PGA Tour will make Delaware debut at the 2022 BMW Championship

 

After conducting its premier tournament in the Chicago area for two straight years the Western Golf Association will  take the BMW Championship away from the area for at least the next two.

The Glenview-based WGA announced Tuesday that the BMW Championship will be played on the South Course at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware in 2022.  Cave’s Valley, located in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Md., will host next year’s tournament.

Medinah (2019) and Olympia Fields (2020) hosted the FedEx Cup Playoff event the last two years, which interrupted a trend in which the WGA took the tournament out of the Chicago area on an every other year basis. That trend started in 2012 when the event was held at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis.

The Chicago site in 2013, 2015 and 2017 was Conway Farms in Lake Forest while the non-Chicago sites were Cherry Hills in Denver (2014), Crooked Stick (2016) and Aronimink in the Philadelphia area (2018).

Though the BMW Championship dates back only to 2007, it has deep historic roots in Chicago.  The playoff event grew out of the Western Open, which the WGA first conducted in 1899. From 1962 through 2006 the Western was held only at Chicago facilities.

The 2022 BMW Championship will mark the first time the PGA Tour has held a tournament in Delaware, but Wilmington Country Club has deep historic roots, too.  It was established in 1901 and relocated in the 1950s when Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the South Course.

Vince Pellegrino, WGA senior vice president of tournaments, called Wilmington “one of the finest clubs anywhere in the United States.’’

“We’re thrilled to be taking (the BMW there),’’ said Pellegrino.  “The South Course has everything you look for in a traditional championship layout.  It will present a strategic test for the world’s best players and a perfect venue for fans and PGA Tour partners.’’

The BMW Championship is a key component in the fund-raising efforts of the WGA.  Its Evans Scholars Foundation has provided scholarships for deserving youth caddies since 1930. Since 2007 the BMW has raised more than $35 million for Evans Scholarships. Two Evans Scholars – Owen Griffin (Illinois 1983) and Dan Walsh (a junior at Penn State) — came out of Wilmington Country Club.

“The BMW Championship at Wilmington will give us an opportunity to show a new market the power of the Evans Scholars Program,’’ said John Kaczkowski, the WGA president and chief executive officer.  “This is a critical step in our efforts to expand from coast to coast and reach more deserving caddies.’’

The tournament has been the penultimate event of the BMW Cup Playoffs, immediately preceding The Tour Championship in Atlanta.  Next year’s event at Cave’s Valley will be held from Aug. 23-29.  No dates have been announced for the event at Wilmington.

 

 

It’s all in the family: Coral Ridge redesign is Rees Jones’ `lifetime dream’

 

Rees Jones (left) was a budding architect learning his craft from his father  in his early years. They’re pictured here checking out a course in Hawaii. (Rees Jones Photo)

 

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Robert Trent Jones Sr. was the premier golf course architect of his generation, having designed about 450 courses around the world. Both of his sons – Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rees – became prominent – and prolific – architects as well.

Rees, for instance, has worked on a ton of golf courses —  about 230 world-wide, according to the best estimates, and he’s  gained fame as “The Open Doctor’’ because he’s been brought in to get fine existing courses in shape for big championships. That number includes seven courses used for U.S. Opens, nine for PGA Championships and six for Ryder Cups.

Given all that, when Rees Jones calls his work on his latest course “a lifetime dream,’’ you’d best take notice. Especially when there’s a distinct tie-in with his famous father.

Son has tackled his father’s designs 18 times in the past.  Among Rees’ redesigns came at such famous places as the Atlanta Athletic Club, Bellerive (in St. Louis), the Blue Course at Congressional in Maryland, Golden Horseshoe in Virginia, Hazeltine in Minnesota and The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

This latest redo, though, is different – and more special – than all the others. Coral Ridge Country Club, the only 18-holer within the boundaries of Fort Lauderdale, is scheduled to re-open in November and that can’t help but be an emotional time for Rees Jones. Now 79, he was a part of Coral Ridge even before he reached his teen-age years..

Jones’ father designed the original 18 holes at Coral Ridge in 1954. The elder Jones had an office near the 17th hole for his architectural business and operated out of the facility’s clubhouse at the end of his career. He remained a member of the club until his death in 2000. Rees’ mother Ione, who died in 1987, was also very active in the club

Rees spent most of his formative years growing up in New Jersey, but he knew Coral Ridge quite well.

“We traveled every winter and stayed at a little hotel behind the course,’’ he said.  “I’ve been part of that facility all my life, so getting to embellish and restructure that course has been a lifetime dream because it was the fabric of both my family life and my design life.’’

To both father and son Coral Ridge was something special.

“Coral Ridge was his baby,’’ said Rees of his father.  “And, when I was first there I was 11 or 12, so I was just past a baby then.’’

In his childhood years  Coral Ridge was a swinging place.  The legendary New York Yankees’ pitcher, Whitey Ford, was a member.  So was Joe Namath, the great New York Jets’ quarterback.  Pro golfers Julius Boros and Lew Worsham were also on hand.  Boros lived on the 11th hole and gave Rees golf lessons.

“Historically athletes really liked to hang out there,’’ said Rees.

And it wasn’t just athletes.  Dave Thomas, who created the Wendy’s restaurant chain, was one of the  Jones family’s “special friends’’

“Coral Ridge is a very special place.  There’s no other place like it in Florida,’’ said Rees. “My father loved Florida, and he went to the club every day and had a lot of friends there.’’

Five years ago Rees designed a par-3 course at the club, called “The Rees Nine.’’ With holes ranging from 70 to 200 yards, It has been popular with higher handicappers and youngsters who like the challenge of the undulating, multi-tiered greens.

As for the “new’’ golf course, Jones understandably likes everything about it. The par-72 layout measures 7,322 yards from the back tees.

“The routing is the same, though we slightly relocated the No. 9 and 13 greens,’’ he said.  “All the fairways were elevated, and drainage is now 1,000 percent better than it had been.  A big reason for the renovation was because the course needed a new irrigation system.’’

It got more than that.

“We also rebuilt all the greens,’’ said Jones.  “The par-3s are all distinctly different, and the par-5s are all distinctly different.  We put the original Robert Trent Jones bunker style in, and it looks like the old-time bunker style.  But it seems a brand new golf course now. The members had no idea how great it would turn out, and  I’m blown away by what we’ve accomplished.’’

Most of the work on the course was done in the heart of the pandemic, but didn’t slow down Jones’ architectural work.  He still had three associates traveling to other job sites, one of which was in Japan.

“We had 13 jobs during the pandemic.  I was lucky because I have a reputation,’’ he said.  “But I hardly work because I love what I do.’’

His location helped, too.  Jones resides in Juno Beach and he says “golf is very healthy in the state of Florida. A lot of communities are built around golf courses.’’

Coral Ridge had at one point divided its ownership among the four Joneses – Rees, his parents and brother Robert Trent Jones Jr. Each owned 25 percent. When Jones Sr. passed on the course was sold to a local group headed by Phil Smith. Rees kept a 5 percent share then,  but sold it after designing The Rees Nine.

To this day Rees Jones remains a Coral Ridge member and believes his recent work assures the club will have “one of the top golf courses in the Southeast.’’

“We started planning for this five years ago, and work began at the end of the (last) winter,’’ said Jones.  “We wanted to restore it back to the design my father had and make the changes much like he did during the life of the club. It was like Pinehurst No. 2, when (original designer) Donald Ross lived next door to that golf course.’’

Rather than the changes being made by the father on his own designs, now those changes have been made by the son.

“We really accomplished the task,’’ said Rees.  “My father would be looking down on us and say `Well done.’’’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Streelman missed this year’s Masters but is in position to make it in 2021

The Masters finally tees off on Thursday, but Chicago’s best player – Kevin Streelman – won’t be there. Streelman had a great year and, in a normal season, would have been on the brink of qualifying when he held a No. 49 world ranking entering last week’s Houston Open.

In a normal year the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week before the Masters get into the field – but this, obviously, is no normal year. The pandemic caused that.

“I could have won the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup and I still wouldn’t be in this year’s Masters,’’ said Streelman, whose world ranking dropped to No. 51 after he missed the cut in Houston.

As far as this week’s 84th Masters was concerned, it didn’t matter how Streelman performed in Houston. The top 50 before the Masters was determined on March 17, the last ranking period before the Masters was originally scheduled on April 9-12. Streelman, coming off a year in which he finished No. 122, wasn’t inside the top 50 at that time. Neither were Daniel Berger, now No. 13 in the world; Viktor Hovland (23), Ryan Palmer (31) and Harris English (35).  They won’t play at Augusta National this year either.

Streelman, who grew up in Wheaton, qualified for the Masters five times between 2011 and 2016 and survived the 36-hole cut in his last three appearances.  His best finish was a tie for 12th in 2015.

The Masters had planned a field of 96 players but the original qualification standards were impacted after the pandemic shut down the PGA Tour for three months and forced many tournaments to be either canceled or rescheduled.

Winners of PGA Tour stops in the previous calendar year had been awarded Masters invites, but not this time. Berger and Hovland won tournaments after play resumed but that didn’t factor into Masters invitations. This week’s tournament, played seven months late, didn’t hold its popular par-3 contest and – like most PGA Tour events — won’t have spectators.

Streelman, though, has no regrets about having the week off.

“I feel blessed to have had a great year on the golf course,’’ he said.  “At my age (42), I was just a few strokes off making it to the Tour Championship.  That’s something I’m very proud of, and I came close (to winning) at Hartford and Pebble Beach. I worked very hard during the quarantine (March 13 to June 10) to stay in shape and keep my golf game sharp.’’

The Masters is still on his mind – but it’s the 2021 version and not this week’s.  He can get in by finishing in the top 50 when the 2020 season ends on Dec. 6.  After the Masters there’s two tournaments – next week’s RSM Classic at Sea Island, Ga. and December’s Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.

“If I had had a nice week in Houston I might have shut it down for the year,’’ said Streelman, “but now I’ve got some unfinished business. I’m on the bubble for the next Masters. If I have a solid week in Sea Island I could shut it down then.  If not I’ll play in Mexico.’’

If he’s in the top 50 after those two tournaments he’ll be in the 85th Masters next April.

“I hope to get my ranking into the low 40s or even into the 30s.  That’d put me in good position for next year, too,’’ he said.  “But if I don’t play well I’ve still had a great year.’’

Off the course Streelman was an active participant in helping the PGA Tour to become the first sports league to get back in action after the pandemic shutdown.

“I’m really proud of the way we worked together.  We had calls every week of the quarantine.  We talked to professional scientists, people smarter than us,’’ said Streelman.  “We figured out a way to make it work, and we did it together as a team.  This was really a shining moment for the tour.’’

 

 

 

Sluman, back in Chicago, will wind down his career on Champions tour

Life will change dramatically for Chicago’s only member of PGA Tour Champions after this week’s season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix. Jeff Sluman will enter the retirement phase of what has been a great 40-year career on both the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit.

“I’m not going to go full-time anymore after this year,’’ said Sluman, now 63.  “I will still play golf, but don’t want to do it 28 weeks a year – maybe just half of that.  I’ll pick and choose (his tournaments).  I’ve earned the right to do that.’’

No question he has, but there’s more to it for Sluman than just a reduction in tournament appearances. He’ll also be back to being a full-time Chicago resident.

Sluman lived in Hinsdale for years when he played the PGA Tour, then opted to move to Delray Beach, FL., as a Champions Tour member while maintaining a part-time residence in Chicago’s River North. Now both the Florida and River North places have been sold and Sluman and wife Linda are living in an apartment in Clarendon Hills until their new place in Hinsdale is ready.

Giving up the warm weather in Florida in favor of Chicago winters apparently isn’t a concern.

“Growing up Rochester (N.Y.), it’s not that big a deal to go back to that horrendous weather we get in December, January and February,’’ said Sluman.  “We have family and friends (in Chicago) and it’s really important at this time in our lives to have them around.’’

Their daughter, Kathryn, also is working in Chicago after her recent graduation from Sluman’s alma mater, Florida State, and that’s a factor in the relocation as well.

Sluman’s golf game tailed off in this pandemic-impacted season. His Schwab Cup ranking (No. 70) is the lowest ever and his best finish was a tie for 26th on Sunday in the TimberTech Championship at The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, FL . The course is a regular Champions Tour stop and is located just a few miles from Sluman’s former home in Delray Beach. He joined PGA Tour Champions in 2007 and the last of his six victories on the circuit was in 2014.

“I’ve been winding down,’’ said Sluman.  “It’s a common theme as guys get older.  You don’t puitt as well, and that showed up in my game the last three years.’’

In his days on the PGA Tour Sluman was a big-time player despite his 5-7, 140-pound frame.  He won a major title, the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree in Oklahoma, and five other tournaments.  Two of the others came at the now defunct Greater Milwaukee Open, and Sluman also had a then-course record 63 at Cog Hill’s famed Dubsdread course when the Western Open was played there. (The record was since bettered by Tiger Woods’ 62 in a BMW Championship played there).

Rarely injured, Sluman played in over 1,000 PGA Tour-sanctioned tournaments, which translates to over 3,000 competitive rounds and over 59,000 holes.  Thanks to his consistent play over four decades he has over $30 million in career winnings, and he’ll be adding at least a little bit to that total in the next few years.

“There’s still golf in my future, just not as much,’’ said Sluman.  “This is a great way to wind down your career, semi-retire and still get those competitive juices going.  You can’t do that in any other sport.’’

His last full season isn’t one to remember fondly.  The pandemic led to eight of 27 Champions Tour tournaments being canceled and many more rescheduled. Still, the Champions was the first circuit to allow spectators and – unlike the others – conduct weekly pro-am events.

“It’s been difficult for everybody in the world,’’ said Sluman, “but personally we did all right.  My family’s healthy, and my daughter graduated from college.  She spent four-five months with us, which normally wouldn’t have happened.  She’s working now, but probably would have gotten an apartment in downtown Chicago earlier than she did. The pandemic is what it is, and we’re all going to have to live with it and get on with our lives.’’

HERE AND THERE

Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, had a $75,000 payday thanks to a tie for 14th at the Bermuda Open on Sunday.

Even though July’s John Deere Classic was canceled due to pandemic concerns the event’s Birdies for Charity program announced a $12.2 million payout to charities in the Quad Cities.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman and Northwestern alum Luke Donald are in the field for this week’s Houston Open – the last tournament before the Masters.

 

 

Rees Jones’ latest course design is a `lifetime dream’

Rees Jones has worked on a ton of golf courses —  about 230 world-wide, according to the best estimates. He’s  well known as “The Open Doctor’’ because he’s been brought in to get fine existing courses in shape for big championships. That number includes seven courses used for U.S. Opens, nine for PGA Championships and six for Ryder Cups.

Given all that, when Jones calls his work on his latest course “a lifetime dream,’’ you’d best take notice.

That’s what Jones said about his work on Coral Ridge Country Club, the only golf course within the boundaries of Fort Lauderdale. Play is expected to commence there in mid-November, and that can’t help but be an emotional time for the 79-year old designer who was a part of this facility even before he reached his teen-age years.

Jones’ father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., was the premier architect of his generation.  He designed the original 18 holes at Coral Ridge in 1954. The elder Jones had an office near the 17th hole for his architectural business and operated out of the facility’s clubhouse at the end of his career. He remained a member of the club until his death in 2000. Rees’ mother Ione, who died in 1987, was also very active in the club

Rees spent most of his formative years growing up in New Jersey, but he knew Coral Ridge quite well.

“We traveled every winter and stayed at a little hotel behind the course,’’ he said.  “I’ve been part of that facility all my life, so getting to embellish and restructure that course has been a lifetime dream because it was the fabric of both my family life and my design life.’’

In more definitive terms, Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed many more courses than Rees – about 450 of them — but one was special.

“Coral Ridge was his baby,’’ said Rees.  “And, when I was first there I was 11 or 12, so I was just past a baby.’’

In his childhood years  Coral Ridge was a swinging place.  The legendary New York Yankees’ pitcher, Whitey Ford, and Joe Namath, the great New York Jets’ quarterback, were members.  Pro golfers Julius Boros and Lew Worsham were also on hand.  Boros lived on the 11th hole and gave Rees golf lessons.

“Historically athletes really liked to hang out there,’’ said Rees.

And it wasn’t just athletes.  Dave Thomas, who created the Wendy’s restaurant chain, was one of the  Jones family’s “special friends’’

“Coral Ridge is a very special place.  There’s no other place like it in Florida,’’ said Rees. “My father loved Florida, and he went to the club every day and had a lot of friends there.’’

Five years ago Rees designed a par-3 course at the club, called “The Rees Nine.’’ It has been popular with higher handicappers and youngsters. As for the “new’’ golf course, Jones understandably likes everything about it. The par-72 layout measures 7,322 from the back tees.

“The routing is the same, though we slightly relocated the No. 9 and 13 greens,’’ he said.  “All the fairways were elevated, and drainage is now 1,000 percent better than it had been.  A big reason for the renovation was because the course needed a new irrigation system.’’

It got more than that.

“We also rebuilt all the greens,’’ said Jones.  “The par-3s are all distinctly different, and the par-5s are all distinctly different.  We put the original Robert Trent Jones bunker style in, and it looks like the old-time bunker style.  But it seems a brand new golf course now. The members had no idea how great it would turn out, and  I’m blown away by what we’ve accomplished.’’

Most of the work on the course was done in the heart of the pandemic, but didn’t slow down Jones’ architectural work.  He still had three associates traveling to other job sites, one of which was in Japan.

“We had 13 jobs during the pandemic.  I was lucky because I have a reputation,’’ he said.  “But it hardly feels like work because I love what I do.’’

His location helped, too.  Jones resides in Juno Beach and he says “golf is very healthy in the state of Florida. A lot of communities are built around golf courses.’’

Still a private facility, Coral Ridge had at one point divided its ownership among the four Joneses – Rees, his parents and brother Robert Trent Jones Jr., also a prominent course architect. Each owned 25 percent. When Jones Sr. passed on the course was sold to a local group headed by Phil Smith. Rees kept a 5 percent share then,  but sold it after designing The Rees Nine.

To this day Rees Jones remains a Coral Ridge member and believes the nearly completed work assures the club will have “one of the top golf courses in the Southeast.’’

“We started planning for this five years ago, and work began at the end of the (last) winter,’’ said Jones.  “We wanted to restore it back to the design my father had and make the changes much like he did during the life of the club. It was like Pinehurst No. 2, when (original designer) Donald Ross lived next door to that golf course.’’

Rather than the changes being made by the father, now those changes have been made by the son.

“We really accomplished the task,’’ said Rees.  “My father would be looking down on us and say `Well done.’’’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopfinger has begun his run for a PGA Tour card

This is a local golf success story that is still in the making. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger put himself in position to earn his PGA Tour card in the last eight weeks of his tour’s season.  He has another full year before he can join golf’s premier circuit, but his chances of making it to the big time are much brighter now than they were a year ago..

Hopfinger, 31, has played on the Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com, Nationwide, Ben Hogan) since 2015. That was a few months after he won his only pro tournament, the 2014 Illinois Open. He turned pro in 2011 after winning that year’s  Illinois State Amateur.

Only 10 players own titles in both events, but Hopfinger found that carrying his in-state success to the next level wasn’t easy.  He never considered giving up, though.

“I don’t like the question, but that’s the reality of sports,’’ he said.  “I’m a professional golfer.  That’s what I do.’’

And lately he’s been doing it quite well. He started 2020 with only conditional status on the Korn Ferry. Now he’s inside The 25 – the circuit’s coveted status that assures advancement to the PGA Tour at season’s end.

“It doesn’t mean much with this wrap-around season,’’ said Hopfinger, “but when the year started, with conditional status, I wasn’t even sure when I could play.’’

Because of the pandemic the end point for determining The 25 was pushed back to the end of the 2021 season. The PGA and Korn Ferry circuits endured a three-month layoff before resuming play on June 11. Lots of tournaments on both circuits were either canceled or postponed.

Hopfinger was quarantined in Chicago for seven weeks, then had a brief tuneup in Scottsdale, Ariz., before the tournament scheduled resumed in Florida on June 11.

A tie for 16th in Mexico in the last tournament before the pandemic-induced stoppage of play assured Hopfinger more tournament opportunities once play resumed, and when it did he missed only one cut in the remaining 15 tournaments.

“(Mexico) was huge,’’ he said. “I wasn’t sure what would happen when we could get back out, but I did well in Boise (tie for sixth), which is one of our bigger tournaments.  I kept chipping away, and the momentum kept building.’’

In the last eight tournaments he had two finishes – a tie for third in Wichita and a tie for fourth at the Evans Scholars Invitational at Chicago Highlands in Westchester – that were even better than in Boise. Hopfinger went from No. 64 in the rankings all the way up to No. 21. He has some local company in The 25. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy is No. 15 after a solid rookie pro season, and Northwestern alums David Lipsky (11) and Dylan Wu (16) are also in the hunt for PGA cards.

Hopfinger grew up playing at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park and still plays most of his Chicago  golf there.  In college he spent one year at Kansas and three at Iowa.  This season’s Korn Ferry season ended on Oct. 11 and the start of the 2021 tournaments hasn’t been announced yet. He is just thankful that 2020  went as well as it did in very trying times.

“The big thing for all of us was that it presented so many challenges,’’ said Hopfinger.  “We were all incredibly fortunate that the PGA gave us the opportunity to keep working, and doing it the right way. We were the first sport back, and that was good for us and also good for the game.’’

 

HERE AND THERE

 

Justin Fetcho has resigned after six seasons as men’s coach at Southern Illinois.  A former assistant at Illinois, Fetcho guided the Salukis to two Missouri Valley Conference championships and three NCAA appearances.  Assistant Eric Gilpin will guide the team on an interim basis. Fetcho plans to remain in Carbondale and pursue opportunities outside of golf.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is sharpening his game with three weeks left before the Masters. A final round 64 on Sunday gave him a tie for 28th in last week’s Zozo Championship in California.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Illinois’ only LPGA player, had her best showing since the pandemic stoppage with a tie for24th in the Drive On Championship in Georgia on Sunday. Her best showing is a tie for 21st in the Australian Open in February, before the LPGA halted play for five months.

 

 

Unexpected problems didn’t faze Biancalana at Senior PGA tourney

In this chaotic year for scheduling golf tournaments the Illinois PGA did the best of the three major local organizations.  The pandemic forced the cancelation of the Western Golf Association’s two national junior championships and the Chicago District Golf Association had to call off its two biggest events – the Illinois State Amateur and Chicago District Amateur.

The IPGA, though, was able to salvage its four major events even though its tournament schedule couldn’t begin until July.

Last of the section’s majors was last week’s IPGA Senior Players Championship at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove. Black Sheep’s Kevin Healy won it, then led eight other of his competitors to O’Hare for a flight to the Senior PGA Professional Championship in Port St. Lucie, FL. A 10th IPGA member, Illinois coach Mike Small, was already there after opting to bypass the Players event.

Then things got very interesting – especially for Roy Biancalana, a veteran teaching pro who divided his time between St. Andrews, in West Chicago, and Blackberry Oaks, in Bristol, this year.

The Illinois contingent had to test negative for the Covid virus before they were allowed at the PGA Golf Club, where its Wanamaker and Ryder courses were used for the 32nd playing of the senior national championship. Their flight arrived in Florida at midnight on Tuesday and their tests were at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.  Results weren’t available until 7 p.m., meaning none of the players at Twin Orchard could get in a practice round.

Small did, but he had his problems, too.  He started the first round in spectacular fashion, going eagle-birdie on the first two holes, but – after finishing the first 18 in a tie 27th of the 266 starters – he became ill and had to withdraw from the tournament.

The field was cut from the 266 starters to the low 90 and ties after the second round, and only Biancalana; IPGA Senior Player of the Year David Paeglow, of Kishwaukee in DeKalb and David Hannon, a teaching pro at Links & Tees in Addison, survived to play in the third round. Paeglow and Hannon didn’t advance to Sunday’s final 18, when the field was limited to the low 70 and ties after 54 holes.

Biancalana didn’t think he did either when he finished his third round, but winds picked up after he was done and he managed to squeak into the field for the last round.  By then, though, the week had taken an understandable toll on him.

When he arrived in Florida he learned that his laptop was missing – and that was just for starters. His rental car broke down the same day he picked it up and a tooth that had been bothering him for awhile was acting up as well.

“It took two days to get a new rental car,’’ said Biancalana, “and I was on the phone trying to get the computer six-eight times a day.  That was distracting.  By the time I started the first round I felt tired.’’

Plus, he was also out $1,800 for the computer that was never located.

Though he had played the tournament courses many times in past years, the lack of a practice round was a problem.  Biancalana, who won two Illinois Opens and made the cut in a PGA Championship, has been a tournament player for 45 years and this was the first time he went into competition without a practice round.

“I did feel a little uncomfortable. I didn’t feel I read the greens right,’’ said Biancalana.  “I’ve played these courses hundreds of times, but it was a problem getting used to the grass.’’

He eventually did. Biancalana finished in a tie for 49th place, finishing at 5-over-par 292 for the 72 holes.  He was 23 shots behind champion Omar Uresti, who set a tournament scoring record with an 18-under performance and won by six strokes. The top 35 qualified for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2021.

Biancalana, though, will be back to PGA Golf Club’s courses.  Thanks to a fifth-place finish in the IPGA Championship he’s qualified for the PGA Professional Championship there in April where he will be “playing against the kids.’’ Now 60, he plans to beef up through weight-training and diet changes in time for that competition

 

 

Healy wins, but Paeglow is IPGA Senior Player of the Year

Kishwaukee’s David Paeglow didn’t win the last Illinois PGA event of the season but still clinched Senior Player of the Year honors. (Photo by Rory Spears)

 

It’ll be the senior members of the Illinois PGA in the spotlight this week as the Chicago golf tournament season wraps up.

The IPGA Senior Players Championship concluded on Tuesday at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove, and the key players in it headed for Port St. Lucie, FL., for the Senior PGA Professional Championship, which begins its 72-hole run on Thursday.

Ten IPGA members are in the field for the 50-and-over national tourney at PGA Golf Club, and they included five of the top seven on the Errie Ball Player of the Year point race prior to the 36-hole competition at Twin Orchard. David Paeglow, head pro at Kishawakee in DeKalb had the local award all but locked up before play began at Twin Orchard with only second place Roy Biancalana, a teaching pro at Blackberry Oaks in Bristol, having a remote chance to catch him.

Paeglow protected his lead by finishing fifth  at Twin Orchard. Biancalana was third as Kevin Healy, of Black Sheep in Sugar Grove, won the title. Healy was the only player to finish under par in the 36-hole competition.  All three hurried to O’Hare afterwards to catching their flights for the national event in Florida.

Last year Biancalana tied for 22nd and Paeglow tied for 49th in the national tournament. Paeglow, 53, won the Illinois Senior Open this year, was second in the IPGA Senior Match Play and tied for second in the IPGA Senior Championship.  He also won two of the section’s senior stroke play events. The highlight of Biancalana’s season was a victory in the Illinois Super Seniors Championship.

While the IPGA doesn’t make its Player of the Year awards official until a banquet in mid-November, the winners are determined on point standings after the tournament season is over.

Ironically neither Paeglow, Healy nor Biancalana may be the section’s best bet in the national event in Florida.  Mike Small, though beaten out by Paeglow for senior honors, still was the IPGA over-all Player of the Year.  A 13-time winner of the IPGA Championship, he skipped the local finale at Twin Orchard to get ready for another run at a national title.

Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach, is a three-time winner of the PGA Professional National Championship.

Illinois club pros also qualified for the national event in Florida are Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb, Bilmore’s Doug Bauman, Chicago Golf Club’s John Guyton and Beverly’s John Varner.  Also making the trip to Florida were David Hannon, from Links & Tees, and Kevin Rafferty, of Golf Galaxy in Vernon Hills.

HERE AND THERE

Tim Sheppard, of East Peoria, and Tom Kearfoot, of El Paso, won the Chicago District Senior Amateur Four-Ball title for the third time in the event’s five-year history, beating Mike Karney, of Crystal Lake, and Mike Mcloone, of Arlington Heights, in the championship match. The event at Aurora Country Club was the fourth and final championship on a CDGA schedule that was heavily modified by pandemic issues.

Onwentsia, in Lake Forest, has agreed to host the Western Junior championship in 2021.  The club was to host this year but was canceled because of the pandemic.  Naperville Country Club, which was to host in 2021, will now be the site in 2022 and Midlothian will take it in 2023.

Toptracer — a popular attraction at the Mistwood Golf Dome, in Bolinbrook — is being added to the Mistwood Performance Center, in Romeoville, as well.  The Performance Center will also have winter hours this year.

 

PGA’s fall tournaments have been good to rookie Doug Ghim

 

The PGA Tour’s top stars generally sit out the fall tournaments after the FedEx Cup Playoffs are over. That’s been the case again this season, even though the Masters – rescheduled from April until Nov. 12-15 because of pandemic issues – is still to be played.

Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, is benefitting from the absence of golf’s big guns as the circuit’s season winds down.  He’s had two of his best tournaments in the last three weeks.

His best finish on the premier circuit was a tie for 14th in the Safeway Open in California the first week of the 2020-21 campaign.  It was played a week after the Fed Cup Playoffs concluded last month.  Last week he added a tie for 23rd in the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi.

The money he earned from those two events was $159,720 and that gives him the No. 46 spot on the 2020-21 money list for the PGA Tour’s next wrap-around season that won’t conclude until the 2021 FedEx Cup Playoffs are over in August.

Ghim’s rookie season didn’t matched those of Cameron Champ, Matt Wolff and Collin Morikawa – all college rivals who have already won tournaments on the PGA Tour.  Ghim, 24, was the 2018 Ben Hogan Award winner at the best male collegiate golfer during his senior season at Texas.

“Watching them win tells me I also have the game,’’ said Ghim during his strong showing in the Sanderson tourney.  “We’ve played countless rounds together and I know I can compete with those guys. It is an added sense of relief that it’s possible, and that we have the game.  It’s just a matter of being more consistent week in and week out.’’

Ghim isn’t in the field for this week’s tournament in Las Vegas and may not get into an event until the Bermuda Open, which tees off on Oct. 29.

“Just this whole fall in general is a big opportunity, especially for us rookies, to get settled in and cement our place within our category,’’ said Ghim.  “Hopefully we get into a lot of events next spring. I’ve set a lot of goals for this season, then you try to get better every single day and hopefully those goals will become a reality.  Each week is its own battle.’’

LPGA: Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, the only Chicago player on the LPGA Tour, will be in the field for that circuit’s third major event of the year – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. It tees off Thursday at Aronimink, in Philadelphia.

Szokol, 26, made 10 cuts in 20 starts last year in her rookie season on the circuit, earning $105,814 for No. 108 on the year’s money list.  She retained her playing privileges with a tie for 11th in the eight-round qualifying series and made her fourth cut in 10 starts in the 2020 campaign in last week’s Shop-Rite Classic in New Jersey.  Szokol is No. 86 on this season’s money list with $57,157.

CDGA: Libertyville resident Connie Kowal, a former executive with the Cubs and New Orleans Saints, is in the field for the last championship of the Chicago District Golf Association season this week, and those in his playing groups might find him a good luck charm.

Kowal witnessed two holes-in-one by playing partners in a four-day span recently.  Both were named Ray and both made their first aces.  Ray Burg of Mundelein did it at Arrowhead, in Wheaton, and Ray Bening, of Des Moines, had his ace at Western Illinois University’s Harry Mussatto course.  Kowal will partner with James Duszak, a former teammate on the WIU baseball team, in the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship that runs through Thursday at Aurora Country Club.

IPGA: The Illinois PGA Players Championship concluded on Tuesday at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest.  Now the Senior version of that event takes the spotlight starting Monday at Twin Orchard, in Long Grove. The two-day event  features Illinois men’s coach Mike Small, the IPGA and IPGA Senior titlist this year; Kishwakee’s David Paeglow, who edged Small for the Illinois Senior Open crown last week; and Zigfield Golf Club’s Michael Troy, who won the Senior Match Play event.

 

 

 

 

These trying times didn’t faze Myrtle Beach’s Founders Group

 

King’s North, at Myrtle Beach National, has a par-5 that’s hard to play — and hard to forget.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina — Believe it or not, there are some good things coming out of this horrible pandemic that has negatively impacted the U.S. for the last nine months. It created a bigger demand for golf nation-wide — play is up over 20 percent, according to the National Golf Foundation —  and the pandemic resulted in some positive changes to the game as well.

Justin Binke, director of marketing for Founders Group International, has witnessed it first hand, as Myrtle Beach has retained its title as “Golf Capital of the World’’ and FGI has the area’s most established group of courses, loyalty programs and reservation services.

FGI has acquired 21 courses in the area since 2014.  They include TPC Myrtle Beach and Grande Dunes, both former honorees as Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association,  and Pine Lakes Country Club, where the MB golf boom began. Pine Lakes was the first club to open there, in 1927, and its founder was Robert White, the first president of the PGA of America.

All the good years, though, were threatened by the pandemic.

“Granted these have been unfortunate times,’’ said Binke, “but golf has been an out for people who want to get out of the house, get some exercise and play the game that we all love.  They feel safe coming to a golf course, and we’ve seen a rise in local golf.’’

Binke also oversees two of the area’s most popular package companies – MyrtleBeachGolfTrips.com and MBN.com. They’ve been key to keeping golf strong in an area where it’s always been that way.

“We’ve made sure our websites are up to date,’’ said Binke.  “We have everything golfers are looking to do.  We have specials, lodging and great golf courses all there for people to come to see, and we’ve taken the proper protocols to keep everyone safe. We’ve also tried to be the resource for not only golf packages, but for all things golf in Myrtle Beach.’’

No. 3 at King’s North has an island green and — if you get an aerial view — bunkers that honor South Carolina.

On the playing side, there have been two big positives. FGI was quick to point out that walking would be allowed at all its courses.  Not many golf destinations allow that, but the declaration was helpful at the FGI facilities.

“We’ve seen a rise in people wanting to walk, be outside and enjoy great weather this summer,’’ said Binke.  “We’ll continue to allow walking if people choose to do so.’’

Most players continue to ride, and the MB walkers must provide their own push-carts or carry their own bags. Still, walking is an option that should be offered at more destinations. The argument that it slows down play is bogus.

Actually, some  protocols put in place because of the pandemic have speeded up play – like not allowing rakes in bunkers, keeping flagsticks inserted in raised cups (so golfers don’t have to reach in to retrieve their balls) and dispensing with sand bottles in carts to repair divots. Those are measures that could be retained once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. At least they’re worth considering.

Grande Dune’s clubhouse provides a welcoming finish from the 18th fairway.

“We have seen an increase in speed of play, and that beneficial to us all,’’ said Binke

Our latest visit to the “Golf Capital of the World’’ enabled us to see how things were working at three of the FGI courses. The answer? Everything was just fine at Grande Dunes, the King’s North course at Myrtle Beach National and TPC Myrtle Beach.

King’s North was really something special. Over the years I’ve played an estimated 30 courses in the Myrtle Beach area and King’s North is now my favorite after playing my first round there. (Of course, I’ll have to play the other 70 or so to provide a definitive answer – and I hope I’ll be able to do that).

Arnold Palmer designed all three of the courses at Myrtle Beach National, with help from Francis Duane. King’s North, which opened in 1973 but was re-designed by Palmer in 1996, has some special touches.  An island green at No. 3 is one. The bunkers on that hole also are a tribute to the state of South Carolina (they form an “SC”) and No. 18 has an astonishing 43 bunkers all by itself. They don’t impact play all that much, though.

The most interesting special feature at King’s North is “The Gambler’’ at the par-5 sixth hole. You’ve got a variety of playing options on this risk-reward hole, and it merits its claim as “The Most Unique Par 5 in All of Golf.’’

King’s North and TPC Myrtle Beach are both good walking courses, Grande Dunes not so much. The TPC layout, a Tom Fazio design with consulting help from Lanny Wadkins, opened in 1999. It includes the Dustin Johnson Golf Academy and many of DJ’s trophies are on display in the clubhouse. Grande Dunes, a Roger Rulewich design, opened in 2001 and offers great views of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The march up the 18th fairway at TPC Myrtle Beach is lined with bunkers all the way to the clubhouse.