Len Ziehm On Golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISU’s Wallace, Sheppard earn CDGA Player of the Year honors

The Chicago District Golf Association has honored Players of the Year since 1993 and the Senior Player of the Year has been designated since 1995. Those so honored have earned a cherished place in golf history, and some have taken the honor to even greater heights.

Joel Hirsch was the first CDGA superstar, winning the first two Player of the Year awards in 1993 and 1994, and he was also the first to win the Senior Player of the Year honors three times (1996, 1998 and 2001). Hirsch’s accomplishments gave way to Dave Ryan, who won Senior honors seven times between 2009 and 2016, and no golfer has topped the four Player of the Year awards accumulated by Todd Mitchell (2006, 2008, 2013 and 2016).

This year’s honorees are special, as well. One picked up his coveted honor without winning tournament that offered Player of the Year points during the 2018 season and the other rose to prominence after having serious doubts that he’d even be able to play this season.

Let’s meet this terrific twosome:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Trent Wallace, Joliet.

For three years Wallace has been playing in the shadow of three of the all-time great amateurs in the history of Chicago golf. Doug Ghim (2014), Nick Hardy (2015) and Patrick Flavin (2017) were the best in those years and have continued to do big things both locally and nationally. That made the award all the more special for Wallace, who is a senior at Illinois State.

“It’s a great honor to be in the same category of great players, especially those who have won recently,’’ said Wallace. “I had always been a streaky player, but this season I was in contention every week. My forte is to grind.’’

Grind it out, he did. Though he didn’t have a victory Wallace piled up points by tying fourth in the Illinois State Amateur (his third straight top-five finish in that event), finishing as the runner-up in the CDGA Amateur and tying for seventh in the Illinois Open.

In the CDGA Amateur Wallace lost the title to ISU teammate David Perkins, of East Peoria, in a match that went 23 holes. As a college player Wallace was medalist in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in his freshman and sophomore seasons. He also helped the Redbirds win the Wisconsin Badgers Invitational this fall.

“My coach (Ray Kralis) said it was the best win in school history,’’ said Wallace. “Coach Ray was the only Division I coach to offer me a scholarship. I jumped at it, and I’ve never looked back. Every year the program has gotten better, and this year we’re in line to do something special.’’

When the ISU season is over that’ll also be the end of Wallace’s days as an amateur golfer.

“I haven’t been able to get into the Western Amateur for whatever reason, and if I can’t get into events like that I don’t see staying an amateur doing me any good,’’ he said. “The State Amateur is a nice tournament, but I’ve got bigger and better things to worry about. I’m looking forward to turning pro.’’

Wallace started playing golf when he was 3 years old and developed through the junior programs at the Inwood public course in Joliet before playing high school golf for Joliet West. Now he’s ready to take his game beyond the Illinois borders.

He plans to head for Florida, where his father lives, after his college eligibility is over and try the mini-tours, Web.com Tour qualifying school and the PGA Latinoamerica Tour.

SENIOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Tim Sheppard, East Peoria.

Sheppard didn’t let understandable frustration get the better of him. That’s why he is the CDGA Senior Player of the Year.

Sheppard had been the CDGA’s Central Illinois Player of the Year in 2002. That award was discontinued after being handed out from 1995 through 2013, and Sheppard had a great chance to win the overall Senior honor in 2016.

“I had a good year, but Dave passed me because he won the U.S. Senior Amateur,’’ said Sheppard. “Dave beat me only once in 2016, and I’ve been wanting to win a CDGA event for some time. That put added pressure on me.’’

Sheppard had another problem as well. He started feeling pain in his left elbow in June of 2017, and that severely limited his tournament play. He underwent surgery, but that didn’t solve the problem. He switched doctors and had a stem cell injection in November of 2017. That helped somewhat when the 2018 schedule started.

“I didn’t play for two weeks, and then the pain was tolerable,’’ he said. “But then the pain started going into my hand. I changed my golf swing. In 2015 and 2016 I was playing the best golf of my life, then this nerve issue put a halt to my playing for almost a year.’’

More surgery was scheduled, then postponed. Sheppard still sees it in his future, but he did get his game in order for a late-season run that landed him his Player of the Year award.

In September he won the Illinois State Senior Amateur – his first individual title in a state/CDGA event. In October he teamed with Tom Kearfott to win the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball for the second time.

Sheppard also reached the semifinals of the CDGA Senior Amateur and qualified the match play portion of the U.S. Senior Amateur.

Now 57, Sheppard owns an insurance agency in Peoria, Married to Michelle and the father of two children, Sheppard plays out of Lick Creek in Pekin. He didn’t play college golf and his main sport was softball until he was 34 years old. He didn’t get into serious golf competitions until his mid-thirties.

CDGA GOLFER ESSAY: My FIRST 50 years reporting on golf

Let’s make this perfectly clear from the outset. This is not a farewell/retirement column. It’s a reflection on my first 50 years covering golf in the Chicago area and beyond. It’s been a great run that I envision continuing for many years to come.

I consider the start coming at the 1968 Western Open during my first post-college job for the Hammond (Ind.) Times – now The Times of Northwest Indiana. The Western was played at Olympia Fields that year with Jack Nicklaus winning the title.

Covering PGA Tour events was much different then than it is now. Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the top players would sit around a table in a small room designated for the press, drink a beer, smoke a cigarette and basically chew the fat with no more than a half-dozen writers.

Things changed quickly after that. The following year I started my 41-year career at the Chicago Sun-Times. I covered many other sports there – most notably the Northwestern teams for 11 years, pro soccer for 26 years and Wolves and Blackhawks hockey for the final 16 – but golf was always a fixture on my schedule.

The methods for creating and transmitting my reports changed dramatically over the years. First it was dictation via phone from the tournament site to the office. Then we carried both typewriters and telecopiers to the events and faxed the stories in. Eventually fax machines gave way to Radio Shack computers, which were very slow-moving.

Note-taking by hand was the initial method for interviewing. Now there’s digital recorders and transcripts of interviews are even provided at the bigger tournaments. Stories are sent via email and writers can even double as photographers, taking pictures with cellphones and then transmitting them via laptops.

My first big golf event at the Sun-Times was the 1972 Western Open at Sunset Ridge. It was interesting to return to that club this fall for the Western Amateur. There were no other stops at that club in between, so revisiting was special.

Much to my delight, the Daily Herald asked me to be its golf columnist immediately after I retired from the Sun-Times in June of 2010. I completed my ninth season with the Daily Herald this year and have also written for more years than that for both the Chicago District Golfer and Chicagoland Golf. Mix in some spot assignments for other publications, websites and tournament programs, and that’s a little of words and time spent devoted to birdies and bogeys, titles won and lost, course openings and closings and – even occasionally – some controversies.

Based on the research available, I can claim to be the longstanding Chicago golf scribe. Charles Bartlett, the legendary Chicago Tribune golf writer, was on the beat from 1936 to 1967. That’s 31 years. I was arriving on the scene as Bartlett was retiring, and I never met him but I’ll bet we could have shared some great stories.

The best performance by a local player in my era has been – by far – Nick Hardy’s 28 under par 260 in the 2016 Illinois State Amateur at St. Charles. The most exciting finish came in a 1991 LPGA event presented by my then-employer. Martha Nause rallied in the final four holes of an event called the Chicago Sun-Times Shootout at Oak Brook Golf Club, finishing birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle to win by one stroke. The eagle came off a hole-out from 100 yards on her final shot.

While the local scene was always close to my heart I have witnessed first-hand 28 U.S. Opens, 11 Masters, 19 PGA Championships, four U.S. Women’s Opens and the last 34 Western Opens. My debuts at both the U.S. Open and Masters were unforgettable. Johnny Miller’s record 63 on a rainy final day at Oakmont gave him the 1973 U.S. Open. The last of Nicklaus’ six wins in the Masters came in 1986, my first visit to Augusta National, and his charge on the back nine on Sunday was electrifying. I’ve never experienced anything like it, before or since.

Seeing all those great moments up close and personal unfortunately didn’t help my own game. My handicap has never been below 16 but my career low 18-hole round (81) came in this, my 74th year, and – thanks to a strong helping wind and steep downhill terrain leading into the green – I also drove a par-4 hole for the first time in at least 20 years. Maybe I’m just getting better with age – at least I hope so.

Golf has changed a lot in my last 50 years. The top stars are playing for much more money and aren’t as accessible or outgoing as they once were. The number of courses has dropped slightly. More women are playing, and youth programs are taking off big-time.

In short, the story of golf is an ongoing one, and I’m blessed to be able to report on it.

HERE AND THERE: Myrtle Beach’s Fall Classic takes on an expanded new look

TPC Myrtle Beach will be just one of the top courses awaiting players in the Short Par 4 Fall Classic.

The Myrtle Beach Fall Classic had been a four-year success in the South Carolina golf mecca, but the fifth staging – which starts on Sunday and runs through Thursday, Nov. 15 – has turned into an event that’s both bigger and better.

Landing Short Par 4 — a golf-inspired subscription service that ships hand curated, top quality branded golf apparel, footwear and accessories directly to golfers – as a title sponsor was a big reason. Short Par 4 is in the first of a three-year agreement for the event, now known as the Short Par 4 Fall Classic.

The immediate result was a record entry of 432 players from 38 states for the 72-hole two-person team event. Organizers hadn’t initially planned on that many players and increased the field size by 70 players while the entries were piling in.

“It’s quickly emerged as one of our most popular events,’’ said Scott Tomasello, tournament director for Golf Tourism Solutions, the company that runs the event. “Players love the two-person team format, which strikes a perfect balance by creating a competitive tournament and a relaxing atmosphere.’’

The course lineup was a plus as well. Five of the 16 courses to be used in the event have been ranked among America’s Top 100. They include such long-time favorites as the Dye and Fazio layouts at Barefoot Resort, Glen Dornoch, TPC Myrtle Beach, True Blue, Heritage Club and Thistle.

It’s hard to imagine a course with better waterfront views than Florida’s Sailfish Point.

WELL WORTH A LOOK: As most of you know I’m not one who gets carried away by course rankings provided by the golf industry publications. However, Sailfish Point (ranked fourth among residential courses in South Florida and 53rd nation-wide by Golfweek) seems to me underrated.

A Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, Sailfish Point opened in 1981 and the Golden Bear supervised a renovation in 2007 so the design is obviously of high quality.

More to the point, Sailfish has views that are hard to match on virtually every hole. That’s understandable given its location. The private club is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lucie Inlet. It’s hard to imagine any Florida course having the water views that Sailfish Point has. It’s also important to note that the water is primarily for the enjoyment of viewers, not to swallow up errantly-hit golf balls.

Sailfish Point, officially in Stuart, is part of a 532-acre gated oceanfront community on Hutchinson Island. It has plenty of other amenities, most notably a full service marina, but its golf course is something special.

The newly-named Mistwood Golf Dome now offers state-of-the-art Toptracer Technology.

MISTWOOD EXPANDS AGAIN: Though the Mistwood Golf Club course just closed for the season in the Chicago suburb of Romeoville, owner Jim McWethy continued to expand his golf interests.

McWethy announced major changes in what had been known as McQ’s Golf Dome in nearby Bolingbrook. McWethy renamed the facility the Mistwood Golf Dome, the dining area is now McWethy’s Sports Bar and – most notably – the facility is now equipped with TopGolf’s Toptracer Range Technology.

Toptracer is a state-of-the-art technology that tracks the flight of a golf ball, displays its path in video and analyzes every shot hit. Mistwood is the first U.S. indoor facility to install it. Users can enjoy virtual golf on the world’s best courses, interactive games and its stat-tracing options.

TopGolf, meanwhile, is planning to open a new facility in Schaumburg.

A NEW WAY TO GET AROUND: Medinah Country Club is now using a food truck purchased from the Texas Rangers to transport meals to all parts of the property. (Photo by Rory Spears)

BITS AND PIECES: The Innisbrook Resort, in Palm Harbour, FL., will re-open its South course on Nov. 30 with new greens matching those previously installed at Innisbrook’s Copperhead and North courses. Copperhead hosts the PGA Tour’s annual Valspar Championship in March.

Chambers Bay, the public venue in Washington state which hosted the 2015 U.S. Open, closed last month for renovation work on its greens. The course is scheduled to re-open in March with Poa annua putting surfaces. It has already been awarded the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2021.

Miami, Fla., is on the brink of losing its only municipal course. Voters have supported the creation of Miami Freedom Park on the site of the present International Links Melreese Country Club. Miami Freedom Park, a commercial development backed by soccer great David Beckham, includes a 25,000-seat soccer stadium that’s to be home to a Major Soccer League team and a hotel.

Cog Hill, the 72-hole complex in Lemont, IL., will field a team for the third straight year in the PGA Junior League’s national championships. The finals, expanded from eight to 12 teams, will be played Nov. 16-17 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Junior League had a record 51,000 boys and girls participating on nearly 4,000 teams this year.

Chicago Golf Club member Tony Anderson has been named to the U.S. Golf Association’s Executive Committee and Medinah teaching professional Terry Russell is now the District 6 director for the PGA of America. He’ll represent the Illinois Wisconsin and Indiana sections of the PGA at the national board level.

Mike Scully, who had been Medinah’s director of golf during the 2012 Ryder Cup matches played there, has taken a general manager’s post at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Ga. Scully left Medinah to become director of golf operations at Desert Mountain in Arizona before taking the Reynolds Lake Oconee position.

Chambers Bay’s course is closed now, but it’ll re-open in March with all new greens.

Tapping into Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – This is no secret. Michigan has been a golf hot spot for, well – almost forever. The state has over 850 public courses, more than any other state in the nation.

Grand Rapids is part of the state’s golf mix. The city in the western part of the state has a population of just under 200,000. It has its share of golf courses well worth playing, but there’s much more in Grand Rapids.

Beer, for instance.

There are about 40 breweries in the immediate area of Grand Rapids and over 80 show up on the well-mapped Beer City Ale Trail. That’s why Grand Rapids has earned the designation of Beer City USA in a nation-wide poll and USA Today’s readers have also honored Grand Rapids as Best Beer Town as well as for having the Best Beer Scene.

You could go there for the golf and stay or the beer – or vice versa. Either way you’d come out all right.

Let’s hold off for a while on the golf part. After all, October is the month for Octoberfests. Most every community in and around Grand Rapids honors that tradition in one way or another. Golf can wait.

An Englishman opened the first brewery in Grand Rapids in 1836, and the Grand Rapids Brewing Company – the oldest of those still in existence – dates back to 1893.

Brewery Vivant has the most interesting location. It’s housed in a refurbished funeral home.

Founders is the most prominent brewery in Grand Rapids now. It puts on a most informative in-house tour for those interested in more than just how a beer tastes, and Founders for the last six years has run ArtPrize – an art competition that results in the winners getting their designs on the beer cans that Founders produces.

Golf packages play in important promotional role for golf communities and resorts. Well, some of the hotels in Grand Rapids have a takeoff on that. They offer Beer Tour packages. Pub crawls are regular attractions and beer trolleys run most every day. That’s a good thing for those who opt to sample more than than they should.

Beer-drinkers’ hot spots are numerous and varied, but two of the best are The Knickerbocker, known for its pinwheel appetizers as well as its beer offerings, and City Built Brewing Company, which has a unique selection of beers to go with its Puerto Rico-inspired food menu.

As for the golf, the courses aren’t nearly as well-seasoned as the breweries, but they have their charm, too.

One of the best is Pilgrim’s Run, located in the outlying town of Pierson. It has an interesting history. The Chicago-based Van Kampen family bought land for the course and had family members and friends design the holes. That was a start before Mike DeVries, a well-respected architect from Traverse City, Mich., stepped in.

DeVries worked with more nationally-known designers Tom Doak and Tom Fazio before tackling Pilgrim’s Run. Teaming with superintendent Kris Schumacker, DeVries routed the course and constructed in the greens. Since its opening as an 18-holer in 1998 Pilgrim’s Run has been one of Michigan’s most popular public courses.

Most notable hole is the short par-4 18th – one of the best finishing holes in the state. A great risk-reward hole with water protecting the green, No. 18 can play anywhere from 221 to 358 yards. It’s a thought-provoking, fun way to finish a round on a course that can play as long as 7,093 yards.

DeVries’ design credits also include The Mines, Greywalls and the Kingsley Club in Michigan. The Mines is also in the Grand Rapids area with a history worth noting. Sweeping elevation changes and undulating greens are major characteristics of The Mines and location-wise the course is near the downtown area, where the bulk of the beer-drinking hangouts are located.

The Mines was built about 150 feet above gypsum mines that had been utilized as early as the 1860s and throughout the 1900s. Some features of The Mines were incorporated into the construction of the course. The No. 8 hole is located where a natural sand pit was used for the mining operation. Directional signs were also made with wooden timbers from the mining process.

Another unusual feature of The Mines was that it has back-to-back par-3 holes at Nos. 7 and 8. The course is a par-70 with two tough par-5s, the longest being the 607-yard fifth. The only problem with this layout is its blind shots. There’s a few too many of them.

The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe isn’t bad, either. Clearly the locals like this Bill Newcomb design that opened in 1997. It’s located along the Thornapple River on Interstate 96 near the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Newcomb’s stature in Michigan golf course architecture started earlier than DeVries.’ Newcomb, who attended the University of Michigan, was a nationally-ranked amateur golfer with wins in both the Michigan Amateur and Indiana Open and a competitive appearance in the Masters.

If a 30-mile drive from downtown Grand Rapids isn’t too taxing, there’s another good track — the Arnold Palmer-designed Ravines in Saugatuck. Ravines has only three sets of tees but lots of forced carries. The most eye-catching features are the tall pines that dramatize the longest hole – the 626-yard 14th – and the Orchestra Pit at the par-3 17th. There’s a deep dropoff in front of the green at No.17, which accentuates the putting surface as a stage and gives the hole its name.

Playing those courses might give you a thirst to try more of the area golf layouts, but in Grand Rapids it might be more enticing to find more beer drinkers’ hot spots instead – and there’s plenty of them around.

Blalock drops CEO title, changes her role with LPGA’s Legends Tour

After years of campaigning the former stars of the LPGA finally had two major championships to play in this year. The USGA staged its inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in July and the Senior LPGA Championship was played for the second time at Indiana’s French Lick Resort in October.

All is not rosy for those former female stars who have reached their 45th birthday, however. The Legends Tour, which was virtually their only source for tournaments and other golf-related business opportunities, is in a state of flux following Jane Blalock’s decision to step away as the circuit’s chief executive officer.

While the PGA Tour long ago embraced its older players with the creation of what is now PGA Tour Champions, the LPGA – other than declaring The Legends its “official’’ senior tour — didn’t do the same for its older stars. That was left up to Blalock.

She rounded up 25 charter members to form the Women’s Senior Golf Association. It grew into The Legends Tour, which has 120 members. This year the circuit had an eight-tournament schedule, which included the two majors.

Blalock, 73, was one of the LPGA’s top stars prior to her retirement as a player in 1987. She made a record 299 consecutive cuts and notched 34 professional wins, 27 of them on the LPGA circuit. She was named to The Legends Hall of Fame in 2014, continued to play in its Honors Division events and downplayed her decision to drop the CEO title.

“We moved things around a little bit,’’ she said. “I made the decision that, as opposed to remaining as CEO, my company (JBC Golf) would continue to do the marketing and all the business parts of the tour. The only thing that has changed is my title.’’

There’s a little more to it than that, however. President Gail Graham and vice president Allison Finney also resigned their board positions. Christa Johnson will serve as interim president until an election is held in the next two months.

Blalock conceded that she was not altogether happy with her board members or the LPGA.

“I got frustrated. Outside of the title, the board doesn’t do much,’’ said Blalock. “The board focused on minutiae rather than growing the tour. Now I can focus on getting more events rather than the politics.’’

While the 2019 schedule has not been announced Blalock said a tournament in Minneapolis has been added, the existing tournaments will continue and a pro-am has been added to the ANA Inspiration event.

Legends players will also participate in another event with the Symetra Tour — a new tournament in Janesville, Wis. Some of the tour’s top players urged the creation of more tournaments during the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick.

`We don’t want to play every week, but if we had six tournaments and four pro-ams that would be perfect,’’ said Juli Inkster.

England’s Trish Johnson has campaigned overseas for the creation of a British Senior Women’s Open.

“If we could get one, that would be great,’’ she said, “but who knows when? I’m sure it will happen eventually.’’

Blalock believes that 12 events – be they three-day tournaments combined with some smaller ones and pro-ams – would be ideal. The 36-hole Legends events with up to 40 players typically have purses between $200,000 and $250,000 with the winner’s take being $25,000 or $30,000. Blalock would like an increase to $350,000 with 50 players competing. The winner would receive $40,000 and all the players would have a payday, as there are no cuts on The Legends Tour.

`We’d like to give the players the opportunity to make enough (money) so they don’t need to have other jobs,’’ said Blalock. “We also need others (notably the players using their own contacts) to get us tournaments. I’ve been the only one who has done that.’’

She’s hopeful the enthusiasm created by this year’s two majors will build momentum for the creation of more tournaments. As for The Legends’ relationship with the LPGA, though, Blalock said the creation of a senior championship hasn’t created much of a change.

“And it should have,’’ she said. The LPGA, though, didn’t take that stance. The circuit declined to have any of its personnel quoted in this piece. Speaking for the LPGA, a high-ranking LPGA official said the second Senior LPGA Championship was an indication that the older players were not being ignored. He also pointed out that the events in which Legends players are part of Symetra Tour stops have been beneficial to both circuits.

The bottom line apparently is that women’s sports continue to be challenged to find the financial support that their male counterparts enjoy. The LPGA doesn’t have the resources that the PGA Tour does, and that’s why PGA Tour Champions is thriving while The Legends are hopeful of building off this year’s successes.

Opening of Ozarks National takes Branson’s golf boom to a new level

Spectacular vistas are commonplace when you play a round at Ozarks National.

HOLLISTER, Missouri – Given the history of golf in the Missouri Ozarks, it’s shocking what’s been happening in that area these days.

This area 20 miles south of Springfield didn’t have a golf course until 1938 when Don Gardner, a club pro at two of the Chicago area’s premier private clubs – Olympia Fields and Flossmoor, and his wife Jill built a nine-hole short course they called Gardner Golf Ranch. They sold it in 1961 and the course was eventually expanded to 18 holes in what is now Holiday Hills Resort.

That was the Branson area’s only course until Pointe Royale opened as the area’s “original championship course’’ in 1986. While the Branson area was blossoming into a tourist destination, its golf offerings weren’t keeping pace.

Over two decades passed with little in the way of golf development, the notable exceptions being a course honoring Payne Stewart – a Springfield resident who won three major championships before dying in a plane crash in 1999 – and John Daly’s Murder Rock. Daly had roots in both Missouri and Arkansas, but his course didn’t last long.

The deep ravine fronting the No. 13 green may be Ozarks National’s most intimidating feature.

Enter Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops. This visionary billionaire bought two local courses and the golfing boom here was on. What Morris has already accomplished is impressive.

He hired noted architect Tom Fazio to create Buffalo Ridge, which has been declared the No. 1 course in Missouri. Morris also coaxed Jack Nicklaus into designing a striking par-3 layout called Top of the Rock and Gary Player to create Mountain Top, a 13-hole, walking-only par-3 course with some wild elevation changes.

Other big names got involved, as well. Arnold Palmer designed a world-class practice facility and Tom Watson a putting course but now, with the opening of Ozarks National, things are getting serious.

Despite all the other unique attractions to entice golfers, the fact is that if you have one 18-holer you have just a golf course. If you have two (or more) you have a golf destination. Now Morris has two fine 18-holers around his Big Cedar Lodge – and he’ll soon have three.

Construction is well underway at Payne’s Valley, a Tiger Woods design that will open in the fall of 2019.

By the time the third, the Tiger Woods-designed Payne’s Valley, opens in the fall of 2019 the Missouri Ozarks will be – at least arguably – America’s best golf destination. It’s more centrally located than Oregon’s Bandon Dunes – my choice as the best for now – and many more golf addicts will weigh in on that topic once Payne’s Valley opens.

There’s no reason to ponder what the Woods course – under construction in clear sight of both Buffalo Ridge and Mountain Top — will eventually offer, however. Ozarks National is plenty good and deserves to be in the spotlight for at least the next year.

Designed by the well-respected architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Ozarks National will start offering preview play to the public on Nov. 1. November fees will be $150 for a preview round and $100 for a replay. The fees will drop to $125 and $85 in December and be in effect until the course is closed for the season on Dec. 16.

Ozarks National is within a short cart ride of Mountain Top and can be seen during a round at Buffalo Ridge. The fact that all these courses are close together will inevitably stir debate about which is best. A little controversy will stir up excitement, and that’ll be a good thing for the entire area. Golfing tourists will flock to the place and those who don’t play will find plenty of other things to do.

Ozarks National’s stone house may be one of the most sought-after lodging spots in the Branson area.

Now, about Ozarks National.

The views are spectacular. That’s what you’ll notice first.

As you move from hole to hole you’ll encounter a great mix of challenges. The variety offered through the rotation is extraordinary. The first two holes aren’t difficult, but they get you in the mood to move on to better things.

I love the fifth hole – a true drive-able par-4 if you play the right set of tees. They range from 161 yards up to 352. No. 9 is the toughest – and longest – hole. The No 1 handicap hole, it’s a winding three-shot par five that measures 597 yards from the tips.

No. 12 will probably go down as one of the best long par-3s in American golf. It’s 254 yards from the tips but more recreational types can go after it from 133, 175 or 213 yards. Still, a par-3 is rarely accorded status as a course’s No. 2 handicap hole but this one deserves it.

And, as soon as you putt out on that hole you come to a stunning landmark — a 400-foot wooden beam and plank bridge that connects the tee box an fairway on No. 13. It stands 60 feet above a flowing creek.

For those into more numbers, Ozarks Naional is 7,036 yards from the tips with 73.9 rating and a slop of 131.

Fall colors will be changing at Ozarks National before preview play concludes for the season on Dec. 16.

Though our party was all riders, Ozarks National figures to be a good walking course when the opportunity arises. The buffalo grass in the roughs is troublesome but the Zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens were more than ready for play even before the official start of preview play.

There’s also an on-course attraction worth visiting. A refurbished stone house, said to be over 100 years old, overlooks a lake that is stocked with bass between the Nos. 5 and 16 greens. It has an indoor fireplace, an outdoor fire pit and a dog house, and it’ll be a lodging option for visitors once the operation is in full swing.

One other thing to remember about the early Ozarks National experience. There’s still plenty of work to be done. Most notably, a big, upscale clubhouse is targeted to open next spring. Until then dining and pro shop facilities at the Mountain Top course will also serve Ozarks National players.

Apparently there’s no serious concerns about applying the finishing touches. Though it’s not official yet, Ozarks National is expected to be the 18-holer used for the Legends of Golf, the popular PGA Tour Champions event that returns to the area from April 22-28 in 2019. Grand Opening festivities for the course will be held during that big event and Buffalo Ridge – a previous tournament site – will be used for public play during the tournament.

Given all of Ozarks National’s special features, a round there will be hard to beat.

After an array of upgrades historic Tam O’Shanter is thriving again

Six decades ago the Tam O’Shanter Country Club in suburban Chicago was among the most famous golf courses in the world. It was owned by George S. May back then, and May was a man far ahead of his time when it came to golf promotion.

Tam O’Shanter opened in 1925. May took ownership in 1937 and hosted his first tournament, the Chicago Open, in 1940. He liked the results, and the next year he created his own tournament – the All-American Open – which offered, for that era, unprecedented prize money for the best men and women golfers. The legendary Byron Nelson was the men’s champion four times in a five-year stretch and notched win No. 10 in his unprecedented 11 victories in a row there in 1945.

The All-American Open grew into the World Championship in 1946. It lasted until 1957, with the likes of Gene Littler, Lloyd Mangrum, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias teeing it up for – by far — the biggest purses in golf. None of those players had the longlasting impact on golf that Lew Worsham did, however.

In 1953, in the first nationally-televised golf tournament, Worsham holed a 104-yard wedge shot on the final hole of the World Championship for an eagle and a one-stroke victory over a stunned Chandler Harper. The drama provided by Worsham’s shot captivated golf fans and triggered the sport’s rise in popularity as both a participant and spectator sport.

May eventually had issues with the PGA Tour over player entrance fees and discontinued his tournament in 1957. He died in 1962 and the Western Open resulted in the return of the PGA Tour to Tam O’Shanter in 1964 and 1965. That was the last hurrah for Tam O’Shanter’s glory days.

May’s family sold the club to developers late in 1965 and they turned much of the land into an industrial park, closing the course in the process. Now Tam O’Shanter is a nine-hole municipal course owned by the Niles Park District. Only about one-third of the land from the Tam O’Shanter of the May days is still used for golf and the clubhouse burned down long ago.

This story does not have a sad ending, however – not by a long shot.

The Niles Park District purchased what was left of the golf course and salvaged a nine-hole course that opened in 1974. It struggled for survival for nearly four decades but now, following a year-long course renovation project, Tam O’Shanter isn’t just surviving. It’s thriving.

The course renovation was performed by the Illinois-based Lohmann Quitno architectural firm. Drainage was improved and new tee boxes, bunkering and cart paths were installed. Signage on the course was also upgraded as the course was given a more classic look. Only two holes – No. 1, a par-4, and No. 6, a par-3 that had been No. 16 on the old course – are left from the original 18-holer. The renovated nine-holer plays just 2,457 yards from the tips.

No. 1 is now the longest hole, at 404 yards, and the rotation calls for six par-4s and three par-3s. It’s nothing fancy, like the Tam O’Shanter of old, but players have been turning out in steady numbers since the renovated course re-opened in June.

“We weren’t really trying to preserve the course, just bring back the style it had from the old days,’’ said architect Todd Quitno. “It was more about function and maintenance than it was about history. We wanted to preserve the golf course for a long time, and to do that we had to make it more maintainable. It was about acknowledging that this course had a long history and giving it a long future.’’

That was just fine with manager Peter Dubs, who attended golf camps at the course when he was 14 years old and held part-time jobs there before becoming a full-time employee 11 years ago following his college graduation. Chris Urgo, the director of instruction, also progressed from part-time to full-time staffer during a similar time frame.

What had once been a failed, very small driving range was converted into the outdoor portion of the Golf Learning Center. The facility is heavy into youth work and draws about 1,000 pupils annually.

Immediately after the Niles Park District opened the course the pro shop was operated out of a trailer. Then an Italian restaurant was added, but it didn’t work out very well. Since 2003 the Howard Street Inn sports bar-restaurant, which adjoins the pro shop, has been a busy year-around facility – not just when golfers are on the premises.

While the new nine-holer only faintly resembles May’s carnival-like 18-hole version, the history of that place hasn’t been forgotten. A big history wall fronts the No. 1 tee and the learning center includes an array of photos and memorabilia from May’s big tournaments.

Nine-hole rates range from $19 to $21 for non-residents and on-line reservations are being taken for the first time. Though power carts are available, the course is ideal for walking.

Two majors aren’t enough for players on the Legends Tour

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – This was a big year for the older women golfers who labored on the LPGA tour. After years of campaigning they had two major championships to compete in during the 2018 season and there was no doubt who the best player was.

England’s Laura Davies dominated. On Wednesday she was a wire to wire winner in the second Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind. In July she won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club by a whopping 10 strokes. That’s a Grand Slam, as far as that age group and gender is concerned.

The question now is, where does golf for these women’s stars of the past go from here. They finally have their long-coveted major championships, but not much else.

“If we could get a British Senior Open, that’d be great,’’ said Trish Johnson, the champion in the first of those senior majors at French Lick in 2017. “Who knows when that’ll be, but I’m sure it will happen eventually.’’

At least the two existing majors appear in good shape. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open, a big hit at Chicago Golf Club, has another quality venue for 2019 in Pine Needles in North Carolina. The Senior LPGA Championship is set at French Lick for three more years.

French Lick chairman Steve Ferguson and director of golf Dave Harner have shown their commitment to the senior women professionals, even taking the step of creating a Legends Hall of Fame in the West Baden Springs Hotel near the Pete Dye Course – a spectacular venue no matter who is playing on it.

For the momentum to grow, though, The Legends Tour will have to step up. The circuit created by Jane Blalock and 25 of her former LPGA colleagues in 2000 hasn’t had it easy. While the men’s PGA Tour was quick to embrace its aging stars, the LPGA has not.

While PGA Tour Champions continues to thrive for the men 50 and over, the LPGA – other than scheduling its one senior major championship – has steered clear of the players on The Legends circuit, which is open to former tour players who have reached their 45th birthday. Blalock played in the Honors Division of the second Senior LPGA at French Lick and then went home. None of her staff was utilized in the tournament’s operation, and their presence could have been helpful.

If progress is to continue for the senior women professionals it’ll apparently be up to The Legends Tour to carry the load. This segment of players needs more than two major tournaments to play in.

“I think we’ve got a good thing going,’’ said Juli Inkster, who won The Legends Championship in her first start in the circuit in 2015. “If we had six tournaments and four pro-ams that would be perfect. We don’t want to play every week.’’

The Legends had eight events on its 2018 schedule but two were pro-ams and two others were team events. Only the majors could be considered full-fledged tournaments. That’s not enough.

The greatest woman star of the recent past, Annika Sorenstam, hasn’t played a tournament since 2008 and Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon, Amy Alcott and Betsy King have rarely ventured into Legends events. The shortage of tournaments is certainly a factor. Why work hard to get your game ready for just a couple tournaments?

Some appearances by the best of the stars of the best – most notably Sorenstam — would help The Legends cause.

“A lot of our players have taken 20 years off. They just want a chance to compete,’’ said Inkster. “It was impressive at Chicago Golf Club, having the people come out to watch. Stuff like that is really special.’’

There’s enough who can still play competitively, though, and they’re a global bunch. In the final round of the Senior LPGA only three of the nine players in the last three groups were Americans and the three majors were all won by Europeans. Unlike previous years, they now have a couple of showcase events to demonstrate their talents, but that isn’t enough.

Davies completes sweep of the two major titles for senior women golfers

England’s Laura Davies celebrates her wire to wire victory at French Lick.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – There’s no doubt who the best senior woman golfer was in this first historic first year. England’s Laura Davies won both the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and the Senior LPGA Championship convincingly.

Davies was as dominant in the Senior LPGA as she was in the Open, played in July at Chicago Golf Club. Davies won that one by a whopping 10 strokes. She was a wire to wire winner in the Senior LPGA, which concluded on Wednesday on the Pete Dye Course here.

“It was a real victory for me,’’ said Davies, who won her 87th tournament world-wide with an 8-under-par 208 score for the 54 holes. “I played OK here before but never strung three rounds together.’’

Davies was third in the first major tournament for senior women professional last year when another England golfer, Trish Johnson, won the title. Davies owned the next two majors for that segment of players this year, but Wednesday’s win wasn’t as easy as her victory in Chicago.

“I had a five-shot lead (going into the last round) there,’’ said Davies. “Here I started with a three-shot lead, then it was a no-shot lead. On this course you can’t take anything for granted.’’

Davies made bogey on the first hole, then Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson posted four birdies in her first eight holes and Italy’s Silvia Cavalleri, paired with Davies, got into the mix as well. The three were tied at 5-under-par six holes into the round.

Laura Davies shows why she’s been one of the longest hitters in women’s golf for decades.

While temperatures climbed over 60 degrees for the first time this week, the winds kicked up to over 20 miles per hour. That made scoring difficult for everyone, and Davies had only two serious challengers. She passed Cavalleri before the first nine was done and was in command the rest of the way after Alfredsson made double bogey at No. 11.

“I made a mistake (hitting a ball into a bunker and leaving one recovery shot in the sand) and I couldn’t recover,’’ said Alfredsson. “You feel horrible, but it was a joy to be here.’’

No doubt Davies’ tournament schedule paid off. Alfreddson had played in only two tournaments this year, and none since the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Davies is among the busiest players tournament-wise in the senior ranks. She plays on the LPGA, European and Legends tours.

“Not taking anything away from Laura, she’s an amazing golfer,’’ said Alfredsson, “but it’s different for players who are playing tournaments regularly. We all love to play, but you don’t know how you’ll react (if you aren’t competing regularly).’’

NOTES: Riley Children’s Hospital, the tournament’s charitable beneficiary, sends many of its young patients to the event each year but on Wednesday Genevieve Bennett Slater of Sullivan, Ind., was also on hand to introduce the players at the first tee. Now 91 years old, she was a Riley patient between the ages of 5 and 16 when she had multiple surgeries to avert a birth defect.

Sherri Turner was inducted into The Legends Hall of Fame at a pre-tournament banquet. On Wednesday she worked as a caddie for Martha Nause.

Defending champion Trish Johnson posted her third straight 73 and finished sixth. Juli Inkster, runner-up to Davies in the Senior Open, bounced back from a second-round 80 to shoot 73 and finish in a tie for12th.

Jamie Fischer, the teaching professional at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, shot 76 and was at 13-over-par 229, good for a tie for 24th in the 80-player field. Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray, who is on the teaching staff at Mistwood in Romeoville, was three shots behind Fischer overall but finishing strong. She rolled in a putt from off the green in concluding her round with back-to-back birdies.