WGA keeps in touch with these changing times for caddies

Youth caddies are facing an uphill climb during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Just ask members of the Western Golf Association. They campaigned relentlessly to make sure caddies were not forgotten as golf courses were in various phases of re-opening.

Happily, progress is being made. Golf is back to being played in all 50 states and, as of June 1, caddies were a factor in Illinois again. Illinois government restrictions on golf course operations were loosened, allowing for the use of forecaddies. At least that was a start.

“There’s no touch points yet,’’ said Tim Orbon, director of the WGA’s Carry The Game and Caddie Development programs. “We anticipated forecaddies would be first, and that still provides a reasonable amount of opportunity. The only major adjustment is that they are staying away from clubs for now.’’

Once Phase 3 went into effect 75 Chicago area golf facilities were able to put several thousand caddies back on their courses, albeit just one forecaddie per group of players.

“Virtually all the clubs with caddie programs in the Chicagoland area got up and running, and that was great,’’ said Orbon. “Kids were just finishing school so the timing was great. We were excited.’’

Orbon isn’t sure when experienced caddies will be back carrying bags or when new caddies will be integrated into the programs at the various clubs, but one thing is certain. A caddie’s job will be much different than it was before the pandemic.

The WGA has been awarding college scholarships to deserving bag-toters since 1930, when life-long amateur legend Chick Evans declared caddies to be “the life-blood of the game.’’ The Evans Scholars program continues to flourish, as applications for the next batch of scholarship winners opens on Aug. 1.

The overwhelming number of caddies this year, though, were deemed non-essential workers once the pandemic restrictions were announced. It became Orbon’s job to help the nearly 800 caddie programs throughout the U.S. and Canada adjust to that thinking, and he had to be patient about it.

“Until Memorial Day kids were supposed to be in school, so it became somewhat of a waiting game,’’ he said. “We had to wait for experts to tell us when the time was appropriate, when caddying was safe and permissible. We took that time to do our homework.’’

The WGA works with clubs in 27 states and Canada. “All the clubs are a little different,’’ said Orbon, “but a lot wanted to keep caddies employed.’’

To do it while adhering to social distancing guidelines required adjustments, and Orbon had a game plan that was presented to course owners and managers. It proposed that caddies be scheduled in four-hour shifts. They wouldn’t be allowed to congregate around the clubs before or after their loops.

They may receive payment for their work in sealed envelopes or electronically through a system like PayPal rather than a cash transaction. They would wear appropriate protective gear, including a mask and any other safeguards as required by the club, and carry hand sanitizers.

A caddie’s duties on the course would change, too. Each would carry rakes and divot repair mix. They’d locate golf balls, give yardages and help read greens but they wouldn’t touch clubs. The players would pull them from the bag. There would be no hand shaking or any other non-verbal contact with golfers.

The WGA also proposed a hole-specific caddie plan, which some clubs may find more desirable than the standard procedures of the past. One to four caddies would be assigned per hole. They’ll be stationed on greens and tee boxes and be available at positions beside the fairways to help in locating balls.

Under this hole-specific plan caddies will repair divots but never touch the flagstick. They can wash golf balls, but then must throw them back to the player rather than have a hand-to-hand exchange. The caddies will greet each golfer as he plays through but won’t be with any one player throughout his round.

Those are the changes proposed by the WGA, but each club will offer its own input.

In anticipation of parental concerns about caddie procedures, prominent Chicago physician, former caddie and long-time WGA supporter Kevin Most has advised clubs on health precautions. Orbon anticipates “some attrition’’ in the caddie ranks due to all the changes mandated by pandemic concerns.

“We think kids will want to come out, but parents will ask questions,’’ said Orbon.

Both Orbon and his wife Gaelen were Evans Scholars, Tim at Northern Illinois and Gaelen at Marquette. Orbon, in his eighth year with the WGA, also worked as a club professional for 11 years. During the current lull period he has led WGA efforts to beef up on-line caddie training and created a caddie manual, a practice exam and a caddie playbook that includes short videos. All will help clubs and caddies adjust to the changing times.

“This is a challenging time in golf work,’’ said Orbon, “but new caddie programs are starting in Kentucky, the Kansas City area, Iowa and even down in Florida. We want to grow the game.’’

Dick Sheehan reflects on the development of Jupiter’s Admirals Cove

JUPITER, FL. – Lots of things have changed since Dick Sheehan decided to settle in the Jupiter area in the late 1970s.

“Nothing was here,’’ he said. “When I moved down here my intention was to create a marketing consultancy and focus on real estate. The market wasn’t nearly as sophisticated then as it would become.’’

Sheehan did a lot to make it that way, particularly in his playing a lead role in the creation of Admirals Cove, one of the premier golf facilities in all of Florida. He recalls those days fondly now, but some history is in order first.

John D. MacArthur, one of the wealthiest men in America by the time of his death in 1978, made his fortune first in the insurance business, then he moved into real estate with holdings that included over 100,000 acres of land in Florida.

Just before his death he created the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which received over 90 percent of his fortune including the property in Florida. Palm Beach Gardens and North Palm Beach were created on MacArthur land and in 1985 the MacArthur Foundation put up for purchase two parcels that would become important to the development of Florida’s golf industry.

One was Frenchman’s Creek, which already had two courses. The other was then simply called Project 57. That’s where Sheehan comes into the story.

“I worked with a lot of consultants, engineers, attorneys and developers,’’ he said. “They referred to me as `The Dirt Guy.’’’

One of the engineers was a close friend, Conrad Schaefer. He introduced Sheehan to Ben Frankel, of Philadelphia, and Frankel became the purchaser of the Project 57 parcel with Mutual Benefit Life Insurance as his financial partner. Ben’s brothers, Leonard and William, and other family members also were involved in the project. They had already developed a successful golf project in Boynton Beach, called Hunter’s Run, and they settled on the name Admirals Cove because it embodied the nautical nature of the property. Its waterfront location was a big reason Frankel opted for Project 57 instead of Frenchman’s Creek.

Sheehan headed the marketing and sales segment of the original development team. Working mostly with Ben Frankel, Sheehan was involved in the golf course construction process as well. Texan Robert Von Hagge was the course architect. Work on the courses started in March of 1986 and the first players teed off in late 1987.

The construction process for the projected 45 holes was not without complications. Sheehan envisioned a routing problem Frankel, fearful of conflicts with Von Hagge, was reluctant to alter the plan in the middle of construction but Sheehan persisted.

“Von Hagge was a very colorful guy (he most notably married two golf stars, sisters Marlene and Alice Bauer),’’ said Sheehan. “We got along real well, he was a great guy to work with. I don’t think he got the credit he deserved for the things he did in his architectural career.’’

His work at Admirals Cove, however, was well received and has withstood the tests of time. The club has hosted U.S. Open qualifiers every year since 2009.

Though some updates to the courses were made over the years, Von Hagge remains the architect of record for the 18 holes on the east side of the property. Jupiter resident Kipp Schulties, working with Jan Bel Jan, supervised a renovation on the North, South and West nines on the west side in 2015.

Looking back, the Frankels could have opted to purchase Frenchman’s Creek, the parcel to the south of Admiral’s Cove that already had its two courses. It remains a golf hotbed – though a much altered. Some of that course’s original property was later sold, with the north half now Jack Nicklaus’ Bear’s Club, and the south half forming Trump National.

“We had the opportunity to buy that land and decided to not do it,’’ said Sheehan, who believes he’s the only surviving charter member at Admirals Cove.

While the Bear’s Club and Trump National are Admirals Cove neighbors to the south another well-regarded club, there’s also a respected neighbor to the north in Jonathan’s Landing.

Now called The Club at Admirals Cove, that facility was far ahead of its time. Few clubs had 45 holes at that time. Now the club also has a marina, an inn, a bank, seven restaurants, a poolside cafe, tennis, pickleball and an array of other amenities.

“It’s first and foremost a golf club,’’ said Sheehan, “but most of all it’s a lot of nice people. A lot of clubs are not diverse enough in terms of activities they offer, but you have to have enough golf. We never have a crowded situation except in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. We believe we’ve helped build the game of golf.’’

Over the years Sheehan and his wife Susan have had three homes in Admirals Cove and raised their children in the Jupiter area. Their life is not all about Admirals Cove, however. Sheehan has been involved in youth golf for two decades, starting with his time on the board of a group called the Children’s Golf Foundation.

He later departed that group to help form the First Tee Chapter of the Palm Beaches. Working with the support of such golf luminaries as Nicklaus, Honda Classic director Ken Kennerly and former PGA of America executive director Joe Steranka, Sheehan saw the chapter grow dramatically. It now has its own nine-hole course at Dyer Park in Riviera Beach and partnerships with several other organizations.

“The First Tee is really where my heart is,’’ said Sheehan, who is currently the group’s chairman of the board emeritus. “People think the First Tee is all about teaching golf, but it’s not. It teaches life skills with golf as the vehicle. There are so many success stories of people who improved their lives through their involvement with First Tee.’’

Illinois PGA has added a team event in its revised tournament schedule

How’s this for a refreshing change of pace?

In a year where pandemic concerns forced the cancelations of tons of golf tournaments and the postponements of many others the Illinois PGA is actually adding an event to its greatly revised schedule.

The IPGA tournament season was to start in April, but the first event won’t be held until next Monday (JULY 6), with the first of five stroke play events. This one is at The Hawk Country Club in St. Charles.

New to the just-released revised schedule is a two-day team event at Metamora Fields. For now the event is being called The Fall Bestball. The IPGA tournament committee is still working on entry and format details for the event.

Also included in the revised schedule is a new site for the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship. It has been the first of the section’s four major events and was traditionally held at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove, in May. Now it will be held Sept. 15-18 and Elgin Country Club will replace Kemper Lakes as the site.

Three of the four majors, including the Match Play, were re-structured. In the case of the Match Play the first round will revert to a stroke play qualifier for seeding into the event with the low 64 advancing to the second round..

The Aug. 3-5 Illinois Open, first of the majors, had its field for the finals previously cut from 264 to 156 and only one site, White Eagle in Naperville, will be used instead of the two used of recent years.

Last of the majors, The Players, had been held at either Eagle Ridge in Galena or Metamora Fields in recent years. Now it’ll be played at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, from Oct. 5-6, and only the top 35 players on the season point standings will be eligible. The Illinois PGA Championship, Aug. 24-26 on Medinah’s No. 1 course, is the only one of the majors with the same format and place from the original schedule.

Streelman bounces back

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman finished one shot behind champion Dustin Johnson in the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship on Sunday and credited his time on two Wheaton courses — Cantigny and Arrowhead – for his runner-up finish at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut. He said the two Wheaton courses were similar to the tour site where he last won in 2014.

“Coming off (three straight) missed cuts, I’m very happy with this,’’ said Streelman, “but being away from my family for three weeks is difficult. That was probably one of the hardest runs for me. The quarantine life out here – you just go back to the hotel, sit there by yourself and try to stay healthy. It gets lonely.’’

The PGA Tour isn’t allowing players’ families to travel to tournaments. Streelman’s wife and two children live in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Korn Ferry climbers

Northwestern alum Dylan Wu tied for fifth in the Utah Championship and moved into the No. 3 sport on the Korn Ferry Tour’s season standings. The Top 25 at the end of the 2021 season automatically advance to the PGA Tour.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who tied for 27th in Utah, is No. 19 and Deerfield’s Vince India, bouncing back from a final round collapse the week before, tied for 18th and improved to No. 35 in the standings. The Korn Ferry circuit is in Colorado this week.

JDC champ tests positive

Dylan Frittelli, the reigning champion of the John Deere Classic, tested positive for the coronavirus after missing the cut in the Travelers Championship.

“I am experiencing no issues and feel great physically,’’ said Frittelli. “I was surprised and disappointed to learn of the positive test.’’

Because of the JDC’s cancelation, Frittelli’s JDC title defense was postponed until 2021. The tourney announced this week that it will be held July 5-11, the same dates on the PGA Tour calendar that is has held in recent years.

My tribute to Mistwood’s Jim McWethy

Saturday’s airing of the Golfers on Golf Radio show (WCPT 820-AM) was devoted largely to Jim McWethy, the owner of Mistwood Golf Club, in Romeoville.
Mistwood general manager Dan Bradley and Golfers on Golf regulars Rory Spears, Ed Stephenson and Bill Berger joined me in paying tribute to McWethy, who passed away last week after a battling a lung disease. He was 76.

Somehow our heart-felt tributes on the airwaves didn’t seem quite enough.

McWethy was a special man who did fantastic things for Chicago golf in a relatively short period of time. He took over ownership of Mistwood in 2004 and, with Michigan architect Ray Hearn (the original designer of the course) transformed the layout into one of the country’s best public facilities.

Celebrating another McWethy Cup with Mistwood owner Jim McWethy.

Not only that, but McWethy had the old clubhouse taken down and built a new one that has a special feel and is one of the best at any Chicago golf facility, public or private. A true visionary, McWethy also created an elaborate, covered practice facility – called the Mistwood Performance Center — and put together a fine teaching staff that also rates among the best in the area.

Not only that, but McWethy saved the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open, a tournament that was played at Mistwood for 21 straight years until the pandemic forced its cancelation this year.

And not only that, but McWethy took over what had been the nearby Ditka Dome, in Bolingbrook, and transformed it into more than an indoor golf practice range. It’s become a versatile dining and social center – now called, appropriately – the Mistwood Dome.

I’ve known Jim McWethy from Day 1 of his Chicago area golf projects. I played in most of his McWethy Cup events. They have been among the most fun golf outings over the years – even though I never seemed to play very well in them. It was just an honor to be included and his memento gifts included a stylish spatula, which gets plenty of use from this avid griller.

Fortunately Mistwood is in great hands. McWethy built a solid staff and his family members appear to be as passionate about his pet project as he was. Though a member at storied Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton, McWethy’s interest in public golf never wavered. To put it mildly, the Chicago golf community – as well as many, many others – will miss Jim McWethy.

This bridge was where Jim McWethy traditionally honored each year’s champion of Illinois Women’s Open.
A clubhouse view of the Mistwood course shows just how beautiful Jim McWethy’s creation is.

Golf travel has changed, but it’s still fun — especially in the Pinehurst area

The massive double green, serving Mid South’s Nos. 9 and 18 holes, is great for spectators.

SOUTHERN PINES, North Carolina – Traveling to golf destinations has had a big impact on our lifestyle for 10 years. Make no mistake, though. The pandemic affected us big-time, just as it has everyone else.

For eight months we didn’t leave Florida, our home for nearly four years now. We didn’t forget how nice it was to drive around the country in search of golf destinations, however, and that urge sent us on our way to the Carolinas in mid-June. We are among the very first to report on the golf travel beat because we were more than mildly curious about how things had changed.

When we began our 11th year of road trips we targeted familiar destinations. Our journeys in the past had ranged from a couple days to over a month, all of them made by car. This first one of 2020 lasted only nine days. We made the decision to shorten it a few days while already on the road because a couple of our planned destinations reported that not all of their courses were ready for play.

Still, we found that golf vacations are very much doable in the Carolinas – just as they were when the pandemic impact hit full-force on March 12 and shut down the PGA Tour. The destinations that we visited never shut down their courses, but they all suffered from the lack of overnight guests.

We enjoyed eight straight days of golf – three courses in Santee, one in Camden and one in Cheraw in South Carolina and three more in the Pinehurst area of North Carolina. The golf offered at these places was almost like it was pre-pandemic. There was no one-player-per-cart policy and driving ranges and putting greens were in full operation. Tee times were standard and plenty of players took advantage of that.

Pot bunkers were part of the recent renovation that created a new look on what is now The New Course at Talamore.

Sponge or styrofoam donuts were in most all the cups to keep players from reaching into the holes. Most courses still kept rakes out of the bunkers, but one dispensed with that policy and had three in most of its bunkers. While flagsticks were to remain in the holes, one foursome that played in front of us had a money game going and pulled the pin on every hole. That wasn’t smart and slowed down play, but the ranger on duty didn’t protest.

In short, everyone was having a good time – at least on the golf courses where social distancing was no problem.

Off the courses it wasn’t quite the same. Lodging was just starting to pick up and the dining establishments weren’t nearly as busy as they had been in those good old days four months ago. On the way home we were stopped by state police at the Georgia-Florida line and asked where we had been. In our case, at least, that was good enough for them to cheerfully send us on our way.

Our goal on this trip was to portray what golf travel is like in this “new normal’’ period, and we didn’t find it bad at all. We suspect more people will be heading to smaller communities, seeing them as a better alternative to big cities health-wise. We’re seeing more golfers walking on their rounds, and that’s a good thing.

Pine Needles’ No.13 is a downhill par-3 that plays 208 yards from the tips to an undulating green.

The key to having a successful, fun golf trip is in the planning. Lodging can’t be made spur-of-the-moment. Even the bigger hotel chains aren’t operating at full capacity. Buffet lines for breakfast were not allowed. Each diner was served by hotel personnel. Restaurants were available in all locations, but not all were open. Virtually everyone was diligent about sanitizing everything, from the menus in the restaurants to the luggage racks in the hotels.

Strangely, it seemed, clubhouses at the courses were not catering to diners. They mainly provided just beverage service.

As for the overall experience, we saved the best for last. It shouldn’t surprise any traveling golfer that the Pinehurst area was clearly the most prepared for these troubling times. We played lots of courses that were aerating their greens at the start of the trip, but that wasn’t the case at either Talamore Golf Resort or Pine Needles – long-time Pinehurst area favorites.

The two Talamore courses had undergone renovations since our last visit. The original Rees Jones-designed Talamore, which opened in 1991 and drew nationwide attention for have llama caddies, is now called The New Course at Talamore. The llamas are still there – at least we saw two of them headquartered near the No. 14 tee. A good photo op, even though llamas have no duties on the course anymore.

Construction on the Mid South Club, the other course at the Talamore Resort, started in 1988 but the course didn’t open until 1993. An Arnold Palmer design, it was acquired by Talamore in 2004.

Mid South also had its greens converted from bentgrass to champion bermuda. The spectacular double green for holes 9 and 18 is still the biggest eye-catcher on the property but clearly the work done on both layouts as well as in the accompanying villas represent a major upgrade.

The concluding round on our trip was at Pine Needles. It’s always a treat to play there.

Pine Needles is the first course to be awarded four U.S. Women’s Opens by the U.S. Golf Association. The fourth U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Pine Needles in 2022. Previous ones were in 1996, 2001 and 2007.

A covered driving range is a unique feature at Pine Needles, which will host a record fourth U.S. Women’s Open in 2022.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.TalamoreGolfResort.com, PineNeedlesLodge.com, HomeofGolf.com.


This history-rich town has a Donald Ross golf course — and much, much more

This isn’t famed Pinehurst No. 2. Instead it’s from another Donald Ross course — his only 18-hole design in South Carolina.

CAMDEN, S.C. – Camden, a town of about 7,000 residents, has a Donald Ross-designed golf course. That made it fair game for us on our first travel writing trip of 2020. There’s much more to Camden than that, however.

Camden, a beautiful little town, is less than an hour’s drive from the state capital of Columbia. South Carolina’s oldest inland town, it’s also the home of the National Steeplechase Museum which consists of 160 stalls and several tracks for both training and racing purposes on its 600 acres. Horse aficionados are well aware of Camden. It hosted the Carolina Cup beginning in 1932, and this year’s pandemic forced its cancelation for the first time in 85 years.

The community of Camden dates back to 1732 and was the site of the 1780 Battle of Camden, a critical part of the Revolutionary War. Now Camden has a 104-acre museum and park celebrating the town’s colonial American history.

Camden also has its extraordinary Antique Street, and the Camden Archives and Museum boasts “the best gun collection in the South.’’ In addition Camden was the home of Larry Doby, the first African American player in baseball’s American League and it has the best Mexican restaurant we’ve ever visited, called Salud. The nearby Sam Kendall’s is quite good, as well.

We were set up at an elegant bed and breakfast, called Four Oaks Inn. We also tested a tasty lunch place, Everyday Gourmet.

These railroad tracks designate out of bounds on two holes at Camden Country Club.

Oh, but did I mention that Camden also has a Donald Ross golf course? That’s what brought us here in the first place, though it’s hardly the town’s main attraction.

Camden Country Club is a private facility but with a community feel to it. Golfers who want to play there can set up a round with help from your local head professional. Matt McCarley holds that title at Camden. A former Camden assistant professional, Clayton Daniels, owns Everyday Gourmet. He was also our most affable playing partner and golf historian during our stay in Camden.

The legendary Ross has his name on many courses, and he wasn’t the first to create a golf course on the land that houses Camden Country Club. Another American golf pioneer, Walter Travis, did that in 1903 – four years after the club was awarded its charter.

At that time the course was part of the Kirkwood Inn Resort. It’s long gone, as it became the Camden Country Club after Ross arrived in the 1920s. He put in the putting surfaces that remain the trademark of layout – the only 18-hole Donald Ross course in South Carolina. (The other three Ross designs are nine-holers).

The club lost its clubhouse when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 and the Ross design underwent only one significant updating of the course came under the direction of North Carolina architect Kris Spence in 2011. Camden CC played close to 30,000 rounds during its heyday in the 1990s. Now it’s a bit less than that, but the club still has nearly 400 members – not bad for a town of that size.

Camden’s course measures 6,669 yards from the back tees and 4,552 from the front. It’s a par-70 and has been the home of the Carolinas Golf Association Men’s Four-Ball Championship for more than 50 years.

Danny Allen was Camden’s superintendent for 38 years until his recent retirement. He groomed a course that has five sets of tees, and they all make for a pleasant walking course experience.

There’s also a couple other things you should know about Camden CC. A railroad track runs through it, and serves as an out of bounds marker on two of the back nine holes but especially at the par-4 fourteenth. At 498 yards from the back tees it’s the toughest hole on the course.

No. 5 was also made famous by a quote from the legendary Gene Sarazen, one of the many greats of the game who visited the course decades ago. The fifth measures just 320 yards from the tips and is a par-4, but Sarazen described as “the shortest par-5 that I’ve ever played.’’ That’s because of the devilish small green that Ross designed. If you miss the pin just a hair to the left this short par-4 becomes par-5 only if you’re lucky enough to hit a great bunker shot or make a long putt.

I know what Sarazen was talking about. I couldn’t do it either.

Camden, S.C., may be a small town but it’s big on historical significance.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Camden Country Club, camdencountryclub.com; National Steeplechase Museum, www.nationalsteeplechasemuseum.org; Four Oaks Inn, www.fouroaksinn.com; and for general information, www.historiccamden.org; www.OldeEnglishDistrict.com, www.CityofCamden.org.

A good time to reflect on career highlights for Irwin, Streelman

Last week gave us a glimpse of what golfers might be missing thanks to the PGA Tour’s revamped schedule. It would have marked the 30th anniversary of — at least arguably – of the greatest U.S. Open among the 13 played on Chicago courses. Hale Irwin, who got into the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah via special exemption from the U.S. Golf Association, went on to become the first golfer to win the championship in a sudden death playoff. The drama was unforgettable.

Irwin, who won the first of his three U.S. Opens at New York’s Winged Foot, will have to wait to get his just historical due. It’ll come when the Open is played in September.

Fast forward to this week the PGA Tour stops in Hartford, Ct., for the Travelers Championship. It’s the first tournament on the revised schedule, created since the pandemic hit, that will be played in its original spot on the calendar. It’s had its share of drama, too – more, in fact, than most tour stops.

Hartford has produced some of the most spectacular scoring in PGA Tour history, and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is part of it. In 2014 Streelman won for the last time on the PGA Tour – and he did it with one of the most impressive performances ever. Streelman birdied the last seven holes en route to a 28 on the back nine, and that led to a one-stroke win over Sergio Garcia and K.J. Choi in the Travelers.

Streelman is in the Travelers field again, and in need for a solid showing. He missed the 36-hole cut in both tournament played since the circuit resumed play after a three-month break caused by pandemic concerns. He’s on a string of three straight missed cuts going back before the stoppage in play but did have a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach back in February.

Milestone scoring isn’t unusual at Hartford. Prior to Streelman’s sizzling finish six years ago the TPC River Highlands course was the site of the lowest round ever shot by an amateur on the PGA Tour – a 60 by Patrick Cantlay in 2011.

After Streelman had his big day Hartford was in the spotlight again for Jim Furyk’s 58 – the lowest 18-hole round in PGA Tour history — in 2016. Whether there’s more magic in Hartford, in another tournament played without spectators, remains to be seen and a proper look back at Irwin’s illustrious career may have been missed last week but it’ll come eventually.

The U.S. Open was to be played June 18-21 at Winged Foot course, and last Sunday would have marked 30 years since Irwin beat Mike Donald in the historic playoff at Medinah. That was Irwin’s third win in the U.S. Open, a victory that helped lead to his earning the label of golf’s “Mr. Chicago.’’ He also won the Western Open at Butler National in 1975 and captured the Ameritech Senior Open, a Champions Tour event played on Chicago courses, in 1995, 1998 and 1999.

“I don’t know what it was – the people, the courses, the culture – but Chicago always felt warm and fuzzy to me,’’ said Irwin during a stop last week in St. Louis. He has a home there, but spends most of his time at another residence in the Phoenix area.

While Streelman is struggling to find his game since the pandemic started Irwin isn’t sure he’ll even play again. Now 75, Irwin appeared in three Champions Tour events before the pandemic hit and his play wasn’t impressive.

“The reality is, if you’re spending more than you’re making, that’s a bad formula,’’ he said. “Four-five years ago I took retirement, which means you can start dipping into (his PGA) retirement fund. That also means you can play only 11 events. My game isn’t what it once was. Whether I’ll play again I just don’t know.’’

Irwin’s feats at least will be recognized eventually. He’s working with former USGA staffer Pete Kowalski on a project called Keeler1930. Scheduled to launch later this year, it will provide personal looks at various golf legends of the past.

India misfires in his shot at first win on the Korn Ferry Tour

Vince India’s breakthrough win on a professional tour will have to wait. The former University of Iowa golfer from Deerfield, took a four-stroke lead into the final round of the King & Bear Classic on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour on Saturday and couldn’t protect it.

India soared to 4-over-par 76 in the final round, thereby handing the title to Chris Kirk who started the day in second place. Kirk, who has five wins on the PGA Tour, took his third on the Korn Ferry circuit thanks to a final round 67.

The story of the day, though, was more India’s collapse than Kirk’s victory. India, 31, was red hot for the first three rounds on the King & Bear Course at World Golf Village. He opened with rounds of 63, 66 and a course record-tying 62 before his collapse on Saturday.

India wound up in an eight-way tie tie for sixth place with, among others, Northbrook’s Nick Hardy. Hardy started the day nine strokes off the lead and wound up matching India’s 21-under-par showing for the 72 holes. Kirk’s 26-under set the pace and was worth $108,000.

“It was definitely a day that didn’t play out as I envisioned’’ said Kirk. “With Vince playing so well I thought I’d need to be 30-under to have a chance.’’

“I just tried to stick to my plan,’’ said India. “I wanted to get to 30-under.’’

Low scores were commonplace on the King & Bear – the only course jointly designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on grounds that include the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, FL.

India – one of just 10 players with victories in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open – is capable of putting up low numbers. He was leading the Portland Open, last event of the Korn Ferry’s 2019 season, when he made double bogey on the final hole. That left him outside of the circuit’s postseason playoffs and send him back to the tour’s qualifying tournament. He was undaunted, though.

“It was certainly inspiring,’’ said India. “Things just didn’t go my way on the last hole.’’

India made five eagles in the subsequent qualifying tournament at Orange County National in Florida and finished in a tie for 30th. That earned him a place in the first eight events of the 2020 season. The first six were played before the pandemic halted tournament play in March. At that point India had made just three cuts and was in danger of losing regular playing privileges.

When play resumed two weeks ago, however, he came out with solid play in two new events in Florida. He finished in a tie for 10th in the first in Ponte Vedra prior to his tie for sixth in St. Augustine. Those two weeks boosted him from 134th on the Korn Ferry standings to 38th and it’ll keep him on the tee sheet for the next segment of Korn Ferry events. The circuit resumes on Thursday with the Utah Championship.

Due to the pandemic, the top 25 on the Korn Ferry circuit who gain admittance to the PGA Tour won’t be determined until the fall of 2021. That leaves India with plenty of time to move up to the premier circuit.

“There’s such a fine line between this tour and the PGA Tour,’’ he said. “Not a lot of people really know that. There are a lot of guys who can gel with the PGA Tour fellas and win majors right away. The talent out here is supreme.’’

The Korn Ferry Tour has two Illinois stops – the Lincoln Land Championship at Panther Creek in Springfield Sept. 3-6 and the Evans Scholars Invitational at Chicago Highlands in Westchester Sept. 10-13. Both are $600,000 events that had been scheduled earlier in the season and then were postponed due to pandemic concerns.

Cheraw State Park’s golf course is a true hidden gem

No. 13 is one tough par-4, a dogleg left with a green well protected by water.

I must admit that I was surprised to see the Cheraw State Park Golf Course included on the itinerary when trip planner Martin Armes lined our first golf/travel writing journey of 2020. Though we have been making such driving trips several times a year over the last 10 years we had never heard of the town of Cheraw, S.C., much less its golf course.

Though never reluctant to check out hidden gems, this one wasn’t really close to any of the other destinations on our itinerary. After visiting this South Carolina layout, however, I must admit that Martin was right. Cheraw is a great track.

In fact, since the calendar turned to 2020 we have played 20 courses and Cheraw is clearly the best of those. (That may change over the next three days when we have rounds on courses in the Pinehurst. N.C, area). None of the immediately upcoming courses are at the iconic Pinehurst Resort, but the Pinehurst area is loaded with good golf options.

As for Cheraw State Park Golf Course, it opened in 1992 and gets heavy play from Canadian golfers who like to rent cabins on the park grounds. Its superintendent, Chris Flowers, is considered top notch and the course was in the best condition of any we’ve seen so far in 2020. Its big clubhouse is also impressive.

Tom Jackson, a course architect based in Greenville, S.C., was the designer and his best hole was No. 13 – a sharp dogleg left par-4 that plays 492 yards from the back tees. The green is protected by water in front, to the left, behind the green and most of the right side. There are other challenging holes at Cheraw, but this one clearly merits its designation as the No. 1 handicap hole.

Jackson worked for both Robert Trent Jones Sr. and George Cobb before starting his own architectural firm in 1971. He’s built over 100 courses, nearly half of them in the Carolinas.

One interesting side note: Cheraw was the first course we’ve played this season that had rakes available in all the bunkers. They had been banned on most restriction lists mandated by the pandemic.

Cheraw measures 6,928 yards from the back tees and can play as short as 5,408. For more information check out www.playcheraw.com.

Cheraw State Park has a clubhouse that’s bigger and better than most public facilities.

This South Carolina town may be small, but its golf is big time

Palmetto Traverse isn’t a putting course — it’s a putting experience that all can enjoy.

SANTEE, S.C. – Less than 1,000 people live in Santee – a little town between Charleston and Columbia – but the South Carolina community has three quality golf courses within a few miles of each other, plenty of lodging and an ample supply of restaurants highlighted by the iconic Clark’s Restaurant and Inn, a fixture since 1946.

Santee mayor Donnie Hilliard likes to say “We have less than 1,000 here during the day, but potentially 20,000 on the weekends.’’ They come in big numbers for the golf, and more were starting to trickle in after Palmetto Traverse – a unique putting attraction — was opened last fall.

Then the pandemic hit.

“For us it wasn’t just the lack of revenue but the timing of it all,’’ said Todd Miller, general manager of Santee Cooper Resort. “After Traverse opened we got some momentum going. Then all this (pandemic concerns and inevitable restrictions) happened and we don’t know if it’s done yet. That’s the hard part. All we can compare it to in our area is the hurricanes, and they come and go.’’

The three-course triumvirate consists of Santee Cooper Country Club, a George Cobb design that opened in 1967; Lake Marion, designed by Eddie Riccono for a 1978 opening; and Santee National, a Porter Gibson creation that made its debut in 1989.

A pool and dining area were among the more recent additions to Santee’s Lake Marion course.

And then came Palmetto Traverse, a natural grass putting course.

Putting courses aren’t exactly new. Many golf facilities – even storied St. Andrews in Scotland – have them as an extra amenity for their golfers. Palmetto Traverse isn’t one of the bigger such courses, but it is one of the best.

Rather than call it a “putting course,’’ Palmetto Traverse has been labeled a “putting experience’’ — and it is that. Built over 35,000 square feet near the Lake Marion course. Palmetto Traverse was designed by Kris Spence, an architect based in Greensboro, N.C., with help from Miller and Santee marketing director Robbie Wooten.

You putt from black “tee’’ markers and holes are labeled with white flags. A 260-foot putt is possible, but not necessary. The layout offers putts breaking in all directions, some steeply uphill and some sharply downhill. Two bunkers are also included. That’s the real attraction of the place, not the gimmicks.

There isn’t much of a walk between holes, making Palmetto Traverse a nice social diversion after a round as well as a challenging pre-round practice exercise.

Santee National, the newest of the town’s courses, now rates as our personal favorite.

“We created the concept over what Pinehurst had done (on its Thistle Du layout) – a short, fun course,’’ said Miller, who has been with the Santee organization since 1998. “It was a way for us to introduce the game to anyone and yet experienced players can enjoy it just as much – if not more.’’

Morgan has witnessed changes, particularly in 2017 when 10 golf villas, a swimming pool and commercial laundry were added, but Palmetto Traverse has been the most exciting new feature. It alone couldn’t turn the tide when the pandemic hit, though.

“Santee has been what we always have been – laid back, relaxed,’’ said Miller. “We never did close. For us the biggest negative impact was that people couldn’t or wouldn’t travel. We were open for our inexpensive golf but literally had no revenue from our lodging.’’

That’s starting to change now, and there’s one thing that has always helped Santee…location, location, location. Located off I-95 at Exit 98, it’s a convenient stop for golf trips of all sizes. And, if the three solid Santee courses aren’t enough there’s another 11 in close proximity.

The trio at Santee is enough, though. In our first visit, in 2014, we considered Lake Marion the best of the three. It’s closest to the most lodging and dining facilities in addition to Palmetto Traverse.

This time, though, we’re switching our favorite to Santee National. It has a nice mixture of holes with lots of doglegs and a particularly tight, demanding back nine. Santee Cooper Country Club, a short, sporty layout located in a gated community, has 300 members but is also open to play by resort guests.

For more information check out www.SanteeCooperGolf.com.

The finishing hole at Santee Cooper Country Club has an unusual backdrop with a long bridge in the background.