Len Ziehm On Golf

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.

Meyer takes a break from the Illini to battle PGA Tour stars

PALM HARBOR, Florida – The Valspar Championship, the PGA Tour stop that tees off here on Thursday (TODAY) has its best field ever. Tiger Woods and Rory McElroy are here for the first time and Jordan Spieth is also on hand.

Oh, yes. Dylan Meyer is here, too. While his Illini teammates were competing in a collegiate event in Las Vegas Meyer was preparing to challenge the PGA Tour stars. He was invited off his win in a collegiate tournament that Valspar also sponsors.

“I’m ready to feel what it’s going to be like on the first tee box on Thursday,’’ said Meyer, who missed the cut in last year’s John Deere Classic – first PGA Tour start. “With Tiger and these guys it’s a bigger event, but I’ve got to keep it in perspective. This is just a good gauge for me to see where I’m. I don’t have to prove anything now.’’

But he will as soon as his last collegiate season is over.

“I’m hopefully going to be out here the next couple months after graduation,’’ he said. “I’m building up for that but feeling great about the season for the school. I’m going to keep working with Coach (Mike) Small after I’ve graduated. That’s going to be a big thing for me.’’

A change of scene for Tiger

Canadian Adam Hadwin could become the first repeat Valspar champion this week.

Woods last played the famed Copperhead course when Innisbrook Resort hosted a mixed team event called the JC Penney Classic. Copperhead has been renovated since then and golf in general has changed, according to Woods.

“That was 22 years ago,’’ said Woods. “It was a different game. I had a long driver, maybe 44 inches. Half the guys were using persimmon woods and balata balls were the No. 1 ball out here.’’

Woods was 20 years old then. He’s 42 now and confident he can play two weeks in a row in his latest comeback event. He finished in a promising tie for 12th at the Honda Classic two weeks ago in his last start.

He’s played only 10 tournament rounds this season and another Florida tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is on tap for next week at Bay Hill in Orlando. That could be his final competitive tuneup event for next month’s Masters — the year’s first major championship. Woods missed that tournament three of the last four years because of injuries.

McIlroy eyes career Slam

McIlroy is also here to get ready for the Masters – the only one of golf’s four majors that he hasn’t won. He spent two days playing the Augusta National course before coming here.

“I’m totally ready,’’ he said. “I’d be happy to go to Augusta tomorrow and play and feel like I have a good chance.’’

McIlroy is the first of three players who have a shot at a career Grand Slam this year. Phil Mickelson, who won the Mexico Championship on Sunday, still needs to win the U.S. Open and Spieth’s resume is without a PGA Championship. Mickelson isn’t in the Valspar field.

“Golf is really helped with the three of us looking for the Slam, Tiger coming back, Justin Thomas playing so well and DJ (Dustin Johnson) being the No. 1 player in the world. I’m glad to be in the conversation.’’

Shades of 2015?

Spieth won the Valspar title in 2015, and that triggered a huge year for him. He followed with victories in the Masters and U.S. Open, then captured the John Deere Classic for the second time and concluded the year by taking The Tour Championship.

“This tournament brings really good vibes that can do a lot of good for me going forward,’’ said Spieth. “We’re in a very similar position to 2015 at this very moment. I really consider the Masters the start of the season with anything leading into it a preparation for the Masters.’’

Local flavor

Chicago’s two best PGA Tour players, Luke Donald and Kevin Streetman, are in the Valspar field. Donald won the Valspar in 2012 during a stretch in which he had top-six finishes in four consecutive years. Streelman won in 2013.

Streelman is coming off a two-week break and is 10-for-10 in surviving the 36-hole cut in the 2017-18 season. Though both are past Valspar champions neither played in Wednesday’s pro-am.

Here’s what’s good — and bad — about the Chicago tournament schedule in 2018

I don’t know that Chicago has ever had a golf season like the one coming up in 2018. It’ll be a good one – any links season in Chicago is a good one – but this one will be different.

Last year’s tournament schedule was the busiest in 20 years and featured the national collegiate championships, a U.S. Open and an LPGA major championship. This year’s schedule will be attractive, too, and every bit as busy — but it might not seem that way. Here’s why:

One week in June and another in July will be overloaded with big tournaments. Call it unfortunate scheduling if you will, but that’s just the way it is. Chicago golf fans have always supported big tournaments, and I have no doubt that they will again. This time, though, it will be a challenge.

The first week with a scheduling dilemma comes at the end of June, and it’s all about the women. Their biggest amateur tournament of the year and the biggest professional tournament of the Chicago season will be held on virtually the same dates. The 118th playing of the Women’s Western Amateur starts on Monday, June 25, and concludes with a championship match on Saturday, June 30. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship returns for another 72-hole run, with competition starting on Thursday, June 28, and concluding on Sunday, July 1.

My advice? Find a way to attend them both. Mistwood, the Romeoville course that will host the Amateur, and Kemper Lakes, the Kildeer layout that hosts the KPMG tourney, are not exactly strangers to big events but these will be breakthroughs at both locations.

The Amateur will be the biggest event ever held at Mistwood, the annual site of the Illinois Women’s Open. It’ll also be the first time the Western Golf Association manages a women’s event and one of the few times it conducts a championship on a public course.

Kemper Lakes was a tournament hotbed shortly after it opened as a public course in 1979. Big events weren’t on the club’s calendar after it began its transformation to a private in 2003, but the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – held last year at Olympia Fields – will bring a welcome end to that drought.

Mistwood will feature the best players of the future, Kemper the best in the world. It would seem a no-brainer to catch the two stroke-play qualifying rounds that kick off the Women’s Western Am, then shift your attention to Kemper Lakes while also catching a key match in the Amateur event before the week is out.

In its tournament heyday Kemper hosted the 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur, which concluded with the legendary Annika Sorenstam in the championship match – and that was one of the few she didn’t win. Her loss to Vicki Goetze lives on as one of the great moments in Kemper history.

A solution to the scheduling dilemma coming up two weeks after the big women’s week isn’t so easy to solve. The week beginning on Monday, July 9, features three big tournament offerings including the only PGA Tour stop in Illinois in 2018. (The BMW Championship completed its three-year run at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, last September and the BMW won’t return until 2019 at Medinah).

Unlike the two-tournament women’s week, the competition days of the three July events are directly opposite each other. The John Deere Classic runs July 12-15 at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis. Those are also the tournament dates for the Constellation Senior Players Championship – one of five majors on PGA Tour Champions – at Exmoor, in Highland Park, and the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open, a national championship that led to a rare opening of the gates to historic Chicago Golf Club. The nation’s first 18-hole course hasn’t hosted an open-to-the-public event since the Walker Cup matches of 2005.

How does a golf spectator solve this overload of riches? I have no idea. Entering my 50th year reporting on Chicago golf tournaments, I’ve never had a challenge like this one. I don’t even know where I’ll be each day of that week — but I will be at each of the three events for at least a day, I promise.

As for the rest of the year, the events that bear watching are fortunately spread out a bit.

The first that will draw some spectators is the 67th Illinois PGA Match Play Championship, which is also at Kemper Lakes. A fixture at that club in recent years, the tournament runs May 7-10, concluding on the day that the PGA’s high-profile Players Championship tees off at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass.

If you want a Champions Tour warmup for the Exmoor visit, the Senior PGA Championship returns to Michigan’s Harbor Shores from May 24-27. The Web.com Tour is back for a third straight year, with the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club June 7-10 – a week before the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York.

Then, on successive weeks, comes the Illinois State Women’s Amateur at Aldeen, in Rockford, and the CDGA Amateur at Briarwood, in Deerfield.

The big three-tournament week in July will be immediately followed by the Illinois State Amateur at Bloomington Country Club and the Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield, tees off 10 days after that.

In August the 69th Illinois Open, — Aug. 6-8 at The Glen Club, in Glenview and a second course still to be announced — leads directly into the 100th playing of the PGA Championship at Bellerive, the premier club in the St. Louis area.

August wraps up with the 96th playing of the Illinois PGA Championship at the only public facility in the event’s three-tourney rotation — Stonewall Orchard, in Grayslake. That pretty much will bring an end to the Chicago tournament season and it’ll be a bit earlier finish than most years.

Had enough already? By the time all those events are over it’ll be time to squeeze in as many rounds as possible before cold weather returns. One thing to note, though. This year’s condensed schedule should be expected again in 2019 when the PGA Tour makes radical shifts in its schedule in order to finish the bulk of it by Labor Day. Anything the PGA Tour does generally has an impact on Chicago play in one way or another.

Here’s my updated resident’s guide to golf in the Sunshine State

OK, maybe I do have an ulterior motive: I’d like to play more golf with my Chicago friends during the cold weather months. That would be possible if more of you would just head to Florida.

The Sunshine State is officially my residence now, though I’ll again be on hand for the heart of the Chicago golf season in a few months. Believe me, though, Florida is the place to be if you want to get a golf fix before the snow melts. I did that for years as a snow-bird. Now I’m the recruiter for Florida golf instead of being the recruited one.

Just to be prepared for my new duties as your trusted golf scout I made five road trips to various parts of Florida after settling in in early September. I liked what I saw – a lot!

Topping the list was a visit to Streamsong, which is near Lakeland. It’s been well-received since its opening in 2013, but this year is different than last in that the Black Course is now available for play. That means you can play 54 holes now, all on fine courses. I consider the Red Course my favorite but none really stands head-and-shoulders above the others. You’ll want to play them all.

Streamsong is on the pricey side, but you won’t likely leave the premises once your stay begins. The golf is exceptional, the chance to play it walking is an extreme rarity in Florida, caddies are available as are push carts (they’re called rickshaws at Streamsong) and the dining and other off-course options in the big lodge will satisfy anybody’s taste.

Next up should be Daytona Beach – a community where its golf courses don’t get the attention they deserve. Admittedly visitors go to Daytona first for its beaches and then for its auto races. Still, the golf is pretty good – especially if you’re adventurous enough to hit the nearby towns of New Smyrna Beach and DeLand.

Within Daytona proper the main option is LPGA International, with its two 18-holers. Neighboring towns, though, can supplement your options. Best of those is Sugar Mill Country Club, in New Smyrna Beach. It’s a 27-hole private facility, but I’m told tee times for the public are available – though limited. Trying to get on this layout is well worth the effort. Sugar Mill is one of the best courses in Florida, and that’s saying a lot. Florida has over 1,300, more than any other state.

DeLand has another memorable layout in Victoria Hills. Few courses anywhere can match its 104 ferocious, big, deep bunkers. You might not like them, but you won’t forget them.

Next up is PGA Golf Club, a place close to my heart since I live within walking distance of three of its courses. The designated winter home of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members, PGA Golf Club has been on a steady upswing the last five years. In December its Ryder Course was re-opened following a renovation. That completed a cycle that include its Wanamaker and Dye courses undergoing such work previously.

The renovations all turned out well, but the evolution of the facility continues. More improvements — probably to the already decent practice facility next — will be made following the sale of the off=the-property St. Lucie Trail course and the spacious PGA Learning Center.

Innisbrook Resort, in Palm Harbor near Tampa, has long been one of my favorite destinations. While its famed Copperhead Course gets the most attention – it hosts the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March – the North Course was re-opened this fall after undergoing a renovation. It’s more popularly referred to as Little Copperhead.

Another tried and true stop is World Golf Village, in St. Augustine. It has two courses, one of which – The King & The Bear – is the only layout jointly designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. World Golf Village also offers two other great attractions – the World Golf Hall of Fame and the Caddie Shack Restaurant.

Orlando has its Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios to bring in tourists. It also has Bay Hill, the long-time home of the legendary Palmer who passed away barely a year ago. His memory lives on at Bay Hill.

The first course that Palmer played as a professional back in the 1950s was Miami Springs Country Club. Located just a couple miles from the famed Trump Doral Resort, Miami Springs went public long ago and is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail. Mixing in course on the Trail is a relatively inexpensive option that will appeal to visiting golfers who have an interest in the roots of the game.

Finally, I’ve uncovered new destinations in an unlikely location that might suit those adventurous ones who are looking for something different. The Florida Panhandle isn’t known for its golf but the game is played in a few spots in this area that is roughly 60 miles from the Alabama and Georgia lines.

Panama City is a hopping place in the Panhandle, and its Bay Point facility has two 18-hole courses. One has a checkered past. When it went by the name of Lagoon Legends it was said to be the most difficult course in Florida if not the entire country. Jack Nicklaus, of all people, was brought in to “soften’’ the course and he did it so well that the layout is now called the Nicklaus Course.

The town of Carrabelle is a two-hour drive from Bay Point, and it’s not nearly as hopping a place as Panama City. Carrabelle, though, is a mecca for fishermen in search of tarpon. If they want to enjoy a diversionary round of golf there is one course in the town – St. James Bay. It was purchased last year by a Chicago investment group.

No matter where you go in Florida you’ll find a golf course that fits your needs as well as your price point. If you come for a visit you might turn out like me – a happily transplanted Floridian.