Len Ziehm On Golf

My big night at the ING Media Awards

Wisconsin buddies Gary Van Sickle and Chuck Garbedian joined me as winners of ING Media Awards.

I’m excited, and most appreciative. Last night three of my pieces from 2017 were cited in the 24th annual International Network of Golf Media Awards presentation, which climaxed the first day of the 65th PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

My Daily Herald piece, “Koepka wins first major,’’ was the winner in the Competition Writing category. It told the story of Brooks Koepka’s victory in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last June.

I also received Outstanding Achiever mentions for two pieces, one for Travel Writing and the other in the Competition Writing category. The Travel piece, “Simply Grand,’’ appeared in the Daily Herald and spotlighted Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort. (This piece also was published in Chicagoland Golf). It was the second year in which I’ve been cited in the Travel Writing category.

The other mention was for “Make It a Double,’’ which ran in the Chicago District Golfer. It was a report on Patrick Flavin’s victories in the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open.

Damon Hack, of The Golf Channel, was emcee for the event and a couple of my Wisconsin buddies – Chuck Garbedian (Radio Show) and Gary Van Sickle (Profile Writing) – were winners in other categories. Tony Leodora won for the third straight year in the TV Show division.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: PGA National Resort is up for sale

PGA National has received numerous upgrades in recent years. Now it may get a new owner as well.

PGA National Resort & Spa, home of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic, is up for sale.

The resort, which includes five courses in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., fetched $170 million when it was acquired by Walton Street Capital of Chicago in 2006 from a Florida investor, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post. Another $89 million was spent on renovations since that purchase, according to that report.

Now PGA National is apparently on the market again, according to a website set up by the resort’s broker. PGA National includes 339 hotel rooms, a 40,000 square-foot spa and 42,000 square feet of meeting space in addition to the golf courses.

Best known of the courses is the Champion, which hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup, 1987 PGA Championship and the Senior PGA Championship from 1982-2000. It’s been the home of the Honda Classic since 2007 and features one of the toughest three-hole stretches in golf — Nos. 15-17, which has been dubbed The Bear Trap following a redesign by Jack Nicklaus.

Rickie Fowler is scheduled to defend his title in the Honda Classic from Feb. 22-25 and the resort has agreed to host that tournament through 2021.

PGA National’s Bear Trap has long been one of the most treacherous three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour and an annual concern for Honda Classic competitors. (Photos by Rory Spears)

AN EARLY WOMEN’S OPEN: For the first time since 2001 the U.S. Women’s Open will start in May, ahead of the U.S. Open. In the U.S. Golf Association’s 2018 scheduled, announced this week, the 73rd annual championship will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. It is the key part of a reorganization of the USGA’s championship schedule.

Shoal Creek, another Nicklaus design, will host its third USGA championship, having previously hosted the 1986 U.S. Amateur and 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur. It’s also been a PGA Championship site.

DORMIE GOING PRIVATE: The Dormie Club, a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design in Pinehurst, N.C., was well-received immediately after its 2010 opening. Now it’ll be undergoing some major changes.

A Nebraska-based investment company purchased the club and will add it to its Dormie Network – a group of destination clubs that includes Briggs Ranch in Texas, ArborLinks in Nebraska and Ballyhack in Virginia. The Pinehurst location will get a new clubhouse, halfway house and on-site lodging and gradually revert back to its original status as a private course. The plan is to have an invitation-only membership by 2020.

REE JONES BREAKTHROUGH: The renowned architect of nearly 230 golf courses now has his first one in Mexico. Danzante Bay opened last month along the Sea of Cortez as part of the Villa del Palmar Resort.

Eleven holes were available last year and the new seven, Nos. 7 through 8, cover different terrains that include beaches, cliffs and canyons.

KEMPER LANDS TOBACCO ROAD: Northbrook-based KemperSports is always adding courses to its portfolio, but one of the latest is especially noteworthy. Kemper will now provide consulting services at Tobacco Road, one of the premier courses in North Carolina.

In other developments, Kemper has been named to manage Diamante Country Club in Arkansas and The Club at Grandezza in Florida and will be involved in a $5.1 million renovation project at Forest Creek in Texas.

ALL ABOUT WHISKEY: Glen Garden Country Club, the Texas course where legends Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan got their start as caddies, is now situated on the grounds of Whiskey Ranch – the only whiskey distillery on a full-functioning 18-hole course.

Glen Garden had been closed for three years, after Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. purchased the property. The company has since built five buildings on the property and re-configured the course with plans to open it for charity and private events.

TOPGOLF GOES INTERNATIONAL: Chicago was one of the first areas to get a Topgolf location, and now there are 37 spread across the world. The company has recently opened venues in Canada, Mexico and Australia and will open another in Dubai in 2019.

The new owners of The Dormie plan to replace the old clubhouse but the rugged course will stay intact.

Biancalana’s return to golf centers on Illinois Senior Open

This is somewhat of a tradeoff. The Chicago area golf community will regain one popular name from the past but will lose another once the snow melts.

The returnee is Roy Biancalana. He’s decided to return to the Chicago area and make a run at one of the few state titles he didn’t win in his heyday. Biancalana won the Illinois PGA Junior Championship in 1977, the Illinois State Amateur in 1983 and the Illinois Open in both 1987 and 2001. He was also the Illinois PGA Player of the Year four times between 2003 and 2007.

Then family issues coupled with frustrations over three seasons on the PGA Tour led Biancalana to leave golf. He got involved first in church work and – over the last 10 years – has been a relationship coach in Florida.

“I work with single people who don’t want to be,’’ said Biancalana. “I’ve had two passions – one in the psychological world and one in the golf world.’’

Now he will combine the two. He will return as a teacher at St. Andrews, in West Chicago, where he worked from 2001-07 and also – at age 58 – plans to return as a competitive player.

“Supposedly my skill level should be dropping off dramatically, but we’ll see about that,’’ said Biancalana. “I don’t feel that way at all, and I’m looking forward to battling it out with the young guys and mixing it up with Mike Small.’’

Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach, has dominated the Illinois PGA tournaments for nearly two decades and Biancalana’s biggest goal is to win the Illinois Senior Open. They could battle it out for that title.

“I want to win (Illinois titles) at every phase. I want my own personal grand slam,’’ said Biancalana, who has played in only one major tournament – the U.S. Senior Open qualifying — in the last 10 years and also underwent heart, shoulder and wrist surgery during that period.

“I’m totally excited about teaching again at St. Andrews and getting in my competitive chops, too,’’ said Biancalana. “I’ve really missed playing, and there’s nothing like competing.’’

Medinah loses Tyrrell

Curtis Tyrrell, the superintendent who got Medinah’s No. 3 course ready for the 2012 Ryder Cup matches, is heading to Florida. He’ll become director of golf course operations at Bonita Bay Club near Naples.

In his 10 years at Medinah Tyrrell led major renovations at all three of the club’s 18-holers as well as the practice range. At Bonita Bay he’ll oversee five courses, three of which are targeted for renovations.

Tyrrell departs Medinah 18 months before the club is scheduled to host the 2019 BMW Championship.

Conway back on tournament calendar

Conway Farms competed its three-year run as host for the BMW Championship last September but the Lake Forest private club won’t be out of the tournament scene for long. Conway is among the confirmed sites for next year’s qualifying sessions for the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

The first U.S. Golf Association national championship for women in the 50-and-over age group will be played at Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton, from July 12-15. Conway’s elimination is June 18. Conway will join some select courses from around the country in hosting qualifiers. Other sites include Pine Needles, in North Carolina; Olympic Club, in California; Scioto, in Ohio; and LPGA International, in Florida.

Here and there

Glenview’s Frank Morley has been named to a two-year term as chairman of the Western Golf Association. A member at Conway Farms and North Shore in the Chicago area and other clubs in Florida, Montana and Ireland, Morley will lead the WGA’s Evans Scholars Foundation after moving up from a vice chairman’s role.

Cantigny, in Wheaton, has been named the winner of the Youth Development Award by the National Golf Course Owners Association.

VIP registration is now open for the May 30 Illinois Patriot Day event at Medinah.

Dick Nugent was one of Chicago’s most prolific — and best — golf course designers

I was just sad to learn of the passing of Dick Nugent, the long-time Chicago golf course architect, on New Year’s Day. I don’t know more details, but Nugent was 87 — a very nice man and and one of the most prolific architects in the Chicago area.
A University of Illinois graduate — he also played football for the Illini — Nugent started his architectural career working for the legendary designer Robert Bruce Harris. He later hooked up with fellow architect Ken Killian, and they handled the design work for Kemper Lakes.
While Kemper Lakes was his best-known work, Nugent created over 90 courses in 12 states. Among his other noteworthy ones was the Dunes Club in New Buffalo, Mich. — the only 9-hole course to be ranked in Golf Digest’s Top 100.
Many of his designs came after he and Killian split up their partnership in 1983.
In addition to Kemper Lakes Nugent’s credits include some of the Chicago area’s best public layouts — both courses at Harborside International, George Dunne National, Golf Club of Illinois, Foxford Hills, Heritage Bluffs and Buffalo Grove.
He was also involved in projects at Deerpath, Big Run, Twin Orchard, Midlothian, Fox Lake , Glencoe, Glendale Lakes, Sunset Valley, Poplar Creek, Bull Valley and Ivanhoe.

Name change won’t detract from PGA Champions’ first main event

Defending champion Scott McCarron previews the first full field event on PGA Tour Champions while Eddie Carbone, the new tournament director of the Boca Raton Championship, looks on.

BOCA RATON, Florida – PGA Tour Champions had a popular kickoff to its season with the Allianz Championship on the North Course at Broken Sound Golf Club. That sponsorship ended after the 12th playing of the event last year, but – other than a name change to the Boca Raton Championship – the event will go on with no loss in momentum.

The tournament will again be the first full field event of the season for PGA Tour Champions. Tournament week is Feb. 5-11 after the circuit conducts two small field events – the Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity event next week in Orlando and the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii from Jan. 15-20.

After those two events the circuit for 50-and-older stars will get into full swing albeit with some organizational changes.

Eddie Carbone, executive director of the U.S. Senior Open the last three years, has taken over as tournament director and the city of Boca Raton and its Parks and Recreation Department have stepped in to provide financial support. Sallyport, a global company that specializes in supporting military operations within complex environments, was named the presenting sponsor at. Wednesday’s media day kickoff.

“We’re entering a new era,’’ said Carbone, who had also spent a decade as executive director of the PGA Tour stop held at Trump National Doral near Miami. “We’re working hard to secure a new sponsor for 2019 and beyond.’’

Scott McCarron, who won last year with an eagle on the final hole, would like to take the champion’s trophy home from Broken Sound again.

Scott McCarron, the defending champion, is just happy the event is returning to Broken Sound.

“No one wants to lose this tournament. It’s a very popular tournament with PGA Champions players. We love coming here,’’ said McCarron, who thanked government officials for providing temporary financial support. “A lot of cities wouldn’t be willing to do that, and we want to keep this tournament going.’’

McCarron would also like to keep his hot streak, which started at Broken Sound last year, going as well.

He won at Broken Sound in dramatic fashion, hitting a 7-iron from 186 yards to six feet on the final hole and then holing the putt for eagle to nab a one-stroke victory over Kenny Perry and Carlos Franco. McCarron made two eagles in the final round en route to his sixth career win on PGA Champions.

Four of his victories came last year, when he led the circuit in birdies and eagles but couldn’t overhaul Boca Raton resident Bernhard Langer in the player-of-the-year race.

McCarron’s other wins included his first major title at the Constellation Senior Players Championship. That victory gets him into the PGA’s high-profile Players Championship with the PGA Tour’s best players at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL., in May. He’ll defend his Senior Players win from PGA Champions at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, IL., in July.

IT ZIEHMS TO ME: Ibis’ Legend proves that Nicklaus courses are becoming more fun

Beware of the wall at the signature hole — the par-3 No. 13 with the island green at Ibis’ Legend Course.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – This is what I was told.

Jack Nicklaus designed the Legend Course at The Club at Ibis for an opening in 1991. More than 20 years passed, and club members asked Nicklaus to come back and check it out again. He did, and his immediate comment was `What was I thinking?’

In his early years in course architecture Nicklaus’ designs were frequently considered too penal. This was apparently one of them. The tournament player side of Nicklaus was more reflected in his course designs back then. He liked his courses to be challenging.

Having not played the original Legend, it was difficult for me to imagine what it had looked like before the current re-design was unveiled this month. (Nicklaus hit the ceremonial first tee shot on Dec. 13 and the course opened for play a week later).

According to a long-time nearby resident – a non-member who happens to be a scratch player, the new version “is more accepting to all types of players and conditions. It’s playability instead of brutality. Bravo!’’

Artificial turf isn’t made for golf, but it works as the entry and exit path to the Legend Course’s No. 13 green.

From my perspective as a first-time visitor I can’t imagine the Legend beating up any players. The fairways are extremely wide. The number of bunkers isn’t excessive, and those in the new design frame the landing areas quite well. The greens, already in excellent condition, are well contoured but provide fun for any player, be it a high or low handicapper, man or woman.

In short, this is a most enjoyable place to play. The course can welcome back big tournaments (it plays 7,442 yards from the tips) if the membership so chooses as well as stimulate beginning players (the front set of tees provides a course of only 4,492 yards.

The Club at Ibis is in the heart of Nicklaus country. In fact, it may be the center of it design-wise. Two of Nicklaus’ sons have also designed courses on the property, which is part of a gated community that requires those who live in its 1,900 residences to be members. Jack Nicklaus II, now the president of Nicklaus Design, created the immediately friendly Heritage Course, which also opened in 1991. Steve Nicklaus designed the Tradition Course, a links-style layout that opened in 2001.

Nicklaus’ renovated Legend has a particularly scenic par-3 at No. 5 but a more memorable one at No. 13. This one has an island green, fountain in the water fronting the green and a path of artificial turf leading into the putting surface from behind the green. With those features there’s no denying it ‘s the course’s signature hole.

The flowering is at its best around the No. 12 tee on this Jack Nicklaus renovation.

Jack Nicklaus, the one of Golden Bear fame, has been a resident of nearby North Palm Beach since the 1970s. His Bear’s Club, in Jupiter, has been a haven for established PGA Tour players since Nicklaus and his wife Barbara founded the club in 1999. Nicklaus also handled a 2014 redesign of the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens – just four miles from The Club at Ibis. The home of the PGA Tour’s annual Honda Classic, PGA National’s Champion Course features one of the sport’s most treacherous three-hole stretches from Nos. 15-17. It’s been declared, appropriately enough, “The Bear Trap.’’

As established as the Nicklauses are in south Florida, this year has been an extraordinary one for the clan. In November, a month before the opening of the Legend at The Club at Ibis, the patriarch of the clan oversaw the opening of the Banyan Cay Resort & Golf – another members-only club in West Palm Beach.

A double-ended practice range has 75 hitting stations in addition to a teaching area led by Golf Channel’s Martin Hall.

This one is significant because it was the 300th course that Nicklaus created. Other designers have created more. Tom Bendelow designed over 600 in a 35-year career that started in the 1890s. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed over 500 and Donald Ross over 400. None, of course, could rival the playing record that Nicklaus had to complement his architectural resume.

The Legend Course at the Club at Ibis may be Nicklaus’ most recent design but certainly won’t be his last. He and his staff of designers has 410 courses open for play in 39 states and 41 countries, and 57 more are under development in 19 different countries.

Over my nearly 50 years writing about golf I’ve played a wide range of Nicklaus courses, some high profile and some not. My favorite is one of the latter – The Club at Porto Cima, a private club in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks that opened in 2000.

Nicklaus was apparently quite proud of it, as the club’s website attributes this comment from him about the course: “On a scale of one to 10 this is as close to a 10 if there ever was a 10.’’

It’ll be hard to top that accolade, but Nicklaus has done so many quality courses that are special in their own way and to their own set of players. The Legend will stand up quite well to all of them.

All three of the courses at The Club at Ibis were designed by members of the Nicklaus family.

Carol McCue will be remembered as the First Lady of Chicago Golf

A memorial service has been scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 29 at Donnellan Funeral Home in Skokie to honor the memory of Carol McCue, a long-time leader in the Chicago golf community. She died on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the age of 94.

Long known as the First Lady of Chicago Golf, Miss McCue joined the fledgling Chicago District Golf Association in 1942 and retired as its executive director in 1982. While serving in that position she was named the first president of the International Association of Golf Administrators in 1968.

After retiring from the CDGA Miss McCue became the marketing director for Jemsek Golf, operator of several Chicago courses including long-time PGA Tour site Cog Hill in Lemont.

She was one of the first women in the golf industry to hold such a high-profile leadership role, and Dennis Davenport, who succeeded McCue as the CDGA executive director, called her “the gold standard for golf administrators.’’

“We are deeply saddened to hear of Carol’s passing,’’ said Robert Markionni, the current CDGA executive director. “She was a true pioneer and leader in golf administration, not only in Chicago but throughout the nation. Many of the programs that Carol initiated, such as public golf membership and computerized handicapping, revolutionized golf administration and set the stage for the innovative technology we use today. Her legacy will live on.’’

During her time with the CDGA Miss McCue was also instrumental in creating the Illinois Open, which made its debut in 1950 and is now conducted by the Illinois Section of the Professional Golfers Assn.

Prominent in Chicago golf in one capacity or another for over 70 years, Miss McCue was in the inaugural class when the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame was created in 1989.

Hensby provides explanation

Mark Hensby — a former Illinois Amateur, Illinois Open and John Deere Classic champion – has issued a statement on the one-year suspension he recently received for failing to provide a urine sample for a drug test required by the PGA Tour.

Hensby, 46, was asked to take the test after shooting a first-round 78 in the Sanderson Farms Championship in October. Feeling he could not produce a urine specimen at that time, he left the premises with the intention of taking the test before his second round the next day.

“I made a terrible decision to not stay around that event to take the urine test,’’ said Hensby in his statement. “Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don’t call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves.’’

Hensby received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring about why he didn’t provide the urine sample prior to the suspension announcement.

“I showed poor judgement in not responding,’’ Hensby said.

Here and there

Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich is assured that his private club in Sugar Grove will remain a high-profile layout for tournament play. Rich Harvest had been selected to host the Western Junior Championship in 2019, the Big 10 Championship in 2020 and – most recently — the Palmer Cup in 2021. RHF previously hosted the Palmer Cup matches in 2015.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman has signed a two-year contract extension with Wilson Sporting Goods. Streelman, who has $16 million in PGA Tour winnings, first signed with the Chicago-based equipment manufacturer in 2011. The new agreement will run through 2019.

Wisconsin’s Sand Valley, the latest golf resort created by Chicago’s Mike Keiser, has achieved an impressive double in its first season. Golf Magazine named it the “Best New Course You Can Play’’ and Golf Digest selected the facility as its “Best New of 2017.’’ Keiser plans to open two more courses at Sand Valley in May – the par-3 Sandbox, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and Mammoth Dunes, a David McLay Kidd design.

My favorite golfer? Why, it’s Ralph Kennedy — by a mile

Ralph Kennedy made the cover of Saturday Evening Post in 1935. (Curtis Publishing photo).

I have a new favorite golf hero, and his name isn’t Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth or even Tiger Woods.

Did you ever hear of Ralph Kennedy? Not many have. Kennedy died in 1961 at the age of 79. His claim to golfing fame didn’t come in winning big tournaments. It came from just playing. I doubt any golfer had the same love of the game that Kennedy had.

Kennedy took up golf in 1910, when he was 28 years old. Between his first tee shot at New York’s Van Cortlandt Park – the first public course in the United States – and his last recorded round in 1953 Kennedy played over 8,500 rounds on 3,165 different courses.

New Jersey-based golf writer John Sabino uncovered all the scorecards that Kennedy had donated to the U.S. Golf Association prior to his death and – very much to his credit — took it upon himself to tell Kennedy’s story.

Sabino’s report surfaced in his recently released book, “Golf’s Iron Horse,’’ which was published by New York’s Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. Sabino likened Kennedy’s feat with the 2,130 consecutive baseball games that Lou Gehrig played for the New York Yankees during his 17 big league seasons. Gehrig and Kennedy lived about six blocks apart during Gehrig’s baseball prime.

According to Sabino Kennedy’s total rounds of about 8,500 are the equivalent of a golfer teeing it up every day for 23 straight years. Kennedy averaged 75 new courses a year from his first round on July 9, 1911, until his last one on Sept. 27, 1953. They were all walking rounds, too, as power carts hadn’t arrived during Kennedy’s days on the links.

That’s not what most impresses me, however. Piling up rounds isn’t all that difficult. Lots of golfers play the same course over and over on an almost daily basis and Joe Kirkwood, a competitor in the early days of the pro golf tour, may have even played more total rounds than Kennedy. Kirkwood just didn’t document his rounds. He was more interested in tournament play and his trick shot exhibitions.

Instead, I’m most in awe of Kennedy’s penchant for travel to get to all his courses. I’ve done pretty well on that end, thanks to being blessed with jobs writing on golf for nearly 50 years. Never more than just an avid recreational player, I’ve played in 26 states and many have come in the last 10 years when my focus has been on Travel Destinations rather than tournament coverage.

My estimated courses played since my first one at age 11 in 1955 is about 600. They include a vast majority of the 400-plus courses listed in the Chicago District Golf Association membership area and 21 courses listed on Golf Digest’s Top 100.

Kennedy, by comparison, spread his rounds around the 48 of the states in the United States when he was playing. He also played courses in nine Canadian provinces and about another dozen countries. His course count total was determined off scorecards signed by him as well as a representative of each club played. On one day he played courses in four different states. On another he played four courses in the same day. Many times he played a round with just a 3- or 4-iron to reduce the physical demands required to carry a bag of clubs.

My greatest golf stunts pale by comparison — two 45-hole days in the early 1980s arranged to promote the Chicago Park District’s five nine-hole courses. I’m no Ralph Kennedy, that’s for sure.

In one area, though, I’m sure I beat out Kennedy. A vast major of my rounds have been over 18 holes. Kennedy couldn’t say that. Many of the courses in his count were nine-holers and some were even less than that.

“Golf’s Iron Horse author John Sabino likens Ralph Kennedy to baseball great Lou Gehrig. (USGA photo).

No course was too insignificant or far away for Kennedy. He played in all sorts of weather on urban, rural, desert, mountain, parkland, moorland, links and heather courses. But, his courses also included cream of the crop venues like Augusta National, Cypress Point, Muirfield and Pine Valley.

So, how did Kennedy do it? Well, he had a wife who liked to play, too. Mary Alice Kennedy played over 600 different courses and they had no children. That opened up more time for playing and traveling.

Kennedy also had a job that encouraged his golf “hobby.’’ He was a traveling salesman for a major pencil company. He was apparently good at his job, too, as he was a founding member of New York’s Winged Foot – long one of America’s premier private clubs.

Sabino takes an unusual approach to telling Kennedy’s story. He focuses more on the climate of the changing times than he does on golf shots. When Kennedy entered college at Amherst the reigning U.S. Open champion was Harry Vardon and when he died Arnold Palmer held the Masters crown. In between the country was going through two world wars and plenty of other changes.

The game of golf changed a lot in that period, too. When Kennedy was born America had 38 states and no golf courses. America’s first 18-holer wasn’t built until Chicago Golf Club unveiled its prize layout in 1892.

In the early days of American golf many of the early courses had half-par holes, a different sized ball was used, there were no rakes in the bunkers and the stymie was a key part of the game.

Many of the courses that Kennedy played no longer exist including the last one, nine-hole Hamilton Inn Golf Club in New York. That round came the same year that golf was televised nationally for the first time at George S. May’s World Championship event at Tam O’Shanter in suburban Chicago.

Ryder re-opening is a milestone well worth celebrating at PGA Golf Club

The Ryder Course has the most impressive first tee displays of all the PGA Golf Club courses.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida – December’s re-opening of the Ryder Course merited a celebration at PGA Golf Club – the winter home of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members.

The first course to open at the premier resort on Florida’s east coast was the last of its three 18-holers to get a facelift during a hectic five-year period. General manager Jimmy Terry re-opened the Ryder for public play on Dec. 1 and formally celebrated the event two weeks later with a media contingent that was quick to recognize the magnitude of the work that had been done.

“We started five years ago, and this is a joyful occasion for us to wrap it up,’’ said Terry. “Honestly, there has never been a better time to be a part of PGA Golf Club.’’

The sometimes frantic five-year period began with the hiring of Terry and highly-decorated director of agronomy Dick Gray, whose leadership in the renovation of the three courses led to his being honored as the Turfnet Superintendent of the Year in 2016. There’s no higher award in his industry than that one, but Gray downplayed the work on the Ryder layout. He called it “basically a grass job,’’ but those who had played the course before the renovation quickly realized it was much more than that.

The par-5 fourth hole became the Ryder’s most visually stunning hole after its recent renovation.

A little historical perspective is in order.

The PGA Golf Club opened its doors on Jan. 1, 1996, and the first tee shot was struck on what was then called the North Course. The second, called the South, was opened four months later. Both were Tom Fazio designs.

Ten years later those courses were renamed, the North becoming the Ryder in honor of Samuel Ryder – founder and namesake of the Ryder Cup – and the South becoming the Wanamaker, in honor of Rodman Wanamaker, whose name graces the trophy given annual to the winner of the PGA Championship. The Ryder features a colorful history display at the No. 1 tee and each hole has markers recounting big moments in the history of the match play competitions between the U.S. and European teams.

PGA Golf Club also has a third course, named in honor of its designer Pete Dye, that opened in 2000.

“The Dye is different just by its look,’’ said Gray. “The Ryder and Wanamaker, from being designed by Fazio, have a lot of commonality but they’re grassed a little differently.’’

The most memorable Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012 is in the spotlight at the No. 18 tee of the Ryder Course. Click on photo for a better view.

Playing-wise, the Ryder has always been the most player-friendly of the PGA Golf Club courses.

“On the Ryder you don’t have to carry a tee shot over anything,’’ said Gray. “On the Wanamaker you’ve got to play over something (hazards), and that’s a big difference.’’

The Ryder still has its wide fairways and 11 lakes and ponds, but it also now has the same Celebration grass on its fairways and Tif-green putting surfaces that the Wanamaker and Dye layouts have.

“It’s now the same grass, the same quality of turf, on all three courses,’’ said Gray. “It should be consistent from green to green, hole to hole and course to course.’’

The change in grass, though, does create a new look from the old version of the Ryder.

“We reframed some of the holes, and that should change the look of the place and the way it plays,’’ said Gray. “Our players can read the hole from the tees better just because of the re-framing.’’

The hole that looks the most different on the Ryder since the renovation is No. 4, a par-5 that plays 484 yards from the tips. Water runs down the right side of the fairway and now comes into play more around the green as well. It’s the most visually stunning hole on the new course, but the new white sand bunkers are attractive throughout.

Course yardage is listed as an even 7,000 from the Medal, or back, tees. The first of the six tee placements is at 5,038 yards.

Big, white sand bunkers were a consistent challenge after the Ryder Course renovation.

The Ryder renovation was not in the original sequence planned for the five-year resort-wide renovation. It was to be done immediately after the Wanamaker redo, but the plan was altered by the scheduling of a series of big events in the 2017 season. The second course to be renovated turned out to be the Dye, as the club staff feared that the Ryder might not be ready in time for this year’s big events. The Dye was re-opened in November of 2016.

Now all that decision-making is over, several golf publications have honored the work done, club membership is up to nearly 1,000 and its finances are, in Terry’s words, “much improved. All is well for PGA Golf Club and its nearly 250 work families.

“We’re charged with delivering an exceptional product,’’ said Terry. “We came on board with a five-year plan to re-establish the PGA Golf Club to a level commensurate with the reputation of the PGA brand. There’s an expectation that comes with that, and we’re not scared of those expectations. We spent over $15 million in renovations and capital projects to re-establish this place.’’

So what’s next?

“We’re not done. There’a few other things to finish,’’ said Terry. “We’re at the next stage.’’

Sale of the fourth course, St. Lucie Trail, and the 35-acre PGA Learning Center will likely impact the timetable for when those “other things’’ will be addressed. Terry said there have been offers made on those properties but completion of the sales is not imminent.

Between the 11 lakes and ponds and striking bunkers the Ryder Courses offers lots of good views.

Q-Schools provide a boost for Hopfinger, Troyanovich

The lengthy, very demanding qualifying sessions to determine next year’s players on the PGA Tour, Ladies PGA Tour and PGA Champions circuit came to an end over the weekend with two Chicago hopefuls — Brad Hopfinger and Samantha Troyanovich — putting themselves in position to further their golfing careers in 2018.

Lake Forest’s Hopfinger, one of only seven players to own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, is assured a spot in the first eight tournaments on the PGA’s satellite Web.com Tour next season. Troyanovich, who won the 2012 Illinois Women’s Open as an amateur, earned conditional status on the LPGA circuit.

Getting as far as they did wasn’t easy. The Q-Schools for both circuits are complicated, nail-biting affairs that span nearly four months. On the men’s side, there are three pre-qualifying tournaments that start in August in Texas, California and Nebraska. Those events determine who fills out fields in the Stage I eliminations, which were played at 11 sites around the country in October.

The survivors of Stage I played in one of the five Stage II events, each of which had about 80 players, and those survivors went to the final stage. Some players had exemptions through the early stages based on past performance, but Stage III started with 144 players and ended after 72 holes on Sunday in Chandler, Ariz., with Hopfinger finishing just one stroke better than two other prominent Chicago players – Deerfield’s Vince India and Elgin’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

That one stroke made a big difference, however. Hopfinger, by virtue of finishing at 14-under-par 274 and in a tie for 42nd place, is assured a spot in the first eight Web.com Tour events of 2018. Then there’ll be a re-shuffle of players.

Hopfinger played frequently on the Web.com in 2017, earning $30,904. While he will be in a better position to get into tournaments in 2018, he’ll have to get off to a good start to keep playing. Still, he’s in a much better position than India, his former college teammate at Iowa, and Sainz, the 2016 Illinois Open champion.

India, who was third overall in the Web.com qualifying in 2016 but didn’t earn enough money in 2017 to retain his card, shot 63 in the third round of the Q-School’s third stage on Saturday and Sainz, who spent much of this season on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour, had a solid 66-67 finish on the weekend.

That’s great golf, but both still finished at 13-under-par for the tournament and in a tie for 57th place. They will likely need to go through Monday qualifiers to get into next year’s tournaments. And that’s only to play on the PGA Tour’s satellite circuit. Make it to the PGA Tour proper has demands even more stringent than that.

Addison’s Tee-K Kelly, in his first season as a pro after a strong collegiate career at Ohio State, also made it to last week’s Stage III but an 80 in the first round doomed his chances at advancement. Kelly, though, had a promising rookie season. He won an event on the Latinoamerica circuit and had five top-10 finishes while finishing seventh on the circuit’s order of merit.

Troyanovich, who now resides in Michigan, also had to endure three stages to get her LPGA playing privileges. She tied for 38th of 144 players in Stage I, which was contested in California. The top 90 advanced, and she tied for 68th among 165 players in Stage II in Venice, FL., with the top 80 moving on to the final stage.

The final, played over 90 holes at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, FL., had 361 finalists. Troyanovich tied for 32nd place and that will be enough to get into at least a few 2018 tournaments without enduring a qualifying round.

Troyanovich has had only limited playing time on the LPGA circuit (three missed cuts in as many starts in 2017) and its satellite Symetra Tour. Next year she’ll be able to play more on both circuits.

One Chicago player, Lance Ten Broeck, was in the PGA Champions qualifying tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. A former PGA Tour regular, he finished in a tie for 23rd place and needed a top five finish to get fully exempt status on the 50-and-over circuit. He figures to return to his job as a caddie on the PGA circuit in 2018.