Len Ziehm On Golf

Q-Schools provide a boost for Hopfinger, Troyanovich

The lengthy, very demanding qualifying sessions to determine next year’s players on the PGA Tour, Ladies PGA Tour and PGA Champions circuit came to an end over the weekend with two Chicago hopefuls — Brad Hopfinger and Samantha Troyanovich — putting themselves in position to further their golfing careers in 2018.

Lake Forest’s Hopfinger, one of only seven players to own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, is assured a spot in the first eight tournaments on the PGA’s satellite Web.com Tour next season. Troyanovich, who won the 2012 Illinois Women’s Open as an amateur, earned conditional status on the LPGA circuit.

Getting as far as they did wasn’t easy. The Q-Schools for both circuits are complicated, nail-biting affairs that span nearly four months. On the men’s side, there are three pre-qualifying tournaments that start in August in Texas, California and Nebraska. Those events determine who fills out fields in the Stage I eliminations, which were played at 11 sites around the country in October.

The survivors of Stage I played in one of the five Stage II events, each of which had about 80 players, and those survivors went to the final stage. Some players had exemptions through the early stages based on past performance, but Stage III started with 144 players and ended after 72 holes on Sunday in Chandler, Ariz., with Hopfinger finishing just one stroke better than two other prominent Chicago players – Deerfield’s Vince India and Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

That one stroke made a big difference, however. Hopfinger, by virtue of finishing at 14-under-par 274 and in a tie for 42nd place, is assured a spot in the first eight Web.com Tour events of 2018. Then there’ll be a re-shuffle of players.

Hopfinger played frequently on the Web.com in 2017, earning $30,904. While he will be in a better position to get into tournaments in 2018, he’ll have to get off to a good start to keep playing. Still, he’s in a much better position than India, his former college teammate at Iowa, and Sainz, the 2016 Illinois Open champion.

India, who was third overall in the Web.com qualifying in 2016 but didn’t earn enough money in 2017 to retain his card, shot 63 in the third round of the Q-School’s third stage on Saturday and Sainz, who spent much of this season on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour, had a solid 66-67 finish on the weekend.

That’s great golf, but both still finished at 13-under-par for the tournament and in a tie for 57th place. They will likely need to go through Monday qualifiers to get into next year’s tournaments. And that’s only to play on the PGA Tour’s satellite circuit. Make it to the PGA Tour proper has demands even more stringent than that.

Addison’s Tee-K Kelly, in his first season as a pro after a strong collegiate career at Ohio State, also made it to last week’s Stage III but an 80 in the first round doomed his chances at advancement. Kelly, though, had a promising rookie season. He won an event on the Latinoamerica circuit and had five top-10 finishes while finishing seventh on the circuit’s order of merit.

Troyanovich, who now resides in Michigan, also had to endure three stages to get her LPGA playing privileges. She tied for 38th of 144 players in Stage I, which was contested in California. The top 90 advanced, and she tied for 68th among 165 players in Stage II in Venice, FL., with the top 80 moving on to the final stage.

The final, played over 90 holes at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, FL., had 361 finalists. Troyanovich tied for 32nd place and that will be enough to get into at least a few 2018 tournaments without enduring a qualifying round.

Troyanovich has had only limited playing time on the LPGA circuit (three missed cuts in as many starts in 2017) and its satellite Symetra Tour. Next year she’ll be able to play more on both circuits.

One Chicago player, Lance Ten Broeck, was in the PGA Champions qualifying tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. A former PGA Tour regular, he finished in a tie for 23rd place and needed a top five finish to get fully exempt status on the 50-and-over circuit. He figures to return to his job as a caddie on the PGA circuit in 2018.

Katie Pius holds her own against the men in the Illinois PGA tourneys

The Illinois PGA has few members to rival Katie Pius. In fact, there really aren’t any with the background that this assistant professional at Biltmore Country Club in North Barrington has.

Gender-wise the Illinois Section is noteworthy in having, in Carrie Williams, one of the three women to hold executive director posts in the PGA of America’s 41 sections. And, this year Carol Rhoades became the first woman to be named the section’s professional of the year in 62 years. Numerically, though, the IPGA includes just 31 women among its approximately 800 members and apprentices.

Playing-wise, of those select 31 Pius is the best of them all by a long shot and she has even held her own against the men in several Illinois PGA Championships.

Earlier this year Pius was named to the athletic Hall of Fame at her college alma mater, Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C. Then Katie Dick, she played on four teams that won the NCAA Division III national championship and she was the individual champion at that level in her junior season.

In 2005, her first year at the school, the National Golf Coaches Association named her its Freshman of the Year. A four-time first team All-American, she was part of Methodist’s astonishing string of 13 consecutive national championships from 2000 to 2012.

“I don’t know why I decided to go there, but I did luck out,’’ she said. “I just wanted to go to a small school, and I hadn’t played much junior golf growing up. I wasn’t in the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) stuff.’’

Growing up in a small town on the outskirts of Youngstown, Ohio, didn’t keep Dick from achieving her goal of becoming a golf professional. She decided to attend Methodist Monarch because she would be able to play golf at a school that offered a PGA internship program. When she graduated in 2008 she had both her PGA Class A card and a degree in business.

Most players with her collegiate success would be tempted to give professional tournament golf a try, but not Dick. She still loves to compete but is doing it as the only woman in otherwise all-male fields in the IPGA tournaments.

“I just didn’t have the practice mentality,’’ she said, “plus, on the Futures (now Symetra) Tour you couldn’t make a living. I have tried the U.S. Open qualifiers because they’re a one-day thing, but playing tournament golf would be such a different life.’’

The life she has now is just fine, thank you. She is married to Josh Pius, the head professional at Inverness, and they became parents of daughter Betty who turns 2 in December. In being Lake Zurich residents, both have short drives to their respective clubs.

“I never thought I’d marry a golf pro,’’ said Katie, “but it’s worked out for us. We both get Mondays off. I don’t know that we’d ever work together, but I do understand the long hours he has to put in at times.’’

Josh had a similar collegiate experience as Katie. He attended Michigan’s Ferris State, which was a pioneer institution in creating programs for those who wanted to enter the golf industry.

As part of her college studies she spent two summers doing internships, one of which was at the famed Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Resort in Florida. She also interned at Lakeshore Country Club in Glencoe before beginning her run of assistant jobs at three of Chicago’s most established private clubs.

First came three years at Westmoreland, in Wilmette , then two at Bryn Mawr, in Lincolnwood, and she just completed her fourth year at Biltmore working under the direction of veteran head pro Doug Bauman. Katie handled teaching duties and had guided the ladies programs at Biltmore until motherhood led to her cutting back her workload.

“I want to focus on being a mom,’’ she said, “but I don’t want to lose touch with golf.’’

Through job and lifestyle changes she’s been able to do that. She survived the cut playing with the men in the last two Illinois PGA Championships, tying for 49th place at Olympia Fields in 2016 and tying for 35th at Medinah this year. She’s also had a handful of good showings in the stroke play events and competes in the Illinois Women’s Open. Still, Pius downplays the unique place she has on the Illinois tournament side.

“I’ve never won, so there’s no reason,’’ she said. “I haven’t done anything too special around here.’’

On that she’s selling herself a bit short. In the last four decades the only other woman to make a significant impact in the major IPGA events was Michele Drinkard in the 1980s. She eventually left club work and is now a successful college coach at the Division I level.

Rich in history, Miami Springs has maintained its connections with the past

Miami Springs will always have a prominent place in history books — and not just for golf.

MIAMI SPRINGS, Florida – The first thing you notice are the trees. The Miami Springs Golf & Country Club has lots of great big ones, and there’s a reason.

Trees played a big part in the design of this, arguably the most historic 18 holes in Florida – a state with over 1,300 courses, more than any other in the nation.

Unlike many of the old courses, both in Florida and elsewhere, many of the original trees were allowed to grow at Miami Springs. Over 70 were lost during Hurricane Irma in September, but not the controversial one blocking the green at the par-3 twelfth hole. Many of the course’s regular players were hoping that tree would have blown down, but it’s still standing.

Miami Springs is located beside the Miami International Airport and is just two miles from the famed Trump National Doral Miami resort and spa. Much to the credit of its operators, Miami Springs’ layout wasn’t seriously altered over the years. It still plays at 6,755 yards from the back tees, just like it did during its 30 years as the home of the Miami Open and the 34 years it hosted the North & South tourney – the largest minority-sponsored golf competition in the United States. Miami Springs was the first Florida course to admit minorities, in 1949.

Those were just the biggest of many big events held at Miami Springs. If only those trees could talk, they would have some interesting stories to tell. As it is, the operators of the course have thankfully embraced the course’s rich history. Its well documented on the course’s website.

Massive tree like these are the trademark at Miami Springs. Many are over 90 years old.

The present ownership, the City of Miami Springs, has a friendly staff and that adds to the good vibes you get when you visit the place. It starts with the waitress in the small but neat dining room and the starter at the first tee, who is quick to extol the course’s charm, and it extends all the way to the guy greeting us in the parking lot after our round. He wanted to sell us clubs and was reluctant to take no for an answer, but he eventually did with a smile on his face.

We were paired with a caddie from Doral and a young local who was well versed on the public courses in the area. Miami Springs is one of their favorites. It’s not just the course, either. Miami Springs also has the only lighted grass driving range within 25 miles.

From a historical perspective, Miami Springs isn’t the first course in the area. There was a six-hole layout at the Royal Palm Hotel in 1897 and Henry Flagler opened nine holes at the Miami Country Club in 1898. Miami Springs developed from the enthusiasm of a group called the Miami Coconuts, a group of businessmen who loved golf but had no place to play.

This massive banyan is the most memorable of the trees adorning Miami Springs.

Tubby Smith, the leader of the Coconuts, was editor of The Southern Golfer. Some historical accounts claim that he designed the course in 1922. The more widely held belief is that a respected Chicago architectural firm, William Langford and Theodore Moreland, did the work. At any rate, the course — built for $101,000 – opened as Dade County’s first municipal course in 1923 under the name of Miami Hialeah Golf Club.

It was originally owned by the City of Miami, which kicked in $3,000 for prize money to create the first Miami Open in January, 1925. The event drew all the great players of the era. Cyril Walker, the reigning U.S. Open champion, was there along with Walter Hagen, Long Jim Barnes, Jock Hutchison, Tommy Armour and Gene Sarazen. The reigning British Open titlist, Abe Mitchell, led wire-to-wire in winning the $600 first prize, however.

For the next 29 years the Miami Open was a sports highlight in south Florida. Sam Snead won it six times, including the last staging in 1955 when rain shortened the event from 72 to 54 holes. On the champions wall in the clubhouse he’s even listed as “Sammy Snead’’ in the early references.

There are plenty of famous names among the Miami Open champions

The Miami Open became an official PGA event in 1945 and was held in January as the traditional kickoff to the circuit’s winter season. In 1955 it was shifted to December dates with a $12,500 prize fund and still drew 25,000 spectators.

That, though, turned out the end of a great run. The PGA required a $15,000 purse the next year, and the City of Miami refused to pay it. Not only that, but the governmental body deemed the Miami Springs clubhouse an unsafe structure and burned it down in a fire drill.

Looking back at the Miami Open years, the tourney became a milestone when Arnold Palmer made it his first professional event in 1955, a year after winning the U.S. Amateur. He shot 78-74 and missed the cut by six strokes but Palmer returned to tie for eighth in the tourney’s last staging a year later.

While the Miami Open was the main event, Miami Springs also hosted a second PGA event during those years. The Miami Four Ball was part of Byron Nelson’s record 11 straight victories during the 1945 season.

Modern tee markers contrast with Miami Springs’ rich past.

With the PGA gone Miami Springs hosted the Major League Baseball Players outing from 1956-67 along with the North and South event. Those events brought such luminaries as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Nat `King’ Cole, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis to Miami Springs.

Seven years after the last Miami Open the PGA Tour established another longstanding tournament in Miami. Doral, with its Blue Monster course, hosted tournaments for 55 straight years until sponsorship problems led to the circuit putting a tournament in Mexico in its place on the 2017 schedule.

So now Miami is without a PGA Tour event? That doesn’t sound right. Doral, with its four 18-holers, will likely host big tournaments again. Miami Springs, most likely not.

Still, it was at Miami Springs where Florida’s rich golf history really got its start. That’s why it deserves such a prominent place among the 53 courses listed on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

Two months later remnants of Hurricane Irma were still present at Miami Springs.

Here’s how to repair your divots and protect your back as well

Rick Hetzel’s premier divot tool fits right with his clubs.

When it comes to analyzing the latest in golf equipment I tend to defer to Jason Bruno, my Florida golf website partner who is a scratch player. I’m clearly not.

Bruno, the creator of the LinksNation website, and I had a catch-up round this week – our first since I returned from the Chicago area in September. We played at PGA Golf Club’s Dye Course along with Rick Hetzel, the president of InstaGolf LLC.

The company, based in Hetzel’s hometown of Cape Girardeau, Mo., specializes in golf accessories. Its products, sold predominantly on line, include shoes, putters, towels and rain gear. His offerings are certainly fair game for me to analyze as well. You don’t have to be a scratch player to analyze them.

I quickly became interested in all of Hetzel’s products, but divot tools in particular. There are so many of these — from so many manufacturers — on the market. Hetzel himself has four different models. The one that intrigued me the most was his SPIDERPro. If you have a bad back, this one is for you.

You don’t need to bend down to repair a divot if you have a SPIDERPro. It fits into your golf bag like an extra club. If one of your shots does damage to a putting surface you pull out the SPIDERPro, unscrew the top, poke the stainless steel legs on the exposed end into the divot and watch it disappear. Hetzel’s divot tools come in more standard looks as well, and he reports that all have been well-received by golf course operators.

A year later, and the Arnold Palmer spirit still lives on at Bay Hill

ORLANDO, Florida – It’s not unusual for a golf destination to lose its owner or – in Florida, at least – to be hit by a hurricane. That’s just part of life.

When the owner, though, is the legendary Arnold Palmer and the hurricane is one of the most devastating in the history of the state, that changes things. Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge has coped with both challenging developments and – we found out first hand – is now dealing with another.

We visited Bay Hill to see how the club has adapted to life without Palmer, whose consistent on-site presence made the club like no other, and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which battered all of Florida and neighboring states in September.

All was well after the first night of our visit. The next day, though, we woke up to the sound of fire alarms. A water main burst caused damage to several rooms in the 70-room Bay Hill Lodge, a dilemma with the tourist season fast approaching but nothing that will have a long-lasting impact.

Palmer died on Sept. 25, 2016, while awaiting heart surgery near his long-time home in Latrobe, Pa. He was 87, and his passing triggered tributes worldwide. The man known by all as “the King’’ or simply “Arnie’’ did a lot more good things besides just winning golf tournaments. He was one of the most beloved sports figures of all time, and six months after his passing a statue in Palmer’s honor was erected at Bay Hill. It was completed in time for the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational – an annual stop on the PGA Tour.

Now, eight months and a hurricane after that tournament, we found Bay Hill still a vibrant place. Palmer is gone, but certainly hasn’t been forgotten. The memories of his good old days in tournament golf were always reflected in the décor at the lodge and more classic photos and memorabilia have been added in the past few months.

Given its history, this recent addition to Bay Hill may be the club’s most interesting piece of artwork.

The most interesting is a piece of artwork in the member’s lounge. (It’s important to note that everyone lodging at Bay Hill is a “member’’ during their stay and is treated as such).

Two Bay Hill members, John and Shirley Horn, commissioned the artwork, which was created by artist Bill Mack. You have to know the history of the piece to fully appreciate it; a casual glance won’t do.

Mack purchased the iconic metal sign that was built in 1923 to welcome visitors to Hollywood. It was located at Mount Lee in Los Angeles before Mack acquired it in 2007. He used the metal from it as a façade to paint portraits of illustrious movie stars, but included Palmer among his subjects. In Mack’s judgment, the 80-year old metal material “gives each painting a heartbeat, a sense of time and place.’’

The Bay Hill Lodge is the perfect place to showcase this unique artwork of Palmer. He’s been the subject of many other forms of art over the years, including the statue that has been a feature at Bay Hill since last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The Arnold Palmer statue has found a permanent home among the flowers of Bay Hill.

That statue was moved after the PGA Tour event and is now located behind, instead of in front of, a flower garden. Its present location is better than its former one, though there were some fears that the statue was vulnerable when Hurricane Irma visited. Those walloping winds couldn’t take down “Arnie,’’ however, and Bay Hill – unlike many courses in the area — escaped pretty much unscathed as well. The course was closed only five days for cleanup.

Otherwise, the most notable change at Bay Hill isn’t all that notable. There’s just some new signage on the club’s 27 holes, but the Champion, Challenger and Charger nines were as pristine as ever – even a few days after over-seeding and other maintenance procedures were performed.

Palmer’s love affair with Bay Hill started that day in 1965 when he won a charity exhibition event there that also included Jack Nicklaus and Don Cherry. Palmer immediately told his wife Winnie that he wanted to own the place. In 1970 he took out a five-year lease and became the owner officially in 1975.

The Charger nine isn’t used in the Arnold Palmer Invitational but it has more picturesque holes.

Groundbreaking for Bay Hill actually came in 1960 and architect Dick Wilson designed the original 18 holes, which opened a year later. Palmer’s influence, of course, took the place to new heights. In addition to the golf it now includes three restaurants, three lounges, six tennis courts, a full-service spa, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a marina and seven guest cottages.

Palmer’s presence, as much as the facilities, made Bay Hill the special place it has become. In our first visit, in 2014, he dined and socialized with his visitors. No other golf destination could provide that. It’s not the same with him gone, of course, but the aura continues with his daughter, Amy Palmer Saunders, and her husband Roy overseeing the operation. The spirit of Arnie lives on, as you can see from the scenes below, taken on and off the course.

Cog Hill golfers get another chance at PGA Junior national title

Cog Hill’s team of all-stars will go after the PGA Junior League’s national title this week.

With cold weather bringing the Chicago golf season to a close, the top players need to travel to find competition – and that’s what the PGA Junior League team from Cog Hill in Lemont is doing again.

Cog Hill’s team, captained by Kevin Weeks and coached by Clayton Pendergraft, earned a return to this week’s eight-team national finals at Grayhawk, in Scottsdale, Ariz., through regional eliminations.

Three days of match play competition to determine the national champion begin on Friday for all-star teams from eight states. Cog Hill represents Illinois, with the other teams coming from New Jersey, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, California, New Hampshire and Ohio.

The PGA Junior League program began in 1995 and has grown steadily. This year there were 42,000 youngsters and 3,400 teams participating nation-wide.


Samantha Troyanovich, who won the 2012 Illinois Women’s Open title, could give the Chicago area a rare player on the Ladies PGA Tour if she can survive the third stage of Qualifying School scheduled for Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Troyanovich, who played out of Mistwood — the IWO’s home site in Romeoville — when she won her title, has been playing primarily on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour since turning professional. She survived the first two stages of this year’s Q-School, each of which had nearly 200 players. She tied for 38th in the first stage in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and tied for 68th in the second stage in Venice, Fla.

Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray has been the only Chicago product to maintain a presence on the LPGA circuit in the last two decades.

Kemper Lakes’ JIm Billiter collects his Illinois PGA Player of the Year award at Medinah Country Club. (Rory Spears Photo)

They’re the best

Both the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association have determined their players of the year for 2017.

The IPGA had a tight race between Jim Billiter, head pro at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer, and Adam Schumacher, assistant pro at Indian Hill in Winnetka. Schumacher won the last two of the section’s major tourneys – the IPGA Championship and IPGA Players – but Billiter was more consistent in the big events. He won the IPGA Match Play title, was fifth in the IPGA Championship and tied for 13th in both the Illinois Open and Players.

Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb was the IPGA’s senior player of the year. He won the award for the fourth straight year and the eighth time in the last 11.

On the amateur side Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, a senior at Miami of Ohio, dominated the CDGA’s standings after becoming the first player in 37 years to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year. Terry Werner, of Schererville, Ind., was the CDGA’s senior player of the year.

Scheduling dilemmas

While the full tournament schedule for next season isn’t available, there’s some unfortunate conflicts already.

The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, is on the same July dates as the PGA Champions’ Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor in Highland Park and the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club.

And that’s not all. An LPGA major event– the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes – is scheduled opposite the top amateur tournament — the Women’s Western Amateur – in June.

Forced carries like this one are the trademark at St. James Bay, recently taken over by a Chicago group.

Here and there

Three Chicago area men – John Green of Cary, Michael Lerner of Barrington and Michael Balkin of Winnetka – have purchased a public course in the Florida Panhandle. The course, St. James Bay in Carrabelle, was a 2003 design by Joe Lee, whose many creations nation-wide include the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill.

Jacquelyn Endsley, who has working experience at KemperSports and Chicago’s Harborside International, has been named championship director of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The Wisconsin native had also been championship manager of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open.

Illinois men’s coach Mike Small has signed two Illinois players –Luke Armbrust of St. Francis in Wheaton and Tommy Kuhl of downstate Morton – to national letters of intent.

Organizers of both the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club have issued their first call for tournament volunteers.

`Little Copperhead’ upgrade bolsters Packard influence at Innisbrook

Eleven holes on Little Copperhead have water hazards but No. 14 looks different than the others.

PALM HARBOR, Florida – Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Hotels & Resorts company, had an extraordinary two days last week.

On Thursday Salamander re-opened its Jack Nicklaus-designed Hammock Beach course in Palm Coast, Fla. It had been closed for a 13-month restoration. The next day Salamander put on a festive celebration to mark the re-opening of the North Course at Innisbrook Resort, located in Palm Harbor – part of the Tampa Bay area.

Innisbrook’s North Course is frequently referred to as “Little Copperhead’’ because of its connection to the PGA Tour layout that’s also on the premises. The big Copperhead is more famous as the site of the Valspar Championship in March.

The renovation at Little Copperhead took about half as long (six months) as the one at Hammock Beach but it may go down as more impactful. Little Copperhead is part of one of Florida’s busiest resorts and it’s going to draw plenty of raves once the tourist season kicks into high gear in the next few weeks.

The work done at Little Copperhead centered on the putting surfaces.

Director of golf Bobby Barnes envisioned an update of the North Course for two years before it became a reality.

“We replaced all 18 greens, and it was a project that was tremendously successful,’’ said Mike Williams, Innisbrook’s managing director. “We finished on time, under budget and have a project well done.’’

Williams has been in his current job only eight months, but he had worked at Innisbrook previously when Hilton was the resort’s manager. Williams spent 25 years working at various locations for Hilton, then was executive vice president for Crescent Hotels for five years before deciding to “retire’’ at Innisbrook. Williams and his wife will soon move into a house they are having built near the No. 10 green of Innisbrook’s Island Course.

His eight months on the job, though, haven’t been the life of a retiree. In addition to dealing with the uncertainly of Hurricane Irma’s October visit that wreaked havoc with the entire state Williams worked immediately to gain approval for the Little Copperhead renovation. That delighted Rob Koehler, superintendent of the North and South courses at the resort, and Bobby Barnes, the director of golf. Koehler and Barnes had dreamed of doing the North Course renovation for two years.

“The greens were over 40 years old,’’ explained Barnes. “We switched to TIFEagle Bermuda, the same as at Copperhead and the Island Course, and we re-sodded all the bunker collars.’’

The new greens on Little Copperhead played like they’d been there for years at the Grand Opening..

Those new greens played during the grand opening round as if they had been there for years. Those who have visited the course in the past will also note three new trees on the first hole, two more on the right side of the No. 18 fairway and three palms that now outline the island green at No. 5. Koehler managed virtually the entire project.

That’s particularly noteworthy, in that no new architect was deemed needed. The original layout designed by the legendary Larry Packard is still very much in evidence. The sizes of the greens were expanded where shrinkage had occurred over the years, and that will allow for additional pin placements now. That’s always a good thing.

Packard designed all four courses at Innisbrook, and Little Copperhead merits a special place in the resort’s history. Nine of its holes were once part of the Copperhead course, which opened in 1972. Packard designed the two Copperheads nine holes at a time and the back nine of the North Course was once part of the premier layout.

The biggest difference between the “big’’ and “little’’ Copperhead is length. Little Copperhead – the North Course – measures only 6,325 yards from the back tees. It has an unusual quirk with back-to-back par-3s at Nos. 15 and 16 and plays to a par of 70. Big Copperhead is 7,209 yards and a par 71.

Though already hosting a professional tournament for 25 consecutive years, both the U.S. Golf Association and PGA Tour have toyed with the idea of bringing a major championship to that layout. It hasn’t happened yet but, down the road, who knows?

No. 18 received two new trees to enhance another of designer Larry Packard’s trademark doglegs.

Packard finished his storied career – he designed over 600 courses — at Innisbrook. Before moving there in 1984 he worked on the courses with his son Roger. Though not achieving the notoriety of his father Roger was a successful course architect as well. He started working with his father in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale and, teaming with two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North, designed two of Illinois’ best courses — Cantigny, which has 27 holes in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, and The General, at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena. Roger created three 18-holers at Eagle Ridge.

The first course the Packards worked on together, though, was at Innisbrook. They joined forces on the Island Course, which opened in 1970 as Innisbrook’s first 18-holer. Recently lengthened and renovated, it has hosted U.S. Open qualifiers, the Ladies PGA Legends Tour and the NCAA Championships. The Packards worked on courses together for about 15 years before Roger eventually went out on his own.

In addition to his work in Illinois, Roger designed Sweetwater – a course located on what was then the Ladies PGA Tour headquarters in Sugar Land, Tex. The LPGA later moved from that area to its present location in Daytona Beach.

Larry Packard also created the South Course, which contrasts with the others at Innisbrook in that it is more links-style with 10 water hazards. Larry was an Innisbrook resident until his death in 2014 at the age of 101.

Roger was on hand at Innisbrook to celebrate the 2015 re-opening of the Copperhead course following a major renovation. He had done most of his work in China in recent years before being stricken with esophageal cancer. Roger moved back to Palm Harbor to seek the aid of the same care-giver that his father had in the final months of his life. Roger died on Oct. 14 in Palm Harbor. He was 70.

The island green at No. 5 has been enhanced with the addition of some new trees.

Good golf is more than just another attraction in the buzzing Daytona Beach area

The par-3 fourth is typical of the beautiful holes offered at Sugar Mill, one of Florida’s best courses.

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – It might be difficult to look at Daytona Beach as a golf destination but — without question — you should.

Admittedly the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Beach’’ is the main attraction in the Volusia County area. Or maybe it’s the Daytona International Speedway, the recently renovated world’s largest motor sports stadium and the site of the annual Daytona 500.

Golf, though, is very much a part of the Daytona scene as well. After all, it is the headquarters of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. LPGA International has two courses on its premises, the most prominent being the Jones Course – a Rees Jones creation that re-opened in September after a greens’ renovation during the summer months.

The Jones and its companion Hills Course (an Arthur Hills design) will host the final stage of the LPGA Qualifying School from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 and the Jones will be the site of the Symetra Tour Championship from Oct. 5-8, a season climax that includes pro-ams on the days both before and after the main event.

Those upcoming events will create the highlight of the area’s 2017 golf season, but there are plenty of other playing options for visitors within a 20-mile radius. Our three-day, three-course visit was highlighted by a round at Sugar Mill Country Club, a Joe Lee design in New Smyrna Beach.

Lee, who died in 2003, was a well-respected Florida-based architect who made a rare venture out of the South to design the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 courses at Cog Hill, in Lemont, Ill. The last of Lee’s courses at Cog Hill, better known as Dubsdread, was the long-time home of the PGA Tour’s Western Open.

Sugar Mill doesn’t have the stature of Cog Hill or some of Lee’s other designs, but it is one of the very best courses in Florida, believe me, and it has the added benefit of offering 27 holes. Sugar Mill is a private club, so getting on the course might not be easy. Non-member tee times are frequently available in the summer months and occasionally available on weekdays during the winter, however. I’d recommend giving Sugar Mill a shot. If you’re successful getting on you’ll find it well worth the effort.

Architect Ron Garl’s creative bunkering made Victoria Hills a most challenging layout.

Another, very different, course is more readily available for play in New Smyrna Beach. We’re big supporters of the Florida Historic Golf Trail, a collection of about 50 courses around the state that have been opened to the public for at least 50 consecutive years. You never know what you’re going to get when you test a Historic Trail layout, but you will get a good taste of golf history in the state that has the most courses – over 1,300 of them.

We’ve tried about a dozen Historic Trail courses over the years and the New Smyrna Beach Golf Club is the second-best of the lot (trailing only El Campion, at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills).

Construction of the New Smyrna course was started by the Donald Ross and Associates architectural firm in 1949 but Ross wasn’t really involved. He died in 1951 and the 18 holes weren’t completed until 1956. The present version represents a Bobby Weed re-design and was completed in 2006.

Mounds defined many of the fairways on the Jones Course at LPGA International.

Our three-day tour of the Daytona area concluded with a round at Victoria Hills, in DeLand. The tour turned out a most-interesting one, in that we played three very different courses in three very different weather conditions and all three had their own charm. Victoria Hills, designed by prolific Florida architect Ron Garl, opened in 2000 and was the toughest of the three layouts.

Garl created a challenging course around 104 big, deep bunkers and elevation changes that are most unusual for Florida courses. While LPGA International and Sugar Mill are located in well-established areas, Victoria Hills is in the heart of a construction boom. Houses are being built around the course and clubhouse upgrades are also in the works. When they’re completed Victoria Hills will become one of the most attractive golf options in Volusia County.

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, built in the 1880s, is one of many sites worth seeing in the Daytona Beach area.

Others – particularly Cypress Head and Spruce Creek in Port Orange; Halifax Plantation in Ormond Beach; and Hidden Lakes, The Preserve at Turnbull Bay and Venetian Bay – all in New Smyrna Beach, also come with glowing recommendations. Spruce Creek is noteworthy, as it’s located in a secluded, fly-in gated community.

In reality, the attractiveness of the golf in the Daytona Beach area is enhanced by the other offerings available. They work hand-in-hand in making this area of the world’s most popular golf/vacation destinations because there’s so much to do there.

In July, for instance, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators – 13 industry leaders from Costa Rica to Australia – visited the area for their North American convention and didn’t just play golf. They also took spins around the Daytona International Speedway track, which has been active with a variety of events about 300 days a year since a $400 million 2 1/2 -year renovation project was completed in January of 2016.

The Speedway isn’t just a tourist hot spot during Speed Week in February. Daily tours are also available and the facility’s museum reflects that sport’s rich history. It’s interesting, whether you’re an auto racing aficionado or not.

Dining and lodging options abound and, if you want a quick stop to see something different, try out the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. It’s 175 feet high – the second-highest lighthouse in Florida – and you can climb to the top of it or stay at ground level to check out some replica homes from the 1800s.

The Walk of Fame was just one of the highlights offered at the Daytona International Speedway.

Hanse’s new Black Course adds to what has made Streamsong a special place

There’s lots of good holes at Streamsong, but my favorite is No. 7 — a par-3 on the Blue Course.

STREAMSONG, Florida – There are over 1,300 golf courses in Florida, more than any other state in the nation, but one facility stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Streamsong Resort, located in the central portion of Florida, has three of the very best 18-holers – not only in the Sunshine State but in the entire United States — now that the Gil Hanse-designed Black Course has opened for public play.

“To have three courses is great,’’ said Scott Wilson, Streamsong’s director of golf. “It gives our guests more variety, and it helps us to be considered in the big picture of resort golf. Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Kiawah, The American Club, Pinehurst – they all have four or more.’’

Yes, it’s a big deal that Streamsong now has a third course – and it’s something special thanks to the designer’s innovative touches. But our comprehensive three-day visit also left us wondering more about what will be coming next

Punchbowl greens are a rarity, and this one can’t be seen from Streamsong Black’s No. 9 fairway.

Streamsong had barely opened its doors in 2012 when we showed up unannounced for a quick tour on a get-acquainted mission that didn’t involve the hitting of a single shot. The intentional brevity of that visit underscored to us just how far Streamsong has come in only five years. Then it had two golf courses that – based just on the reputations of the architects – were sure to be well received by early players.

There was no lodge then. Now there’s a big, state-of-the-art one that has 216 rooms. Lodging is also available at the Clubhouse, and there are four upscale dining restaurants plus a rooftop lounge on the property. The resort also offers such amenities as archery, sporting clays and bass finishing, but golf overwhelms the others, and more is certain to come down the road. The Mosaic Company, Streamsong’s owner, has 16,000 acres to create more golf options on what once had been a phosphate strip mine.

How that land will be used remains to be seen but one very dedicated – though admittedly low level – employee told us that the goal was to eventually have nine courses, each with its own clubhouse. Wilson said that won’t happen and is cautious in discussing any growth possibilities.

This windmill is the logo for Streamsong Black, and is also the key point of reference for players on the course.

“Our goal has been to open three courses, make sure we’re doing it right and make sure our guests are having a good time,’’ he said.

That’s already happening and, while the growth of golf overall has been slow in recent years, it’s never lingered at Streamsong. An expansion to at least five courses in a relatively short period of time seems a given. That’s the number of courses at Bandon Dunes, the Oregon golf mecca that – like Streamsong – is managed by Chicago-based KemperSports.

Comparisons between Bandon and Streamsong will be inevitable as more players visit both hotspots. I already have my opinions on that, but will save them for a later date.

For now it’s time to celebrate the arrival of the Black Course. Its formal opening festivities in late September were sold out for months in advance.

Like the Red, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the Blue, designed by Tom Doak, the Black is basically a walking-only course. Carts were available in the afternoons during our visit but walking – either with a caddie or a rickshaw (a basic pull cart) – was much more appropriate and a better way to enjoy the unique Streamsong experience.

Streamsong’s understated logo and masculine decor reflect the resort’s sleek architectural style.

First-time visitors should be aware of two things: Streamsong doesn’t come cheap (it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this kind of quality golf would come with a commensurate price tag) and a degree of physical fitness is a requirement. Our caddies told us that playing the Black Course meant an eight-mile walk and the other two were about a mile less.

For the sake of comparison, a walking round on the Black didn’t seem quite as tiring as similar rounds at either Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open site in Washington state, or Erin Hills, the 2017 U.S. Open venue in Wisconsin.

Considering how much hype the Black opening created in the golf world I didn’t feel the new course overshadowed Streamsong’s other two layouts. For me the hole with the best wow factor on the property was No. 7 on the Blue, a par-3 that could play anywhere from 97 to 203 yards with a walk across a bridge needed to get from the tee to the green.

As for a favorite course among the three I agreed with all of my playing partners from the three-day visit. (They came from Illinois and Virginia, played all three courses during their stay and we had not met any of them prior to our rounds together). All of us liked the Red the best, for whatever the reason.

The Lodge, with its 216 rooms, is the main gathering place for Streamsong’s visitors.

The Black, though, has some features that the others don’t. Hanse’s fame as an architect took off with his creation of the Brazil course that hosted the 2016 Olympics golf competition, and Streamsong Black has been described as “bigger, broader and bolder’’ than that course in Rio de Janeiro.

After playing it for the first time your No. 1 memory will be the highly unusual punchbowl green on No. 9. It’s about 60 yards in width and depth, but you can’t see it from the fairway. There are two putting surfaces at No. 3, another par-4. The bunkers are numerous and eye-catching throughout the course because of their sharp, ragged-shaped edges. Water comes into play only minimally, at Nos. 3 and 18.

The Black, the only Streamsong course that plays to a par of 73, has three par-5s on the back nine and the course – at 7,311 yards from the back tees – has a maximum length about 200 yards longer than the Red and Blue layouts. The Black is built on 300 acres and has 86 acres devoted to fairways and 11 to putting surfaces.

The teeth from prehistoric inhabitants on the land on which Streamsong was built were used in this lobby exhibit at the Lodge.

Hanse’ creativity extended beyond his 18 holes. He included an extra 340-yard par-4 cutoff hole that finishes at the clubhouse for players who want to play just nine holes. It’s part of a state-of-the-art practice facility dubbed The Roundabout. There’s also a two-acre putting green, called The Gauntlet, available and the course configuration allows for play in six-, nine- and 12-hole loops to create a variety of playing options.

The second-highest point on the property is on the Black Course, and you can see the other courses from there. All have their own flavor.

“They’re all a lot of fun to play. You have to use your imagination over all the property,’’ said Wilson, who doesn’t see Streamsong hosting a truly big tournament like a U.S. Open or PGA Tour event despite the obvious golf riches available.

“It’s not that we wouldn’t want the national attention,’’ he said, “but could we handle it with those galleries?’’

Understandably there’s some doubt about that, and the scheduling of any such event would also have to fit into Florida’s weather patterns. Still, the U.S. Golf Association has played one of its national championships at Streamsong and smaller Ladies PGA or Champions Tour events might make for a good fit there, too.

Architect Gil Hanse made good use of rugged terrain in creating Streamsong Black.

Panhandle courses are providing a fresh twist for Florida golfers

Forced carries, like this colorful one on No. 8 at St. James Bay, are typical of Panhandle courses.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida – You would think, given all the years I’ve spent travelling through Florida and now residing there, that the state’s golf scene couldn’t provide much in the way of surprises.

Then we visited two destinations in the Panhandle, the sometimes forgotten section in the northwest portion of the state. That was an eye-opener.

Make no mistake, golf is an amenity in the Panhandle. Fishing and beach life are the most popular attractions that bring visitors there. The golf, though, shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, it’s getting a big boost these days as course operators strive to make it a tourist destination as well, and Chicago-based KemperSports is a major part of that effort.

KemperSports took over the management of the Bay Point Golf Club in Panama City Beach nearly two years ago and most recently assumed a similar role after Chicago-based investors purchased the St. James Bay course in Carrabelle. They’re very different places, but their courses will definitely be of interest to serious golfers.

Bay Point, which has two 18-hole layouts, has an interesting history. Its Lagoon Legends course had been considered the most difficult course in Florida – if not in the entire United States. While a course with a slope rating in the 140s is considered a major challenge, the Lagoon Legends’ number was an astounding 157.

Island greens are one thing, but St. James has two of its women’s tees set off on islands.

Robert von Hagge, a prolific course architect from the 1960s into the 1980s, was the designer. He put severe moguls in the fairways, and they became infamous to the course’s players.

“It must have been really hard. You could hit a drive down the fairway and never find it,’’ said Ryan Mulvey, now the general manager at Bay Point. So, in 2004, the owners of the course made the unusual decision to bring in the Florida-based Nicklaus Design Group to soften the course.

Since the trademark of courses designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus is that they’re always challenging, that must have made players wonder what a Nicklaus “softening’’ might be.

Nicklaus’ son Gary was the lead designer for a thorough renovation that was completed in 2005. The moguls disappeared and the green complexes were toned down. There’s still a touch of the strange – the sharp double dogleg par-4 fifth hole with two forced carries – but the course is certainly playable and the slope is now a more reasonable 143 from the back tees. Water comes into play on 15 of the 18 holes.

KemperSports came aboard on this project when New York-based Torchlight Investors took over the course along with the very pleasant Sheraton Bay Point Hotel in 2015. Bay Point is Torchlight’s only venture into the golf industry. Since then the number of rounds on the two courses climbed from 35,000 in 2015 to 52,000 last year, and the projection for 2017 is 57,000.

St. James head pro Rob Burlison introduces one of his eye-catching statues.

Golfers don’t just come just to play the now renamed Nicklaus Course. They also find the Meadows layout a nice complement. Unlike the Nicklaus Course, the Meadows is very tight with beautiful oak trees, small greens, lots of doglegs and no forced carries. Willard Byrd designed the Meadows Course in the 1970s.

Pricing is also unusual for Florida, in part because the Panhandle doesn’t have many courses. Panama Beach City is about 60 miles into Florida from the Georgia and Alabama state lines. It’s a five-hour drive from Atlanta, four hours from Birmingham, Ala., and New Orleans and eight hours from Nashville. But Tallahassee, Florida’s capitol city two hours to the east, provides the most out-of-town visitors.

Though Florida represents a get-away for golfers residing in cold climates, the golfing price structure at Bay Point doesn’t reflect that. The presence of beach-goers has led to greens fees being higher in the heat of summer than they are in the winter.

General manager Ryan Mulvey shows off the new patio at Bay Point.

“In the winter we have the lowest rates of the courses in our area (roughly $60 for the Nicklaus and $50 for the Meadows) and in the summer we can charge the highest rates (about $90 for the Nicklaus and $70 for the Meadows),’’ said Mulvey. “It’s just the market that we’re in. It’s challenging in that’s it’s not a golf market. There are only three (comparable) courses in our market, but once people get here, they love it.’’

Bay Point has one offering that the other courses don’t have. GolfBoards – eight of them – were offered starting last July and they’ve added to the Bay Point experience.

St. James Bay, the other KemperSports facility in the Panhandle, is two hours to the east and in a different time zone. There are some joint marketing projects in place between the facilities, and getting from one to the other offers a nice drive though small towns along St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

St. James Bay, recently sold by original owner Eddie Clark to the Chicago group (called MJM Carrabelle), was designed by Jacksonville, Fla.-based architect Robert Walker. It opened in 2003 and is the only golf course in Franklin County. Its home base of Carrabelle is a hotbed for tarpon fishing.

GolfBoards are among the new features offered to golfers playing at Bay Point.

The St. James Bay course stands out for its golf offerings from its abundance of forced carries. You get a wake-up call from the very first one, when you arrive at the No. 1 tee, and some of the other holes even have two of them. The forced carries won’t be popular with every player, but the wetlands and plant life throughout the well-conditioned course will be appreciated by all.

Golf Advisors has consistently listed St. James Bay among its most popular courses in Florida and more recently rated it No. 83 among its top 100 nationally. Its staff, headed by six-year head professional Rob Burlison, is a friendly bunch.

Unlike Bay Point, St. James Bay doesn’t consider itself a resort. Though it has comfortable, upscale lodging available, St. James Bay is a stand-alone public golf course.
It doesn’t have as many nearby attractions as Bay Point but St. George Island is 30 miles away and the town of Apalachicola has an unusually nice array of dining and shopping options.

No. 5, a dogleg left par-4, is the most controversial hole on the Bay Point layout.