Len Ziehm On Golf

Panhandle courses are providing a fresh twist for Florida golfers

Forced carries, like this colorful one on No. 8 at St. James Bay, are typical of Panhandle courses.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida – You would think, given all the years I’ve spent travelling through Florida and now residing there, that the state’s golf scene couldn’t provide much in the way of surprises.

Then we visited two destinations in the Panhandle, the sometimes forgotten section in the northwest portion of the state. That was an eye-opener.

Make no mistake, golf is an amenity in the Panhandle. Fishing and beach life are the most popular attractions that bring visitors there. The golf, though, shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, it’s getting a big boost these days as course operators strive to make it a tourist destination as well, and Chicago-based KemperSports is a major part of that effort.

KemperSports took over the management of the Bay Point Golf Club in Panama City Beach nearly two years ago and most recently assumed a similar role after Chicago-based investors purchased the St. James Bay course in Carrabelle. They’re very different places, but their courses will definitely be of interest to serious golfers.

Bay Point, which has two 18-hole layouts, has an interesting history. Its Lagoon Legends course had been considered the most difficult course in Florida – if not in the entire United States. While a course with a slope rating in the 140s is considered a major challenge, the Lagoon Legends’ number was an astounding 157.

Island greens are one thing, but St. James has two of its women’s tees set off on islands.

Robert von Hagge, a prolific course architect from the 1960s into the 1980s, was the designer. He put severe moguls in the fairways, and they became infamous to the course’s players.

“It must have been really hard. You could hit a drive down the fairway and never find it,’’ said Ryan Mulvey, now the general manager at Bay Point. So, in 2004, the owners of the course made the unusual decision to bring in the Florida-based Nicklaus Design Group to soften the course.

Since the trademark of courses designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus is that they’re always challenging, that must have made players wonder what a Nicklaus “softening’’ might be.

Nicklaus’ son Gary was the lead designer for a thorough renovation that was completed in 2005. The moguls disappeared and the green complexes were toned down. There’s still a touch of the strange – the sharp double dogleg par-4 fifth hole with two forced carries – but the course is certainly playable and the slope is now a more reasonable 143 from the back tees. Water comes into play on 15 of the 18 holes.

KemperSports came aboard on this project when New York-based Torchlight Investors took over the course along with the very pleasant Sheraton Bay Point Hotel in 2015. Bay Point is Torchlight’s only venture into the golf industry. Since then the number of rounds on the two courses climbed from 35,000 in 2015 to 52,000 last year, and the projection for 2017 is 57,000.

St. James head pro Rob Burlison introduces one of his eye-catching statues.

Golfers don’t just come just to play the now renamed Nicklaus Course. They also find the Meadows layout a nice complement. Unlike the Nicklaus Course, the Meadows is very tight with beautiful oak trees, small greens, lots of doglegs and no forced carries. Willard Byrd designed the Meadows Course in the 1970s.

Pricing is also unusual for Florida, in part because the Panhandle doesn’t have many courses. Panama Beach City is about 60 miles into Florida from the Georgia and Alabama state lines. It’s a five-hour drive from Atlanta, four hours from Birmingham, Ala., and New Orleans and eight hours from Nashville. But Tallahassee, Florida’s capitol city two hours to the east, provides the most out-of-town visitors.

Though Florida represents a get-away for golfers residing in cold climates, the golfing price structure at Bay Point doesn’t reflect that. The presence of beach-goers has led to greens fees being higher in the heat of summer than they are in the winter.

General manager Ryan Mulvey shows off the new patio at Bay Point.

“In the winter we have the lowest rates of the courses in our area (roughly $60 for the Nicklaus and $50 for the Meadows) and in the summer we can charge the highest rates (about $90 for the Nicklaus and $70 for the Meadows),’’ said Mulvey. “It’s just the market that we’re in. It’s challenging in that’s it’s not a golf market. There are only three (comparable) courses in our market, but once people get here, they love it.’’

Bay Point has one offering that the other courses don’t have. GolfBoards – eight of them – were offered starting last July and they’ve added to the Bay Point experience.

St. James Bay, the other KemperSports facility in the Panhandle, is two hours to the east and in a different time zone. There are some joint marketing projects in place between the facilities, and getting from one to the other offers a nice drive though small towns along St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

St. James Bay, recently sold by original owner Eddie Clark to the Chicago group (called MJM Carrabelle), was designed by Jacksonville, Fla.-based architect Robert Walker. It opened in 2003 and is the only golf course in Franklin County. Its home base of Carrabelle is a hotbed for tarpon fishing.

GolfBoards are among the new features offered to golfers playing at Bay Point.

The St. James Bay course stands out for its golf offerings from its abundance of forced carries. You get a wake-up call from the very first one, when you arrive at the No. 1 tee, and some of the other holes even have two of them. The forced carries won’t be popular with every player, but the wetlands and plant life throughout the well-conditioned course will be appreciated by all.

Golf Advisors has consistently listed St. James Bay among its most popular courses in Florida and more recently rated it No. 83 among its top 100 nationally. Its staff, headed by six-year head professional Rob Burlison, is a friendly bunch.

Unlike Bay Point, St. James Bay doesn’t consider itself a resort. Though it has comfortable, upscale lodging available, St. James Bay is a stand-alone public golf course.
It doesn’t have as many nearby attractions as Bay Point but St. George Island is 30 miles away and the town of Apalachicola has an unusually nice array of dining and shopping options.

No. 5, a dogleg left par-4, is the most controversial hole on the Bay Point layout.

Florida courses amazingly recovered quickly from Hurricane Irma

PGA Golf Club, in Port St. Lucie, got into the swing of things, hosting Women’s Golf Day on Saturday.

From the standpoint of this hurricane rookie and new Florida resident the damage incurred from Hurricane Irma was devastating – and it was. The entire state was impacted by one of the biggest hurricanes ever to hit the Sunshine State in mid-September – and that’s saying a lot because hurricanes are an annual concern for Floridians.

As big as Irma was, however, the state’s golf courses were spared serious damage based on reports gathered personally as well as from media outlets and golf friends from around the state.

With the Florida tourist season starting to kick in, we’ll be doing further research and will make at least three trips to various parts of the state in the next five weeks. We will provide reports from the scene from golf facilities on both coasts as well as the central portion of the state.

Until then, here’s a sampling of how a cross-section of Florida courses survived Irma’s wrath.

This big tree went down at The Evergreen Club, an indication of how strong Hurricane Irma was.

PGA Golf Club, the designated winter home of the PGA of America’s 28,000 members in Port St. Lucie, resumed normal operations on Sept. 16, just five days after Irma touched down in Florida, and its PGA Learning Center and dining facilities reopened two days before that. PGA Golf Club encompasses four 18-hole courses but one, the Ryder layout, is undergoing a renovation, and won’t re-open until early December.

“We were fortunate in terms of the amount of damage at our facility, and our staff did an incredible job with the cleanup,’’ said Jimmy Terry, PGA Golf Club’s general manager.

The Evergreen Club, a popular nearby public facility in Palm City, had the most eye-catching damage – a huge tree that was uprooted on its fourth hole – but golfers resumed play on nine holes of the course after only two days of cleanup and it’s now completely open though there’s still signs of tree damage.

More than 250 trees went down at Innisbrook Resort, home of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March, but three of the courses re-opened quickly. None of the downed trees landed on a green or a tee box. Innisbrook’s North course was undergoing a renovation when Irma paid her visit, but its re-opening is planned for early November.

With its new greens, the Jones Course at LPGA International is ready those the Symetra Tour Championship Oct. 5-8.

TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, was hit harder though only 200 trees went down. Dye’s Valley was re-opened first and The Players’ Stadium Course opened on Friday.

LPGA International, a few miles south of Sawgrass off I-95, wasn’t hit nearly as hard as the PGA Tour headquarters were. Kate Holcomb, of the Daytona Beach Area Visitors and Convention Bureau, reported the damage throughout Daytona’s 20-plus courses as “cosmetic, requiring cleanup but not long-term recovery.’’

Mike Glenn, general manager of LPGA International, said all that resort’s courses but one were open after only a couple days of cleanup and the well-regarded Jones Course opened last week after a summer greens’ renovation project was completed.

“The courses are in great shape. You wouldn’t know there was a storm,’’ said Glenn.
Sailfish Point, in Stuart – a waterfront community in the southern part of the state, closed two days before Irma arrived and opened a few days after Irma left.

Hurricane Irma couldn’t knock down this tree on No. 7 at The Evergreen Club — but it came close.

The more centrally-located facilities didn’t feel the brunt of Irma. Reunion Resort, which has three courses in Orlando, needed only one day for cleanup before re-opening. Streamsong, near Lakeland, was fully operational on its Red and Blue courses and the new Black Course opened on Friday.

Another of our personal favorites, Mission Inn in Howey-in-the-Hills, had only minimal damage on its El Campeon and Las Colinas courses but was very much involved in the hurricane recovery effort. The resort housed a number of energy company employees and transformed its ballroom into a makeshift shelter for 200 senior citizens forced to evacuate a nearby assisted living facility.

Hammock Beach, in Palm Coast, had its Conservatory course open three days after Irma hit. That resort also provided lodging for over 50 of its employees and their families who didn’t feel safe in their homes during the storm. Hammock’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course, though, remains closed. Last year’s visit from Hurricane Andrew created severe damage there and the recovery plan was upgraded to a restoration, leaving the course closed for a year. It’s expected to open later this fall.

Ed Stevenson: the man behind the massive renovation at Oak Meadows

Ed Stevenson’s name doesn’t appear on the leaderboard in any Illinois PGA tournaments. Only very rarely has he even played in them. Still, Stevenson is considered by all as the consummate PGA professional.

That was underscored recently when Stevenson was promoted to a lofty position beyond his duties as director of golf at The Preserve at Oak Meadows facility in Addison, which just underwent a massive renovation. Stevenson remains as Oak Meadows’ director of golf, but he is also the executive director of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County now.

That means Stevenson will oversee not only the District’s three golf facilities but also its myriad of other properties. The District owns 13 percent of the land in DuPage County and manages 26,000 acres. In addition to the golf courses that includes 62 forest preserves, 145 miles of trails and five education centers.

Stevenson, 45, has worked full-time for the District since 2004 and has been its director of golf course operations since 2011. Last November, while playing a lead role in the Oak Meadows renovation, he also took on the added duties of interim executive director and now the interim tag has been removed. Board president Joe Cantore explained why.

“Ed is a tenured member of our leadership team, and in his time overseeing our business enterprises he has demonstrated a keen ability to think creatively, manage big projects, reduce expenses and grow relationships. He has proven he has the necessary skills to lead this organization.’’

In other words, Stevenson proved he can do it all, and his versatility was greatly enhanced through his variety of roles as a golf professional.

In addition to the things he did while managing golf courses Stevenson also has been co-host of a popular radio program, Golfers on Golf, that has run weekly for 10 years throughout the golf season and he also has been director of instruction for Marianjoy Hospital’s programs for adults and children with disabilities.

Those factors undoubtedly led to Stevenson’s elevation beyond the golf world.

“All the roles of a PGA professional means he has to wear a lot of hats,’’ said Stevenson. “That’s the right background to prepare someone for a job like this. It’s been an interesting path to get there.’’

It all started while he was growing up in Deerfield.

“Ultimately I grew up in a family with some avid golfers,’’ said Stevenson. “My Dad grew up in Scotland, so my loving golf was almost mandatory. Plus, I was fortunate to grow up in a community where I had the opportunity to caddie.’’

Briarwood Country Club had a good caddie program, and professionals Joel Zelaszny and Randy Cochran took a liking to Stevenson.

“I enjoyed the culture of the game, and – even as a caddie – I enjoyed helping others enjoy the game,’’ said Stevenson.

While he played on some competitive teams at Deerfield High School and participated in Illinois Junior Golf Association events, Stevenson didn’t play golf while earning a degree in journalism at the University of Iowa.

During his summers away from school he worked as a caddie master at Briarwood. Anticipating a future of writing press releases after graduation in 1994, Stevenson looked for other career options and Cochran suggested he take the PGA of America’s playability test. That kept him in golf a little longer — and it turned out to be a lot longer.

Stevenson served his PGA apprenticeship at Briarwood and moved over to Oak Meadows as an assistant professional in 1996.

“The members at Briarwood treated me wonderfully,’’ he said, “but I realized it was time to learn something new, and I switched to the public end of the industry. Oak Meadows was a beautiful opportunity, and I could progress through a lot of different roles.’’

By 2001 he had attained full PGA membership and was named Oak Meadows’ head professional. When he moved up to the District’s director of golf he became the overseer of three courses instead of one. Nearby Maple Meadows, which then had 27 holes, and nine-hole Green Meadows, in Westmont, came under his jurisdiction.

Oak Meadows, though, remained his biggest concern. The course, built in 1923, had a long history of flooding problems that dated back to the time it was called Elmhurst Country Club. The course, designed by Charles Wagstaff, was deemed good enough to host the 1941 Chicago Open, won by no less a legend than Ben Hogan, but flooding was always a problem and the situation was made worse in 2009 when the facility lost its clubhouse in a fire caused by lightning.

For several years District personnel contemplated what to do with Oak Meadows. Eventually a $16 million renovation was deemed the answer, and Batavia architect Greg Martin took on the project while also serving as president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Stevenson worked closely with Martin during the two-year construction process.

“We looked at renderings, drawings and planning, so it was more like a five-year project,’’ said Stevenson. It was something much bigger than a golf course revival. Only one-third of the hefty price tag went toward the course.

The area can now hold 20 million more gallons of storm water than it could before construction began. The construction process involved the moving of 700,000 cubic yards of earth, the removal of 1,000 non-native trees and the planting of 500 more suitable ones along with 308,000 baby wetlands plants. Thirty new areas of wetlands were added to the 10 that had already been there.

The renovated course was well received during its soft opening this summer. A grand opening is planned for the spring, then the clubhouse will become a high priority. An architect has already been named and a design approved by the District board. Ground-breaking is targeted for early in 2019 and the opening in 2020.

Until then, at least, Stevenson will remain a golf guy while enjoying family life with Kathy, his wife of 17 years, and their two daughters.

“Golf being my background and passion, I wanted to stay involved,’’ said Stevenson, “but we’ve got a lot of other projects going on throughout the Forest Preserve. We have an equestrian center renovation under way and I’m working on a master plan that will set priorities for the next five years.’’

Yes, Stevenson is one golf professional who has transformed himself into much more than a golf guy.

A first for the Illinois PGA; Rhoades gets highest honor

For the first time in 62 years the Illinois PGA’s most prestigious award has gone to a woman.

Carol Rhoades was named the IPGA’s Professional of the Year, an award presented annually since 1955 to the section member whose “total contributions to the game best exemplify the complete PGA Professional.’’

Rhoades works at Golf Channel Academy Chicago and also teaches at Cog Hill, in Lemont. Born in Pennsylvania, her previous Chicago connections included a stop at Olympia Fields Country Club and a stint as head women’s coach at Illinois-Chicago.

A past LPGA Professional of the Year and one of Golf Digest’s Top 50 Women Instructors, Rhoades captured three previous IPGA honors – the Bill Strausbaugh Award (2002), Player Development Award (2008) and Horton Smith Award (2010).

Two representatives from both Cantigny, in Wheaton, and Exmoor, in Highland Park, were also recipients of 2017 section honors. Patrick Lynch and Greg Barasel of Cantigny received the two Player Development Awards and Exmoor’s Dave Schmaltz (Merchandise of the Year-Private Facility) and Nick Cuca (Assistant Professional of the Year) were Exmoor’s honorees.

Todd Sones, from White Deer Run in Vernon Hills, received the Horton Smith teaching award for the third time in 14 years.

Going collegiate

The University of Illinois men’s team, which reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championship last May at Rich Harvest Farms, finished fifth in the season-opening Olympia Fields-Fighting Illini Invitational last weekend and the Northwestern women’s team, which was the national runner-up at Rich Harvest to conclude the 2016-17 campaign, was second in its first tournament, the Dick McGuire Invitational in New Mexico, and fifth in its second — last week’s Mason Rudolph Championship in Nashville.

Olympia Field also provided the season debut for the Northwestern men’s team, which finished 13th. Playing without U.S. Amateur runner-up and Walker Cup star Doug Ghim of Arlington Heights, Texas finished eighth at Olympia Fields.

Northern Illinois opens its men’s season by hosting the 12-team Northern Intercollegiate at Rich Harvest Sunday and Monday. The tourney at Olympia is the only home event on the Illini schedule. The only home event for the Northwestern women is the Windy City Classic Oct. 2-3 at Northmoor, in Highland Park, and the lone home appearance for the NU men is the Oct. 8-9 Windon Memorial at Evanston Golf Club.

Here and there

One record, though unofficial, was set in the BMW Championship at Conway Farms on Sunday. Wesley Bryan played by himself in the final round in 1 hour 28 minutes, shooting a 69 in the process. The previous, unofficial, fastest round on the PGA Tour was Kevin Na’s 1 hour 59 minutes in last year’s Tour Championship.

The 2018 Chicago golf calendar will be almost as busy as this year’s but there’s one problem. The tournament organizers apparently didn’t talk to each. Exmoor will host the Constellation Senior Players Championship, a major event on the PGA Champions circuit, from July 12-15. The first-ever U.S. Women’s Senior Open will also be played on those same dates at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton and the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, is also scheduled at the same time at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

Chicago’s Mike Keiser has named the second course at his Sand Valley facility in Wisconsin. The David Kidd design will be called Mammoth Dunes. Keiser also said a unique par-3 course, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, has been completed and will be available for play by next June 1.

Tom Kearfott, of El Paso, won the 31st Illinois Senior Amateur, dethroning two-time winner Tom Miler, of Kewanee, at Seneca’s Oak Ridge. Miler finished second, three shots back. Kearfott will also go into the final event in the Chicago District Golf Association season as the defending champion. He’ll partner with Tim Sheppard in the CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball at Itasca Country Club Oct. 2-5.

The Illinois Golf Hall of Fame’s next induction ceremony will be Oct. 27 at The Glen Club, in Glenview. Gary Groh, Gary Hallberg and Horton Smith, the first Masters champion, will be the honorees.

Billy Casper Golf has been selected to manage the Aberdeen course in Valparaiso, Ind..

Collapse in Boston could haunt Leishman in final round of BMW Championship

Marc Leishman is hardly a household name in the golf world but – if he can hold his game together – he will likely win the BMW Championship today and be in a great position to win the FedEx Cup’s $10 million bonus next week in Atlanta.

The question is, can he hold his game together?

Leishman has led wire to wire in this BMW Championship at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, and he’ll take a five-stroke lead over fellow Australian Jason Day and Rickie Fowler into the final round. It would seem a formidable task for any of the others in the 69-man field to catch him – except for one thing.

In the last FedEx Cup Playoff event in Boston Leishman also led after 54 holes. Then he blew up, shooting 40 on the last nine holes to wind up third behind champion Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who has been the runner-up in both of the previous playoff events. That bad experience could conceivably happen again.

“A lot of tournaments you put three rounds together, and it’s very easy to throw a mediocre round in there,’’ said Leishman. “Tomorrow I’ve got to try not to do that. After what happened (in Boston) I’ve got extra determination to finish this one off, and my game is in a better spot. This course sets up better for me than (the one in Boston).’’

Spieth leads the FedEx point standings with Thomas second and Dustin Johnson, winner of the first tourney, third. That trio has not played well at Conway Farms, however, and that suggests the standings could dramatically change after today’s round. Spieth, after a 71 on Saturday, is tied for 27th in the BMW Championship. Thomas, who also shot 71, is tied for 41st and Johnson, after a 69, is tied for 55th.

So, if they don’t improve and Leishman goes on to win he could be the front runner in the last of these four $8,750,000 tournaments at Atlanta’s East Lake layout next week. Only 30 players will be competing there. Any player in the top five in the standings after the BMW Championship will take the $10 million bonus with a victory in Atlanta.

Low scoring and spectacular shots were the norm in the first two rounds at Conway Farms. Saturday’s round was a strange one, in that Leishman, Fowler and Day – the top three at the start of the day — didn’t go low but still maintained their places at the top of the leaderboard. Leishman, who had a three-stroke lead after 36 holes, shot 68 and is at 19-under-par 194 for the three rounds. Fowler and Day both carded 70s and remain tied for second.

“The course changed quite a lot compared to the first two days,’’ said Leishman. “It firmed up a lot and the greens speed was up, so it was nice to keep making birdies like I have been all week.’’

Leishman opened this BMW Championship with a 62, making 10 birdies on Thursday. He added 12 more in the next two rounds and has 22 in his 54 holes.

Day won by six strokes the last time the BMW Championship was played at Conway Farms in 2015. He was a wire-to-wire winner with a 22-under-par score that time, which was similar to Leishman’s performance for this year’s three rounds this week.

“Leish is playing spectacular,’’ said Day, Leishman’s playing partner in the third round. “He’s going to be very difficult to beat. I’ll have to play really good because he isn’t making any mistakes. He’s hitting it in the right spots, hitting it on the greens and holing putts. That’s a good formula for success.’’

Fowler, who rolled in an eagle putt at No. 1 to start Saturday’s round but managed only one birdie after that, will be paired with Leishman today.

Only England’s Justin Rose (66) and Spain’s Jon Rahm (65, Saturday’s low score) made a run at the leaders. Rose is solo fourth, eight behind Leishman, and Rahm is tied for fifth, another shot back. Rose, who won the BMW Championship at Cog Hill in 2011, doesn’t like his chances in the final round.

“Leishman is playing great, along with Rickie and Jason,’’ said Rose. `You’ve got to factor in that they’re going to continue to play great.’’

Fowler took a more positive approach.

“Ultimately you just want a chance come Sunday, so we’ve taken care of that,’’ he said. “I would have liked to be a little better today, but we got that round out of the way, and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.’’

Day is back in the BMW spotlight at Conway Farms

Another Australian golfer may be leading the BMW Championship, but the story halfway through the third of four FedEx Cup Playoff events has been Jason Day. Day was the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer at the start of 2017. Then things went downhill, but they’re definitely on the upswing entering today’s Round 3 of the $8,750,000 championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

Marc Leishman, who is in command at the 36-hole stop, will be paired with Day in Round 3. Leishman is at 16-under-par 126 and leads Day and Rickie Fowler by three strokes.

“Hopefully I can keep going, birdie-ing half the holes,’’ said Leishman, who was the 54-hole leader in the second playoff event two weeks ago in Boston but finished third behind winner Justin Thomas and runner-up Jordan Spieth.

Friday, though, was Day’s day. He made two eagles plus a hole-in-one in shooting a 65, underscoring that he’s on the road to recovery after falling from the world’s No. 1 ranking for understandable reasons.

First there was a cancer diagnosis for Day’s mother, Dening, who came from Australia to live with her son. Then Day encountered back problems.. He hasn’t won a tournament this year, and this week he made a dramatic caddie change after tying for 25th place in the previous FedEx Cup event in Boston.

Day brought in Luke Reardon, a former high school roommate and golf teammate, to replace Colin Swatton. Not only was Swatton Day’s swing coach since he was 11 years old and his caddie for the past 11 years. They were also close off the course. Each was best man at each other’s wedding.

All that turmoil was bound to take a toll, but it hasn’t affected Day in the first two days of the BMW Championship. Just competing at Conway may have been the tonic Day needed. He has a great record in two previous appearances at the Lake Forest private club, and insisted his 64-65 start isn’t that surprising.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in this position,’’ said Day, “but I’m heading in the right direction, and I’m back at a tournament golf course that I’ve played well in the past..’’

Day finished in a four-way tie for fourth place in the first BMW Championship played at Conway in 2013, five strokes behind champion Zach Johnson. In 2015 Day was brilliant at Conway, opening 61-63 to set a PGA Tour record for the first 36 holes of a tournament. He went on to win by six. That was part of a big year that saw Day ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there,’’ said Day. “Obviously that’s the goal, but 2015 was a very dominating year. But at the start of this year I was having an uphill battle with myself, trying to force things too much. There were a lot of disappointing areas that have plagued my game.’’

Nothing plagued his game on Friday. Day chipped in for eagle at No. 15 and then holed a 7-iron shot from 186 yards for his first hole-in-one in nine years. The ace wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, as the tee shot landed left off the green before taking a most fortunate bounce to the right and rolled into the cup.

His was the fifth ace in the BMW Championship and it won him a new BMW automobile. Day promptly donated it back to the Western Golf Association, which conducts the tournament to benefit its Evans Scholars Foundation. A deserving caddie also receives a four-year college scholarship from the tournament sponsor for every ace made in the tournament.

Day praised Reardon’s work as his new caddie but will retain Swatton as his swing coach and wouldn’t rule out him returning as his caddie next season.

“I’m driving a lot better this week and the iron shots are a lot cleaner,’’ he said. “Putting is coming around, too. The last two days were fantastic. Right now I’m in a good spot.’’

Leishman is in a better one. He grabbed the first-round lead with a 62 and added a 64 on Friday. That’s almost a birdie every other hole on a course that Day went 22-under in winning two years ago. Conway was set up on the short side, under 7,000 yards on Friday. The official tournament yardage for the par-71 layout, is 7,208.

“The course isn’t a pushover,’’ insisted Leishman. `It’s a good course in the respect the, if you’re hitting good shots and making putts, you can really go low.’’

More low scoring is likely over the weekend, as playing conditions have been ideal. Leishman and Day will be paired together in Round 3.

“We’ve played a lot of golf together,’’ said Leishman, “but it’ll be different not seeing Swatton on the bag. Hopefully we can both play well, make a lot of birdies and drag each other along.’’

Conway Farms will remain a popular tournament site after BMW leaves

BMW’s white motif has been a pleasant feature at Conway Farms’ tournaments.

Conway Farms’ three-year run as the site of Chicago’s PGA Tour event comes to an end this week, after the last putt drops at the BMW Championship on Sunday.

The previous two local PGA Tour sites were longer-time hosts. Butler National, in Oak Brook, hosted the Western Open from 1974 to 1990. Cog Hill, in Lemont, took over in 1991 through 2011. Neither has hosted a big event since, but that won’t likely be the case with Conway Farms.

The Western Golf Association pulled the Western out of Butler after its exclusionary membership policies (it remains an all-male club) made it unacceptable to the PGA Tour. The WGA shifted its biggest tournament – it was the Western Open through 2006 and then, after a sponsor and format change, became the BMW Championship – from the south suburbs to the north in an effort to freshen the event.

Conway Farms has been a good host in an era much different than when Butler and Cog Hill were involved. The WGA opted for a rotation in and out of Chicago in alternate years, a measure that produced more financial benefits for the Evans Scholars program. Conway hosted only every other year, starting in 2013.

The section beside the 18th green is the first reserved seating offering at the BMW Championship.

The shift to Conway created a big change in spectator viewing for Chicago golfers. Cog Hill was a premier public venue with loads of room for parking and other tournament operations. Conway, which opened in 1991, was a younger venue by two decades. While it didn’t have the space Cog Hill did, Conway had a glamorous side, with Luke Donald one of its members.

Donald at one time was the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, and he wasn’t the only Conway member with a familiar sports name. The club’s members have also included former Bears’ lineman Olin Kreutz, ex-Blackhawks’ player and general manager Dale Tallon and Scott Sanderson, who had pitched for the Cubs.

Designed by the highly respected course architect Tom Fazio, Conway has proved to be a worthy tournament site. Before the PGA Tour arrived the club hosted, among others, the U.S. Junior Amateur, Women’s Western Junior, NCAA Division I men’s championship, a U.S. Open sectional, the Western Amateur and a U.S. Mid-Amateur.

The PGA Tour players found it a decent challenge but not overly tough. Zach Johnson won the first BMW there in 2013 with a 16-under-par performance, but he wasn’t the sole star of the show. Jim Furyk shot a 59 in the second round before Johnson overhauled him with a final round 65 to beat Nick Watney by two strokes. Furyk finished third, another shot back. That tourney required a rare Monday finish, as steady rain allowed for only 12 of 60 players to complete their 72 holes on Sunday.

The second Conway BMW in 2015 was the Jason Day show. He tied the PGA Tour 36-hole record, opening 61-63 before winning by six shots over Daniel Berger with a 22-under-par performance for the 72 holes.

More low scoring is expected when the 11th BMW Championship tees off on Thursday. No matter the results, the relationship with the WGA has been a satisfying one for the Conway Farms membership.

“We’re thrilled to have the tournament back in Chicago,’’ said Conway president Bob Terwall. “We like the idea of a less than full field. I’m not sure we would want a 156-player field (which the Western Open had)) in the middle of the summer.’’

He also liked the idea of the tournament coming only every other year rather than being an annual thing.

“Three times in five years was fine, a little less taxing for all staff members,’’ he said. “Leaving Chicago every other year is great four golf. If we had it every four years or six years, that would be great. We’d very much like to remain part of the rotation.’’

The “rotation’’ is very much uncertain now. Aronimink, in Pennsylvania, will host in 2018 and the famed No. 3 course at Medinah is to host in 2019 when the tournament returns to the Chicago area. After that the BMW tourney locations have not been announced.

Vince Pellegrino, the WGA’s vice president for tournaments, called Conway “a wonderful club’’ and didn’t rule out a return in future years. In the meantime, Conway won’t likely be idle as a tournament site.

“We’re supportive of championship golf, amateur or professional,’’ said Terwall. “There’s been a lot of dialog involved. We’ve talked to the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Assn.) and USGA (U.S. Golf Assn.). We want to continue to be on the radar.’’

He wouldn’t rule out Conway as being the alternate site for the Illinois Open, either. The Illinois PGA needs two courses for its biggest annual event, with The Glen Club a fixture and the other chosen on a rotating basis.

“We did the U.S. Mid-Amateur (2012) with Knollwood, and that worked out fine, so we’re open to those sorts of things,’’ said Terwall. “We’re very much wide open. That’s the way to really support the game, rather than just talk about it.’’

Streelman won’t be able to play in his hometown PGA Tour event

There’s only one bad thing about the upcoming BMW Championship — the climax to Chicago’s golf tournament season. Kevin Streelman won’t be there.

The Wheaton product, last of the players with Chicago connections in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, got off to a great start in the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston last week but couldn’t keep the momentum going.

Needing to hold a spot in the top 70 in the FedEx point standings, Streelman faded in the final two rounds on Sunday and Monday and wound up No. 86 on the point list. That brought an end to his 2016-17 season.

Only 70 players will be in the BMW Championship, the third event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. That $8,750,000 event will be played Sept. 14-17 at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest.

Streelman had a bad start in golf’s postseason series, shooting 74-80 to miss the cut in the first tournament – The Northern Trust in New York. His No. 90 ranking at that time, though, still got him into the 100-man field in Boston and his 70-65 start there elevated him into a tie for second place through two rounds at the Dell Technologies Championship.

At that point Streelman was projected to jump all the way into the top 30 who would qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta — the event that follows the BMW Championship on the schedule. A shaky final two rounds, though, killed Streelman’s hopes. He finished 74-73, ended in a tie for 35th in the tournament and his all-important FedEx ranking plummeted enough to put him out of his hometown PGA Tour stop.

Losing four shots to par in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 5-9, Streelman dropped 14 places in the final round in Boston.

“Obviously I would have loved to get to Conway and see some of my buddies,’’ said Streelman. “It would have meant a lot for me to get there.’’

Joining him on the sidelines will be two of the sport’s biggest names – Bubba Watson and Adam Scott. They also failed to climb into the top 70 at Boston. Justin Thomas won the Dell tournament, Dustin Johnson was the champion in New York and Jordan Spieth finished second in both events. That trio will be the favorites when gates open at Conway on Sept. 12.

Here and there

Illinois Women’s Open stars Samantha Troyanovich and Samantha Postillion survived last week’s first stage of the Ladies PGA Tour qualifying school in California. Stage II is Oct. 16-22 in Venice, Fla., and two other Chicago players—Elizabeth Szokol and Stephanie Miller – will join Troyanovich and Postillion in the field there.

Brothers Greg and Riley Bauman, sons of Doug Bauman – long-time head professional at Biltmore in Barrington, played together in the last pairing of the final round in the 25th Illinois State Mid-Amateur at Exmoor, in Highland Park last week. Greg won the title and Riley finished in a tie for fourth.

Preparations are already underway for next year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer. The club is commemorating the 25th anniversary of its first major women’s event – the 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur — and will soon announce a name for its treacherous final three-hole stretch. The Women’s Amateur 25 years ago saw current LPGA Players Association president Vicki Goetze Ackerman defeat Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam in the title match.

Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich will host a Kids Golf Foundation Charity Pro-Am at his Sugar Grove club on Sept. 19.

The First Tee of Greater Chicago will hold a 36-hole fundraiser at Canal Shores on Sept. 29. Proceeds will support the development of a First Tee Learning Center and Short Course at the Evanston facility.

The On Par for DuPage Outing, benefitting the DuPage Country History Museum and People’s Resource Center, will be held at Arrowhead, in Wheaton, on Sept. 21.

The Tour Sponsored by Under Armour will hold its Illinois Region qualifier for its national tournament on Saturday at Calumet Country Club, in Homewood. There will be four handicapped flights with the top 10 in each qualifying for the finals on May 18-20 of 2018 in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Playing in the Myrtle Beach World Amateur was an unforgettable experience

World Amateur champion Curtis Henley (left) gets his reward from tournament director Scott Tomasello.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – It’s definitely a competition, but it also has the friendly touches of an outing as well. The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship is golf event like no other.

With over 3,000 playing in the same community at the same time, a case could be made that it’s the biggest of all golf championships. Though it receives very little media attention, even within its golf-crazed community, the event has endured for 34 years and continues to show steady growth. The latest staging drew 3,010 players — ranging in age from 18 to 89 –from every state except Alaska as well as 22 countries.

It was two years ago when Chris King, of Myrtle Beach-based Kingfish Communications, and Scott Tomasello, of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, suggested that we experience this unique event. They rightfully contended that you couldn’t comprehend the far-reaching magnitude of the event without being a participant. Once we went through that extraordinary experience, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

We definitely got caught up in the spirit of the World Amateur Handicap Championship.

Tomasello became the tournament director this year and King was part of the organizing Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which is celebrating its 50th season promoting the extraordinary variety of golf options available in the 60-mile Grand Strand – an area from Pawley’s Island on the south to just over the state line into Brunswick County, N.C. Over 52 courses were used to conduct the competition, which involved 78 flights based on age, gender and handicap.

This year a Just For Fun flight was added for players who didn’t want to compete but wanted to do everything else. They didn’t get the full flavor of the World Am, though.

The competition centered on four 18-hole rounds, each conducted in a 9 a.m. shotgun format. Players got to test themselves on four different courses, and the winners of each flight after those four hectic days went to an 18-hole playoff to determine the World Amateur champion. This year it was Curtis Henley, of Poquoson, Va. He shot a net 66 in the playoff off a gross score of 82.

Wes Long, of Hilton Head, S.C., won the gross division with a 1-under-par performance over five rounds, but this event was aimed at players utilizing their handicap. Plus, there’s so much more to the World Amateur than the golf itself.

The World’s Largest 19th Hole was always a colorful event.

The gift bag – ours consisted of a logo hat, shirt, pullover, towel, thermo mug and bag tag; a Nexbelt; a $20 credit for purchases at a PGA SuperStore; and a souvenir program — is extraordinary. So is the off-course entertainment. This year’s welcoming reception was at the House of Blues. It was packed with players, family members and friends and that was also the case every night after each round at the 120,000 square foot Myrtle Beach Convention Center — the site of the World’s Largest 19th Hole.

The World’s Largest 19th Hole was clearly that. This was a lot different than your usual pro-am party. Each night there was dancing to the music of live bands, a golf expo that included 60 exhibitors, on-stage programs featuring celebrities from The Golf Channel, putting and chipping contests, billiards matches, youth games and – best of all – food stations offering small portions of the cuisine served at the area’s top restaurants. Oh, yes, there were open bars at various locations each night as well.

That’s pretty much a superficial look at the World Amateur Handicap Championship. Here’s what you really need to know:

HANDICAPS: Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday takes them very seriously. While most other net competitions use handicaps mainly to group players of similar abilities, the Holiday doesn’t just take just a player’s word for his handicap. There must be documentation from a recognized golf organization, and that’s not always enough.

If there are some suspicious scores the Holiday is not reluctant to retroactively disqualify a player from the competition. There have been some unhappy, disgruntled players over the years but handicaps can’t be taken lightly in an event of this nature. Those supervising that end of the competition are firm but fair.

The jam-packed welcoming reception at the House of Blues got the World Am off to a rousing start.

In our case Joy questioned her handicap, believing it to be too low, after the first round. A check of the Chicago District Golf Association records revealed that the Holiday was in error in making her handicap adjustment. It wasn’t just corrected verbally; an email confirmation arrived the next morning. That’s what I’d call paying attention to detail, especially considering the 3,000-plus players involved.

After each round the Holiday staff prints out standings for each flight and has them ready for the 6 p.m. opening of the World’s Largest 19th Hole. The top 10 in each flight are spotlighted on rotating video screens throughout the evening, and making the board is an honor worth savoring. At least I did, after being tied for ninth place in my flight after Round 2.

THE PLAYERS: They are grouped into flights of about 40, and not just by handicap. Men are also divided by age, the oldest one being for those 80 and above. There aren’t enough women to differentiate by age, so they are divided strictly by handicap.

I was placed in a 70-79 age group flight in which all 40-some players had handicaps in the 18-21 range. It’s intriguing how compatible players can become from a scoring standpoint when handicapping is done properly. I had a hot second round and defeated one of my playing partners by a stroke. He went on to finish seventh in our flight while I struggled in the final 18 and was in the middle of the pack at the end.

Live bands were featured at both the welcoming reception and World Largest’s 19th Hole.

Joy had a similar experience. She also finished in the middle of the pack in her flight but matched the score of the eventual flight champion when they played together.

Both Joy and I played with 12 different players over the four days, and every one of them had played in at least one World Amateur previously. In my last round I was paired with one who was playing for the 20th time and two who were 10-year veterans. Seven players in the event have played in all of the previous 34 World Amateurs. That underscores the popularity of the event. You come once, and chances are you’ll want to return again and again.

My most memorable partner was Roy, from Florida. He requested before teeoff that we help him find his ball. “As far as the state of Florida is concerned, I’m legally blind,’’ Roy informed us. He did need some help finding some of his shots, but was still a most pleasant playing partner. In the last round my cart partner was Skip, Roy’s brother from New Jersey. He was a fun guy, too.

Flags of the players from all the countries gave the Myrtle Beach Convention Center a festive look.

Joy’s favorite playing partner was Isabel, from Texas. Isabel and her husband had their flight to Myrtle Beach cancelled when Hurricane Harvey started inflicting serious damage in their home state so they drove 20 hours to get there. Unlike us, they came in one car – and that complicated daily travel. Joy alleviated their situation by driving Isabel each morning and we made friends in the process.

COMPETITION: All my playing partners seemed to think about golf the way I do: it’s a game, competition is fun and enjoy the experience no matter the result. You adhere to the rules, do the best you can and get to know your partners. The conversations I had with mine extended well beyond golf, and we quickly developed a spirit of camaraderie.

Joy’s experience wasn’t quite that good. While she was happy to be competitive in her first taste of this new format, she did run into one partner who was adamant that she knew all the rules – but really didn’t. They didn’t talk much as the round progressed, but the other players were nice.

Not every player was ready for the World Am, either. There was one in my flight – a most pleasant fellow, I was told – who shot 146 in the first round. His slow play frustrated his partners until he decided the event wasn’t for him after playing six holes in Round 2.

My brief moment in the sun: a spot on page one of the 36-hole leaderboard.

DAILY ROUTINE: You need to plan for each day, as the courses can require drives of up to 40 miles. Fortunately, we came in two cars. We would check the distance to the next day’s course the night before. My first round was 25 miles to the south, my second 25 miles to the north. Closest round was a 15-minute drive. Joy’s situation was similar.

We swung into action each day at about 5:30 a.m., left for the course about 7 a.m. and met up again at the hotel in late afternoon. We usually had an hour or two to clean up before heading to the World’s Largest 19th Hole.

Weather was a factor throughout. I was caught in a downpour late in Round 1. Joy wasn’t, but nightly storms left the courses soggy in the mornings. We had to play cart path only with a lift, clean and place policy in effect in the second and third rounds. That wasn’t something that was appreciated by any of the players, but it was a necessity. Joy encountered one course with a hole under construction, but that was accepted as a unique challenge rather than an inconvenience.

EPILOG: I’ve played in tons of golf events, but none like this one. The World Amateur is for serious, recreational players. All putts must be holed out. There’s no picking up your ball at frustrating times and moving on to the next hole. You obviously need to keep a handicap to participate and must accept the likelihood that some scores will be higher than you’re used to shooting. You should have a sense of humor if you’re thinking of playing in the 2018 World Amateur next August.

The cost of doing that varies, depending on your transportation requirements and dining options. The basic entry is about $600 per player, and that’s well worth the value for a memory that will be long lasting.

Prestwick, a Pete and P.B. Dye design, may have been the toughest course in this World Amateur.

Streelman is only Chicago player still alive in FedEx Cup Playoffs

The FedEx Cup has provided a much-needed climax to the PGA Tour season. Big money is on the line at all four of the FedEx playoff tournaments and the $10 million bonus that will go to the eventual champion is a payday that receives attention beyond the golfing world.

Still, the FedEx Cup concept has its confusing aspects as well.

Consider what happened to the three qualified players with Chicago connections at the The Northern Trust, first event of the series that concluded in New York on Sunday.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman had a horrible start to golf’s postseason, shooting 74-80 and missing the 36-hole cut. He managed to beat only one other player who completed 36 holes. Streelman, though, will playing in the second of the $8.475,000 tournaments in Boston this week while both D.A. Points and Luke Donald will be on the outside looking in.

Donald and Points both survived the 36-hole cut in the Northern Trust, Donald finishing in a tie for 49th place with – among others – U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. Points had a dismal weekend, shooting 74-74 to tie for 54th.

For Donald The Northern Trust brought an end to a string of eight straight missed cuts on the PGA Tour. The slump followed his best finish of the season, second at the Heritage Classic the week after April’s Masters.

“My season’s done, a very disappointing year but my optimism never waivers,’’ said Donald via Twitter.

Donald and Points bowed out of the playoffs because they couldn’t attain a place in the top 100 on the FedEx Cup point standings. Streelman – even with his missed cut – could. Points finished 104th in the FedEx point race and Donald was 105th.

Streelman had a much better regular season than Points or Donald and — even with the poor showing in New York — still stands No. 87 in the standings. He’ll have to step up his play dramatically in the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston, though, if he’s to make the field for his hometown PGA Tour event.

The Dell tourney runs Friday through Monday, rather than the usual Thursday start, to take advantage of more available holiday time for spectators. There’ll be a week off after the Boston stop ends on Labor Day and the BMW Championship, which runs from Sept.14-17 at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

The field in Boston has 100 players, but only 70 will move on to the BMW Championship. The survivors will be reduced to 30 at Conway Farms. Only that number will move on to The Tour Championship, last of the $8,475,000 events that wrap up the 2016-17 season.

Donald may not be playing at Conway Farms, but he’ll be there on behalf of a worthy cause. His annual Taste of the First Tee fundraiser will be held on Sept. 12 at Conway Farms with Sergio Garcia also attending as a special guest.

Here and there

The Illinois men and Northwestern women are in the select field at the East Lake Collegiate Match Play Championship, to be held Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 in Atlanta. East Lake is the annual site of The Tour Championship.

Casey Brozek, former Illinois PGA president, has left his post as director of golf at Crystal Lake Country Club to take a similar post at a 36-hole facility in Naples, FL.

Kemper Lakes’ Jim Billiter bounced back from a tough final round in the Illinois PGA Championship to share honors in Monday’s IPGA stroke play event at Calumet Country Club in Homewood. Billiter, the leader in the IPGA Player of the Year race, shot 67 and shared honors with Chris French of Aldeen, in Rockford, and Brian Carroll, of Royal Hawk, in St. Charles.

KemperSports has added another Illinois course to its management portfolio – Lincolnshire Fields in Champaign.