Len Ziehm On Golf

Lake Forest’s Hopfinger is mounting a bid for a PGA Tour card

The Web.com Tour is billed as the pathway to the PGA Tour, and Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger is making progress on that journey.

Last fall Hopfinger regained his playing Web.com playing privileges with a gutty showing in two stages of the qualifying school. He survived Stage 2 with a 4-under-par final round to make it to the finals by one stroke.

In the finals Hopfinger covered those 72-holes in a solid 14-under-par – the exact number to earn playing privileges for the first eight tournaments of the Web.com season. No. 8 is coming up this weekend in the $550,000 North Mississippi Classic – a new event played in Oxford, Miss. It tees off on Thursday, and there’ll be a shuffling of players based on their money winnings after this tournament but it’s not a concern for Hopfinger.

“I had a fourth-place in the Bahamas and a top-20 in Mexico. I should have plenty of cash to play the rest of the year,’’ he said.

Actually, he long-term prognosis is better than that. He is No. 42 on the money list, and that makes him a contender to earn his PGA Tour card by the time the 27-tournament regular season ends in August.

“The goal is the top 25, so you can make the PGA Tour,’’ he said. “I feel a lot more prepared than I did two years ago when I lost my Web.com status.’’

Crack the top 25 in the regular season and Hopfinger will have status on the PGA Tour for the 2018-19 season. If he doesn’t make the top 25 he can still advance if he plays well in the four-tournament Web.com Playoffs in September. The top 25 there go to the PGA Tour as well.

Hopfinger, 28, is one of only eight players to own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur (2011) and the Illinois Open (2014). He started playing at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park and has been coached by Jeff Mory, head professional at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, since he was 12.

He took his game to the collegiate ranks, playing at Kansas for one year and then transferring to Iowa for the final three. His teammates with the Hawkeyes included Deerfield’s Vince India, who won the Illinois State Amateur the year before Hopfinger did. India also made it to the Web.com Tour but lost his playing privileges. He would have regained them at last fall’s qualifying school but was one stroke behind Hopfinger.

So was Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr., also a former Illinois Open winner (2016).

That one swing difference has left India and Sainz struggling to get into tournaments while Hopfinger has been playing. Sainz got into five of the first seven tournaments, made the cut in three and had a tie for eighth in Colombia. He’s No. 64 on the money list and will also play this week in Mississippi, perhaps a good omen since he attended college at Mississippi State. Libertyville’s Michael Schachner made 10 birdies and posted a 65 in Monday’s qualifying round and will also compete in the North Mississippi Classic. India is 0-for-3 on making the cut in his Web.com appearances this season.

Hopfinger plans to play five weeks in row, ending the stretch at the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club in June.

“It’s been a wild ride,’’ said Hopfinger. “We all want to get to the PGA faster, but it’s not always that easy. I’m just grateful to still be playing golf for a living. I haven’t set any firm deadlines. I just want to keep getting better.’’

NU, Illini women chase Big Ten title

Last year coach Emily Fletcher’s Northwestern women’s team went all the way to the title match of the NCAA finals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. Starting on Friday the veteran squad begins another postseason at the Big Ten tournament at TPC Rivers Bend in Mainsville, Ohio. The NCAA regionals are two weeks after that.

The Wildcats, Big Ten champions in three of the last five years, are ranked 14th nationally and only Michigan State (12) is ranked higher among Big Ten teams. Coach Renee Slone’s Illinois team is peaking at the right time, though. The Illini take a No. 29 ranking into postseason play but have won their last two tournaments.

Here and there

Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim, the low amateur in the Masters, plans to turn pro after competing in June’s U.S. Open. As was the case in the Masters, Ghim has an exemption into the Open at New York’s Shinnecock Hills course thanks to his runner-up finish in last year’s U.S. Amateur. He’s finishing his senior season at the University of Texas.

Kemper Lakes members have given a name to the final three holes of their Kildeer course. Following a membership vote they’re calling it The Gauntlet. It’s marked by a rock near the No. 16 tee now and more decorations will likely be added prior to the staging of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June.

Preparations for the KPMG event are well underway with tournament staffers headed by director Jackie Endsley and director of operations Eric Nuxhol operating out of a trailer in the club’s parking lot. Cristie Kerr is the first player to request time for a practice round before tournament week. She’ll get an early peek at the course in June.

Weather problems forced the Illinois PGA to cancel its Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble at Metamora Fields and reschedule its Pro-Assistants event. Next up is the Assistants Match Play Championship, which begins its three-day run on Monday at Ruth Lake in Hinsdale.

`Tiger Woods’ provides an inside look at the world’s most fascinating athlete

Book review time. If you ever wanted to know what Tiger Woods’ life has really been like this creation – titled simply “Tiger Woods’’ – is a must read.

Certainly anybody who has reported on golf should check it out. Co-authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian were more than qualified to take on this project and they produced a very even-handed chronological account of the many highs and lows that Woods has endured in his sometimes brilliant, sometimes chaotic 40-plus years.

The fact that Woods couldn’t be interviewed for the book is unfortunate but understandable. The way Benedict and Keteyian tackled the project, though, made that not really necessary. Their research was that good. They didn’t need Woods to do any re-hashing of the well-documented episodes that broadcast, print and social media outlets have provided for so long.

In short, Woods’ tale is the result of mixing a talented, obsessively-driven, intelligent athlete with aggressive — if sometimes questionable – parental practices. That doesn’t explain everything, though. Woods’ treatment of his first girlfriend, his wife, his long-time friend and lover (Lindsey Vonn), his highly-respected swing instructors (Butch Harmon and Hank Haney), his once-trusted caddie and Mark O’Meara – a neighbor, big-brother figure, frequent playing partner and loyal friend – are puzzling. And that’s putting it mildly.

Is Woods finally healthy again, as a few tournaments this year might suggest? I have no idea.

Will he ever break Jack Nicklaus’ record for winning major championships? I strongly doubt it, but can’t rule it out.

Has he finally found inner peace? Can he enjoy life regardless of how he performs in golf tournaments? I hope so. The sports world has produced many fascinating characters but Tiger Woods might be the most fascinating of them all.

For Key West course it’s all about location, location, location

The treacherous Mangrove Hole presents an imposing look at Key West’s No. 8 hole.

KEY WEST, Florida – For some vacations you might want to choose a golf destination. For others golf need be no more than an amenity. You can have easy access to the game, but take advantage of other attractions as well.

Key West Golf Club is one of the latter. Its first claim to fame is that it’s the southernmost course in the continental United States. There are no other golf courses in Key West, which is just 90 miles from Cuba, and there are no other championship-style layouts within 100 miles.

Vacationers are attracted to Key West by its beautiful sunsets; the shops, bars and restaurants along Duval Street and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum more than they are to the city’s only golf course. Still, Key West Golf Club has its fan base as well. It also has a rich Chicago connection.

Construction of the course began in 1923 with the Chicago firm of Langford & Moreau in charge. Wiliam Langford was a graduate of both Yale and Columbia who designed over 200 courses prior to his death at age 90 in 1977.

Among his credits are a flock of Illinois private layouts — Barrington Hills, Bloomington Country Club, Bryn Mawr, Butterfield, Glen Oak, LaGrange, Park Ridge, Ruth Lake and Skokie. He also designed the Chicago Park District’s nine-holer at Marquette Park.

His partner, Theodore Moreau, was the construction foreman for the Langford courses. The Key West course owners since 1994 have been Bill and Gwen Smith. Bill is a Chicago real estate attorney. The Smiths also own two Illinois courses — Deer Creek, in University Park, and The Rail, in Springfield — and were long-time owners of Antioch Golf Club. In addition, Doug Carter, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect, is Key West’s general manager and director of golf.

Those connections all played a big part in keeping golf going during some tough times in Key West. The course has shown amazing staying power over the years, and that’s reflected in it being one of 50 layouts included in the Florida Historic Golf Trail. All the Trail courses were established between 1897 and 1949 and are still playable today.

It’s good that iguanas are friendly creatures. They’re everywhere on the Key West course.

Just getting a course in Key West was difficult. The city is an island, just two miles wide and six miles long. Find available space wasn’t easy, but the local Chamber of Commerce was able to do it in 1923 and came up with $150,000 in its budget for a golf course at the entrance to the island.

Langford’s design was innovative at the time. With 200 acres of very flat terrain available, his layout featured 10 doglegs, heavy bunkering and an island green when it opened in 1924. A hurricane did severe damage to the facility two years later, reducing it to nine holes, and another in 1935 put the course’s future in serious jeopardy.

Bright foliage is part of the atmosphere at Key West Golf Club.

A group of local players banded together in the 1950s to restore the facility as an 18-hole course and Rees Jones, the famous course architect, tackled the project in 1983 with co-designer Keith Evans. They built a new course on the property. The Smiths took it over and rebuilt all the greens in 2006 and 2007.

The present layout has an eye-catching signature feature – the infamous Mangrove Hole. It’s No. 8 on the scorecard, a par-3 that plays from 129 to 185 yards with thick mangrove terrain creating a forced carry from the tee box all the way to the green.

Otherwise, the course is on the short side because of its land constraints. It plays at 6,531 yards from the tips and is a par-70. There’s plenty to look at as you work your way around it, as the wildlife and foliage aren’t quite like any of the many Florida courses we’ve visited over the years.

Key West’s ducks aren’t pretty, but they sure are friendly.

For us this adventure started with an iguana slithering across the No. 1 tee box. That struck us as highly unusual – we hadn’t seen any on our many visits to other Florida courses – but it wasn’t. Those interesting-looking, apparently harmless creatures were in evidence on most holes.

The unique-looking ducks were even more golfer-friendly. They would come right up to your cart looking for food. The pastel-colored coastal homes around the course also enhanced the ambience.

Irma, the latest major hurricane to hit Florida, did damage to most every course in the state last September and Key West was one of the harder hit communities. Key West Golf Club, though, suffered only minimal damage. We found a course that – at the end of the tourist season – was still in quite decent shape.

A little pricey, perhaps, but Key West Golf Club is a friendly place with a user-friendly course that blends in nicely with the unique community in which it’s located.

Key West’s cheerful-looking clubhouse sets the tone for a pleasant golf experience.

Hardy, Kelly get invites to Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe

Two of the very best amateurs in the Chicago ranks will play as professionals for the first time in this season’s first local pro tour event.

Tee-K Kelly, two-time Illinois State Amateur champion, and Nick Hardy, who whipped Kelly with a record-setting performance in their last meeting in the State Am, have accepted sponsor’s exemptions into the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship. It’ll return to Ivanhoe Club from June 4-10, shortly after Hardy wraps up a great collegiate career at Illinois.

“I’ve had a great college experience and have learned a lot from Coach (Mike) Small,’’ said Hardy. “I look forward to a strong finish with my teammates and then moving on to the next phase of my golf career. I know how valuable a sponsor exemption is, and I’m very appreciate to the Rust-Oleum Championship for giving me this opportunity.’’

Hardy, from Northbrook, had such an invite to the Rust-Oleum in 2016 and missed the 36-hole cut. He received another exemption into last year’s John Deere Classic prior to his senior season for the Illini and qualified for all 72 holes. Hardy also qualified for two U.S. Opens as an amateur but his most brilliant moment came in the 2016 Illinois State Amateur at St. Charles Country Club, when he was a record 24-under-par and beat runner-up Kelly by 10 strokes

Kelly, from Wheaton, won the Illinois Am in both 2013 and 2015. He played collegiately at Ohio State and won an NCAA Regional before turning pro. He spent last season on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour where he won the Puerto Plata Open in the Dominican Republic and had four other top-10 finishes. He didn’t earn promotion to the PGA’s satellite Web.com Tour, however, so he must either play his way into tournaments or get in via sponsor exemptions.

Rust-Oleum director Scott Cassin called Hardy and Kelly “two of the finest young players to come out of the state of Illinois in decades.’’

There’ll likely be at least two others looking for similar professional opportunities soon. Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, the low amateur at last week’s Masters, and Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, the first player to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year in 37 years, are also finishing up their college careers, Ghim at Texas and Flavin at Miami of Ohio.

All four are on strong college teams that are expected to earn berths in the NCAA regionals that begin on May 14 at various sites around the country. The finals are May 25-30 in Stillwater, Okla.

Ravinia Green to host Illinois Open

The Illinois PGA has decided on the alternate site for the finals of the 69th Illinois Open on Aug, 6-8. It’ll be Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods.

Ravinia will join The Glen Club, in Glenview, as the site for first- and second-round play in the 54-hole competition. The Glen, home of the IPGA offices and the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, will host the third round, which will involve the low 50 and ties after the first 36 holes.

“Once again we feel we have two outstanding courses,’’ said IPGA executive director Carrie Williams. “Ravinia Green is a tighter-tree-lined layout and contrasts in style to The Glen Club. We’re also looking forward to showcasing the club’s recently updated amenities.’’

Ravinia Green has never hosted the Illinois Open, biggest event on the IPGA schedule. The club has 100 bunkers on its par-72 course, which measures 6,866 yards from the back tees, and water comes into play on 10 holes.

Heritage beckons Donald

Once the world’s No. 1-ranked player, former Northwestern star Luke Donald’s game has declined in recent years – but not at the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage Classic. Donald has always been stellar in that event, which traditionally follows the Masters.

The 50th anniversary playing of the tournament at Harbour Town in Hilton Head, S.C., tess off on Thursday. Donald has been runner-up five times in the event and was in the top-3 in seven of the last nine years. He’s never won it, though. Last year he finished on stroke behind champion Wesley Bryan.

PGA Tour records became detailed in 1934, and only six players have been runner-up in one tournament five times, and just two have more runner-up finishes in the same event. Jack Nicklaus finished second in the Canadian Open seven times and Phil Mickelson was runner-up in the U.S. Open six times.

Nicklaus also made the list of six a second time with his five runner-up finishes in the Ford Championship at Doral – an event which is no longer held. Others with five runner-up finishes were Payne Stewart in the Honda Classic and Greg Norman in the BMW Championship.

Donald, who didn’t qualify for the Masters, missed the cut in five of his eight starts in the 2017-18 season. His best finish was a tie for 32nd.

Doug Ghim’s first Masters was something very special

Maybe a tie for 50th place doesn’t sound great – even if it came in golf’s hallowed Masters tournament. Maybe a 74-74 finish in the weekend rounds and an 8-over-par 296 score for the 72 holes wasn’t worthy of much wild cheering at Augusta National.

Make no mistake, though. What Doug Ghim did over four days in the first major golf championship of the year was something special — very special.

Very rarely do 21-year olds who are still in college get invited to the Masters. Ghim did via one of the last invitation criteria. He was the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera, a California course that has almost as rich in history as Augusta National.

Ghim lost the U.S. Amateur title to a younger Doc Redman in sudden death at Riviera. but Redman didn’t beat Ghim in the Masters. Neither did the other four amateurs in the field. Just getting to the Masters was a major accomplishment.

Only two other Illinois amateurs did it in the last 35 years and neither of them made the cut, much less contend for the coveted trophy given annually to the low amateur. Ghim departed Sunday with much more hardware than that. He also picked up crystal glasses for making three eagles. Every player who makes an eagle at the Masters gets a nice prize from the club. The most eagles made by one player in any Masters is four, and Ghim had his sites on that target entering Sunday’s final round.

He didn’t break the record, but he did have a spectacular finish, holing a bunker shot for birdie on his last whole of the tournament.

The rousing finish capped off a week in which Ghim finally earned the attention that was lacking during much of his amateur career. The low profile was partly Ghim’s fault. He played only one year of high school golf at Buffalo Grove and left Illinois for Texas for college golf. Most all of his pre-college tournaments were national junior events held around the country.

As a result, Ghim didn’t get the attention of pro tournament organizers when they were handing out sponsor exemptions to worthy amateurs. The Masters, in fact, was Ghim’s first PGA Tour event and he got through it without a veteran caddie’s guidance. His father (and swing coach) Jeff was on his bag.

Those unusual circumstances led to Golfweek magazine asking Ghim to write a daily blog off his experiences. While recounting the eagles was part of that writing exercise, the highlight was his third round pairing with Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters winner who has dominated the Champions Tour in recent years.

“I’ve played with so many nice people this week, and they really didn’t need to be,’’ said Ghim. “But Mr. Langer may have been the nicest guy that I’ve played with all week. He’s a very classy individual. He really appreciates good golf, and I could tell he appreciated my efforts as an amateur.’’

Langer even raked a bunker for Ghim.

“A Masters champion is raking your footprints. That was the funny highlight of the day,’’ said Ghim.

Ghim, who turns 22 next week, regretted missing the Western Intercollegiate college tournament to play in the Masters. His Longhorns’ teammates have their biggest events still ahead, however. That’s how he looked at it while accepting his trophy with overall champion Patrick Reed in the traditional presentation ceremony in Butler Cabin, which adjoins the Augusta National course.

“Now I’d like to help my team to a national championship, like Patrick Reed did twice (when he was attending Augusta State, a collegiate powerhouse located in the same Georgia town as Augusta National),’’ said Ghim.

Ghim figures to delay turning pro at least until after June’s U.S. Open. He has an exemption to that event off his U.S. Amateur showing as well.

Very soon after that Ghim will join the professional ranks where his chances of success seem very good. Matching the excitement of being low amateur in his first Masters, though, will be hard to beat.

“That is probably the most honorable thing that I’ve done as a golfer,’’ he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play on a Walker Cup team, a Palmer Cup team, on a national championship with my (Texas) team and finish second at the U.S. Amateur but to be (in the Masters) and play against the best players in the world is definitely a confidence boost moving forward.’’

WGF leader hopes for big industry boost from this Masters

The 82nd Masters tournament tees off on Thursday, and how it unfolds could have far-reaching effects within the golf industry. At least that’s how Steve Mona, executive director of the World Golf Foundation, sees it.

Mona will release his group’s most recent report on the U.S. Golf Economy at the National Press Club in Washington DC on National Golf Day, which is April 24. The last such report was issued in 2011, and Mona gave a sneak preview of the upcoming report exclusively to The Daily Herald with the Masters closing in.

In 2011, according to Mona, golf provides $68.8 billion to the U.S. economy and creates 2 million jobs. There has been a slow decline in the number of facilities, though. The U.S. peaked at 16,052 courses. Now there are barely 15,000.

Within the Chicago area 22 courses, 17 of them open to the public, closed since 2001 and only one has re-opened. Still, Mona is hopeful.

“There will be a larger amount of economic impact in the next report,’’ he said, adding that the size of the U.S. golf market has remained stable.

“Golf contributes more to the U.S. economy than the spectator sports and the performing arts,’’ said Mona. “People don’t realize how large it is.’’

The rise in Masters ticket prices should give an indication of that. Arguably the most difficult tickets in all of sports, the Masters’ average price of tickets sold this year tops at $1,870 for Thursday’s opening round. That’s the highest average ticket price for any tournament day in Masters history and up nearly $300 from a year ago. The average price of a Sunday ticket this year is $1,554, nearly $200 more than in 2017.

“The Masters is typically the No. 1-rated golf event in terms of TV ratings,’’ said Mona. “It sets the tone for the year in golf, so this could be an epic year for the golf industry if we get a compelling story line. If we get Tiger (Woods) or Phil Mickelson in contention, or Rory McIlroy going for the career Grand Slam or maybe Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, or Justin Thomas challenging, that would be fantastic. Golf at the highest level creates a lot of opportunities to drive interest in the game. We’re very hopeful for what could happen.’’

Streelman, Donald didn’t make it

Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald, the two most prominent PGA Tour players with Illinois backgrounds, have played in several Masters but didn’t make the 87-man field that will tee off at Augusta National on Thursday.

In addition to Doug Ghim, the Arlington Heights resident who qualified as the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur, the starters include former University of Illinois standout Thomas Pieters; Matt Fitzpatrick, who briefly attended Northwestern; and Bryson DeChambeau, winner of both the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields and last year’s John Deere Classic.

Cook returns to Medinah

Medinah Country Club, which has hosted multiple U.S. Opens and PGA Championships as well as the 2012 Ryder Cup, has named a replacement for director of golf course operations Curtis Tyrrell. He’s Steve Cook who spent 20 years as director of agronomy at a course with a similar tournament resume – Oakland Hills in Michigan.

A University of Illinois graduate, Cook started his professional career with a three-year stint as superintendent for Medinah’s Nos. 1 and 3 courses in 1986.

Tyrrell ended a 10-year run at Medinah in January to take a similar position at Bonita Bay, in Naples, Fla. Bonita Bay has five 18-hole courses.

Here and there

More superintendents changes have Stephen Hope leaving well-regarded downstate Illinois course Canyata to take the head job at Crystal Tree in Orland Park and Steve Kuretsky moving up from superintendent to director of agronomy of Cantigny’s four courses in Wheaton. He replaces Scott Witte, who was named director of Cantigny Park Horticulture after spending 23 years in charge of Cantigny’s courses.

Ken Lapp has retired after spending 71 years with Jemsek Golf. Lapp started when he was 12 years old and was named superintendent at Fresh Meadows, in Westchester, when he was 19. He moved to a similar post at Cog Hill in Lemont in 1973 and worked there for the past 45 years. Lapp is moving to North Carolina to be closer to family members.

Northwestern’s Dylan Wu is among five finalists for the Byron Nelson Award as the Wildcats prepare for their next competition, Purdue’s Boilermaker Invitational on April 14-15.

The NU women, runners-up to Arizona in the NCAA finals last year at Rich Harvest Farms, upset No. 1-ranked UCLA in a match play event last month. The Wildcats, ranked 13th nationally, are in the Silvarado Showdown tournament in Napa, Calif., starting on Sunday.

Both the Illinois men’s and women’s teams are coming off tournament wins. The Illini men have won their last two events and the women captured the Mountain View Collegiate in Arizona last week. Both play in Ohio State-organized tournaments before the conference championships start. The women are in the Lady Buckeye Invitational April 14-15 and the men in the Kepler Intercollegiate April 21-22.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Upgrades coming at Bay Hill; PGA sells St. Lucie Trail

Visitors to Bay Hill will notice some major changes to the practice area in a few months.

Here’s more proof that Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge is carrying on since the passing of its legendary owner 16 months ago.

The second Arnold Palmer Invitational, played in March, benefitted from the return of Tiger Woods to draw record crowds and Rory McIlroy’s rousing victory kept the excitement at a fever pitch.

But that’s not all. A week after the tournament ended the Arnold Palmer Design Company announced some major upgrades to the popular facility. An extensive two-acre short game area will be among the improvements made to the driving range, and a new hole is coming to the nine-hole Challenge Course. The Championship layout will also get a new state-of-the-art irrigation system.

Four greens of varying shapes and sizes, as well as a collection of bunkers, will be built as part of the short game facility.

“It’s important for us to design a facility that showcases on-course scenarios not only found at Bay Hill, but other situations players would find when playing at other top clubs around the world,’’ said Brandon Johnson, vice president and architect at Arnold Palmer Design Company. “The new short game area will allow members and guests to get lost in their practice sessions honing basic shots or experimenting with a variety of recovery shots that incorporate flat pitch slopes, nobs, false fronts, backboards and various bunker styles.’’

The creation of the short game facility will require a change to the finishing hole on the nine-hole Charge Course. It’ll become a drivable par-4.

Work on both the short game facility and Championship Course will begin in May with the target for completion in October. The Championship Course will remain open for play while the new irrigation system is installed, though periodic hole closures are possible. The plan is for only one hole to be closed at a time, and only for two-three days.

No. 9 at St. Lucie Trail is one of many challenging holes on the Jim Fazio-designed layout.

PGA sells St. Lucie Trail

The PGA of America’s PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., now has three courses instead of four. St. Lucie Trail, located on the opposite side of Interstate 95 from the club’s other courses (Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye), has been acquired by the CBI investment group that also owns The Evergreen Club, a public facility in nearly Palm City.

PGA signage was removed on Friday and St. Lucie Trail opened under its new ownership on Saturday. The transformation is not complete, however. Still in limbo is what will happen to St. Lucie Trail’s tennis courts, swimming pool and clubhouse. The bottom floor, of the clubhouse which includes the pro shop and bar area, is still being operated by the new owners but the rest of the clubhouse may be converted to office space and nearby home owners may want the tennis courts and pool.

St. Lucie Trail, designed by Jim Fazio, opened as St. Lucie West Country Club in 1988 and was owned by the PGA of America before the other three courses were built at the PGA Golf Club resort. The PGA renamed it PGA Country Club and operated it as a private facility for nearly two decades before opting to open it to the public in November of 2014. At that point it was renamed St. Lucie Trail.

The PGA of America, which encompasses 29,000 members, also owns Valhalla in Kentucky. Both the Trail course and the nearby 35-acres PGA Learning Center were put up for sale about a year ago but no buyer has been found yet for the Learning Center. Matt Boyd, head professional at The Evergreen Club, will also serve in that capacity at the Trail.

How the St. Lucie Trail clubhouse will be used since the course’s sale is still to be determined.

New Michael Jordan course is in the works

Michael Jordan, the basketball legend and long-time golf addict, is building his own course on a former citrus grove in Hobe Sound, Fla., about 20 miles south of PGA Golf Club and St. Lucie Trail.

Jordan, who has a restaurant in Jupiter — a few miles to the south of his new course, has hired Bobby Weed as the course architect. The course will be built on 240 acres adjacent to the Hobe Sound Polo Club. The course is expected to open in early 2019.

Erin Hills creates 5-hole option

In an effort to encourage more late-afternoon play the staff at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills – home of last year’s U.S. Open – will offer its visitors a five-hole option. Parts of the first six holes will be used in a five-hole loop with tee box adjustments the key to creating a different playing experience from the standard 18-hole route.

Prep tourney is `boiling’ hot

Myrtle Beach has long hosted what may be the strongest high school tournament in the country. This year’s 20th staging of the Palmetto High School Championships was completed on Saturday with Boiling Springs of South Carolina the champion.

Boiling Springs’ four-man team covered the respected True Blue and Caledonia courses in 2-over-par for the final 36 holes and won the title by 14 strokes. The tourney drew 28 teams from nine states and Boiling Springs’ Trent Phillips was low individual with an 8-under 134. He shot a tournament record 63 in the first round and is headed to the University of Georgia next year.

Next stop for Doug Ghim: The Masters

Every Masters golf tournament is special, but next week’s 82nd version will have even more so because Doug Ghim will be playing.

Ghim, from Arlington Heights, is a senior at the University of Texas who received a Masters invitation because he was the runner-up in last August’s U.S. Amateur. He’s one of six amateurs among the 88 invitees that emcompass the world’s best players.

Rarely has an Illinois amateur played in the Masters, first of the year’s four major championships. There were only two before Ghim. Bill Hoffer, a life-long amateur from Elgin, got into the field in 1983 after winning the previous year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships at Lake Forest’s Knollwood Club. Rockford’s Brad Benjamin was invited after his victory in the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links tournament.

Benjamin wouldn’t get in via the same method now because the U.S. Golf Association discontinued its Public Links event. Like Hoffer, Benjamin didn’t come close to surviving the 36-hole cut in his appearance at Augusta National.

Ghim comes to Augusta during a solid senior season at Texas, a long-time collegiate powerhouse. He has the low stroke average for the Longhorns, 69.90 in seven tournaments. In October he won the Golf Club of Georgia tournament and last week, in his last start, he closed with a 67 for a sixth-place finish in the Valspar Invitational in Palm City, Fla.

Though he attended Buffalo Grove High School Ghim has played virtually all his competitive golf far from his home town. That was a decision Doug and his father, golf teacher and frequent caddie Jeff made long ago – after Ghim’s freshman year at Buffalo Grove. He finished third in the Illinois high school tournament that year and never played in another prep event.

The Ghims, still Arlington Heights residents, felt that Doug’s golf development would be best served by playing in top-level junior events around the country. They also felt it wouldn’t be fair to his high school team if he skipped many of its competitions.

Jeff Ghim got his son started in golf when he was 6 years old. Jeff had wanted to be a professional golfer, but three back surgeries ended that dream. He saw considerable promise in his son, however. Unable to afford the private clubs in the Chicago area, the Ghims played the more affordable public courses when twi-light rates were available. They weren’t above fishing golf balls out of water hazards at times, either,

“I’m sure there was financial stress, but I think more than anything he wanted to see if I actually loved the game,’’ said Doug. Obviously he wanted to stick with the game. That’s why he went to Texas in the first place.

“I always felt pretty underrated,’’ said Ghim. “My decision to go to Texas was because I was going to be associating with incredible golfers. I knew every day I’d have to put my name and game up against theirs.’’

During his senior season Ghim held the No. 1 spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings at one point. He was also able to play ultra-private Augusta National three times with his Texas teammates even before he earned his Masters invite. He’ll go into next week’s tournament far better prepared than Hoffer and Benjamin were when they got their chance.

Drive, Chip & Putt finalist

The finals of the PGA of America’s Drive, Chip & Putt competition provides an unofficial kickoff to Masters week and Naperville’s Andrew Lim, 13, is among the 80 finalists. He’ll compete for the title in the Boys 12-13 division on Sunday, the day before the invitees begin their practice rounds.

Andrew survived a local qualifier at Cantigny, in Wheaton, a sub-regional at Cog Hill in Lemont and a regional at The Honors course in Tennessee to earn his place in the nationally televised finals.

His family plays out of Naperville Country Club where Andrew carries an 8.2 handicap index. He has shot 33 for nine holes and 73 for 18.

Here and there

The usual shifts in the club professional ranks included one major one this year. Alex Mendez, long-time head man at Butterfield in Oak Brook, has taken over at Royal Fox, in St. Charles. Other new head pros include Carson Solien at Oak Park, Andrew Stevens at Stonebridge in Aurora, David Thompson at Crystal Lake, Matt Gebhardt at Calumet in Homewood and Brent Regis at Valley Lo in Glenview.

Most of the Chicago area public courses are open now, or will soon be accepting players. The major exception is Sunset Valley, in Highland Park. It’s undergoing a $7 million renovation of both its course and clubhouse and won’t be ready for play until late summer.

The Golf Scene, hosted by Steve Kashul on NBC Sports Chicago, is entering its 25th season and will soon be included in the Chicago-based Museum of Broadcast Communications. The museum calls Golf Scene the longest-airing golf television show in the U.S. and second-longest show currently on Chicago television.

Blalock gets well-deserved invite into the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open

Jane Blalock, getting grilled by the media before the 2017 Senior LPGA Championship at Indiana’s French Lick Resort, is the guiding light behind senior golf for former LPGA players.

Jane Blalock, who provided the only tournament options for Ladies PGA members once they reached the senior ranks, was – most appropriately – among the first two special exemptions into the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open that will come to Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton in July.

The U.S. Golf Association also issued a special invite to Mary Jane Hiestand, the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, on Wednesday but Blalock’s inclusion in the July 12-15 event on America’s first 18-hole course was more significant.

Blalock, 72, was the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1969 and went on to win 27 times on the circuit. Though ranked 19th in all-time victories, Blalock did not qualify for the USGA’s first national championship for women, both pros and amateurs, in the 50-plus age group.

In 2000, after her days as a mainstay on the LPGA circuit were over, Blalock organized the Legends Tour. It welcomed players who had reached their 45th birthday, and the circuit could muster only a few tournaments a year until 2012. Seven were held that year and 13 the next.

In 2013 the circuit had its first major event – The Legends Championship at French Lick, Ind. – and that event grew into the first LPGA Senior Championship last year. It was the first Legends event to get formal support from the LPGA as well as TV coverage.

The U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be the second major for senior women. It’s open to both professionals as well as amateurs with a handicap of 7.4 or better. The finals at Chicago Golf Club have 120 players, most determined at a series of nation-wide qualifying rounds. Many of the former LPGA stars won’t enter, however, because it’s a walking-only event. Blalock planned to enter, even if she wasn’t awarded a special exemption.

“I had goose bumps when I received the call,’’ she said. “This is a historic event of mammoth proportions, so to have the chance to participate is so significant on many fronts. (Senior women) now have the chance to compete on golf’s most prominent stage and those of us who didn’t win a U.S. Open will now have another chance.’’

Senior women’s golf has seen a dramatic upgrade in the last three years. The last Legends Championship of 2016 was played over 36 holes and had a $75,000 prize fund. Last year’s first LPGA Senior Championship was played over 54 holes and had a $600,000 purse. The first U.S. Senior Women’s Open is a 72-hole event with a $1 million purse.

Scotland’s Trish Johnson won both the last Legends Championship and first LPGA Senior Championship. Her prizes for winning were $37,00 in 2016 and $90,000 in 2017. The champion’s share of the Senior Women’s Open purse hasn’t been announced.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Dustin Johnson expands his facility at TPC Myrtle Beach

Dustin Johnson (center) celebrates ground-breaking with Steve Mays, president of Founders Group International, and Allen Terrell, director of coaching at Johnson’s Golf School. (Chris King Photo)

The world’s No. 1-ranked golfer hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Dustin Johnson has put many of his trophies and memorabilia on display at TPC Myrtle Beach, and now he’s upgrading his commitment to that South Carolina facility.

Johnson was featured at the groundbreaking for the state-of-the-art Dustin Johnson Golf Performance Center, a 3,100-square foot building that is expected to be completed by Memorial Day. It’ll become the home of both the Dustin Johnson Golf School and Dustin Johnson Foundation.

“To bring this Performance Center to my hometown and be able to give golfers a competitive edge is exciting,’’ said Johnson. “We haven’t held anything back in the design because we want to give the Golf School students and Foundation scholars the opportunity to learn the game, no matter what level they are when they start here.’’

The Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship has been held at TPC Myrtle Beach the past two years. When completed the Performance Center will have three indoor hitting bays, three covered hitting areas, a fitness center and space for instructional seminars. It’ll also feature TrackMan, AimPoint and MySwing 3D technology.

Ornate bridges and bold pink blossoms are just some of the nice touches at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

REYNOLDS CUP ON TAP: Reynolds Lake Oconee, the long-popular destination between Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., will unveil a new tournament for corporate executives who thrive on the competition and camaraderie.

The Reynolds Cup presented by National Car Rental will be held on the Rees Jones-designed Oconee course Sept. 10-12. The event will match two-person teams from companies throughout the country over 36 holes in a Stableford Best Ball format. Registration is $3,500 per team, which includes three nights and two rooms at The Ritz-Carlton.

SAND VALLEY OPENINGS SET: Mike Keiser’s latest destination, in Rome, Wis., will begin its second season of play on May 1 when the The Sandbox opens for play. It’s a 17-hole par-3 course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. A fun layout, it offers a wide variety of shot-making opportunities that include the chance to play the entire course using only a putter.

Mammoth Dunes, the resort’s second 18-holer, will open on May 31. It was designed by David McLay Kidd, the Scottish architect who designed the first course at Bandon Dunes, Keiser’s Oregon designation.

THE CRADLE ROCKS: Pinehurst’s new 788-yard par-3 course is already a big hit. There were 30 holes-in-one in the North Carolina course’s first two months of operation, and those getting them ranged in age from 8 to 84. Biggest group to test the course was a 12-some and the biggest daily turnout was 174 players. Fee was $50, which included replay rounds.

Kelly Mitchum, a Pinehurst teaching professional, tackled The Cradle on winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. He got in 26 rounds – 234 holes – and was 12-under-par for the day.

About to enter its 35th year, the Myrtle Beach World Amateur is an event that’s not to be missed.

MORE FROM MYRTLE: Tickets are now on sale for the Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-am. The 24th annual event will be held on the Dye Course at Myrtle Beach’s Barefoot Resort.

Celebrities include basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, hockey legend Grant Fuhr, former PGA Tour winners Woody Austin and Chris DiMarco and Paige Spiranac, a professional golfer who has stimulated golf popularity through her social media outlets. She recently joined the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday staff.

Myrtle Beach’s biggest annual event, the 35th World Amateur Handicap Championship, started accepting entries in March and early-birds will get a break. Entry is $525 through May 17. That’s a $100 saving off the regular cost. Those who register by April 12 will be eligible for one of 50 random drawing prizes that are collectively valued at $10,000.

The World Am will be contested over 72 holes from Aug 27-31 on 64 courses. With over 3,000 entrants from about 20 countries participating there will be a wide variety of age and handicap divisions and the winners of each on will go an extra round to determine the overall champion.

The 35-acre Learning Center at PGA Golf Club is a cutting-edge place for performance enhancement.


\PGA Golf Club, the PGA of America’s biggest facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., picked up two awards recently that were independent of the destination’s four courses. The 35-acre Learning Center was named among the Top 50 ranges for the 17th consecutive year by the Golf Range Association of America and its Taplow Pub was named the area’s best pub by a local publication.

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, in Hilton Head, S.C., is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. All three of its courses — the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront the Arthur Hills and the Fazio — have been named South Carolina’s Golf Course of the Year at one time or another.

Mike Jones, once the head pro at two Chicago area courses – Thunderhawk and Cantigny – is on the move again. Since leaving Chicago Jones was the man in charge at two major destinations – Kapalua in Hawaii and Nemacolin Woodlands in Pennsylvania. He just accepted a director of golf position at Suncadia, in Ellensburg, Wash., and will begin work there in April.

Jan Stephenson, the LPGA Hall of Famer, has entered the golf management side at Tarpon Woods, in Palm Harbor, Fla., and is making plans for a course renovation there.

The Concession Cup, a competition between amateur teams from the U.S. and Europe has undergone a major personnel change. Bob Lewis has withdrawn as captain of the U.S. team due to health concerns and two-time Concession Cup captain Vinny Giles and the event’s founder, Alan Fadel, will serve as co-captains for the U.S. team that will seek to win the event for the third straight time from April 16-21 at the Concession Club in Bradenton, Fla.

Two Chicago courses that are part of the Arcis Golf portfolio of clubs nation-wide were honored with Golden Fork Awards by Golf Inc. magazine. Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, was named runner-up in the Most Improved public facility category and Eagle Brook, in Geneva, was a top-three finalist among the most improved private clubs.

More names in the news: Jeff Roth, winner of 15 major titles in Michigan golf, has joined the instruction staff at Boyne Golf Academy. Kelly Holmes is now general manager at Michigan’s Harbor Shores, and Steve Kuretsky is director of agronomy at Cantigny.