Len Ziehm On Golf

PGA Tour Champions rivals don’t have a prayer against Langer

There isn’t much more Bernhard Langer can accomplish as a golfer. Last week he became the career money leader on PGA Tour Champions, surpassing Hale Irwin.

Thanks to his $255,000 payday for winning the Oasis Championship on the Old Course at Broken Sound, Langer has $27,120,554 in career earnings on PGA Tour Champions. He needed just $179,050 to climb ahead of Irwin, who – at 73 – plays only a limited schedule now.

Irwin still leads Langer in wins on the 50-and-over circuit. Langer has 39 — six behind Irwin – and hopes to reduce the number by winning another Florida tournament this week. The Chubb Classic tees off on Friday at Lely Resort in Naples.

Don’t be surprised if Langer wins there, too. He already has been the champion three times in Naples – in 2011, 2013 and 2016. Broken Sound was 10 minutes from his home in Boca Raton. The Chubb site isn’t very far, either – less than a two-hour drive from Boca. Langer relishes those few home games available to globe-trotting golf stars.

His win in Boca Raton was another family affair. It came with Jackie Langer John – his married oldest offspring – as his caddie. Jackie was the last of Langer’s four children to carry the bag during one of his victories. Stefan, Christina and Jason already had experienced that thrill. Jackie also lives in Boca Raton.

“I know it meant lot to her, especially with the home crowds, lots of friends and family members around who follow us and cheer us on,’’ said Langer. “She had only caddied three times for me. We had a second, lost in a playoff and now a first – so that’s a pretty stellar record for her.’’

Talk about stellar records, consider Langer’s. He’s 61 now, and Champions Tour players usually see their games start to fade after they turn 60. Langer’s has shown no signs of that. In 11 years on the circuit he has topped the money list 10 times and been Player of the Year eight times. His latest win was one of his most impressive.

Starting the final round with a one-stroke lead Langer made birdies on five of the first seven holes and won by five strokes over Marco Dawson.

“One of my best starts ever,’’ said Langer, who didn’t cool off much after that. His 19-under-par 197 score for the 54 holes was a tournament record and he became the first player in the event’s 12-year run to win it twice.

“He lives like on the putting green here, doesn’t? Isn’t that where is house is,” chided David Toms, who also was in contention through 36 holes. “Obviously he has a lot of experience out here, and he’s a great player. He plays with confidence all the time and he’s won so many tournaments it’s kind of second nature.’’

Langer’s rivals in Boca Raton included nine members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and 17 former major champions. Some had better records on the PGA Tour than Langer, who was a late-bloomer.

Of his 113 world-wide professional victories only three came in PGA Tour events. They included his only two wins in majors, at the 1985 and 1993 Masters. He followed the first Masters win with his only other PGA Tour victory, at the Sea Pines Heritage Classic, the following week and that hot streak was a big reason he became golf’s first official No. 1-ranked player when the Official World Golf Rankings were created for the following year.

Born in Anhausen, Germany, Langer posted the bulk of his wins on the European PGA Tour. He won there 43 times, 29 of which came before his second win at the Masters.

“The key to success is a lot of things,’’ said Langer. “You’ve got to be healthy, and a lot of guys at age 61 aren’t healthy anymore. They had this operation or that operation or a hip replacement. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any major surgeries besides my thumb in 2011.’’

He believes his strong religious beliefs are a factor too. He carries a Bible verse in his pocket during many of his tournaments. That included his latest win.

“I felt very calm out there and very peaceful, and that enabled me to do the best I could,’’ said Langer. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to win every time I put a Bible verse in my pocket, but it just makes golf less important and something else more important.’’

Couples opts for one more tournament appearance at Riviera

BOCA RATON, FL. – Fred Couples, eight months away from his 60th birthday, returns to the PGA Tour this week. He wangled a spot in the Genesis Open thanks to a sponsor’s exemption, but he’s going with some reservations.

“I probably should go to Naples (the Chubb Classic in Naples, FL., on PGA Tour Champions),’’ said Couples. “Sounds like bragging, but I won Naples a couples times (2010 and 2017) and still want to play in L.A. Riviera is one of my favorite events.’’

Couples was the champion of Los Angeles’ longstanding PGA Tour stop twice, in 1990 and 1992, and was the runner-up (or tied for second) three times in the 1990s so it’s understandable why he’d like to go back to that tournament one more time.

With Couples, though, you never know where or when he’ll show up to play. That’s just the way it is.

No question his career is winding down, but Couples is still competitive with the younger guys. Last October, on the same week that he turned 59, he went back to the PGA Tour for the Safeway Classic in Napa, Calif. That week he said that tournament would be “my last PGA Tour event besides Augusta (the Masters).’’

Couples tied for 41st that week, dropping 26 places after shooting a 75 in the final round), and that came after a surprise showing in the Masters. In 2017 he skipped the site of his biggest victory (the 1992 Masters) because of back problems were too painful.

“I physically couldn’t move,’’ he said, between practice swings at the Oasis Championship. “Last year I went basically wearing a back brace. I just didn’t want to miss the Masters again, and I made the cut. It felt like I had won the tournament just by making the cut.’’

He started 2019 with two events on PGA Tour Champions – a tie for fifth in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii and a tie for eighth in the Oasis Championship in Florida. He was a late entry for the first full field event of the Champions season in Boca Raton in part because his back was feeling good. That’s obviously not always been the case.

“The process is just trying to figure it out,’’ said Couples. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I could play great one day, get in the car and drive to the hotel and get out and something could go wrong with my back. Or I can hit a driver as hard as I can and something could happen there. There’s no rhyme or reason, but I really feel pretty good at the moment and I’m planning on playing a little more this year. Twelve, fourteen events — that’s my goal.’’

He won’t predict where he’ll play after Riviera, however.

“I look at the schedule at the beginning of the year, and it’s a pipe dream,’’ he said. “I mark like 16 tournaments. I skip majors on our (Champions) tour because I don’t really feel like I should go play in them. That’s not the greatest thing, either.’’

To play, or not to play, in major championships? Being Fred Couples isn’t as easy as his classic swing looks, but he’s found a scheduling formula that has worked – at least to some extent – for almost three decades.

“I know the year. I was 32 years old when it started happening,’’ said Couples. “It was never really horrible except for the first time it happened. I was out for like seven months and thought, `Am I going to be able to play?’’’

Play again, he did, and Couples has built a resume that shows 13 PGA Tour wins (the last at Houston in 2003) and 13 Champions Tour titles (the last at the American Family Insurance Championship in 2017).

“Since I came back I’ve taken it easy because all my buddies are young kids,’’ said Couples. “I tell them, don’t worry about missing a cut or having two bad months of golf. This isn’t a sprint. This is a marathon. That’s how I really wanted to treat it. Knock on wood, I’ve lasted.’’

Father-daughter time is worth it for the Langers in Champions Tour win

Bernhard Langer putts while daughter Jackie tends the flagstick en route to Champions Tour win.

Bernhard Langer, at 61 years old, may seem near the end of his career as a tournament player. There’s only one thing wrong with that line of reasoning. He keeps on winning.

Langer won on PGA Tour Champions for the 39th time on Sunday, and his victory in the newly-named Oasis Championship was something special. He captured the first full-field event of the season on the 50-and-over circuit with his daughter Jackie carrying his bag.

This was Jackie’s first win as a caddie for her father. Her three siblings had already carried for one of their father’s victories. Langer lives just 10 minutes from the Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, FL. – site of Sunday win — and Jackie, who is married and goes by the name of Langer John, also lives in the South Florida area.

They made for a terrific team on Sunday. Langer made birdies on five of the first seven holes and posted a final round 65. His 54-hole total of 19-under-par 197 was a tournament record but he has had plenty of success – two wins, two seconds, two thirds and eight top-10 finishes – in his hometown tournament.

This time he was a five-shot winner over Marco Dawson. Langer’s winning check was $375,000.

Calcavecchia seeks another win at home in Champions Tour teeoff

BOCA RATON, Florida — This should be Mark Calcavecchia’s time. His troublesome back problems are under control and another PGA Tour Champions season starts this week in Hawaii with the Jan. 17-19 Mitsubishi Electric Championship for last year’s tournament winners. Then Calcavecchia returns to one of his favorite courses to make the first title defense in a full-field event of the Champions’ season, the Oasis Championship.

For whatever reason, though, Calcavecchia isn’t entering this season on an optimistic note. He started the 2018 campaign with a wire-to-wire victory in what was then called the Boca Raton Championship. That win was even more special, in that it came in Palm Beach County — Calcavecchia’s long-time Florida home — with his wife Brenda on his bag.

“It meant a lot to win,’’ said Calcavecchia in a pre-tourney visit less than a month before his title defense is to begin. Now called the Oasis Championship, the tourney has a Feb. 4-10 run at the Old Course at Broken Sound. Last year Calcavecchia birdies seven of the first 10 holes, then hung on during a precarious final five holes. The couple was in tears when the last putt dropped.

“We had quite a few chances to win tournaments on the Champions Tour together, and I blew them basically,’’ said Calcavecchia. “ We did win the Wendy’s Three-Tour Challenge, the Shark Shootout and a tournament in Korea but Lanny (Wadkins, the Champions Tour analyst on Golf Channel) said some things, like maybe I would have won a few if she wasn’t caddying for me.’’

Now 58, Calcavancchia hadn’t won on PGA Tour Champions since 2015 so that win had to be special.

Revisiting the subject less than a month before his title defense, however, brought an unusual reaction from Calcavecchia on the 30-year anniversary of his biggest-ever win, at the 1989 British Open.

“I’m not as excited to play as I was last year,’’ he said. “Maybe it’s just because I’m a year older.’’

Or, maybe it’s because the 2018 season didn’t end on the high note on which it started.

“I missed the last tournament by a shot or two, and that was frustrating,’’ he said. “I didn’t touch a club for 43 days starting in November. I gained about 15 pounds, and I’ve lost about eight of those back because I worked hard the last two weeks to get stronger.

“I’m moving in the right direction, but it’s hard. I’m trying to get back in the mode of playing golf. I’ll get there, but once you stop playing it gets harder to get back going. I like doing nothing. It’s easier that way. I literally didn’t get out of my chair for a week straight. Brenda was mad at me.’’

There’s some incentive to get his act together fast beyond just keeping the peace with Brenda. The tournament on the Old Course at Broken Sound has been a strong one for the 50-and-over players, though it has had sponsorship issues. The city sponsored it last year to keep the event going and now it’ll be called the Oasis Championship. Oasis, founded in South Florida 20 years ago, specializes in providing human resource services to small and medium-sized businesses. It picked up tournament sponsorship for the next three years.

Regardless of its previous titles, the tournament has never had a repeat champion in its 13-year history. Calcavecchia could be the first, and that would mean something.

“I’ve never defended a title,’’ said Calcavecchia, who has won tournaments on either the PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions in four straight decades. “Well, maybe I did in junior golf, but that doesn’t count. I won the Argentine Open two years in a row, but didn’t go to it for a year in between, so I don’t think that counts.’’

Calcavecchia, with 13 wins on the PGA Tour and four on PGA Tour Champions, likes hometown tournaments and has a good record in them.

A South Florida resident the last 46 years, Calcavecchia went to high school in West Palm Beach and was the 1978 Florida prep champion for North Shore High School. After playing collegiately at the University of Florida he won the Honda Classic twice at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. He also has a home in Phoenix and has three PGA Tour wins there.

“That’s six home wins (five on the PGA Tour and last year’s victory at Broken Sound),’’ said Calcavecchia. “It may take the cake for home wins other than Jack (Nicklaus). How many Hondas and Dorals did he win?’

(For the record, Nicklaus won the Doral Eastern Open in 1972 and 1975 and the Inverrary Classic (the original name of what is now the Honda Classic) in 1977 and 1978).

Broken Sound and the Honda base at PGA National are both about 45 minutes from where Calcavecchia lives. He moved into the Loxahatchie Club (in Jupiter) last April but also uses Tequesta County Club as a winter practice site.

Garmany’s Hogan certainly knows what golf travel is all about

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – If you’re ready, willing and able to travel to satisfy your golf appetite you should meet Bill Hogan.

Having been hired in October, Hogan is early into his first year with Garmany Golf, which also made its first appearance at the biggest show in golf. Garmany — with offices in Austin, Texas; Los Angeles and Edinburgh, Scotland — is starting its 10th year as a luxury golf travel business.

“Bill might be a rookie with us, but he’s not a rookie in terms of traveling the world,’’ said Bud Garmany, the company’s founder and president.

Hogan is Garmany’s senior vice president of sales and – if experience means anything – he knows his stuff. Hogan has played golf in 60 countries. Initially that seemed a staggering number for a U.S.-based golf enthusiast, but the PGA Merchandise Show had exhibitors and visitors from 83 countries. That indicates how widespread this great game is.

“There’s a lot more than 60 countries where golf is played,’’ said Hogan. “I have at least two more on my bucket list that I haven’t played. I try to keep the number of countries above my age, so I’ve got to keep adding to my list.’’

Hogan began his serious traveling in 1981, when – as a 20-year old – he moved to Europe to attend a college in Austria.

“That started my wanderlust,’’ he said, “and when I went to graduate school in Germany that really got me going.’’

Hogan returned to the U.S. in 1988 and took a job with Wide World of Golf, based in California. In his first week there his boss asked Hogan if he had a passport. He answered in the affirmative and within a few days he was off on a 28-day trip.

“Obviously I’ve been to a lot more than 60 countries, but that started me playing golf on my travels,’’ said Hogan. “I’ve been to Australia and New Zealand about a dozen times, and I’ve been to Scotland and Ireland 50 times.’’

He’s also become a panelist for Golf Magazine’s ranking of the top 100 courses in the world.

“It gets in your blood,’’ he said. `I love experiencing these kinds of things. The great thing about golf is there’s a chemistry around the world. You meet people, and they know somebody, so you’re only two- or three- degrees of separation from any golfer around the world. That’s a special treat.’’

Bud Garmany, the company’s founder, evolved into the golf travel world more slowly that Hogan did.

“I grew up in East Nashville, Tenn., a tough neighborhood,’’ he said. “If you wore golf clothes there you got beat up.’’

Garmany opted for work in the solar energy business in California. He stayed there for 14 years, until he reached his mid-40s. Then he decided to look for something more fulfilling.

“I went to Scotland by myself, without an agenda,’’ he said. “My family thought I was having a mid-life crisis. I immediately had a love affair with golf, and I saved the last five days of the trip for St. Andrews – the soul of the game. Then I knew that I’d do something in golf for the rest of my life.’’

After returning to California he contemplated his golf options with a friend, who suggested entering the golf travel business.

“It was one of the worst times in the world to start a luxury golf travel business,’’ said Garmany, but he did it anyway.

In preparing for the PGA Merchandise Show Garmany and Hogan developed a Hot List for golf travel destinations in 2019. Only one U.S. destination – Wisconsin – was on it.

“You can fly to Milwaukee, stay six days and play a Ryder Cup and PGA Championship course (Whistling Straits), A U.S. Women’s Open course (Blackwolf Run) and a U.S. Open course (Erin Hills). There’s also a fine new resort (Sand Valley).’’ Said Hogan. “We’ve been looking for new places that people aren’t talking about, and people might overlook Wisconsin.’’

If they’re from America, though, they would be more likely to overlook other golf destinations on the Garmany list – places like Vietnam, South Africa, France, New Zealand, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The list also includes Northwest Ireland, Melbourne, Australia and Tasmania and South Korea.

Hogan’s bucket list for his own new travel destinations include Qatar, Laos and Cambodia.

“In Qatar they’ve built some zillion-dollar courses that not many people know about, ‘said Hogan, “but they’re off the charts. In Laos and Cambodia they’re building an infrastructure to go after the North American market. You can fly to some of these places and stay for 10 days for about half of what it’d cost to go to Ireland. You may need an adventuresome spirit to go there but the value is tremendous and the quality resorts are absolutely gorgeous.’’


VIETNAM – Vietnam takes your breath away with its beauty, history, culture and great courses. Hoiana Shores and Greg Norman’s newly-opened Kam Ranh are special.

NORTHWEST IRELAND – It’s hard to match the rumpled topography of Balllyliffin’s two courses and County Sligo, Carne, and Enniscrone are unforgettable.

WISCONSIN – Sand Valley’s two courses — the latest’s David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes – fit right in to the golf explosion that has swept through this Midwestern state in the last two decades.

FRANCE — Le Golf National, site of last year’s Ryder Cup, is just the beginning of a golf boom here. There are six world-class courses within driving distance of Paris.

SOUTH AFRICA – Links at Fancourt, Leopard Creek, St. Francis Links and Pearl Valley Golf Estate (one of Jack Nicklaus’ best designs) mix well with this country’s safari parks.

NEW ZEALAND – Heart-stopping Kauri Cliffs and Tom Doak’s cliff-top Cape Kidnappers are must-play courses in this country with a rich golf history.

DUBAI AND ABU DHABI – Yaz Links, which looks like Scotland’s Kingsbarns without the water, might be the best golf experience between the United Kingdom and Australia.

AUSTRALIA (MELBOURNE) AND TASMANIA – There may not be a better concentration of great courses anywhere in the world than around Melbourne. Kingston Heath, Metropolitan, Victoria, Yarra Yarra and Huntingdale are just some of them.

SOUTH KOREA – China and Japan may have had more attention from golfers in Asia, but Korea’s courses (particularly Nine Bridges and Whistling Rock) are incredible.

Chicago area’s Wilson, Tour Edge are big hits at PGA Merchandise Show

Wilson’s Tim Clarke claims his company produced “the prettiest driver” of 2019.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. – The 66th annual PGA Merchandise Show lived up to its billing as “the biggest show in golf’’ last week. Over 40,000 industry members from 83 countries spent four days hiking the 10-mile stretch of exhibits at the Orange County Convention Center. There were over 1,000 exhibitors.

Such a massive turnout was nothing new. The show always brings out the world’s top equipment manufacturers, organization leaders, travel destination personnel and lots of the stars from the pro tours. This show, though, had something none of its predecessors did. Two Chicago club manufacturers dominated the Industry Honors competition, conducted annually by the International Network of Golf.

Wilson’s golf division, now based in Chicago after a long run in River Grove, won the Business Achievement Award for its Driver vs. Driver TV series and Batavia-based Tour Edge was the winner of the Product Ingenuity Award – Market Leaders for its Exotics EXS driver.

There were six Ingenuity awards handed out, and the Chicago area had another winner in the Miscellaneous Products category. Zero Friction, based in Oakbrook Terrace, won for its colorful Spectra Supertube.

Tour Edge president David Glod has benefitted from signing PGA Tour Champions stars.

The wins by Wilson and Tour Edge, however, came in the highest profile categories. Tim Clarke, general manager of Wilson’s golf division, and David Glod, president of Tour Edge, were happy campers after picking up their coveted awards.

Driver vs. Driver was an innovative campaign developed by Wilson two years ago and carried over several weeks each year on The Golf Channel. Amateur designers brought their club creations to the competition and worked with Wilson personnel and various club testers to determine the driver that the company would eventually put on the market.

The first year of the series was intriguing just for being something new and different. Driver vs. Driver 2 was closely followed throughout the golf community and Evan Hoffman of San Diego won with his cortex model that was widely tested on the recent Show’s Demo Day.

“The success of Driver vs. Driver in Season 2 shows we have a model that would work with other products,’’ said Clarke, who claimed that Hoffman’s design is “the prettiest driver on the market.in 2019.’’

“We had four models that could have won in Season 2,’’ said Clarke, “but – realistically – just two in Season 1.’’

Wilson added Gary Woodland, a notable long hitter on the PGA Tour, to its staff recently and he may wind up using the club. Whether he does or doesn’t, however, there’s no guarantee than Wilson will stage a Driver vs. Driver 3.

“We’ve been having a lot of sessions on what’s coming next,’’ he said. “Seven-iron vs. 7-iron has been in the conversation.’’

Wilson used that format to entice visitors to try its clubs at the PGA Show’s Demo Day. Clarke, though, said a decision on the next promotional format won’t be made for at least two months.

Glod, in his 33rd year at Tour Edge, is taking an aggressive advertising approach with his new hot club now on the market. He’ll be pushing more than just his well-received driver while working with some of golf’s top name players.

Within the last four years Tour Edge began signing stars on PGA Tour Champions, and the biggest signee yet came two weeks ago when Tom Lehman joined the Tour Edge team. Lehman immediately won a tournament wearing the Tour Edge logo.

Tour Edge also has another Champions Tour star, Scott McCarron, on its team and Glod hopes to elevate his presence on it. Glod has elevated his company’s profile by hooking up with players on the 50-and-over circuit.

“We saw an opening in the marketplace and they saw a place for us, too,’’ said Glod. “Last year was our best sales year ever. We were up 25 percent with seven tour wins and 60 top-10s on all tours.’’

South Korean Ji wins in a unique season opener for the LPGA

Eun-Hee Ji led a one-two finish by Korean golfers in the LPGA’s season opener.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. – The LPGA opened its season with what its organizers billed as “the most unique event in golf.’’ Well, it might well have been that.

The field for the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions did have 26 players who had won tournaments on the LPGA circuit in either 2017 or 2018. Since the circuit tried limited field Tournament of Champions events at various sites from 1994 to 2007, bringing its winners together wasn’t all that unusual.

This latest attempt again brought out the best in LPGA talent, but it didn’t spotlight their skills for an obvious reason. There were more players from other sports or entertainment areas (49) than there were LPGA players (26) competing. That’s what can happen when you try to combine a tour event with a celebrity event. It’s no a perfect mix.

South Korean Eun-Hee Ji was the best on the LPGA side, shooting a 14-under-par 272 that concluded with a 70 on Sunday, when play was conducted in 50-degree weather with wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour.

John Smoltz, the pitching great who was also a good enough golfer to qualify for last year’s U.S. Senior Open, ruled the celebrity side. It was conducted with a Stableford format, Smoltz accumulating 147 points — one more than runner-up Mark Mulder, another one-time pitching star.

The celebrity component boosted the galleries and helped get the tournament on more than just The Golf Channel (NBC also provided weekend coverage). At least the two segments got along well.

“A lot of the fans that came, they weren’t for us (the LPGA). They were for the celebrities,’’ said China’s Shanshan Feng, who tied for fourth on the LPGA side. “They weren’t for the (LPGA) players. They were for the celebrities, which is good because that brought them to the tournament.’’

“They (the LPGA players) were wonderful to us,’’ said football great Sterling Sharpe, who tied for fourth among the celebs. “The language barrier could have been a little difficult, but it wasn’t. I hope I’m back next year.’’

While the LPGA players liked the event – the first time since 2015 that the circuit has opened a season in the U.S. – there was a little something lost in the interest of innovation.

“It felt more than a normal, official tournament because in other tournaments we wouldn’t have music on the 18th tee box,’’ said Feng. And that finishing hole at the Tranquilo course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando was a par-3. Very few significant competitions end on such a short hole.

One thing wasn’t so unusual. Koreans finished one-two in the Tournament of Champions, an immediate indication that that country’s domination of the circuit won’t end soon. Ji held off Miram Lee to take the $180,000 first prize from the $1.2 million purse offered for the LPGA players in the 72-hole no-cut event. American Nelly Korda was a shot behind Lee in third place.

Ji, 32, is by no means the best of the huge group of Korean stars on the LPGA circuit. Sunday’s win was her fifth on the circuit, to go with two victories on the Korean circuit and two more in Asia since turning pro in 2007.

Winner of the 2009 U.S. Open, Ji has $6.3 million in career winnings. She’s also had near misses in two other majors — the Women’s PGA (tie for second in 2012) and British Open (tie for third in 2008), but 12 Koreans are ahead of her in the Rolex World Rankings.

The celebs played for $500,000, with Smoltz earning $100,000. He won a celebrity event on the same course in 2014 when the LPGA wasn’t a prominent factor. This year the tournament was designated as an official LPGA event, the first of 33 tournaments on the season schedule. The next four are in Australia (two), Thailand and Singapore) before competition returns to the U.S.

LPGA looks to stars for season-opening Tournament of Champions

You’ve got to give LPGA commissioner Mike Whan credit for at least one thing: he’s not afraid to take chances. And, he has been quick to admit, “When you’re innovative you’ve got to be willing to strike out some times.’’

The LPGA begins its 69th season this week with a new, innovative event – the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at the Tranquilo course at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando in Lake Buena Vista, FL. It tees off on Thursday (JAN 17)

This season-opener is more than just an event for LPGA players. It’s being combined with a celebrity tournament. Thirty-six winners on the LPGA circuit over the last two seasons will compete over 72 holes for a $1.2 million purse and 45 celebrity golfers will compete at the same time in a Modified Stableford format for $500,000.

Good idea or not? Time will tell. With the celebrity element, the focus won’t be just on the women’s game. That’s not so good.

Mike Flaskey, chief executive officer for Diamond Resorts, wants the celebrity component for one big reason. “The celebrity side moves the needle for TV rankings,’’ he said. No argument there, but the quality of the golf usually isn’t anything special.

Flaskey has tried other versions for the event over the previous four years. It was strictly a weekend pro-am the first year. Then, to entice TV coverage, a challenge season event dominated by players from PGA Tour Champions was created. Last year 32 touring pros competed in a Modified Stableford event and four of them – Brooke Henderson, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang and Gerina Piller – were women. Henderson finished seventh and none of the other three could crack the top 20.

This year represents a big step forward for both the women and the event itself. The LPGA will bring more good players for a no-cut tournament. It’ll be an official event so the money earned will count in the season totals. Players had to earn the right to play in the event; they didn’t get in via invitation. And the event will take a step forward by adding a more meaningful competition and a bigger purse.

The PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions have already opened their seasons with limited field events. Now the women will, too – but with celebrities also in the mix. Flaskey has called it “the most unique golf tournament in the world.’’

The celebrity element can be a funny thing, though. Will people come, or tune in to TV coverage on The Golf Channel and/or NBC, to watch the celebrities? That’s usually determined by the name recognition of those participating in the tournament. The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions has stars from other sports along with recording artists Lee Brice and Colt Ford.

The stars from other sports include Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholtz, Josh Donaldson, Terry Francona and Tom Glavine from baseball; Marcus Allen, Larry Fitzgerald, Brian Urlacher, Richard Dent and Mark Rypien from football; Jeremy Roenick from hockey; Ray Allen from basketball and Mardy Fish from tennis.

Whan has arranged a season opener a week earlier than last year and there won’t be another event in the U.S. until the Bank of Hope Foundation tournament in Phoenix, which runs from March 21-24. There’ll be four tournaments — played in Australia, Thailand and Singapore — in between the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and the LPGA’s first full-field event of the season in the U.S.

The second LPGA tournament, the ISPS Vic Open in Australia, is also a new event with an innovative format. Men on the Australasian and European PGA tours will compete concurrently with women from the LPGA and Australian women’s circuit. Also new to the LPGA schedule is the Aon Risk Reward Challenge. It’s a season-long competition on both the LPGA and PGA Tour with the winners on each receiving $1 million.

This LPGA campaign offers 33 official events in 12 countries plus the Solheim Cup team event. A record $70.55 million in official prize money will be on the line. The season will end where it will begin, in Florida. The season-ending CME Group Tour Championship will be played in Naples in November. It’ll have a $5 million purse with the winner getting $1.5 million – the largest single purse in the history of women’s golf.

TRAVEL NOTEOOK: Planned move to Texas doesn’t mean that PGA is leaving Florida

Florida’s PGA Golf Club will remain the winter home of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members.

Earlier this month the PGA of America announced that it will be moving its headquarters from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, to Frisco, Texas. That’s a huge deal, since the projected new headquarters is a half-billion dollar project that will include 45 golf holes, a 500-room Omni resort and a 127,000-square foot conference center among other things.

While that may well be the biggest news splash of 2018 for golfers wanting to travel, there’s more to the announcement than that.

The PGA has deep roots in Florida, and that won’t change. Palm Beach Gardens has been the PGA’s base for more than 50 years. The PGA has operated out of a two-building complex adjacent to the PGA National Resort — annual site of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic — since 1981.

Jimmy Terry still oversees the operation of PGA Golf Club but his duties have been greatly expanded.

While the PGA does not own PGA National it does own and operate PGA Golf Club, a three-course resort located about 40 miles to the north in Port St. Lucie. The PGA will continue to operate it regardless of what goes on in Texas, so the Sunshine State won’t be losing much as far as remaining a golf destination is concerned.

The bottom line is that the PGA isn’t completely leaving Florida – not by a long shot. Construction hasn’t even started in Frisco, and the actual move to Texas won’t come until the fall of 2021 at the earliest.

Even after the construction in Texas is finished the PGA plans to keep about 100 of its 220 employees in Florida working in a refurbished facility built where the current headquarters stands. Those who will move to Texas won’t do so until June of 2022.

The Frisco project aside, Florida will retain its prominence in golf with the PGA Tour still based in Ponte Vedra, the LPGA Tour in Daytona Beach and the huge PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. There already has been a major personnel change within the PGA of America hierarchy related to the move to Texas, however.

Jimmy Terry, general manager of the PGA Golf Club the last five years, is taking on an expanded role as Senior Director of PGA Golf Properties. He’ll now oversee three golf facilities instead of just one.

Terry will play a significant role in guiding the development of the Texas facility and also steer the operation at Valhalla, the PGA’s flagship private facility in Kentucky that has hosted six major championships since its opening in 1986 and is slated to host the PGA Championship in 2024.

Jeremy Wiernasz, who has assumed general manager duties at PGA Golf Club, will report to Terry. Wiernasz will also retain the director of golf duties he has handled at PGA Golf Club since 2013.

TPC Myrtle Beach is one of that area’s best courses and a home course for PGA Tour star Dustin Johnson. He’ll host the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship there on March 1-3.


Ex-Golf Channel mainstay Charlie Rymer is boosting Myrtle Beach.

Charlie Rymer, a fixture on The Golf Channel for the past 11 years, has joined the Golf Tourism Solutions team in a multi-media partnership that will spotlight the Myrtle Beach golf scene. Golf Tourism Solutions is a company that has the assets of a media outlet, including one of the game’s largest email databases, a print magazine and more than 200,000 social media followers.

Myrtle Beach has long been on the cutting edge of destination marketing, and Rymer – a South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame inductee – will play a lead role in that continuing effort.

“I feel like I’m coming home,’’ said Rymer. “At this point in my golf career I want to do things I’m passionate about, and Myrtle Beach is a great fit. Myrtle Beach wants to open the game up to as many people as possible, and that’s what motivates me.’’


Kissimmee Bay Country Club, a Lloyd Clifton design that opened in the Orlando area 28 years ago, has re-opened after a complete renovation of the greens complexes. The facility had been closed for three months.

PGA Tour Champions will again open its season at Broken Sound, in Boca Raton, with its first full-field event from Feb. 4-10 but the tourney will have a new title sponsor. It’ll be called the Oasis Championship thanks to new sponsorship from Oasis Outsourcing, the nation’s largest privately-held professional employer organization.

A judge has ordered the Ocean Links Course at Omni Amelia Island Resort to be restored. Resort operators had begun bulldozing the course, which has five ocean views, in an effort to convert it into a park.

ClubLife Management, sponsored by ClubCorp, has taken over the management of Boca Lago Country Club in Boca Raton. The 27-hole private facility is undergoing a $3.6 million renovation of its clubhouse and that follows a just-completed renovation of the course by Jan Bel Jan Golf Course Design and superintendent George Redshaw.


Pinehurst’s Dormie Club now has some partner clubs.

The Nebraska-based Dormie Network has added a fifth club to its portfolio. Victoria National, the Indiana course that has hosted the Web.com Tour, joined a group that includes Dormie Club, in Pinehurst, N.C.; Briggs Ranch, in San Antonio, TX; Arbor Links, in Nebraska City, Neb.; and Ballyhawk, in Roanoke, Va.

Smart Golf & Fitness has broken ground on a new indoor facility in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area. The two-level 11,000 square foot facility is expected to open in early 2019.

Architect Todd Eckenrode has announced the opening of Twin Dolphin in Los Cabos, Mexico. The layout is the first Fred Couples Signature Course in that area.

Sanctuary Cap Cana has re-opened in the Dominican Republic following a renovation. It’s located near the Corales Puntacana Resort, which hosts a PGA Tour stop from March 28-31.

CourseCo, a golf course management company with properties in California, Oregon, Washington and Texas, has been selected to receive the President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America board of directors.

The Dormie Club Network has a unique look at its namesake course in Pinehurst, N.C.

Ghim, India earn coveted spots at Web.com Tour qualifying tourney

Doug Ghim has relocated from Arlington Heights to Las Vegas as he prepares for his first full season as a Web.com Tour player. (Photos provided by Rory Spears)

The Chicago area has hardly been rich in players on the pro golf tours in recent years, but that situation improved significantly last weekend.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim and Deerfield’s Vince India earned spots for 2019 on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour’s alternate circuit, and former world No. 1 Luke Donald, shaking off lingering back issues, played in his first American tournament in eight months.

Ghim, the low amateur at last year’s Masters, tied for third in the 72-hole finals of the Web.com Tour’s qualifying tournament in Chandler, Ariz., and India, the reigning Illinois Open champion, finished 12th. They were paired together in the final two rounds.

That means both have a significant tour to play on in 2019. The Web.com offers direct advancement to the PGA Tour for its best players. Ghim, who has relocated to Las Vegas since finishing his collegiate career at the University of Texas, is guaranteed 12 tournament starts in 2019 and India will be assured of at least eight.

Ghim, shooting 66-65 on the weekend, finished 25 under par for the 72 holes and India, who opened the tournament with a 63, finished at 23 under.

Vince India became just the ninth player win withs in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open when he won the Open title at The Glen Club this year. He won’t likely be able to defend that title, but the Web.com Tour will have a new event there in June. “That’ll be my Illinois Open,” said India.

India, one of just nine players to own wins in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, was a Web.com regular in 2017 but couldn’t retain his privileges for this year.

“I had full-time status in 2017 and played injured, which was stupid,’’ said India. “Last year I was able to play in only about one-third of the season. I was in a pretty weird place with my golf. Health was probably the reason for my golf problems.’’

Like Donald, India has battled back issues since concluding a stellar collegiate career at Iowa. Also like Donald, he used stem-cell therapy in his recovery effort.

“You’re never over back problems once they start,’’ said India. “There will always be rehab and therapy. It’s always in the back of my mind. I’ll need to keep working.’’

Web.com qualifying is held in three stages. Two Chicago amateur stars of the past, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, didn’t make it to the finals stage and will have to survive Monday qualifying rounds or land sponsor exemptions to get into the circuit’s tournaments.

Dylan Meyer, Hardy’s University of Illinois teammate, tied for 50th in the Web.com finals after a promising start as a pro. Using sponsor exemptions after his collegiate season ended in June, Meyer earned $275,109 in PGA Tour starts and another $10,060 on the Web.com circuit. While he’s not guaranteed any Web.com starts, Meyer will likely get into a few tournaments because he qualified for the finals of Q-School.

LUKE IS BACK: Luke Donald spent parts of 2011 and 2012 as the world’s top-ranked golfer after graduating from Northwestern and he remained active golf-wise in the Chicago area through his membership at Conway Farms in Lake Forest and support work for the NU golf program, Western Golf Assn., and First Tee of Greater Chicago.

Donald’s playing career tapered off after he suffered a herniated disc in his back that led to his dropping off the circuit in April. After taking three months of complete rest while receiving stem-cell therapy Donald returned to competition in October at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour.

So far the results haven’t been there. Donald missed the 54-hole cut in the Dunhill Links and his team was 10th among the 12 twosomes competing in last week’s GTE Shootout in Naples, FL. He’ll join Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman to give the Chicago area a presence on the PGA Tour when the circuit resumes its schedule in January.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN LPGA: For over two decades Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray was basically the only Chicago area player on the Ladies PGA Tour. Now Jeray is turning her focus to teaching at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville and Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol will carry the Chicago banner on the LPGA circuit.

Szokol spent two collegiate seasons at Northwestern and two at Virginia before earning a place on the LPGA’s satellite Symetra Tour last year. Szokol advanced to the LPGA circuit by finishing fourth on the Symetra money list this year. She earned $76,612 and picked up her first victory at the IOA Invitational in May.

WINTER SCENE: Steve Kashul’s “The Golf Scene’’ will begin its Winter Edition on Sunday. The show, which will run at various times, is celebrating its 25th year anniversary on NBC Sports Chicago.

The Chicago Golf Show is also gearing up for its 36th winter staging. It’ll be held Feb. 22-24 at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosement.