said Markionni. “I’m not sure it will have a huge impact, but it brings consistency. We will all play under the same rules.

Hardy, Pope, India are ready to go on Korn Ferry Tour

It was unusual for the Chicago area to get six players into last week’s final stage of qualifying for the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour. It was even more unusual that three of them – Nick Hardy, Andy Pope and Vince India – finished in the top 40 of the 154-man field and earned immediate playing privileges when the tournaments begin next month in The Bahamas.

Formally called the Ben Hogan, Nationwide and Web.com tour, the circuit offers the most direct path to the PGA Tour. Northbrook’s Hardy, who didn’t qualifying for the circuit last year after a stellar career at the University of Illinois, tied for fifth in the 72-hole final qualifier, which concluded on Sunday at Orange County National in Winter Park, FL.

By being in the top 10 Hardy is assured spots in the first 12 tournaments of the Korn Ferry season. Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope tied for 13th and Deerfield’s Vince India tied for 30th. That means both can play in the first eight events of the campaign. Also gaining the right to play immediately was Dawson Armstrong, who won the 2015 Western Amateur title at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. He tied for seventh at Orange County National.

The other three local competitors at Orange County National – Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger and Spring Grove’s Jordan Hahn – will have to get in the tournaments through Monday qualifiers. Flavin, who tied for 76th at Orange County National, has other playing options. He finished sixth in the PGA Latinoamerica Tour and could compete there again.

Hopfinger, who has spent several seasons on the Korn Hardy circuit, tied for 90th and Hahn, a rookie pro out of the University of Wisconsin, tied for 121st. In qualifying for the third and final stage of Korn Ferry qualifying they will be able to compete in the Monday qualifiers without going into the pre-qualifying events.

India, Flavin and Hopfinger are among just 10 players who own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. Hardy was runner-up in that tournament last year.

Here and there

Sportsman’s Country Club, a fixture on the Chicago golf scene since 1931, won’t be available to golfers again until the summer of 2021. That’s the project re-opening date now that a massive $12.5 million renovation and restoration project is scheduled to begin at the Northbrook facility. Libertyville golf course architect Rick Jacobson, who previously did work on the property in 2005 and 2006, will oversee the rebuilding of the course. A new clubhouse will also be built at a different location on the property than the present one and the practice area will be greatly enhanced.

Troy Newport, the new general manager at Cog Hill, in Lemont, has announced the addition of Toptracer technology at the 72-hole complex that was a long-time home for the Western Open championship. With 21 heated hitting bays Toptracer allows for practice sessions, virtual golf and a variety of games during the offseason months. “It’s a great fit for our Grow the Game initiatives at Cog Hill,’’ said Newport. Cog Hill is keeping its Nos. 1 and 3 courses open throughout the winter and will host the Eskimo Open there on Jan. 5.

Northwestern University has unveiled its new version of the Gleacher Center, which has allowed for indoor practice for its men’s and women’s teams. The new version includes a 5,400 square-foot short game and putting area with raised ceilings, a video-equipped three-bay hitting area and a digitally adjustable putting platform.

Eagle Ridge Resort, in Galena, following its recent ownership change, has named Ryan Brown as its a new director of golf and announced plans to remodel the pro shop at The General course.

A most memorable year of golf travel — from A to Ziehm

The iconic lighthouse on the 18th hole at Harbour Town was a great way to cap off a great year.


Golf travel has been our way of life for the last 10 years, a slow transition for me from being a newspaper beat writer for over 40 years to becoming a golfer in retirement. Turns out that – for better or worse — I’m a lousy retiree.

Consider our life from last June 8 until Oct. 23. It was virtually all spent on the road visiting golf destinations. Also, please note, all this travel was done by car. No more plane rides. Too much time was spent on those things when I was reporting on hockey, soccer and college sports in addition to golf in what was then my day job.

My “ace photographer,’’ Joy Sarver, and I had found that driving was the way to go after making a captivating month-long tour of Route 66 ten years ago. That journey included only minimal golf. Golf wasn’t minimal this time.

We started with a three-week swing through the eastern states, one that included stops at Grandover Resort in North Carolina; Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia; Valley Forge, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; Poland, Me.; and – on the way home – a tour of Newport, R.I. Thirteen courses played, three others visited, touchdowns in 14 states and slightly over 3,000 miles put on our 2011 Nissan Murano.

Royal New Kent, in Virginia, was one of golf’s best comeback stories in 2019.


So, why did we do it? An encouraging number of newspapers, magazines and golf websites were interested in where we were going. That was vital.

Among other things we checked out a links course, Royal New Kent in Virginia designed by the late Mike Strantz. Closed for several months after a series of ownership changes Royal New Kent made for a great golf comeback story.

We also learned about Arthur Fenn, who was likely the first American-born golf professional and course designer. A top player in the early 1900s, he competed against the likes of Harry Vardon and Willie Anderson but has gotten little historical recognition because he rarely left Maine. Fenn had to take care of Poland Springs Resort, which dates back to 1896 and purports to be America’s oldest golf resort.

Arcadia’s South course (above) and Bluffs’ layout couldn’t be more different — and that’s a good thing.


Valley Forge offered lots of history, too, but we couldn’t help but wonder what our colleagues at the International Network of Golf will think of the strange-looking remnants of a brick house in the first fairway when they tee off at the Raven’s Claw course in their 30th annual Spring Conference outings there this May.

On the long drive back to our Florida home we stopped to see Newport Country Club, site of the first U.S. Open in 1895. The course and clubhouse were closed, but impressive nonetheless.

After just a few days home we were off again, our first target being Texas. Two family weddings were the main focus of this trip but we did try to find the land where the new PGA of America headquarters will be built in Frisco, TX. Our GPS took us to the Dallas Cowboys elaborate training facilities instead.

This old house is centuries old, and that’s a good reason to have it on Raven’s Claw’s course.


From Texas we made a brief stay at Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort before the “hard work’’ began. We had the men’s and women’s versions of the Illinois Open and the state’s two PGA Tour stops, the John Deere Classic and BMW Championship – to cover.

Before we got back to Florida we spent a few days in golf-rich Michigan playing that state’s famous Arcadia Bluffs and its new partner layout, the South course, and made a return to one of our favorite events, the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Still, we weren’t done with this segment of our summer travels. Before we got back to Florida we had a delightful few days in Hilton Head. We learned a lot more about this special South Carolina destination than we had in several previous visits thanks to some quality time with, among others, Cary Corbitt – president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Assn. and vice president of Sea Pines Resort.

Eventually we did get back to our Florida place – but not for long. One last journey was on our itinerary. The journey back to Chicago included a stop at Indiana’s French Lick Resort to report on the Senior LPGA Championship, but that wasn’t the main reason for hitting the road again. I was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame on Oct. 18. Induction night turned out to be a very humbling experience, one that I’ll never forget.

The three-day ride back to Florida was memorable, too. With 30 miles to go the engine light on the super reliable Nissan went on. We made it back, but were advised a few days later that Old Betsy – after carry us 248,000 miles — had enough of our crazy travels. So, we traded her in for a new model.

It’s probably asking too much to have another summer as exciting and fulfilling as this one was – but, then again, you never know.

The 2019 Illinois Golf Hall of Fame Inductions on Oct. 18 at The Glen Club in Glenview, IL., were a big night for me, Palmer Moody of the Illinois PGA and fellow inductee Emil Esposito.

Iconic Harbour Town is just one reason for golfers to hit Hilton Head

The iconic lighthouse behind Harbour Town’s 18th green is one of golf’s most famous scenes.


HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina – The Harbour Town Links, with its iconic lighthouse behind the No. 18 green, may give Hilton Head Island most of its international exposure, but this golf destination is more than just Harbour Town.

A lot more, in fact.

While Harbour Town — home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament — celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the rest of the island also enhances the area’s reputation of being a golf mecca.

Harbour Town, along with Atlantic Dunes and Heron’s Point, are all part of the Sea Pines Resort. Atlantic Dunes was the National Golf Course Owners Association 2018 Course of the Year.

“We’re the drivers of why people come here,’’ said Cary Corbitt, president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and vice president of Sea Pines, “but not everybody wants to just play Harbour Town and Atlantic Dunes – and we’re fine with that.’’

Fee to play Harbour Town generally tops $300 and at Atlantic Dune’s it’s upwards of $150. Both are extremely well-conditioned courses that draw about 30,000 rounds annually, but there’s also perfectly fine public courses nearby that charge less than $100.

Those numbers are just fine with Corbitt, who came to Hilton Head when he was in college to work as a volunteer at the first Heritage tournament (won by Arnold Palmer), returned when he was done with college in 1974 and started at Sea Pines in 1978.

“Sea Pines is a family destination resort. We’re not bashful about what we charge, but we don’t feel we’re uppity or better than anyone else,’’ said Corbitt. “The other courses help round everything out.’’

The clubhouse at Sea Pines Resort is a Hilton Head landmark, especially in April when the RBC Heritage Classic comes to town.


Hilton Head has 40,000 full-time residents. They benefit from the island’s beautiful beaches as well as the golf, as both attract tourists. So does the nearly 300 restaurants – many of them solidly upscale – on the property.

Lodging is more than ample with more than 6,000 villas, condos and homes on the rental market and more than 20 hotels and inns also available. Custom-built golf packages are no problem.

The non-golf attractions are also plentiful. They’re highlighted by the tennis academy at Sea Pines that is run by the legendary Stan Smith who won titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Hilton Head got its name because a ship owned by William Hilton first spotted the island over 300 years ago. Charles Fraser, son of one of the families that owned most of the island, started it on its way as a tourist destination when he drew up a master plan for a resort community in 1956. Hilton Head was incorporated as a town in 1983 but golf had arrived in 1962 when the Ocean Course opened.

Golf grew rapidly after that, but not without some major developments along the way. The Ocean Course was totally renovated by Davis Love III is now called Atlantic Dunes. Famed architect Pete Dye, who designed Harbour Town with consulting help from Jack Nicklaus, also is responsible for Sea Pines’ other course, Heron’s Point. That course started under the name of Sea Marsh.

Oyster Reef isn’t part of the Sea Pines Resort but it has one of Hilton Head’s prettiest par-3s.


Now the golf landscape is spread around. Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has three courses on its 2,000 acres that are bounded by three miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline on one side and a sheltered Intracoastal Waterway on the other. This resort’s featured course is the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, which has one hole on the ocean and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1967. The others at the resort were creations of George Fazio (the island’s only par-70) in 1974 and Arthur Hills in 1986.

There’s also the Heritage Collection, seven courses and 81 holes spread over three clubs. Oyster Reef, a Rees Jones design with – at least arguably – the best putting surfaces on the island, is not to be missed. Sixteen courses are on the island and there’s also 13 off-island layouts close at hand.

All the courses are beneficiaries of the recently-expanded Hilton Head Island Airport. Last year it started twice weekly (Saturdays and Sundays) flights directly from O’Hare, so Chicago golfers could step right off the airplane and be on the first tee at many of the courses in a matter of a few minutes.

Even without that luxury transportation getting from Chicago to Hilton Head isn’t a problem. Many more flights are available to the Savannah Hilton International Airport, which is just 45 minutes from the island.

And then there’s the hurricanes. No doubt, they can be a problem but not even one of the strongest – Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – kept golfers off the Hilton Head courses for long.

Atlantic Dunes head professional Bobby Downs has worked in the golf industry on the island for 36 years. After 22 seasons at Palmetto Dunes he was eagerly awaiting the opening of Atlantic Dunes when Matthew struck at a most inopportune time.

“The Ryder Cup had just finished, and we (the U.S. team) had won,’’ recalled Downs. “We had a great Grand Opening and Davis (designer and U.S. captain Davis Love III) was to be here on Sunday with the trophy, but three days prior we got hit by the hurricane and were shut down for three weeks.’’

Tree damage was extensive, but Atlantic Dunes bounced back quickly, just like the Hilton Head courses have done for decades.

“In the end we were better off because a lot of trees that weren’t meant to be there after 50 years were weeded out,’’ said Corbitt.

Palmetto Dunes has long been one of the most popular courses at Hilton Head.

Rarely — if ever — has Chicago been so well represented in a golf tour qualifier

This week’s President’s Cup matches in Australia may be the last big golf event of 2019 world-wide, but it’s certainly not the most important for six Chicago area pro tour hopefuls.

The third and final stage of qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour is on tap from Thursday through Sunday (DEC 12-15) at Orange County National in Orlando, FL., and six Chicago area players face a 72-hole test that could be career-changing. The Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com) circuit offers a direct path to the PGA Tour and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim used it to make it to golf’s premier circuit earlier this year.

Now some other Chicago stars hope to do the same. Deerfield’s Vince India and Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger hope to retain their status as full-time Korn Ferry members. The former University of Iowa teammates are among only 10 players owning titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, but that doesn’t carry any weight when it comes to the pro tours.

Both have had their moments in several seasons on the satellite circuit but not played well enough to earn promotion to the PGA Tour. While they are assured some starts on the Korn Ferry circuit in 2020 neither met the standards for full-time membership. That’s why they’re in the nail-biting qualifying session.

Last year Hopfinger was No. 79 on the Korn Ferry money list and India was No. 85. Only the top 75 qualified for last fall’s Korn Ferry Playoffs. India’s bid to reach those playoffs ended with a heart-breaking double bogey on the last hole of the last regular season tournament.

Both are ready to give it another try, however, and they’ll be joined by four other local players – Nick Hardy of Northbrook, Andy Pope of Glen Ellyn, Jordan Hahn of Sugar Grove and Patrick Flavin of Highwood. Hardy, Flavin and Hahn are former Illinois State Amateur champions who survived the first two stages of Korn Ferry qualifying. Pope has had good success in U.S. Open qualifiers, reaching the finals four times, but has been largely unsuccessful in his other tour endeavors.

All four, though may be peeking at the right time for this week’s important test. Pope finished second in his Korn Ferry Stage II qualifier in Plantation, FL., last month. Hardy tied for fifth in his Stage II challenge in McKinney, TX, and Hahn, who just finished off a solid amateur career at the University of Wisconsin, reached the Korn Ferry finals with a tie for 18th in his Stage II test in Brooksville, FL.

Flavin, though, may be the best prepared of them all. As an amateur he became only the second player to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year (2017), then opted for a different approach to turning pro. He tested himself on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour and concluded his season with a third-place finish on Sunday in its Shell Championship. He did it with a 68-67 finish in the weekend rounds and that padded his season winnings to $68,130, the strong finish boosting him from ninth to sixth on the tour’s season money list.

Korn Ferry players can get to the PGA Tour immediately by winning three tournaments in a season. The top 25 in the regular season money list also advance to the premier circuit as do the top 25 following the season-ending playoff events.

CDGA milestones

The Chicago District Golf Association had a tie in its player-of-the-year race for the first time since the award was presented in 1993. Jordan Less, a Northern Illinois University player from Elmhurst, and David Perkins, from Illinois State and East Peoria, shared the award. Another East Peoria resident, Tim Sheppard, became the fifth player to repeat at CDGA Senior Player of the Year.

The CDGA also announced next year’s sites for its two biggest championships. The 90th Illinois State Amateur will be July 21-23 at Wynstone, in Barrington, and the 101st Chicago District Amateur with be at Bull Valley, in Woodstock, from June 22-25. The organization also has made major changes in its CDGA Golfer. The magazine will now be produced by Greater Golf Resorts of the World, which also publishes New York’s Met Golfer, and Chicago golf media veteran Barry Cronin will be the new editor.

Seconds in Florida

Carlos Sainz Jr., winner of both the Illinois Open and Chicago Open when he was an Elgin resident, was a regular on both the PGA and Web.com tours. Now based in Houston, Sainz may be on a different career path but he can still play. He finished second in the PGA Assistants Championship earlier this month in Port St. Lucie, FL

PGA Golf Club, where Sainz made his strong showing in the national event, is also the site of the PGA of America’s Winter Tournament Series, and Dakun Chang, assistant professional at Twin Orchard in Long Grove and the 2018 Illinois PGA champion, was runner-up in the second event.

Here’s two couples — and four Illinois PGA club professionals

The number of men among the PGA of America’s 29,000 members far outnumber the women. That’s no secret, and the number of married couples working in the business as PGA members isn’t very big either. It’s under 100 nation-wide.

What might be surprising out of that segment of the golf industry, though, involves two married couples who are both Illinois PGA members. In both cases the wife is a better player than the husband.

In one case there’s no question about it. Katie Pius, assistant professional at Biltmore Country Club in Barrington, is one of the best players in the section, man or woman.

“She’s just a better golfer than I am, plain and simple,’’ said her husband Josh Pius, head professional at Inverness. “She’s a talented player.’’

The playing disparity may not be as clearcut for Jennifer and Cory Ferrell, but Jennifer has been in more competitive situations. As Jennifer Broggi she was one of Illinois’ best amateurs when she was in high school at Naperville North and college at Illinois State. She turned pro after finishing up at ISU in 2002 and kept competing for awhile.

“When I got out of college I spent three winters in Florida,’’ she said. Ladies PGA headquarters is in Daytona Beach, so Florida was a good place to test her skills at a higher level.

“It wasn’t awful, but I honestly decided after getting a reality check,’’ she said. “I tried it, and it wasn’t my cup of tea.’’

The Ferrells met through the PGA’s training program and married in 2007. While they have no children, they’re both deeply involved in working with young players.

While Jennifer isn’t playing in many tournaments theses days, she isn’t completely out of the competitive side of golf. She has been the assistant coach of the girls team at Glenbard East High School since 2007.

“The season is short – just six-eight weeks, and I do enjoy it because it brings back memories of college,’’ she said.

Cory, completing his seventh season as head professional at the nine-hole Sugar Creek course in Villa Park, has 400 youngsters between the ages of 6-13 in his youth program there. He also works with Revelation Golf, a program that provides therapy through golf to military personnel.

Cory, born and raised in Maryland, grew up in the golf business. His father is a lifetime PGA member, and Cory was head pro at both Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, and Seven Bridges, in Woodridge, before coming to Sugar Creek. He also was a teach pro at Old Oak, in Homer

Jennifer is more deeply involved in golf than just through high school coaching. She’s head professional and division manager at Glendale Lakes in Glendale Heights.

Neither of the Ferrells feel that working in the same industry presents unique problems.

“It’s no different than two teachers or two police officers,’’ said Cory. “Golf is just different because of the goofy hours.’’

Katie and Josh Pius also met through golf, when Josh was in the midst of a five-year run as an assistant professional at North Shore Country Club in Glenview and Katie was an assistant at Westmoreland, in Wilmette. They’ve been married for five years and are in their sixth seasons on their current jobs.

“I had always said I’d never marry a golf professional because I knew the hours they work,’’ said Katie, “but then I met Josh.’’

Josh grew up in Michigan and spent two years as a head professional in Wisconsin before coming to Inverness. They have two children, Betty 3 ½ and Millie, 1. Their clubs are just a few miles apart, and that’s a big help.

“There’s a lot of (time) coordination there,’’ said Josh, “but I don’t consider it difficult. I know what she’s going through, and she knows why I’m going through, so we support each other throughout the season. It’s nice having someone who understands what you’re going through.’’

“I don’t work full-time – just seasonally and part-time,’’ said Katie, who is one of three assistants working with head man Doug Bauman at Biltmore. “That’s the only way this would work. The kids are in day car on the days when I work, and we visit Josh sometimes.’’

Katie does some teaching and runs the women’s leagues at Biltmore while retaining her status as the best woman player in the section. She plays in most of the section tournaments while Josh is limited basically to what he calls “the silly season,’’ when the events are more on the social side. They make an effort to play one nine-hole round together ever month.

“Obviously I’d like to play more,’’ said Katie. “This year is the most limited my schedule has been, but I hope to get more competitive once the kids get a little older.’’