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Len Ziehm On Golf

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horseshoe Bay sets sight on No. 1

Golf is a little different in the Texas Lake & Hill Country — especially at Horseshoe Bay — a resort where big things are happening.

Horseshoe Bay has operated since 1971 with a relatively low profile. It has three courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. He’s the late father of today’s prominent architects Robert Trent Jones Jr. — the name attached to Alabama’s popular golf trail – and Rees Jones, who gained the moniker of “the Open Doctor’’ for his frequent callups to get courses ready to host major championships.

Jack Nicklaus designed the fourth course at Horseshoe Bay. It opened in 2012 as a private club that is rarely made available to resort guests. Nicklaus’ course is called Summit Rock. The three Jones designs are Slick Rock, Ram Rock and Apple Rock and Ram and Apple are operated together under the title of Cap Rock.

There’s a lot of Rocks, to be sure, and nobody could quite explain why. What was explained in detail by Holder and director of agronomy Ken Gorzycki was the ambitious plans the resort ownership has for the future. That future isn’t far away, either. Holder said the golf aspects of an overall $70 million renovation should be completed by July of 2019.

“Our goal is to be the No. 1 golf resort in the state of Texas, and eventually expanding that to the nation,’’ said Anthony Holder, the resort’s director of golf. “With that comes the updating of your facilities, making sure we can deliver. Our ownership has put a wad of money into all the touching points.’’

Holder grew up in Dallas before spending 14 years at prominent California destinations Mission Hills, Indian Wells and PGA West. He’s been at Horseshoe Bay just a year but is already caught up in the enthusiasm for what’s been happening there.

Horseshoe Bay has basically had just two owners. Norman Hurd and his cousin, Wayne, got the resort started in 1971. Morris D. Jaffe has been the owner since the mid-1990s and he more recently has gotten an investment partner, IBC Bank. That enabled all the upgrades to be tackled in relatively short order.

Slick Rock, which opened in 1971, is the most user-friendly and most heavily played of the courses. It also has the resort’s most famous hole – the par-4 14th which plays anywhere from 236 to 361 yards. This eye-catcher is called “the Million Dollar Hole’’ because of the elaborate 35-yard waterfall that greets players at the tee. They have to clear the waterfall with their drives, then get to see the attraction up close when they drive to their approach shots.

The renovation of Slick Rock was completed in the spring of 2016. The renovation of Ram Rock, the second course to open at the resort in 1981, was a $3 million project and required the most work. It was completed in May of 2018.

“It was our least-desired golf course because it was so hard, the greens were small and it was heavily bunkered,’’ said Gorzycki. “It was considered as the hardest golf course in the state, and we made changes to make it more playable for higher handicap players. Those changes have been extremely well received.’’

The Bermuda grass on the greens was replaced by 007 bentgrass and diamond zoysia collars were installed around the greens to keep Bermuda from creeping into the bentgrass. The practice was part of all three renovations. So was the extension of cart paths.

Because of the invasion of the Bermuda on the greens at both Ram Rock and Apple Rock had been shrinking dramatically.

“A lot of greens had no hole locations left,’’ said Gorzycki.

While the greens were being expanded the bunkers were restored to the size and appearance that Jones had originally created. To make sure of that Robert Trent Jones Jr. – son of the original architect – was involved in the renovation.

“He helped us with the process to maintain the integrity of his Dad’s designs,’’ said Gorzycki. Austin design consultant Mark Voss was also involved in that process.

Jones Sr. was an architect well ahead of his time. His work at Horseshoe Bay is a testament to that.

Apple Rock, the prettiest of the Jones courses, opened in 1986 and has the best water views. Lake LBJ impacts the layout at the 11th and 12th holes. The in-process renovation a $2.5 million project that is to be completed by May 1.

Like Ram Rock, the putting surfaces were extended. When the renovation began the course had less than 65,000 square feet of greens. When it re-opens it’ll have up to 87,000 – which is slightly more than Ram Rock’s 84,000.

When Apple Rock opened it was selected the No. 1 new resort course in the nation by Golf Digest. That came in the heart of the golf boom, so the accomplishment was particularly noteworthy. (Summit was similarly honored but the boom had subsided by then and only two or three other courses were considered for the honor).

As part of the renovation work the bunkers on those courses received new drainage and the sand area became 40 percent less than what it had been.

Horseshoe Bay also has the most impressive 18-hole Whitewater Putting Course, which surrounds 360 Sports Bar. It’s all grass and is set apart from other such courses in that the scorecards gives measurements to each hole in yards, not feet. The whole course is 1,712 yards so obviously some putts are really long ones.

“The ownership sees the potential of this area and wanted to sink its teeth into it, to see how far it can go,’’ said Holder. “Not a lot of properties can offer the array of amenities that we can. This opportunity has a lot of upside, and they have seen a return on their investment so far.’’

The recent financial support has also led to the building of two clubhouses. It’s not all done yet, but the end is near. The clubhouses need just a few more months and Apple Rock is the last course to get renovated. The work there is scheduled to be done by May 1, 2019.

When all is said and done Apple Rock and Ram Rock will share a new clubhouse, pool, cabana, pro shop, pavilion and indoor-outdoor addition to their practice range. A new clubhouse will also be built at Summit Rock. Hotel room are also being upgraded.

THE ESSENTIALS

HORSESHOE BAY RESORT

Location: Horseshoe Bay, TX., near Marble Falls.

Phone: For general information, 877-611-0112; For Apple Rock and Ram Rock courses, 830-598-6561; for Slick Rock course, 830-598, 2561; Whitewater Putting Course, 830-598-3909.

Golf Policy: Only resort guests can play at Apple Rock, Ram Rock and Slick Rock. The private Summit Rock is occasionally available for resort guests. Green fees vary by the season but the basic prime time rate is $150.

Website: www.horseshoebayresort.com. For questions, info@hsbresort.com.

Facebook: @Horseshoe Bay Resort

Twitter: @hsbresort

Instagram: #horseshoebayresort

Jan Stephenson’s new golf course provides a boost for veterans, first responders

Jan Stephenson has taken a hands-on approach to reviving her Tarpon Woods course.


PALM HARBOR, Florida – Jan Stephenson is about to go into the World Golf Hall of Fame. That’s not surprising given that she won 16 LPGA tournaments including three majors, among them the 1982 LPGA Championship and 1983 U.S. Women’s Open. She also has 41 world-wide wins including 10 titles on the LPGA’s Legends circuit. That’s a lot of wins – but there’s more.

She’s also involved in tons of outside projects, more – in fact – than virtually every other touring pro, man or woman. And, one of those projects is particularly special. On April 1, 2017, Stephenson – through her Crossroads Foundation – bought a golf course.

It’s not all that surprising for a touring golf professional of Stephenson’s stature to own – or at least partly own – a course somewhere. Again, though, Stephenson’s course is particularly special. She bought it to help others. That’s why it is officially owned by Stephenson’s foundation.

Diane and Michael Vandiver and service dog Eddie are all part of Jan Stephenson’s Crossroads Foundation team in her newest golf venture, the Tarpon Woods Golf Club.


“We wanted to make it a veterans’ golf facility,’’ said Michael Vandiver, executive vice president of the foundation. “We didn’t acquire it for personal gain. We wanted a facility to accommodate veterans and first responders.’’

Many of Stephenson’s golf memorabilia items have been used to decorate the clubhouse but there’s much more to her involvement than that.

Though her purchase of Tarpon Woods Golf Club was no secret, Stephenson has doubts that even her fellow members of the LPGA Legends Tour realize just what the purchase meant.

“I’ve always had a charity,’’ said Stephenson. “I had a junior program before this, but now juniors are well taken care of. There’s lots of programs for them. I had been an ambassador for the disabled and the blind and this is for the veterans. “I would like to teach them all about golf and to even help them to have a career. This place became available, and we could devote it all to them.’’

Improvements to the outdoor garden dining area are part of the Tarpon Woods’ upgrades.


Tarpon Woods was built as a high-end private club in 1971 with Lane Marshall the course designer. In the 1990s it was called the Lost Oaks of Innisbrook and owned by the flourishing upscale Innisbrook Resort about eight miles away.

Over the years it was particularly popular when the New York Yankees held their spring training nearby. The Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, particularly liked to play the course. It remains a par-72 that measures 6,613 yards from the back tees but lots of things changed, and not for the better, as Tarpon Woods was converted to a public venue under different owners.

The club was certainly no hot spot when Stephenson’s foundation took it over.

“It was a sand pit. It had no grass,’’ recalled Stephenson. “No one was playing it, and it was losing a lot of money. Its reputation was bad. The maintenance irrigation system didn’t work and the clubhouse had only two lights that worked.’’

Then things got worse. Hurricane Irma hit, and that slowed down the restoration efforts. Those were being done by with a hands-on approach that even included Stephenson coming over to trim hedges and pull weeds. Her brother Greg, who is a first responder, spent a few months painting the clubhouse.

It’s out with the old and in with the new on Tarpon Woods’ ongoing bunker renovation.


Vandiver, who is also president of club manufacturer Razor Golf, and his wife Diane are also deeply involved in the day-to-day operations. Stephenson is also part owner of Razor Golf and Vandiver also works with Jan Stephenson Events – a side business that puts on concerts and other entertainment events.

Tarpon Woods is another of their joint ventures, and it’s been a rewarding one as public play is picking up and thousands of veterans have already benefitted from visiting there.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but people have thanked us for what we’ve done already,’’ said Stephenson. “We’ll probably get 1,400 rounds a week in the winter. A lot of people wouldn’t have played here, but now they’ve seen it’s in pretty good shape and it’s a value ($46 per round in peak season). ‘’

The club has all brand new golf carts, and veterans and first responders get 20 percent off on greens fees as well as discounts in the restaurant and well-stocked pro shop.

Stephenson has organized monthly clinics for the disabled and about 50 – ranging in age from 14 to 80 – turned out for a clinic designed for blind golfers. She has also hosted a fund-raiser – the Jan Stephenson Invitational Pro-Am – that included Robert Gamez and Cindy Figg-Currier, a couple of former tour players.

Vandiver is tackling a bunker renovation in an innovative way. He’s trying to raise $90,000 via corporate and individual donations. He says one bunker can be renovated at a cost of $2,360 but he’d like to find 18 corporations willing to donate $5,000 for the project. The bunker renovation isn’t just for a cosmetic improvement. The bunkers need to be re-designed to accommodate the disabled golfers.

The Australia-born Stephenson, who has lived in nearby New Port Richey the last seven years and obtained her U.S. citizenship the same month she acquired the course, has another goal for Tarpon Woods. She wants a building to be built specifically for teaching golf to the veterans.

Q-and-A: Paul Albanese

Paul Albanese is a Michigan golf course architect who burst into prominence when one of his designs, Tatanka in Niobrara, Neb., was named Golf Magazine’s Best New Resort Course of 2015.

In July a similar Albanese creation, Sage Run, opened in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Both projects were done while working with Indian tribes and were designed to upgrade casinos in small communities.

Now in partnership with Chris Lutzke, a long-time Pete Dye associate, Albanese has put the spotlight on a relatively new term in golf course design with his unveiling of Sage Run. It’s built on a drumlin.

Never heard of a drumlin? Neither had most every golf writer making early visits to Sage Run. Let Albanese explain what it’s all about.

QUESTION: OK, what is a drumlin?

ALBANESE: It a geological formation created by glaciers.

Q: Is it something new in the world of golf?

ALBANESE: By no means is it unknown in the golf architecture world. A large ridge is a drumlin.

Q: Does a golf course have one drumlin, or a bunch of them?

ALBANESE: Sage run doesn’t have a series of drumlins. It’s one big long ridge.

Q: How unusual is that?

ALBANESE: I used one when I designed Mill Creek in New York. It opened about 10 years ago. Drumlins aren’t everywhere, though. There’s not a lot in the south. There are some in Michigan and some, like the one at Mill Creek, in Upstate New York.

Q: Are drumlins a good thing?

ALBANESE: They create a great land form for golf. A drumlin gives you elevation change and it adds a lot of character. It looks like an upside down spoon, and they’re usually above flatter land.

Q: How did you find this one, for Sage Run?

ALBANESE: The tribe (Potawatomi) handed me a typographical map, and then we decided on where to build this golf course. The acreage covered was in the thousands, and we wound up building Sage Run on about 300 acres.

Q: Your very well received Tatanka course didn’t have a drumlin. Is it in any way similar to Sage Run?

ALBANESE: Both have a more rough and ragged flavor. That comes through on both courses. Conceptually we used the natural ruggedness of the terrain. And, we created teeing areas – not tee boxes – on both courses.

Q: What’s the difference between a teeing area and a tee box?

ALBANESE: Tees are usually shaped to be flat. We wanted to shape our teeing areas like we shape greens. We wanted to give the teeing areas the same flavor of a green complex.

Q: In the case of Sage Run, it’s the second course at Island Resort Casino. You also designed the first course, Sweetgrass, and it was well received – especially within Michigan. Any similarities?

ALBANESE: We didn’t want to force that. They’re built on completely different properties. They’re like red wine and white wine. They’re two different styles.

Q: You have worked with Indian tribes before, and not just in Nebraska and Michigan. What’s that like?

ALBANESE: The tribal leadership wants us to utilize their people to build both courses. We wanted them to have a stake in building the golf course and to take pride in it. That’s been amazingly successful.

Innisbrook re-opens its South Course, completes its four-course greens renovation

Innisbrook leaders (from left) Dawn Mercer, the director of instruction; managing director Mike Williams and director of golf Bobby Barnes hit the ceremonial first tee shots together to re-open the South Course.


PALM HARBOR, Florida – The golf resort business is highly competitive in Florida, and the managing director of one of the best thinks there may soon be a changing of the guard.

Mike Williams, managing director of Innisbrook Resort, presided over the re-opening of his South Course last week and took an aggressive stance after outlining all the work that has or is being done there.

“This is a great day for Innisbrook,’’ Williams said. “Innisbrook will be – is – the premier golf resort in the Southeast. Our competitive set is PGA National, Streamsong, Doral, TPC Sawgrass. We now have the guest accommodations that not only rival what they have but far surpass their offerings.’’

Those are strong words, but Williams may have a case with the snowbirds starting to return to the Sunshine State.

Innisbrook has four courses – Copperhead, Island, North and South – all designed by Larry Packard who lived on the property until his passing at age 101 in 2014. Copperhead has hosted a PGA Tour event for 29 straight years and the Valspar Championship returns there in March.

The Island course hosted NCAA championships that were won by Phil Mickelson and Lee Janzen and the LPGA, Symetra and Legends tours have all had events on Innisbrook courses at one time or another. The U.S. Golf Association has also held U.S. Open qualifiers there.

Now, though, the resort’s focus is on the recreational visitors. After a six-month long renovation of the South layout, Innisbrook has all four courses with the same TifEagle Bermuda grass on its greens. That’s a big deal as far as the resort is concerned.

“We had a perfect summer for growing grass, and it’s so important to have all four courses with the same putting surface for the people who come down from all over,’’ said Williams. “They don’t want to go from course to course and have a different putting experience. Every year the pros rave about the greens that we have here and how consistent they are.’’

Now the South Course has greens like the other three courses at Innisbrook Resort.


The North Course, dubbed Little Copperhead, got those new greens in 2017. The South was the last to get them.

“We’ve expanded the greens to the original Larry Packard size and we also replaced the grass on three practice greens,’’ said Bobby Barnes, Innisbrook’s director of golf. “That’s extremely beneficial to us because it allows for more foot traffic and helps the greens stay healthier longer. We couldn’t be more excited about that. What we did this summer will pay dividends for years to come.’’

In addition to the greens’ renovation the Innisbrook crew also improved the condition of the bunkers, cleared all storm canals, trimmed trees in the fairways and re-sodded in some areas.

“The South is our newest, and most user-friendly course, and probably my favorite golf course to play,’’ said Barnes. It’s now up to the standards of the other three.

More work is being done, too. The remodeling of all 400 rooms at the resort started in September and is expected to be completed in early 2019. When that work is done it’ll mark the first time in 20 years that Innisbrook could do all the upgrading at one time. In previous upgrades the work was done in phases. The work done is all leading up to the course’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2020.

Innisbrook isn’t the only golf resort in the Salamander portfolio to make a major upgrade. The Jack Nicklaus course at Reunion Resort in Orlando now has a new 12,000 square foot clubhouse. It features an upscale sports bar, named Traditions, and features lots of Nicklaus memorabilia.

Bunkers, especially these on the seventh hole, were a major challenge on the South Course.

OZARKS NATIONAL

Location: Hollister, Mo.

Course architect: Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw.

Opened: Nov. 1, 2018.

Par 71

Tee – Yard/rating/slope

Men: Tips 7,036/73.9/131; Gold 6,510/71.3/126; White 5,903/68.6/118; Red 5,025/64.6/112.
Women: Gold 6,510;77.4/132; White 5,903/74.0/128; Red 5,025/69.2/117.

Green fee: Preview play in November is $150 with a replay rate of $100. In December the prices drop to $125 for preview play and $85 for a replay.

Caddie service: Limited for now.

Walker friendly: Yes.

Fairways: Zoysia.

Greens: Bentgrass.

Rough: Buffalo grass is dominant, and getting in it can mean big trouble.

THE REVIEW

Starter: Golf-wise big things have been happening in the Missouri Ozarks and the opening of Ozarks National is the most recent. Payne’s Valley, a Tiger Woods design, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019 next to Ozarks National. Coore/Crenshaw, though, is one of the most respected architectural teams in the world and any of their creations merits attention. This one opens to public preview play on Nov. 1, and it’ll continue through Dec. 15 before the course is closed for the winter months.

Play because: Though it’s not official yet Ozarks National is expected to be one of the courses used in the Legends of Golf event on PGA Tour Champions next April, replacing neighbor Buffalo Ridge Springs. Grand Opening festivities at Ozarks National are planned to coincide with the Legends of Golf event. It’ll be one of the most talked about courses of 2019.

Takeaway: The course is in a gorgeous setting with beautiful vistas and not much water. It has an unusually diverse collection of holes, and they’ll keep your attention throughout. Though the course is ready for play many more things are still to be done. A spacious clubhouse is expected to be ready sometime next spring and a 15-acre practice range, a putting course and two additional practice greens will also be added eventually.

Ratings (1 to 10 scale, 10 being highest)

Food/beverage: 8

Pro shop: 8.

Clubhouse: 9 (This is on the clubhouse at Mountain Top, the Gary Player-designed 13-hole par-3 course that is being used for Ozarks National guests until a new clubhouse is completed in the spring).

Course difficulty: 8, but choice of tees is critical. From the tips it’s definitely a championship-style course.

Pace of play: 10 (But, then, our group of two foursomes had the course all to ourselves).

Overall score: 9.2

THE COURSE SCORECARD

Best Par 3: No. 12, 254/213/175/133.
Rarely will a par-3 be the No. 2 handicap hole on any course, but this one merits it. It’ll takes its place among the best long par-3s in the country. The small, uphill green is protected by a ravine on the left and trees on the right. There’s very little room for error here.

Best Par 4: No. 5, 352/306/248/161.
I love this hole. It is a true short par-4, one that’s reachable for all levels of players if they use the proper tee. There are tougher par-4s on the layout but this one perfectly fits what this course is all about – a fun but still meaningful challenge that you’ll remember once the round is over.

Best Par 5: No. 9, 597/549/516/453.
The course’s No. 1 handicap hole comes right after somewhat of a breather at the par-3 eighth in the rotation. That dramatic transition may accentuate the difficulty of the longer hole. Still, this winding hole is the longest on the course – definitely a three-shotter.

INFO

Website: www.golfbigcedar.com

Phone:. 417-339-5420.

Facebook: facebook.com/BigCedarLodgeGolf

Instagram: instagram.com/ExploreBranson

Twitter: @GolfBigCedar

Rated by: Len Ziehm

Golf shared the spotlight at this Mississippi resort with Capone and Elvis

No, that’s not the real Elvis, but the king’s memory lives on in his tribute suite at Gulf Hills Resort.

OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi – Not all the golf destinations that we visit are just about golf. Gulf Hills Resort is a prime example.

Knowing our interest in history as well as golf, one of our tour guides suggested we hit this 91-year old resort on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was founded as a golfing hot spot in the late 1920s. We found it much more than that.

We came from having never heard of the place to learning that it was initially a hideout for gangster Al Capone and later a retreat for prominent entertainers like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Fats Domino, Judy Garland and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Presley, especially, has left an impact here. There’s a classy tribute to him in the Gulf Hills Hotel’s “Love Me Tender, Love Me Suites’’ that are almost always rented out even when the golf course and rest of the resort is quiet. We’ll be getting into that later and, rest assured, Elvis hasn’t completely left this building

Only the Gulf Hills swimming pool and golf course remained after a 1971 fire. The present hotel was constructed using the same frame structure of the original building.


For us, though, there had to be a golf component to Gulf Hills Resort, and there is. It also helped that there were some prominent Chicago people involved over the course of its colorful history.

Branigar Brothers, Chicago-based developers, began work on the resort in 1925. As initial owners they envisioned “an upscale winter resort with one of the most beautiful golf courses in the Southeast, a yacht basin, riding stables, clubhouse and a handful of homes built close to the water.’’

The Branigars delivered on that, and their offspring would later carry on, as Branigar Organization, in the creation of Illinois golf resorts Eagle Ridge, in Galena, and Indian Lakes, in Bloomingdale.

Just the Branigars weren’t enough to fulfill the creation of Gulf Hills, however. According to local historians the resort’s hotel was financed by laundered money from Capone and Chicago mob figures.

It’s undergoing maintenance work in this photo, but Golf Digest magazine once called Gulf Hill’s signature hole — the par-3 17th — one of the five most beautiful and challenging holes in the Southeast.


The golf course was designed by Jack Daray, who was then in the midst of a six-year stint as head professional at Olympia Fields Country Club – the tournament-tested multi-course private club in Chicago’s south suburbs. Daray, like several other club professionals in that era, spent winters teaching in Mississippi. Daray’s winter base was at nearby Biloxi Country Club.

Daray’s design at Gulf Hills was immediately well received, and the No. 17 hole – an uphill par-3 – was quickly cited by Golf Digest as “one of the five most beautiful and challenging holes in the entire Southeast Region.’’

One of the first American golf professionals to get involved in course architecture, Daray also designed three Chicago area courses – two 18-holers at White Pines in Bensenville and another at Coyote Run in Flossmoor.

Colorful signage and tee markers make for a pleasant atmosphere for Gulf Hills golfers.


Root & Hollister, also a Chicago connection, did the building of the 1,300-acres course at Gulf Hills using 170 men, 20 mule teams, road graders, tractors and a 30-ton dredge. It was completed in less than two years. Even with that course just completed there was already plans for a second 18-holer to be built at the resort. Those plans never materialized, however.

The first event played on the Daray course was on Christmas Day, 1926, when Walter Hagen – then in the midst of his five-year run as winner of the PGA Championship – joined three club pros in an exhibition match. Tragically, it was also on a Christmas Day, in 1971, that a fire destroyed most of the place. Basically all that was left was the swimming pool, golf course and structural frame of what had been the hotel. The rebuilding process has been slow and ongoing.

Golf was at the forefront of activities at Gulf Hills in its early years and visitors from the Chicago were commonplace while the resort underwent numerous ownership changes. In 1949 it was transformed into a Dude Ranch, and that’s when the celebrities started pouring in.

The wall at Ocean Spring’s Cultural Center calls attention to the many of celebrity visitors to Gulf Hills. You’ll need to double click on the page to read the captions.


Presley made Gulf Hills his summer home from 1951-57 when he was building his career with appearances on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. During that time he was a regular on the piano at the resort’s Pink Pony Lounge. Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America of 1959, and her actor-husband Gary Collins had their honeymoon at Gulf Hills. Jayne Mansfield was on her way to the resort when she was killed in a horrid traffic accident in 1967. The apparent heir to Monroe as America’s sex symbol, Mansfield was only 34 years old.

Even during the Dude Ranch days golf was more than a basic amenity at Gulf Hills. The resort’s professional staff included Johnny Pott, a mainstay on the PGA Tour, and Mary Mills, an LPGA regular. John Revolta, a PGA champion in his days as Evanston Golf Club’s head professional, also did some winter teaching at Gulf Hills.

Fast forward to today, Gulf Hills isn’t nearly as busy a place as it was in its heyday but we found it a pleasant place to hang out. Other than the re-routing of several holes and the installation of cart paths, the golf course is much the way Daray designed it.

What Gulf Hills is best known for now, however, is the Love Me Tender, Love Me Suites. Though Presley’s connection with Gulf Hills was well known, Donna Brown wasn’t enthusiastic about reviving those memories when she was named general manager in 2000. A local family, which wishes to remain anonymous, had purchased the fading hotel and golf course and begun efforts to revive it.

“Six months after I took the job I had to call them and tell them I made a mistake,’’ recalled Brown. She had received too many inquiries from hotel guests of the past who had fond memories of the Dude Ranch days.

From the beds to the memorabilia Gulf Hill’s four-room Elvis Presley tribute suite is something special.


A decision was made to create “a tribute, something we thought he (Presley) would like,’’ said Brown. This four-bedroom suite was not to be anything like Graceland, Presley’s home in Memphis. It’s become an ongoing project with authentic antique pieces and furniture brought in to capture the life and times in Presley’s heyday.

Presley’s attachment to Gulf Hills wasn’t taken lightly. Though he didn’t make use of the golf course, Presley learned horseback-riding and water-skiing while staying at Gulf Hills and also met his first girlfriend, Biloxi resident June Juanico, there. They were engaged for four years before she broke off the relationship, and they remained friends and until his death in 1977.

The tribute suite project was briefly derailed when Hurricane Katrina decimated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005 but the suite is in constant demand now. It goes for $1,000 a night, though Brown has accepted less if something else is booked in connection with its use. That’s taken the form of wedding receptions, corporate board retreats, golf groups and business-after-hours events.

Here’s how the guests at the Love Me Tender, Love Me Suites do their dining these days.

Texas resort Horseshoe Bay figures to cash in on big-money upgrades

The `Million Dollar Hole’ — No. 14 at Slick Rock — is Horseshoe Bay’s most photographed hole.


HORSESHOE BAY, Texas – This is good news for all of golf. Major new construction, renovations and upgrades aren’t just being done in the Missouri Ozarks. Not by a long shot. Other golf destinations – especially in Texas – are taking on expensive projects as well.

Granted all the projects undertaken by the visionary Johnnie Morris in Missouri – latest are just-opened Ozarks National and the under-construction Tiger Woods design, Payne’s Valley — are the most eye-catching, but Horseshoe Bay Resort in the Texas Lake & Hill Country is making some noise, too. So is Barton Creek, a Texas resort less than an hour’s drive from Horseshoe Bay.

The big spending at Barton Creek is mainly on its lodging options. Horseshoe Bay is upgrading most everything and the results figure to be rewarding. They’ve already elevated the resort’s profile.

Did you know that the last two Masters champions – Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed — are members at Horseshoe Bay Resort, which is located near the bigger town of Marble Falls. Anthony Holder, the resort’s director of golf, mentioned that only in passing – and after being asked a basic fact-finding question about membership.

Lake LBJ will be a factor on two holes when the Apple Rock renovation is completed.


Most any place else a connection with two such prominent players would be put out front and center by a club blessed to having them as members, but in this Texas Lake & Hill Country golf is different.

Horseshoe Bay has operated since 1971 with three courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. He’s the late father of today’s prominent architects Robert Trent Jones Jr. — the name attached to Alabama’s popular golf trail – and Rees Jones, who gained the moniker of “the Open Doctor’’ for his frequent callups to get courses ready to host major championships.

Jack Nicklaus designed the fourth course at Horseshoe Bay. It opened in 2012 as a private club that is rarely made available to resort guests. Nicklaus’ course is called Summit Rock. The three Jones designs are Slick Rock, Ram Rock and Apple Rock and Ram and Apple are operated together under the title of Cap Rock.

There’s a lot of Rocks, to be sure, and nobody could quite explain why. What was explained in detail by Holder and director of agronomy Ken Gorzycki was the ambitious plans the resort ownership has for the future. That future isn’t far away, either. Holder said the golf aspects of an overall $70 million renovation should be completed by July of 2019.

Rock walls are an attractive feature at Horseshoe Bay — especially on the Ram Rock course.


“Our goal is to be the No. 1 golf resort in the state of Texas, and eventually expanding that to the nation,’’ said Holder. “With that comes the updating of your facilities, making sure we can deliver. Our ownership has put a wad of money into all the touching points.’’

Holder grew up in Dallas before spending 14 years at prominent California destinations Mission Hills, Indian Wells and PGA West. He’s been at Horseshoe Bay just a year but is already caught up in the enthusiasm for what’s been happening there.

Horseshoe Bay has basically had just two owners. Norman Hurd and his cousin, Wayne, got the resort started in 1971. Morris D. Jaffe has been the owner since the mid-1990s and he more recently has gotten an investment partner, IBC Bank. That enabled all the upgrades to be tackled in relatively short order.

How is this view of the No. 18 green of the Apple Rock course for a memorable visual?


Slick Rock, which opened in 1971, is the most user-friendly and most heavily played of the courses. It also has the resort’s most famous hole – the par-4 14th which plays anywhere from 236 to 361 yards. This eye-catcher is called “the Million Dollar Hole’’ because of the elaborate 35-yard waterfall that greets players at the tee. They have to clear the waterfall with their drives, then get to see the attraction up close when they drive past it to their approach shots.

The renovation of Slick Rock was completed in the spring of 2016. The renovation of Ram Rock, the second course to open at the resort in 1981, was a $3 million project and required the most work. It was completed in May of 2018.

“It was our least-desired golf course because it was so hard, the greens were small and it was heavily bunkered,’’ said Gorzycki. “It was considered as the hardest golf course in the state, and we made changes to make it more playable for higher handicap players. Those changes have been extremely well received.’’

Boulders are incorporated into the design of many of the holes at Horseshoe Bay.


The Bermuda grass on the greens was replaced by 007 bentgrass and diamond zoysia collars were installed around the greens to keep Bermuda from creeping into the bentgrass. The practice was part of all three renovations. So was the extension of cart paths.

Because of the invasion of the Bermuda on the greens at both Ram Rock and Apple Rock had been shrinking dramatically.

“A lot of greens had no hole locations left,’’ said Gorzycki.

While the greens were being expanded the bunkers were restored to the size and appearance that Jones had originally created. To make sure of that Robert Trent Jones Jr. – son of the original architect – was involved in the renovation.

Director of agronomy Ken Gorzycki (left) and director of golf Anthony Holder are in the forefront of the work being done at Horseshoe Bay.


“He helped us with the process to maintain the integrity of his Dad’s designs,’’ said Gorzycki. Austin design consultant Mark Voss was also involved in that process.

Jones Sr. was an architect well ahead of his time. His work at Horseshoe Bay is a testament to that.

Apple Rock, the prettiest of the Jones courses, opened in 1986 and has the best water views. Lake LBJ will impact the layout at the 11th and 12th holes. The in-process renovation, a $2.5 million project, is to be completed by May 1.

Like Ram Rock, the putting surfaces were extended. When the renovation began the course had less than 65,000 square feet of greens. When it re-opens it’ll have up to 87,000 – which is slightly more than Ram Rock’s 84,000.

When Apple Rock opened it was selected the No. 1 new resort course in the nation by Golf Digest. That came in the heart of the golf boom, so the accomplishment was particularly noteworthy because many courses were under consideration. (Summit was similarly honored, but the boom had subsided by then and only two or three other courses were considered for the honor).

As part of the renovation work the bunkers included new drainage and the overall sand area became 40 percent less than what it had been.

Horseshoe Bay also has the most impressive 18-hole Whitewater Putting Course, which surrounds the 360 Sports Bar. Whitewater is all grass and is set apart from other such courses around the country in that the scorecards givs measurements to each hole in yards, not feet. The whole course is 1,712 yards so obviously some putts are really long ones.

“The ownership sees the potential of this area and wanted to sink its teeth into it, to see how far it can go,’’ said Holder. “Not a lot of properties can offer the array of amenities that we can. This opportunity has a lot of upside, and they have seen a return on their investment so far.’’

The recent financial support has also led to the building of two clubhouses. It’s not all done yet, but the end is near. The clubhouses need just a few more months and Apple Rock is the last course to get renovated. The work there is scheduled to be done by May 1, 2019.

When all is said and done Apple Rock and Ram Rock will share a new clubhouse, pool, cabana, pro shop, pavilion and indoor-outdoor addition to their practice range. A new clubhouse will also be built at Summit Rock. Hotel room upgrades have already been completed.

Numerous fountains spice up the atmosphere at the Horseshoe Bay courses.

Meet the Millers: Like father, like son in Illinois PGA leadership

The Illinois PGA changes its president every two years, and the most recent changing of the guard on Nov. 19 was much different than all the previous ones.

When Jim Miller took over the reins from Mark Labiak the section gained an unusual new leader. Rarely has the IPGA had a president from a club outside of the Chicago area. Miller is in his 14th season as head professional at Bloomington Country Club, which is located in central Illinois.

And that’s not all. Miller is also continuing a family tradition. His father Hal was the IPGA president from 1982-83, when he was in the midst of a long and successful run at Evanston Golf Club in Skokie.

The Miller & Miller scenario begins at Evanston, where Hal entered the golf business as a caddie. He later worked there on the practice range and as a starter before becoming an assistant professional under the legendary player and teacher John Revolta in 1960.

Hal spent seven seasons as a Revolta assistant, then became the head professional in 1966 following Revolta’s retirement. Hal was the head man there for 35 years before retiring on Dec. 31, 2001. Now 82, he’s an honorary member of the club that he served in one capacity or another for about 50 years. Selected into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 2007, he also remains involved with the IPGA as a regular rules official at its tournaments.

A Glenview resident, Hal and wife Kathleen were the parents of five children, all of whom worked at Evanston in one capacity or another while growing up. Jim is the only one who followed Hal into the golf industry.

Jim, 52, graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1990, then spent three years as an assistant at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield, and another at Indian Hill, in Winnetka, before Hal had an opening on his staff at Evanston. Jim eventually succeeded Hal as the club’s head professional and held that job for five years.

His move to Bloomington came in 2005 and was made largely for family reasons.

“When I got married I had promised my wife (Julia) that I wouldn’t be gone as much as my Dad was when I was growing up,’’ he said. “I had been working 13-hour days because that was the expectation created from Hal. That was the standard he had set. By that time we had four children under the age of nine. My wife reminded me of the promise I had made and said she expected me to keep it.’’

Jim did. When as opening developed at Bloomington he applied, was hired and has found a good job fit. Their four children are Parker, now 21; Katie, now 19; Ashley, now 17; and Bailey, now 14.

Bloomington, which has 330 golf members, was agreeable to Jim’s need for more family time. A good enough player to qualify for two PGA Club Professional Championships and become the runner-up in the 1995 IPGA Match Play Championship, Miller is focused on a broader range of duties now.

“When I first got to Bloomington the pace was slower and the demands not quite as high (as he had at Evanston),’’ he said, “but I brought that with me, and Bloomington has gotten more like the Chicago clubs.’’

Bloomington has always been a prominent tournament site. In addition to welcoming the Illinois Open in 1980, the club has hosted eight Illinois State Amateurs including last year’s version — more than any other club. Bloomington has also hosted the Illinois State Women’s Amateur five times.

Miller inadvertently played a role in hurting Bloomington’s chances to bring an Illinois Open back downstate. He was the IPGA’s tournament chairman when the decision was made to alter the format of the event in hopes of expanding the field and increasing the entries. The Glen Club, in Glenview, became the permanent site for the finals and a nearby club was needed as the alternate site each year. Bloomington was too far away to fit the bill, but Miller is happy with the format change made in the section’s premier event.

An IPGA director for three years while at Evanston, Miller dropped off the board when he made the move to Bloomington but he returned in 2009 and was elected an officer in 2015, when he ran for the secretary’s position. That started his progression to the presidency. He was secretary in 2015-16 and vice president in 2017-18. Now he takes on the responsibility of leading an organization with about 800 members.

The IPGA presidency is much different than when his father was in charge. The IPGA had an executive director (Ken Boyce) at that time but no long-term headquarters and only two assistants for Boyce. Now executive director Carrie Williams heads a staff that has at least three times that number when summer interns are factored in and a long-term base at The Glen Club.

“There are some similarities to when I was president,’’ said Hal, “but there’s a lot of facets the president is involved in. When I was president there weren’t so many things.’’

Jim sees one big issue ahead.

“It’s diversity and inclusion,’’ he said. “I know that affects us (the IPGA) for sure, but it’s industry-wide. The sheer lack of women and minorities in our industry is staggering and it’s our mission to find out why and how we can change it.’’

That’s not his only chore, of course.

“My goal is just to increase new member services, be it through education, tournaments, outreach programs,’’ he said. “I also want to make sure the section financially is in a good position. We’ll try to make our jobs better for all our members.’’

Golf is thriving in Lake Charles — and not just at the casino courses

Early morning dew only adds to the beauty of the No. 1 hole at Contraband Bayou.


LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana – Casino courses Contraband Bayou and The Country Club at Golden Nugget tend to get the most attention when visiting golfers come to this popular golf spot near the Texas line. That’s not always the case, however.

A couple other courses well known to the casino crowd are making major upgrades. Gray Plantation has opened its new indoor academy – one of the very few in Louisiana – and another with a fancy name is about to take on a major new look.

The National Golf Club of Louisiana, the municipal course for Lake Charles neighbor Westlake, expects to break ground on a new clubhouse. The significance of that addition to the premises is already had an impact. Housing construction around the course is booming and 600 new homes are expected to be built in that area.

There’s no denying the importance of what golf courses mean to the operators of the L’Auberge and Golden Nugget casinos, however. The courses at both could be welcoming the PGA Tour Champions in 2020. If negotiations on that materialize that’ll be a really big deal for the economy in Lake Charles.

Drivers make constant use of the long I-10 bridge that is also a focal point for casino golfers.


It’s no secret that golf courses and casinos fit together quite well. Casinos need more gambling patrons and offering the option of quality golf is a way to get them there. A quality course, meanwhile, is also an enticement for golfers willing to travel, and casinos across the United States offer plenty of those. Las Vegas, with its abundance of casinos with courses, is the best example that the golf/casino collaboration works.

All the good casino golf isn’t in Las Vega, though. Lake Charles is certainly no Las Vegas but the casino with courses formula works there, too.

The Golden Nugget and L’Auberge casinos are within walking distance of each other. Both have 18-hole courses on their premises.

“As everybody knows, the golf business now is tough to make money at,’’ said John Hurt, director of golf at The Country Club at the Golden Nugget. “But, with the casino, our owners don’t necessarily look at our numbers. They give us credit for the people we bring in to the casino that come because of the golf course. They make money across the street at the casino because of this amenity. Amenities are what sets casinos apart. Golf is an amenity which brings people in.’’

The L’Auberge Casino Resort (above) and Golden Nugget have made good use of golf courses.



Tillman Fertitta owns the Golden Nuggets casinos and hotels as well as the Landry’s restaurant chain. In 2017 he purchased the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets for a reported $2.2 billion.

Fertitta was quick to make his presence felt at The Country Club at the Golden Nugget when it opened five years ago. Hurt had expected the clubhouse music to be kept at a level so it wouldn’t impact golfers. Fertitta disagreed.

“We’re not as stuffy as a private club. We have music,’’ said Hurt. “Our owner tells us to kick up the music. He wants a party atmosphere.’’

So, the sounds of music are part of the golfing ambiance at this Golden Nugget. And even bigger things could be coming.

Director of golf Jonathan Jester shows up the new indoor academy at Gray Plantation.


Hurt said there’s “better than a 50-50 chance’’ that the Golden Nugget and Contraband Bayou will co-host a PGA Tour Champions event in the near future.

“We’ve met with some PGA people a couple times and they really want to do it,’’ said Hurt. “It all boils down to sponsor money. They definitely want to play here and they have an open week that year in either March or April.’’

Scott Davey, golf operations manager at Contraband Bayou, isn’t as optimistic as Hurt but admits that meetings have been held.

“Nugget said they’d donate their golf course and I’m sure we would, too,’’ said Davey. “They don’t have a driving range, and we do. I don’t know how that dynamic would work out but they want to get a tournament here.’’

Landing a PGA Tour Champions event would be big breakthrough for the courses – and casinos – impacted.

Contraband Bayou, a Tom Fazio design, opened 12 years ago and has served its casino well.

“There’s not a drive for revenue here,’’ said Davey. “It’s for the high rollers to come and play. It’s a well-maintained course, and the service level is high. Ours isn’t your typical Fazio. Our course has to be playable for all levels of players. The greens are flat and the fairways are wide open. It’s built for 4-hour 15-minute rounds – so the players can get back to the casino. What do golfers like to do? They like to gamble, so our course is a great tool to get people here.’’

Like Contraband Bayou, Golden Nugget draws heavily from the Houston area. Todd Eckinrode designed that course with gamblers in mind as well. It has wide fairways, rough that’s not very thick and a course that’s of moderate length overall.

“The main thing is the playability,’’ said Hurt. “The majority of our play is from groups of 12 to 20 players. They’re having fun at night gambling and drinking and staying up late. They don’t want to be beat up by a hard golf course.’’

The National Golf Club of Louisiana, a municipal layout in Westlake, has its share of challenging holes