Len Ziehm On Golf

Raven’s Claw offers a weird touch of history on its very first hole

This old house is centuries old, and that’s a good reason to have it on Raven’s Claw’s course.

POTTSTOWN, Pa. – Can’t say I ever started a round of golf like a recent one at Raven’s Claw, a public course near historic Valley Forge.

You line up your tee shot and the most noticeable obstacle in an old brick house – or at least part of one. It doesn’t really come into play and host golf professional Jim Bromley doesn’t know why it’s there. He believes it dates back to at least the early 1800s.

Well, it is something that gets your attention—and it’s not a bad thing, either. It’s just something different.

Ed Shearon, who owns the course, also designed it. Raven’s Claw opened in 2005 and was built in conjunction with a pleasant neighborhood of traditional-style family homes on a 177-acre plot.

Shearon, who lives in the area and has designed several other courses, owns a big landscaping business. Raven’s Claw got its name from some of the birds that frequent the place and a tough stretch of the course – holes No. 9 to 11 – has been dubbed The Claw.

The ninth hole doesn’t bring you back to the clubhouse, so you don’t get a break when you take on The Claw.

Jim Bromley is in his second year as the golf professional at Raven’s Claw.

Measuring 6,739 yards from the tips, Raven’s Claw has testy, undulating greens and some other interesting features. Two smokestacks loom above the layout, a striking feature though nothing like the old brick half-house. Shearon has also made excellent use of big bolders, which guide players at several spots along the course.

“It can look difficult but play easy’’ said Bromley. “There’s a lot of room out there. The challenge is if you want to make birdies. There’s lots of interesting things to challenge a good player.’’

At least one good player was up to the challenge. The Raven’s Claw course record of 8-under-par 63 is held by a woman.

Sweden’s Louise Ridderstrom posted that low number in the inaugural Valley Forge Invitational, a Symetra event that has been held at Raven’s Claw the last two years. Ridderstrom’s low number came in the final round of the 2018 tourney, with the course set up at about 6,400 yards. She went on to win the tournament and been playing on the LPGA circuit in 2019.

Here’s a view you get several times in a round at Raven’s Claw.

While the Symetra event is the biggest event held so far at Raven’s Claw, it won’t be the last. In 2020 the course will host both competitive rounds at the International Network of Golf’s 30th annual Spring Conference from May 31 to June 3.

Golf is clearly an amenity in the Valley Forge area. The Valley Forge Casino Resort, which will host the ING visitors, is across the street from the Valley Forge National Historic Park. It’s worth plenty of visitors’ time as well.

The Park offers a restoration of George Washington’s winter headquarters as well as the very basic lodging available for his American troops in the 1770s – the early stages of the Revolutionary War. The Park offers guided tours – which I’d highly recommend – but many of the visitors use it for exercise as well. The trails winding through it are walkable and also ideal for cyclists.

Raven’s Claw has some tough challenges. This one, at the par-3 third hole, is one of the best.

Woodland is just the latest Wilson staff player to win a major title

The 119th U.S. Open ended on Sunday, but it won’t be forgotten – certainly not at Chicago’s biggest golf equipment company. Tim Clarke, who heads Wilson’s golf division, added Gary Woodland to the company’s player ambassador staff last winter and Woodland delivered big time.

Woodland won the title at Pebble Beach, and that should pay dividends to Wilson as well as Woodland.

“We couldn’t have a better story for our brand,’’ said Clarke. “It was unbelievable.’’

Kevin Streelman, who had been Wilson’s top gun on the PGA Tour though he didn’t qualify for the U.S. Open, agreed via Twitter.

“I’m so happy for Gary and his entire family,’’ said Streelman. “I’m proud of the classiest company and the best-looking clubs in the business. I’m proud to be an ambassador and member of the team.’’

Back in golf’s good old days Wilson’s clubs were played by numerous champions. Woodland used Wilson’s irons and donned the company’s hat and glove en route to his dramatic victory.

“It was a pretty strong endorsement that our equipment works,’’ said Clarke. “ We still have had more major champions playing our clubs than any other company.’’

Woodland won the 62nd major title playing Wilson clubs. The first was Gene Sarazen in 1931.

“That was pretty much the starting point. It started the movement for companies to start stinging players,’’ said Clarke.

Others using Wilson clubs when they won a big one included Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper and Padraig Harrington.

It’s commonplace that major championship winners receive bonuses from their equipment companies, and Clarke said that’d be the case with Woodland – though he was coy about what that reward will be.

“It’s complicated,’’ said Clarke, “but everything has a price and obviously there’ll be a reward. I was 100 percent sure that he’d win a major when we signed him, and I even thought that it would be this year. We believe that elite athletes drive consumer awareness.’’

More Open aftermath

There were plenty of Chicago sidelights lost in the glory of Woodland’s victory. Luke Donald, the former Northwestern star, continued his comeback season despite a 77-73 finish in the weekend rounds. He tied for 58th place along with former University of Illinois golfer Charlie Danielson.

Danielson may have been the best sidebar at the tournament. He had been sidelined a year after major knee surgery but he survived sectional qualifying and had pairings with Phil Mickelson in the third round and Donald in the four. Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope, who qualified for the finals for the fourth time in four years, also tied for 58th.

Away from Pebble Beach Northwestern alum Dylan Wu went to a playoff in the Web.com Tour’s Lincoln Land Championship in Springfield. He lost on the third extra hole to Xinjun Zhang but Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger finished in a solid tie for 15th and Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, on a break from the PGA Latinoamerica circuit, tied for 49th.

On the women’s front LPGA rookie Elizabeth Szokol of Winnetka made her second straight cut in the Meijer Classic in Michigan. While the men’s majors are over in the U.S. thanks to the PGA Tour’s dramatic rescheduling in 2019 the women have one coming up this week. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, played at Olympia Fields and Kemper Lakes the last two years, is on tap for this week at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

WGA’s two-state doubleheader

The Western Golf Association will hold its two junior championships this week, but at courses in different states. The 102nd playing of the boys version will be at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. The 93rd staging of the girls tournament is at Woodland Country Club in Carmel, Ind.

Formats and scheduling are a bit different, though. The boys started on Tuesday at Rich Harvest with the stroke play portion concluding today (WEDNESDAY). The low 44 and ties will compete over 36 holes on Thursday to determine the champion.

The girls completed two rounds of match play on Tuesday. Match play for the 16 survivors begins today. The semifinals and championship match are on Thursday.

Here and there

The Chicago District Amateur will be played for the 100th time beginning on Monday (JUNE 24) at Glen View Club in Golf. Four state-wide qualifying rounds determined the players in the four-day finals. They will compete over two days of stroke play to determine 16 match play qualifiers. The championship match is on June 27.

Weather problems led to the postponement of the 58th Radix Cup matches between the top professionals from the Illinois PGA and top amateurs from the Chicago District Golf Association. Both sides are trying to reschedule the event at Oak Park Country Club in River Forest.

The 30th playing of the Thompson Cup matches is tomorrow (JUNE 20) on Olympia Fields’ South Course. The event matches eight-player teams of the top senior players from the IPGA and CDGA.

Troon Golf, which is opening a Chicago office, has taken over the management of Naperville Country Club.

Williamsburg golf is on the upswing — and that’s putting it mildly

Architect Mike Strantz was at his creative best on Royal New Kent’s signature seventh hole.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Like so many other communities, Williamsburg was hit hard by the recession a few years back and that negatively impacted its golf business. The difference is, Williamsburg got back in revival mode and is showing off now at several facilities.

For instance, Royal New Kent was a smash hit when it opened. Golf Digest named this Mike Strantz design its Best New Course of 1997 and it was also on the magazine’s America’s Top 100 list. As prestigious as that is, the course had to be closed for eight months after a series of ownership changes. Its Grand Re-opening was on May 6 after a $2 million rehab.

Then there was The Club at Viniterra, a Rees Jones design with a staggering 9 ½ miles of cart paths. Jones has long been one of the world’s most respected course architects, but this creation – built as the centerpiece of a gated community – stayed alive in part by providing more affordable greens fees. That was a necessity because Viniterra had no clubhouse for 11 years. Viniterra opened its new one on June 12 after a two-year construction process.

And then there’s Williamsburg National, a 36-hole facility closest to all of the area’s colonial attractions. Its Jamestown course, a Jack Nicklaus design, was closed for about 14 months and the companion Yorktown course stayed open but was not in the best condition.

As was the case at Royal New Kent, Williamsburg National underwent some ownership changes during the more difficult times but is back in full operation.

Chris Hartig likes how the two courses at Williamsburg National have blossomed

Chris Hartig presents a good perspective on what was going on. A long-time club professional, he was director of golf at Kingsmill – Williamsburg’s long-established resort that has hosted 37 pro tour events, the most recent being the LPGA’s Pure Silk Championship in May.

Now Hartig’s Carlton Hospitality is the management company overseeing the rehab at Williamsburg National, which is near Hartig’s home, and his Virginia Golf Vacations, a separate business, organizes golf trips throughout the state.

“In Williamsburg there’s been a commitment to golf for a long time,’’ said Hartig, citing the success of such multi-course facilities as Kingsmill and Golden Horsehoe. “In the 1990s they started expanding, and that led to an overbuilding situation. Recession got it, and courses started changing hands.’’

Royal New Kent and Jamestown weren’t the only courses that closed for a brief period. All the courses have different issues but found solutions. The most interesting is at Royal New Kent.

The creative talents of the late Mike Strautz won’t be forgotten at Royal New Kent.

Strantz was one of the world’s hottest designers after working for Tom Fazio in the mid-1990s. Not only did Strantz design Royal New Kent, his seven solo creations include Caledonia and True Blue in South Carolina, Tobacco Road in North Carolina, Lake Nona in Florida and Monterey Peninsula’s South course in California. The run of great courses stopped when Strantz, only 50 years old, succumbed to cancer in 2005. His works, though, live on.

“He only designed a certain number of golf courses before he passed away but he gained legendary status,’’ said Chip Sullivan, the former PGA Tour pro who was recently named general manager and director of golf at Royal New Kent. “He was creative beyond most other designers. He designed courses with a totally different look. He was an artist before he used his artistic values on golf courses.’’

That’s obvious at Royal New Kent, an Irish style links course patterned after Royal County Down and Ballybunion. It has 105 bunkers, perhaps a few too many blind shots, tons of elevation changes and – overall – a distinctly unique look. Though Strantz had passed away before the course was restored, members of his original crew participated in the year-long revival project. It involved replacing every green and doing extensive work on the bunkers and irrigation system

The Club at Viniterra will benefit from the opening of its long overdue new clubhouse.

Brandon Tuck, chairman of Wingfield Golf – a part-owner and the managing company of the facility, calls Royal New Kent “one of the most challenging courses in the country.’’

No argument there, but the mental challenges it offers are stimulating – if not sometimes frustrating. That makes it a special place to play. The top fee to do that is $95.

Wingfield, based in Greenville, S.C., also owns Viniterra. The new clubhouse will do wonders there. The course has always been popular, its top greens fee of $66 – low for a Rees Jones design – being just one of the reasons. The club had operated out of trailer until the new clubhouse opened.

The greens at all the Williamsburg area courses were outstanding, even though they were new at Royal New Kent and the Williamsburg National courses. The only issue we had at Viniterra was on the par-5 fourth hole, where blind shots made for unnecessary frustration instead of fun. (As most of you know, I’ve never been a fan of blind shots anywhere).

At Williamsburg National a greens renovation was needed to get the Jamestown course up and running again. The newest ownership group renovated with Champion Bermuda, which ensured top playing conditions on its more difficult course.

Yorktown was designed by Tom Clark, who doesn’t have the world-wide reputation of Nicklaus but has long been a popular architect in the Mid-Atlantic region. The new ownership overseeded the fairways on Yorktown, so it offers live green fairways in the winter while the Champion Bermuda surfaces at Jamestown are covered. Top greens fee on those courses is $89.

“`They’re two completely different courses,’’ said Hartig. “You can play year around, but in January, February and part of March we don’t need two courses. Jamestown is a classic course with subtle elevation changes that is probably preferred by our local players. Yorktown is more the choice of the traveling golfer.’’

That’s because Clark was innovative, putting in more than 80 bunkers, a redan green and laying out a somewhat unusual back nine that has three par-5s, three par-4s and three par-3s.

Three holes converge during a key spot on the back nine on Williamsburg National’s Yorktown course.

Grandover doesn’t exactly host a PGA Tour event, but still….

Drive past the iconic griffin, and you’ve arrived at one of North Carolina’s best golf resorts.

GREENSBORO, N.C. – There’s a lot more good golf to be played in North Carolina than what’s offered in the Pinehurst area. For instance, consider the unique situation in this burgeoning community that is the state’s third-largest metropolitan area.

Greensboro may offer the feel of a small town, but it hosts the third-oldest PGA Tour event, now called the Wyndham Championship. The Wyndham was first played in 1938, when Sam Snead won the first of his eight titles. In August the tourney will celebrate its 80th anniversary.

Originally called the Greater Greensboro Open, the tournament was first played at Sedgefield Country Club — a private facility that opened in 1926. The tournament has had other title sponsors and other host sites over the years, but since 2008 it’s been the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield with tourney headquarters at the neighboring Grandover Resort & Conference Center.

The resort’s practice range also serves in that capacity for the players during the tournament, so the relationship between private Sedgefield and the resort is a tight one.

“I would call it perfect,’’ said Mark Brazil, tournament director of the Wyndham Championship. “They’ve got two great golf courses over there and all the space for our activities plus a beautiful hotel. It almost feels like we’re their third course because we’re so close. We couldn’t have a better marriage with them.’’

Mark Brazil directs the only PGA Tour event played annually on a Donald Ross-designed course but he appreciates the neighboring Grandover Resort.

Wyndham Week this year is Aug. 1-4, and the $6.2 million event holds a key place on the PGA Tour schedule. The Wyndham will be the last tournament prior to the FedEx Cup Playoffs. It represents the last chance for players to establish a strong position going into golf’s lucrative postseason. Only the top 125 in the FedEx standings will tee off in the first of the three playoff events.

And that’s not all. For the first time the $10 million Wyndham Rewards Top 10 bonus pool will be in effect. It offers bonus money — $2 million to the winner – to the top 10 players in the FedEx standings entering the playoffs.

While the birdies and bogeys are crucial at Sedgefield, about 40 members of the field will be staying at Grandover. So will a bulk of the tourney’s sponsors and Wyndham’s guests, and they will have some great golf to play that week, too.

Grandover’s two 18-hole courses are top-notch. Both were designed by architect Gary Panks with the help of player consultant David Graham. Graham, an Australian, won the 1979 PGA Championship and the 1981 U.S. Open. He also had top-five finishes in both the British Open and Masters. Like many top stars in his playing days, Graham got involved in course design as a sidelight venture.

Panks did most of his design work in Arizona, Grayhawk being his most noteworthy creation there. The Grandover courses are his only creations in North Carolina. Panks started doing courses on his own in 1978 and teamed up with Graham from 1988-97 under the banner Graham & Panks International. They did 10 courses together, and the Grandover courses were one of their last projects.

Graham & Panks was able to break into the North Carolina course design market – one then dominated by state resident Tom Fazio and Arnold Palmer – because Graham had a friend who was close to Joe Koury, the founder of Grandover. Koury passed away in 1998, shortly after the resort opened, but it’s still family owned.

By then Grandover had an East Course, which is longer and slightly more difficult than its West counterpart. It also has one of the most memorable very short par-3s anywhere. Its No. 12 hole plays only 125 yards from the tips and as short as 60 yards from the forward markers, but there’s a creek fronting the green, which has three tiers, and a pot bunker catches many errant tee shots as well.

No. 12 on Grandover’s East Course can play as short as 60 yards, but it’s still a devil of a hole.

I consider that hole on par with three other very short par-3s in memorability – the much more famous being No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass and No. 7 at Pebble Beach — and No. 9 at Kingsley Club, a private facility in Michigan.

The records on both courses is 63, and the West has – according to 23-year director of golf Jonathan York – the hardest hole on the property. The West’s No. 7 is that layout’s No. 1 handicap hole. This par-4 has trouble right and left off the tee, a water hazard crossing the fairway and a steeply elevated three-tiered green. In other words, there’s trouble everywhere on this one. It is — by far — the toughest of Grandover’s 36 holes.

The resort, celebrating its 20th year in full operation, was built on 1,500 acres of oak, pine and dogwood-covered hills. The designers filled the courses with bumpy fairways and a wide variety of holes, most all of them with extremely undulating greens. The courses have been used for Web.com Tour events and top collegiate competitions. An NCAA Division I regional and three Division III national championships have been played at Grandover.

The 18th hole on Grandover’s East Course underscores the features that make it a fun course to play.

For leisure travelers these courses are a great deal, as the top greens fee is only $75, there is no competition with members for tee times and the lodging is not only pleasantly upscale but in close proximity to the golf as well.

Grandover has undergone an extensive $10 million renovation of the entire property over the last two years and a little more money is being spent to complete some indoor projects this year.

Joseph Koury, founder of Grandover, passed away in 1998, shortly after the resort opened.

Work began on the exterior of the resort late in 2016 and required six months to complete. In 2017 all 244 guest rooms were remodeled and in 2018 the bars and restaurants received the same attention. All parts of the property were rebranded, the style changing from Old World European to a tribute honoring the rich history of the area. A fire pit lounge overlooking the courses has been added this year.

Grandover still surrenders top billing to Sedgefield around tournament time, which is understandable. Sedgefield has the only Donald Ross-designed course still hosting a regular PGA Tour stop. But Grandover has more holes, all of them open to the public, and is an easy stopover for players heading to either of the golf meccas of Pinehurst or Myrtle Beach.

It’s especially easy for North Carolina residents, thanks to the formation of the Griffin Club. York created the club, named after the resort’s symbolic figure. For $20 members can get reduced greens fees and other year-around benefits when they visit Grandover. Over 2,500 have already signed up.

Here’s some scenes from Grandover Resort’s sporty West Course. It has steeper fairways and tighter driving areas than the East Course, which is a slightly longer layout. We couldn’t pick a favorite.

Donald, Pope, four Illini alums qualify for U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

The Monday of U.S. Open sectional qualifiers has been billed “golf’s longest day,’’ and for good reason. This week the final nine of twelve 36-hole qualifiers started with 927 players. Late Monday night the final 68 players were determined for the U.S. Open proper, coming up June 13-16 in Pebble Beach, Calif.

The list of sectional survivors included four University of Illinois alums – Nick Hardy, Thomas Pieters, Charlie Danielson and Luke Guthrie – plus Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope. Northbrook’s Hardy, in his first season as a professional, qualified for the third time and Pope made it for the fourth time in five years.

Chicago’s two best touring pros – former world No. 1 Luke Donald and PGA Tour veteran Kevin Streelman — went through a weird scenario in the Columbus, Ohio, sectional. As usual it drew the strongest sectional field, one dominated by players competing in the nearby PGA Tour’s Memorial tournament, which concluded on Sunday.

Donald, on the comeback trail after battling injuries for two years, jumped into contention at the Memorial on Saturday by shooting a third-round 65. He soared to an 80 on Sunday, however, and dropped 42 places on the leaderboard to finish in a tie for 57th.

Streelman, meanwhile, had a hot Sunday round – a 66 that got him a fourth-place finish and his biggest check of the season $436,800.

A day later, in the 36-hole sectional played at the Brookside and Scioto courses, their magic shifted. Donald was a steady 68-71 and qualified for his 14th U.S. Open, and his first in three years. Streelman shot 75 in the morning round and withdrew.

Guthrie, a Web.com Tour player whose game has improved dramatically in the last three weeks, was the most impressive of the local qualifiers. He was low man in the loaded 121-man field at Columbus, shooting 64-67 after finishing sixth in a Web.com Tour stop in Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday.

“After getting into Columbus at midnight and getting four hours of sleep I didn’t know what to expect,’’ said Guthrie, “but I have been playing well and guess it just carried over.’’

Playing in the U.S. Open will be a treat, but perhaps a costly one.

“I told my wife that it might cost $1,000 a night, but that doesn’t matter because it’s Pebble Beach and the U.S. Open,’’ Guthrie said.

Of the area’s near-missers Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly had the most heart-breaking experience while competing in Rockville, Md. He made double bogey on the last hole of regulation play, then was odd-man out in a three-way playoff for two spots at Pebble Beach. As the first alternate in his sectional, he’ll have to hope for late withdrawals to make the field.

Flavin’s first pro win

Highwood’s Patrick Flavin enjoyed a remarkable amateur career, becoming the first player in 37 years to win the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year in 2017. Now he’s a champion on the pro level as well.

Flavin completed the first half of his rookie season on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour with a victory in the Bupa Match Play Championship in Mexico on Sunday. That boosted him into the No. 9 spot in the circuit’s Order of Merit with winnings of $36,326. His season, though, was filled with ups and downs.

He started by leading a Latinoamerica qualifying tournament in Brazil, then had two top-20 finishes in the first three tournaments. After that steady start he missed the cut in four straight events before getting his big win. Flavin was 4-up on Brazil’s Rodrigo Lee after 12 holes but had to hang on for a 1-up victory.

“I’m proud how I hung in there,’’ said Flavin. “Winning the last event of the first half leaves a different taste in my mouth. Now I have to work hard in the second half and earn my Web.com Tour card.’’

Here and there

Medinah teaching pro Rich Dukelow earned a place in the U.S. Senior Open, coming up June 27-30 at the Warren course in South Bend. Dukelow led a qualifying session at Inverness, shooting a 3-under-par 69.

Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell is now a USGA champion. A two-time Illinois State Amateur champion and five-time winner of the Illinois State Mid-Am, Mitchell teamed with Scott Harvey, of Kernersville, N.C., to win the U.S. Amateur Four-ball title in Bandon, Ore.

Northwestern’s Stephanie Lau and Cole Hammer, who won last year’s Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge in Northfield are part of the U.S. team that will compete against an international squad of collegiate starts in the Arnold Palmer Cup matches. They begin a three-day run on Friday at The Alotian Club in Arkansas.

Tiger’s proposed Chicago course might be built in phases

Mike Keiser, the Chicago golf visionary whose projects have included the well-received Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Sand Valley in Wisconsin, is also involved in a much-discussed Chicago course that involves Tiger Woods.

That project would require the combining of the existing Jackson Park and South Shore courses operated by the Chicago Park District. So far that highly expensive and politically charged project has been all talk and no action, but Keiser hasn’t ruled it out.

Talking during last week’s Web.com Tour event at The Glen Club in Glenview, Keiser lauded the routing devised by Woods’ lead architect Beau Welling and said a new construction plan might get the project underway before the year is out.

“We’re about to decide that we’ll do it in phases,’’ said Keiser. “ We’ll go ahead with Beau’s design on South Shore until the other course is ready. The holes on South Shore will be stunning.’’

Welling’s plan calls for five holes at South Shore, which is now a nine-hole course. Four of Welling’s holes would be on the lake and two of them would be par-3s. South Shore would then operate as a junior golf course and have a dynamic caddie program.

An announcement on the status of the project could come during the BMW Championship – the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoff event that comes to Medinah in August.

Keiser’s other nationally-known projects are much further along. Bandon Dunes, celebrating its 20th year, is getting still another course.

“It’ll be our fifth, and last,’’ said Keiser. The architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are about halfway through the construction process on a layout called The Sheep Ranch. It’s expected to open on June 1, 2020.

Sand Valley is also getting another course, the third at the facility. It’ll be a Tom Doak design – a par-68 layout that’ll measure about 6,300 yards and hasn’t been named yet.

A name-game at U.S. Women’s Open

Megan Furtney, of South Elgin, makes her U.S. Women’s Open debut on Thursday in a threesome that includes Megan Osland, of Canada, and Megha (CORRECT) Ganne of New Jersey. All were sectional qualifiers for the event at Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina. Furtney and Ganne are amateurs.

They’ll tee off in the last threesome off the No. 1 tee on Thursday.

Furtney 18, just finished her senior year at St. Charles North High School and will enroll at Duke in the fall. Earlier this month she teamed up with soon-to-be Duke teammate Erica Shepherd, of Greenwood, Ind., to win the U.S. Women’s Four-Ball title in Jacksonville, FL.

Illini look ahead

The University of Illinois men’s team was again the best of the state’s collegiate teams, but a tie for 27th in the NCAA finals to conclude the season was a downer. The Illini won their fifth straight Big Ten title and also ruled their NCAA regional before their season ended in Fayetteville, Ark., on Sunday.

“It was a disappointing week, and the kids are pretty down,’’ said coach Mike Small. “We struggled from the very first hole on the first day and never could get things going in the right direction. That’s not the personality of Illini Golf.’’

Illinois was ranked No. 24 nationally and made its 12th straight appearance in the NCAA finals with a very young team.

“Usually this is a time of year where you thank the seniors and send them off, but we don’t have any,’’ said Small. “That’s a positive thing. This team still has another year to grow.’’

The Illini will return all nine members of this year’s team and also welcome freshman Jerry Ji, a recruit from The Netherlands.

Here and there

The Chicago qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open at the Warren course in South Bend is today at Inverness and the 90-player field includes some stars of the past – Dale Tallon, Jerry Vidovic and Joel Hirsch — who don’t compete much these days. Two spots in in the finals will be on the line.

Cog Hill, the Chicago area’s biggest golf facility with its 72 holes, has announced it will use Dynamic Pricing – a formula in which golf rates will be adjusted, both higher and lower, in real time, based on demand, availability and other changing factors.

Springfield’s Jake Erickson is the CDGA Mid-Amateur champion. He defeated Zach Jecklin 3 and 2in the final at Northmoor, in Highland Park. It was Erickson’s first CDGA victory after runner-up finishes in both the Mid-Am and the Illinois State Amateur.

PGA’s date change also impacted Chicago area club professionals

One the biggest offseason developments in golf this year was the shifting of the 101st playing of the PGA Championship to May from its usual August dates. This week we’ll see how that works out. It tees off on Thursday at New York’s Bethpage Black course.

Previously the PGA had been “Glory’s last shot,’’ the last major championship for the PGA stars. Now it’s the second, and there’s a little more to it than that. One thing that made the PGA different from the other majors was that the field includes the best club professionals, as determined by their finish in the PGA Professionals National Championship.

The PGA Professionals had a date change, too, to accommodate the move of the major event. It was played in Bluffton, S.C., two weeks ago, and that didn’t help Illinois PGA members.

Mike Small, the men’s coach at Illinois and a three-time champion of the club pros, couldn’t compete because his college team was still playing. The IPGA still had 11 qualifiers in the 312-player field at the PGA Professionals event but none reached the final round. Holding the event when there was still snow on the ground in Chicago didn’t help their preparations.

“It’s hard to be prepared for a tournament at that level,’’ said Garrett Chaussard, who repeated as champion of the first local major of the season – the IPGA Match Play Championship, held last week at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove. “It’d be interesting to see if they could work out our qualifying in the previous fall. That might work out better.’’

Seemingly the qualifiers for the PGA Professionals event would have an edge in the Match Play because they had a tournament tuneup. None could beat Chaussard, however.

While he qualified for several previous PGA Professionals tourneys in the past, he didn’t make it into this one. Still, he beat two players who did — Twin Orchard’s Dakun Chang in the semifinals and Royal Hawk’s Brian Carroll, in the finals — to become only the fourth player in the tourney’s 68-year history to successfully defend a title.

Lack of tournament preparation wasn’t the only surprising aspect in Chaussard’s success. He’s also adjusting to being a father. His wife Diana gave birth to their first child, daughter Marie, three months ago.

“I was surprised, because playing has been on the back burner,’’ said Chaussard, who was in Small’s first recruiting class at Illinois 2001 and worked at Cog Hill, in Lemont, and Chicago Highlands, in Westchester, before coming to Skokie three years ago.

From Chicago Golf to Pine Needles

The inaugural playing of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open was a big hit at Chicago Golf Club last summer though it was played opposite a major on PGA Tour Champions nearby. The second version, which tees off on Thursday at Pine Needles, in Southern Pines, N.C., is opposite the PGA Championship.

Jaime Fischer, teaching pro at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, is in the 120-player field as one of 55 exempt players. She bypassed the qualifying rounds because she finished in the top 20 (tie for 12th) at Chicago Golf Club.

Fischer is paired in the first two round at Pine Needles with Kelley Brooks, the director of golf at Bethpage. Brooks will be competing at Pine Needles instead of tending to her usual duties when her home course hosts the PGA Championship.

Here and there

Both Northwestern and Illinois have women’s teams in the NCAA finals. NU is in the finals for the seventh straight year. Illinois is making its first appearance in the finals, which begin a six-day run Friday at Blessings Golf Club in Arkansas.

The men’s teams from Illinois and Northwestern both conclude NCAA regional play today at TPC Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. The top five teams there move on to Blessings for the men’s finals May 24-29.

Illinois State’s Ray Kralis is the Missouri Valley Conference’s men’s coach of the year.

Brian Chasensky, formerly an assistant superintendent at Chicago Golf Club, is now the superintendent at Shoreacres, in Lake Bluff.

Fort Myers Country Club

Location: Fort Myers, Florida.

Architect: Donald Ross, with renovation by Steve Smyers in 2014.

Opened: 1917

Par: 70 for men, 71 for women.

Yards/Rating/Slope: Black tees, 6,675 yards, 72.9, 131; Blue, 6,245, 70.5, 126; White 5,815, 68.9, 124; Golf, 5,460, 67.0, 117; Red, 4,905, 69.0, 114; Green, 4,360, 62.9, 101.

Saturday morning green fee: $50 (does not include cart, which rents for $25 per person).

Caddie Service: None.

Walker friendly: Not really, but walking is allowed and pull carts are available.

Fairways: Bermuda.

Greens: Bermuda.


For starters: One of only five courses in Florida that has celebrated a centennial, The Fort (as its known locally) is a heavily-played layout owned by the city of Fort Myers. It has a rich history with its past players including such long-ago stars as Walter Hagen, Jock Hutchison, Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith, Charlie Sifford, Babe Zaharias and Arnold Palmer.

Play because…: The course underwent its only major renovation in 2014 when Steve Smyers strived to re-capture the style of original designer Donald Ross. While Smyers was successful in that regard, the course underwent some notable changes. Par was changed from71 to 70 for men and 72 to 71 for women. Smyers put in six new water hazards and the course now has 52 bunkers.

Takeaway: Smyers’ renovation greatly improved the condition, as the drainage was extensively modernized and the turf quality upgraded. One notable problem: it has no practice range.


Best Par-5: No. 18 (Yards from tips 535/520/490/475/400/385). This sharp dogleg left is as very good but challenging finishing hole. Water run across and to the right of the fairway, which necessitates a decision to lay up or go for the green on your second shot.

Best Par-4: No. 2 (45 yards from tips/420/400/385/320/300). Being so early in the round this is an unusual place for the No. 1 handicap hole in any course rotation. A slight dogleg right, it gets your attention because of that.

Best Par-3: No. 10 (Yards from tips 220/190/180/140/130/100). The most difficult of the short holes, this one is uphill from tee to the elevated green and plays much longer than the listed yardage. Also factoring in is the tee box’s location. It’s below the outdoor lounge and is in full view for spectators.

THE RATINGS (1 to 10 scale, 10 being the highest)

Overall: 7.75.

Food/beverage: 8.

Pro shop: 7

Clubhouse: 9

Difficulty: 7

Pace of play: 7.


Phone: (239) 321—7488.

Website: www.cityftmyers.com/golf.

Facebook: @Fort Myers Country Club

Twitter: @cityftmyers

Instagram: #fortmyerscountryclub.

Second U.S. Senior Women’s Open will do just fine at Pine Needles

The best senior women golfers, the ones who did so much to make the Ladies PGA Tour into what it is today, haven’t gotten the respect they deserve.

Their own tour barely recognized them, leaving it to Jane Blalock and The Legends Tour to provide a circuit for players after they turned 45. Thanks to major support from Steve Ferguson and Dave Harner at Indiana’s French Lick Resort, The Legends eventually got their own major championship and five years later, in 2017, it was transitioned into the Senior LPGA Championship, a 54-hole event played on Monday-through-Wednesday dates in October to entice The Golf Channel to provide coverage.

The U.S. Golf Association dragged its feet even more. The USGA – after much outside pressure – announced it would conduct a U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2015 but didn’t hold the first one until three years later.

Now it’s time for the second one. It’s coming May 16-19 at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, N.C., and 17 nation-wide qualifying rounds are underway. While players who have reached their 45th birthday are allowed into the Senior LPGA Championship, the USGA makes them wait until they’re 50 to play in its Senior Open.

The second U.S. Senior Women’s Open won’t be much like the first and you’ve got to wonder about the tournament’s place down the road. The second U.S. Senior Open was scheduled just 10 months after the first, which was played in mid-July at Chicago Golf Club — the nation’s first 18-hole course.

That’s a short turn-around for both players and staff, and the third playing will be 14 months after the second – July 6-12, 2020 at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Ct.. No dates have been announced for beyond 2020. In short, the tournament has no firm place on the USGA calendar, and hat could be a problem down the road.

The first U.S. Senior Women’s Open was played at an exclusive private club. The second will be on a resort course that has already hosted three U.S. Women’s Opens and will host a fourth in 2022. The first had competition with a major on PGA Tour Champions. Its Senior Players Championship was played in the Chicago area on exactly the same dates. The second U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be a warmup for the U.S. Amateur, which comes to nearby Pinehurst Resort in August.

Still, there should be no such wavering over the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. The first playing was a rousing success. – better than even the USGA could imagine.

“It doubled our expectations from the crowd standpoint,’’ said Katherine Thigpen, the event manager. “There was way more interest in women’s golf and these players.’’

One reason for the first tournament’s success was simply that it was the first. You can only be at the first playing a big event one time. That thinking was a factor in the warm reception the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur had in April. Women competing for the first time on fabled Augusta National – even if it was for just one day – was special. Everyone knew it would be – and it was.

The first U.S. Senior Women’s Open was a real feel-good story, too. After all the waiting, there were even a few tears shed when Nancy Lopez announced Joanne Carner as the tourney’s first player to tee off.

Big Mama boomed her drive down the first fairway of a club that has rarely opened its course to tournament play and spectator traffic. Carner, then 79, shot her age that day. Now 80, she’ll try to do it again at Pine Needles.

Spectators were permitted to walk along with the player in Chicago and everyone of them – not just the big names – had at least a few followers from hole to hole. When it was over there was exultation over Laura Davies’ 10-stroke victory and 16-under-par score on a par-73 course set up at 6,082 yards.

Now we go to Pine Needles – a good site for the tournament if not quite as eye-catching as Chicago Golf Club. The players will know Pine Needles a lot better than they knew Chicago Golf Club. Some tidbits worth noting:

Pine Needles will have an autograph area set aside to encourage interaction between players and fans. It’ll also have four players in the field, among them Davies, who played in the U.S. Women’s Opens there in 1991, 2001 and 2007. Not only that, but two of the greats of women’s golf – Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon – will be in the field after taking a pass on the inaugural in Chicago.

Hammock Creek

Location: Palm City, Florida.

Architect: Jack Nicklaus and Jack Nicklaus II

Opened: 1995

Par: 72.

Yards/Rating/Slope: Tips (Black) tees 7,131 yards/ 74.6/143; Gold 6,770/73.2/140; Blue 6,360/70.9/135; White 5,922/68.7/124 (men), 74.1/133 (women); Red 5,045/64.3/114 (men), 68.6/118 (women).

Saturday morning green fee: $59 (but varies with the season).

Caddie Service: No.

Walker friendly: Yes.

Fairways: Bermuda.

Greens: Bermuda.


For starters: The is the first course co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and Jack Nicklaus II in Florida. The head professional is also has a familiar name. Rod Curl Jr. is the son of Rod Curl, who played regularly on the PGA Tour from 1969-78. Rod the father’s only PGA Tour win was at the 1974 Colonial National Invitation when he beat Jack Nicklaus (the father) by one stroke.

Play because: It’s not just about those names. This course hosted several events on the Golden Bear Tour and has a convenient location with I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike both near by. The conditioning is consistently good, with lively fairways and smooth greens, and the design is adaptable for a wide range of players.

Takeaway: Hammock Creek may be the best golf buy in South Florida and it’s an outstanding value for Nicklaus-designed layout. While the greens fees change on an almost weekly basis, it’s always very competitive with other public courses, many of which aren’t nearly as good.


Best Par-5: No. 2 (504 yards from tips/489/475/460/362). This hole is a wake-up call after a timid opening hole. A long water hazard on the right greets you when you arrive at the tee and water is a factor the rest of the way in, on both the right and behind the green.

Best Par-4: No. 11 (454 yards from tips/433/379/355/302). A good test for the No. 1 handicap hole. Water is somewhat a factor off the tee, especially if your drives goes even slightly left. While the course offers largely generous fairways off the tee, this one is on the more narrow side.

Best Par-3: No. 14 (151 yards fom tips/141/133/118/105). Water blocks the green most of the way on Hammock Creek’s shortest par-3, but this creates more of a psychological factor — especially if you play the course with any regularity. It’s the last par-3 in the rotation, and not really difficult if you hit even an average tee shot. You especially need a good number here, though, as the last four holes are long and strong and can influence your score significantly

THE RATINGS (1 to 10 scale, 10 being the highest)

Food/beverage: 8.

Pro shop: 8.

Clubhouse: 7.

Difficulty: 7.

Pace of play: 7.

Overall: 7.75.


Phone: 772-220-2599.

Website: www.hammockcreekgolfclub.com

Facebook:@Hammock Creek Golf Club.

Twitter: @golfcreekgc

Instagram: @hammockcreekgc

Rater: Len Ziehm