Len Ziehm On Golf

Drivers were the most interesting feature at the PGA Merchandise Show

Kevin Streelman was the first play to use Wilson’s new Triton driver on the PGA Tour.
(Photo courtesy of Wilson)

ORLANDO, FL. — Be it clubs, balls, training devices or apparel, the PGA Merchandise Show always has something to intrigue every type of golfer.

The 64th staging of this biggest show in golf ended its four-day run on Friday at the Orange County Convention Center with 40,000 industry members from all 50 states and 19 countries getting their first look at the new products entering the marketplace. At the end the talk was mostly about drivers – and with good reason.

When Nike decided to stop making golf clubs last year that left its two high-profile stars, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, free to pick new equipment. Both opted for TaylorMade’s M2 driver, with Woods making his equipment announcement during the show.

The search for the next driver that will produce the longest, straightest tee shots, though, went far beyond TaylorMade and the other big manufacturers – Callaway, Ping and Titleist.

Most visually different of the new models was the Vertical Groove Driver. Its Boston-based manufacturer claims to be the first to bring to market a club with vertical grooves on the clubface. Horizontal grooves are the norm, but Vertical Groove has already convinced two high-profile senior players – John Daly and Rocco Mediate – to use its driver. Daly will be the company’s global ambassador.

Callaway’s banner to promote its new driver rivaled only Wilson’s in size at the PGA Show.

Two Chicago companies were also in the mix. Tour Edge, based in Batavia, introduced its Hot Launch adjustable driver. It has a lighter weight and thinner face, which the company claims will make the club more forgiving while creating more distance. Tour Edge also claims its new hosel system will double the adjustability options, allowing players to raise or lower the loft by two degrees.

Wilson, the long-established producer of all sorts of sports gear, took the most extraordinary steps in putting its new Triton driver on the market, however. The Chicago-based company did it by creating a reality TV show that was shown on The Golf Channel over a two-month period.

The show, which made its debut on Oct. 4, featured 11 teams of amateur club designers completing for $500,000 and the opportunity to have their creations brought to life and sold under the Wilson banner. The judges of the competition were Tim Clarke, president of Wilson’s golf division; Frank Thomas, a long-time director for the U.S. Golf Association; Brian Urlacher, the Bears’ legendary linebacker; and Kevin Streelman, the PGA Tour pro from Wheaton who has won twice on the circuit using Wilson equipment.

Winner of the design contest was Eric Sillies, a University of Cincinnati graduate in its College of Design Architecture Art & Planning. His club featured two detachable sole plates and three adjustable weight ports that allowed the club to change from a lightweight model to a pro-weight version. The TV series was captivating – especially for golfers in the 19 to 35 age group – and Wilson engineers worked with Sillies is creating a finished product.

The problem was, the “finished’’ Triton driver wasn’t quite finished when it was to go on the market with much fanfare last month. The U.S. Golf Association ruled it was non-conforming.

“As long as Wilson has been in business – 100 years – we always produced conforming products,’’ said Clarke. “The decision the USGA made was quite unfair. I had a thousand things on my list that I was worried about, but the USGA ruling was the last thing on my mind.’’

Clarke said the problem with the USGA was corrected with a “cosmetic adjustment,’’ but valuable marketing time was lost while Wilson personnel worked to make the club legal in the eyes of the sport’s ruling body in the United States. The process wasn’t completed until Monday of show week. At Tuesday’s Demo Day – the traditional kickoff to the show — the Wilson station was a focal point.

“It was the busiest Demo Day we’ve had in my 20 years at Wilson. From 9 to 5 people were there banging the Triton,’’ said Clarke, who feels a potential crisis was averted. “It was a great learning experience. The whole concept was to bring excitement around the game and give our brand exposure. It did both those things.’’`

Streelman gave the Triton driver its debut on the PGA Tour when he missed the 36-hole in last week’s Career Builder Classic in California. Ricky Barnes put the club in his bag for the first time at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open . How the club performs for them over the early season tournaments will go a long way in determining its popularity in the marketplace.

The Triton will likely continue to be a prime subject for discussion at two, much smaller, shows on tap for next month in the Chicago area. The Tinley Park Golf Expo is Feb. 10-12 and the Chicago Golf Show, at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, will run from Feb. 24-26.

This combination motorcycle/golf cart was the most unusual item on display at the PGA Show.

Palmer Design Company shows off Shingle Creek’s new course — near Bay Hill

Course designer Thad Layton tees off during Shingle Creek’s media preview outing.

ORLANDO, Florida – The late Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club is just a 15-minute drive from Shingle Creek Golf Club, an 18-holer connected to the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel and in Palmer’s final days his design company was in the process of renovating the nearby layout.

That renovation is now completed and the course has opened to rave reviews.

Thad Layton, the lead designer on the project, said Palmer was most interested in how the new Shingle Creek course would differ from Bay Hill – site of the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational each March.

Palmer had played the original Shingle Creek course, designed by a less known local architect David Harman, at least two times since its opening on Dec. 1, 2003. That was even before the accompanying hotel had been built.

Shingle Creek provides a nice blend of challenging golf with a user-friendly design.

Layton took on a re-design that required the course to be closed for six months, though its Brad Brewer Golf Academy remained opened while the work was being done. The finished product is a fun course in which Layton completely re-designed three holes (Nos. 12, 13 and 14) and redid the other 15. The greens in particular underwent major changes. The original ones were relatively flat. The new ones have plenty of interesting undulations.

Brewer, who opened his Academy at Shingle Creek after directing the teaching operation at Bay Hill, said the course became a busy place immediately after its recent re-opening. His teaching staff includes Chris Spalla, a transplanted Chicagoan, and the director of golf, David Scott, got his start in the business at Naperville Country Club.

The Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel offers a steady presence to Shingle Creek golfers throughout their rounds.

A milestone for the world’s first replica golf course

Designer Ron Garl takes aim at his re-creation of the famed “postage stamp” green at Royal Troon.

OCALA, Florida – The world’s first replica golf course, turned 30 this week.

Ron Garl, one of the most prolific of all course architects, was the brainchild for the layout at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club. Back in 1986 he picked out eight holes from five of golf’s most famous courses – Augusta National and Baltusrol in the United States and Royal Troon, Muirfield and St. Andrews from Europe – and worked them into his design at Golden Ocala.

The concept of replica – also called inspired or tribute – holes has been tried numerous times by other architects since then. Few, though, have been as successful in creating the magic of the famous holes as Garl was at Golden Ocala.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of both the concept and the course Garl hosted a small outing at the club for a variety of players – members who knew the course well all the way down to first-time visitors.

Some of the replica holes are, understandably, better than others. The most photogenic was Golden Ocala’s No. 13 – a re-creation of the “road hole, or No. 17 at Scotland’s St. Andrews. Being Garl’s cart partner in the outing, I benefitted from an architect’s eye view of the construction process. Needless to say, building the “road hole’’ was a difficult, time-consuming effort 30 years ago but the work then is still paying off today.

Having not seen the original European holes in person, my choice as the best of Golden Ocala’s replica holes was its No. 6 – the par-3 over-the-water sixteenth at Augusta National. That’s always one of the best holes for drama during the Masters tournament. (From my experiences at that annual April epic, it’s the best).

Architect Ron Garl has worked on over 100 Florida courses and over 250 world-wide.

Garl stressed the attention to detail that went into making each replica hole as concise as the original. Citing various reasons for selection including how the holes would fit into the topography available, Garl picked three holes from Augusta National. In addition to No. 16 he opted for another par-3 – Augusta’s No. 12 and Golden Ocala’s No. 11 – and the short par-5 13th at Augusta (No. 12 at Golden Ocala).

St. Andrews was the only other course to have more than one hole selected. St. Andrews’ opening hole – the first hole in golf – is No. 14 at Golden Ocala.

Other than the trio at Augusta National, the only other hole from an America course selected was No. 4 at Baltusrol – the par-3 fifteenth at Golden Ocala.

Royal Troon’s No. 8 – with its famous “postage stamp’’ green – is Golden Ocala’s par-3 fourth hole and the next hole in the rotation is a replica of Muirfield’s No. 9, a par-5.

“This is a very special place for me,’’ said Garl, who was in the 10th year of his 40 designing courses when he created Golden Ocala. The process back then included obtaining precise photographs of the famous holes – a project that cost $50,000 a hole 30 years ago.

What’s also interesting is that the replica holes, while a nice feature, don’t dominate the course. The “Garl originals’’ aren’t bad, either. Garl rates the par-4 third hole as his overall favorite on the course and the other non-replica holes fit seamlessly into the rotation.

The “road hole” at Scotland’s St. Andrews has a look-alike in No. 13 at Florida’s Golden Ocala.

Garl returned to Golden Ocala to supervise a major renovation in 2001 and convinced the Roberts family members, owners of the course now, to acquire more land that would facilitate an expansion of the practice facilities. That led to the building of two fullscale practice holes that were a big hit with players from the LPGA in 2015 and 2016.

The LPGA contested the Coates Classic as an early season event for two years, and it has been the biggest competition yet held on the course. The players said crowds resembled those at the U.S. Women’s Open, but the tourney was discontinued after two stagings.

Garl, meanwhile, has emerged as perhaps the most prolific architect in his native state. Based in Lakeland, he opened his first course in 1972 and has designed over 100 in the Sunshine State. The best-known of those, in addition to Golden Ocala, are TPC of Prestancia in Sarasota, Fiddlesticks in Fort Myers and Palm Beach Polo in West Palm Beach.

Moving beyond Florida, Garl has designed or renovated over 250 courses and worked in 10 other countries. He’s completed such award-winning courses as Wooden Sticks in Canada, Alpine in Thailand, Gudymaral in Colombia and Nine Dragons in China and is currently deeply involved in a course for the King of Morocco.

Ron Garl’s favorite hole at Golden Ocala isn’t a replica one. It’s this pleasant-looking par-4 third hole.

Chicago Golf Show expands its program

The Chicago Golf Show, presented by French Lick Resort, is expanding the program available to its visitors.

A new four-color glossy magazine-style program will be available when the show is staged for the 33rd time from Feb. 24-26 at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. Chicagoland Golf, which publishes monthly during the local season, will oversee editorial content and advertising sales in creating the program.

Val Russell, publisher of Chicagoland Golf, said the program will be distributed on the show floor, via mail and at golf retailers and courses. It’ll represent a departure from both the show programs of the past and the regular issues of the Chicagoland Golf.

“We are going to produce 40,000 high-end, glossy magazines with 40 percent editorial content that will be valuable to both golfers and golf advertisers,’’ said Russell.

The program will feature articles on show exhibitors, local courses, travel destinations, innovative products and services. Over the last five years the show – the oldest and largest of the three golf shows held in the area this winter — has attracted between 15,000 and 20,000 golf enthusiasts.

“The Chicago Golf Show is excited to collaborate with Chicagoland Golf to produce a high-quality show program aimed at giving our attendees, exhibitors and other advertisers an opportunity to get together in print the way they do on the Golf Show exhibit floor,’’ said Tom Corcoran, the show operator. “Chicagoland Golf has been producing an excellent publication since 1989 and we know they are going to do a great job on our show issue.’’

HERE AND THERE: No doubt about it: The Loop is Best New Course of 2016

We played The Loop in both directions and felt the experience was well worth the walk.

The Loop, Tom Doak’s 18-hole reversible course in Roscommon, Mich., isn’t just something new. It’s also been declared something very good.

Golf Digest and GOLF Magazine, the golf industry’s two leading publications, both honored The Loop with its top awards. Golf Digest named The Loop as the Best New Public Course of 2016 and GOLF Magazine named it the Best New U.S. Course You Can Play.’’

Forest Dunes owner Lew Thompson wanted “something industry changing’’ when he decided to add a second 18 holes to his facility and he got it with The Loop.

“Tom Doak delivered by providing us some of his best work, and the feedback by our guests has been tremendous,’’ said Thompson. “The genius of the concept is how it looks and plays completely different when you play in the other direction.’’

Doak, who operates out of Traverse City, Mich., had long considered the reversible concept and was able to create the course while working close to home.

The Loop is a walking-only experience, with caddies an available option. The two different layouts alternate directions on a daily basis.

Tom Doak’s bunkering provides a challenge, no matter which direction you play The Loop.

Another Nicklaus redesign

The Banyan Cay Resort in West Palm Beach, FL. Is getting a new Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. Chris Cochran, Nicklaus’ senior design associate, will join Nicklaus in leading the design team. John Sanford, of Sanford Golf Design will also be involved when construction begins in February. Sanford grew up playing the course and his father had been its director of golf.

Formerly known as Presidents Country Club, the Banyan Cay club has been home to 36 holes of golf but one of of the courses is being transformed into a residential development consisting of 100 single family homes, a boutique hotel, new clubhouse, villas and a 20-story condo tower.

Torrey Pines North is open again

Tom Weiskopf has completed his renovation of the North Course at Torrey Pines, in LaJolla, Calif. The $12.6 million project was completed in nine months and the city-owned public course is now considered a rival to the world famous South Course, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open and will be the venue for that tournament again in 2021.

Weiskopf reduced the number of bunkers from 59 to 41 and the average green size increased from 4,500 square feet to 6,400 as part of the North renovation. The front and back nines were also reversed, allowing golfers some spectacular ocean and canyon views when they finish their rounds.

Bits and pieces

The Major Series of Putting has moved its 2017 championship to the fall. It’ll conclude in Las Vegas beginning on Oct. 27 after a nation-wide series of over 250 qualifying events.

Sean Foley, one-time coach of Tiger Woods, has announced the formation of the Foley Performance Academy at Eagles Dream in Lake Mary, FL. It’s based at Timacuan Golf & Country Club and is a full-time residential program that offers training to all levels of golfers.

Chicago-based KemperSports has been selected to manage the Forest Creek Golf Club in Round Rock, TX. The course will be renovated and re-branded as a top-notch municipal course.

The rugged International Course at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, a Greg Norman design, has reopened after undergoing an $860,000 renovation of its greens approaches and bunkers. The reclaiming of 42,000 square feet of greens has added an average of three additional pin positions per green.

Presidio Golf & Concordia Club, in San Francisco, is now undergoing major renovations following the merger of the historic Presidio Golf Club and the Concordia-Argonaut Club. It’s an $8.5 million project. Presidio was founded in 1895 and Concordia-Argonaut has roots dating back to 1864.

Hokuala Resort, a newcomer to Hawaiian island of Kauai, has completed renovations to its Ocean Course. That layout is the home to the longest stretch of consecutive oceanfront holes in all of Hawaii.

Play was limited at The Loop in 2016. That won’t likely be the case once the course opens in 2017.

Jupiter has its big-time clubs — but don’t underestimate Jupiter Dunes

Pleasant clubhouse is in keeping with the atmosphere at Jupiter Dunes.

JUPITER, Florida – This town on Florida’s East Coast, just north of Palm Beach, has long attracted top golfers. It’s home for Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and a host of others.

Those pros have a wide range of championship courses to play, but there’s another course in town that shouldn’t be missed.

Jupiter Dunes is an 18-hole par-3 layout that is owned by two homeowner associations. The holes, ranging from 70 to 178 yards, weave between the housing options. I had lived off arguably the best par-3 course in Illinois, Nickol Knoll, but that Arlington Heights Park District facility had only nine holes.

Not only is Jupiter Dunes at 18-holer, the holes feature all sorts of challenges – water, out of bounds, tricky greens, big bunkers. It’s a real challenge, though definitely a fun one. It may be the best par-3 that I’ve ever seen, though the nine-hole layout at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., is hard to ignore. After all, the PGA Champions circuit used it for one of its annual tour stops.

Jupiter Dunes has attracted golfers for 43 years.

Jupiter Dunes is a much different than Big Cedar. We were looking for a course that would provide an upgrade for my 8-year old grandson. He’s also past the First Tee program in North Carolina and been to some low-level camps. Jupiter Dunes represented his first try at an 18-hole course.

The architectural icon Tom Fazio designed the original Jupiter Dunes in 1974. There wasn’t much around it then. In 2005 the original course was re-designed by Florida-based architect Tom Pearson and now it’s surrounded by a variety of private clubs.

Still, Jupiter Dunes won’t get lost in the shuffle. It’s an affordable course that is very suitable for walking with a friendly staff. Unfortunately there’s no practice range – just a few spots for golfers to hit shots into nets — but there is a big putting green and the course itself lends itself to beginners and recreational players of all age levels. Pros have had a 27-hole money event there, as well.

Even in a state rich in golf facilities, that’s not easy to find. American golf overall needs more Jupiter Dunes.

The third hole, one of many with a tee shot over water, falls between the lodging at Jupiter Dunes.

Going public was a big boost for the PGA’s St. Lucie Trail course

No. 5, one of St. Lucie Trail’s toughest holes, starts off with a most demanding tee shot.

Of the four golf courses in PGA Golf Club, one stands out – at least historically.

The winter home of the PGA of America’s 28,000 members includes three 18-hole courses on the grounds of PGA Village – the Wanamaker, the Ryder and the Dye. PGA Golf Club also encompasses one course across Interstate 95 about two miles to the east. That one is now called St. Lucie Trail Golf Club. It didn’t always have that name – in fact, this is the third one since the 18-holer opened for play in 1988. Still it is, at least technically, the start of what is now the PGA Golf Club.

St. Lucie Trail stands apart from its three companion courses under the banner of the resort by more than location. The PGA of America purchased what is now St. Lucie Trail in 1995, before any of the other PGA Golf Club courses were ready for play. Not only is St. Lucie Trail older than the Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye, it also differs in that it has a lengthy history as a private club.

Like the Wanamaker and Ryder, however, St. Lucie Trail also has the benefit of the Fazio touch and the Fazio name means a lot in golf course architectural circles.

Sound confusing? A little history will be helpful.

Port St. Lucie was by no means a golf hotbed in the early 1980s, when PGA Tour player –turned-course architect George Fazio led the way in the creation of a private course called The Reserve near what is now PGA Golf Club. His nephew Jim Fazio was the course designer when the club opened its doors in 1984.

A new sign has been a welcoming site for golfers visiting St. Lucie Trail.

Jim’s work in the area, though, didn’t end there. Four years later he would design the course at St. Lucie West Country Club, also in Port St. Lucie. The Reserve, now called The Legacy, is not part of the PGA Golf Club but it was the first entry in Jim Fazio’s design resume which now numbers about 30 courses in the United States and another 30 in foreign locations like Japan, Spain, Italy and the Caribbean Islands.

The second and third Jim Fazio designs were Hawks Nest, in Vero Beach, which opened in 1986, and St. Lucie West Country Club, which was ready for play in 1988. St. Lucie West was the forerunner to what is now St. Lucie Trail.

The PGA of America already owned St. Lucie West when it started its PGA Golf Club as a resort in 1996. That’s the year the North and South courses (now the Ryder and Wanamaker) opened for play. Both were designed by Tom Fazio, Jim’s younger brother. The Dye course, a Pete Dye creation, was added in 2000 and is the only course in the group not designed by a Fazio.

St. Lucie West Country Club remained private and continued with that title for about 18 months after the purchase. Then the PGA renamed it PGA Country Club and kept it private for nearly two decades.

That changed on Nov. 1, 2014, when general manager Jimmy Terry announced that the club – after an 18-month revitalization program that included work on the tee boxes, fairways and greens and additional landscaping, all supervised by director of agronomy Dick Gray – was going public.

Along with that announcement came the name change, to St. Lucie Trail, and a new logo. The club would also become the national testing ground for player development programs originated by the PGA of America to grow the game both locally and nationally.

A forced carry over vegetation off the tee makes No. 17 a most memorable par-3.

As a private venue, PGA Country Club may have seemed somewhat of an after-thought for the resort facilities. Its change to a public venue, though, triggered a five-year plan to upgrade the entire resort.

“The first year we started working on agronomy and started working on the greens at St. Lucie Trail,’’ Terry said. “The second year we renamed the course, made it semi-private and changed the pricing structure to make it affordable for people to play.’’

Nate Manis, who became St. Lucie Trail’s head professional when the course went public, witnessed the change up close and personal.

“There was a lot of hype around the community, but it took a good solid month before we were rocking and rolling,’’ he recalled. “Still that first year we were very well received. It was a huge boost for us.’’

That showed in the numbers. Rounds played in the first year as a public venue nearly hit 30,000. As a private club the rounds were closer to 15,000 per year.

Major work on the clubhouse and renovation of the Wanamaker and Dye courses would follow the St. Lucie Trail announcement and the Ryder will get a similar facelift this fall to conclude the five-year effort to upgrade the entire four-course facility that also includes a short course and spacious Learning Center.

A waterfall adorns the outside of the clubhouse at St. Lucie Trail.

“At the end of the five-years we will have touched every course and the clubhouse,’’ said Terry. “The response from our members has been very positive. Our private club memberships have been the highest they’ve ever been and the rounds of golf are back to a level where we’re happy with them.’’

Getting more players on what had been its private club is just one of the benefits of the hard work over the last three-plus years. The St. Lucie Trail layout hasn’t yet received the recognition that other Jim Fazio designs in Florida have but that could change as more players experience its challenges.

Best known of Fazio’s other designs is Trump International in West Palm Beach – incoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s first venture into golf. Hawks Nest, in Vero Beach, and El Diablo, in Ocala, have also been recognized in various state rankings and St. Lucie Trail might be next. There is now a growing number of players (myself included) who believe that it may be the best of the PGA Village/PGA Golf Club courses.

After playing all five in the span of a month, St. Lucie Trail seems the most challenging. It is a tighter driving course than the others with some particularly memorable holes.

No. 6, a 418-yard par-4 that well deserves its status as the No. 1 handicap hole, comes to mind first. It has the most demanding tee shot on the layout and that hole follows another good hole. No. 5 is a 415-yard par-4 with a pond on the right and an uphill approach to the green.

The back side isn’t as tough as the front but Nos. 14, 17 and 18 – a par-4, par-3 and par-5 respectively – merit post-round discussion. The 17th may be the prettiest hole on the course and the 18th, at 550 yards, is the longest.

St. Lucie Trail, which plays at 6,901 yards from the back tees, is the only one of the four PGA Golf Club courses under 7,000 yards. Longest is the Dye at 7,221 yards. The Dye also has the highest rating (75.7) while the Wanamaker has the top slope (145). St. Lucie Trail has a 73.4 rating and 142 slope.

Visitors to St. Lucie Trail will find a well-conditioned course that is both challenging and fun.

West Palm Beach muny has retained its relevance as 70th season approaches

West Palm Beach offers golfers one of Florida’s best conditioned municipal courses.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Florida leads the nation with over 1,300 public golf courses, and it also has something that many other states with serious golfers should consider – a trail that pays homage to its older layouts that have best withstood the tests of time.

The Trail hasn’t been heavily promoted but we have made it a must to visit some of its courses every year. There are about 50 of them spread across Florida. They come in varying states of conditioning and popularity but all have welcomed public golfers for at least 50 consecutive years.

These courses aren’t just fun. They reflect the history of the area in which they’re located, and few do that as well as West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course, which will celebrate its 70th season in 2017.

West Palm was created in 1947 by Dick Wilson, a Florida architect of major stature, but its story really goes back much further than that – to 1921 when it was first known as the West Palm Beach Country Club.. As a private club it couldn’t survive for long, especially after a 1928 hurricane wrecked the place.

Waste bunkers are hazard on both sides of the fairways throughout a round at West Palm.

In 1929 the club’s owners donated it to the city of West Palm Beach with the understanding that it would be operated as a municipal course. It became the forerunner to what is now West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course.

The federal government took possession of the original course during World War II and a decision was made to move the facility to its present location and rebuild the course. The result was one of Wilson’s first creations. Then a Delray Beach resident, he would later design or renovate about 60 courses, many in partnership with Joe Lee. The best known of those are Bay Hill and Pine Tree in Florida, LaCosta in California and the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill in the Chicago area.

Dubsdread opened in 1964 and would later host the PGA Tour’s Western Open and BMW Championship from 1991 to 2007. Wilson passed on in 1965 at the age of 61.

You’re better off not hitting into this area at West Palm, though you can usually escape from. it.

His West Palm Beach design was a novelty — a course with no water on it – and it was immediately well received. After a clubhouse was opened in 1951 West Palm was ready to host PGA Tour players and from 1956 through 1962 it was the site of an annual tournament, called either the West Palm Beach Open or the West Palm Beach Open Invitational.

The tourney’s highlight playing was in 1959 when Arnold Palmer was the champion. He was 7-under par after rounds of 72, 67, 66 and 76 after the regulation 72 holes and needed four more holes to beat Gay Brewer and Pete Cooper in a playoff to claim the $2,000 winner’s check. Palmer’ victory was the 13th of the 62 he would claim on the PGA Tour.

Cooper (1958) and Brewer (1961) were also winners of the tournament, which usually offered a $20,000 purse. Other champions were Al Balding (1957), Johnny Pott (1960) and Dave Ragan (1962). The tourney ended as a PGA Tour event after Ragan’s win but was revived under the title of West Palm Beach Open 10 years later when Wilf Homenuik won the title.

Though the tour players were gone West Palm remained popular with local players. The wear and tear of daily play, though, eventually took its toll. By 2009 it was due for some updating, and Mark McCumber, a PGA Tour veteran with 10 tour titles to his credit, directed a seven-month restoration project. When the work was done Palmer returned 50 years after his tournament victory on the old course to hit the celebratory first tee shot on the new version.

The halfway house at West Palm is pretty basic, but serves its purpose.

That came in 2009, and players returned in strong numbers. The absence of water hazards has never been a deterrent. Lots of waste areas and big, deep bunkers provide plenty of challenges and they keep your interest. The course gets better as you go along, and the big greens were in excellent condition for our round there. We played in the company of a couple from Ireland who were every bit as impressed as we were.

West Palm is definitely one of the best conditioned courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail and an excellent golf value, historical significance notwithstanding.

With five sets of tee placements, West Palm can be played as long as 7,002 yards (rating is 73.0 and slope is 128 from the back tees). It’s 5,023 yards from the front markers. The facility also has a full grass driving range and a large practice area overlooking the course.

One thing that is notably missing, however, is a clubhouse. The old one was torn down three years ago when safety concerns surfaced. Since then the staff has operated out of very basic facilities — a small pro shop near the parking lot, which is beside a high school, and a snack shop between the No. 9 green and No. 10 tee.

That look could change in the near future. The board of commissioners that operates the course has studied the possibility of building a new clubhouse for over a year and a decision on whether to go ahead with that project is expected at a formal meeting on Jan. 9, 2017.

PGA’s Wanamaker, Ryder courses have come a long way in 20 years

The clubhouse at PGA Golf Club, which services three 18-hole courses, is usually a busy place.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida — The year 2016 has been one of milestones for the PGA of America and its 28,000 members from all parts of the world.

The organization’s various centennial celebrations appropriately drew the bulk of the attention, but there was more to 2016 than that – particularly if you’re a fan of the facilities that are owned and operated by the PGA. Both Valhalla Golf Club, in Louisville, and PGA Golf Club, located here, reached milestones as well.

Valhalla, which opened in 1986, turned 30 years old in 2016. Already the site of two PGA Championships, two Senior PGA Championships, the 2002 PGA Professional National Championship and the 2008 Ryder Cup, Valhalla has long been in the spotlight for its tournament resume.

At PGA Golf Club, it’s a different story, yet a very important one for a wide range of golfers. With four 18-hole courses, the PGA’s flagship property is much bigger than Valhalla and the winter home for the PGA’s far-reaching membership. The general public has gotten to know and love the resort’s courses as well.

PGA Golf Club concludes its 20th season in 2016. Its story isn’t as high profile as that of the organization as a whole or even that of the younger Valhalla, but it is well worth telling. It reflects the overall dedication of the PGA membership, which had a big honor to celebrate this week when the club was among five named in the inaugural “Most Improved Courses of the Year’’ poll conducted by Golf Inc. magazine.

The finishing hole is just part of what makes the Wanamaker one of Florida’s best courses.

The award isn’t the first for PGA Golf Club, but it does serve as a reward for the work put in by its staff and the PGA as a whole over the last few years. A little historical perspective will be helpful.

PGA Golf Club opened its doors on Jan. 1, 1996. The first tee shot was struck on what was then called the North Course. Four months later the South Course was ready for play as well. Both were designed by Tom Fazio, who proved an excellent architectural choice. No designer has more credits on Golf Digest’s prestigious list of America’s Greatest Golf Courses than Fazio. He has designed more than 200 courses in a 40-plus year career.

Port St. Lucie, which is now a mecca for golfers, had a much different look when Fazio did his creative work on the PGA Golf Club’s first two courses. The nearest quality course was a private layout called The Reserve, which was co-designed by his uncle (former PGA Tour player George Fazio) and his older brother (Jim Fazio). The Reserve, now called The Legacy, opened on Jan. 1, 1984.

The area needed more courses at that time, and PGA Golf Club was created to fill that need.

The PGA logo should indicate that a good experience is in the offing for golfers.

“There wasn’t much over there then,’’ said Jeff Hartstine, who built the two courses that Tom Fazio designed. “It was a pretty standard construction endeavor – nothing unusual, no sink holes, no water problems.’’

Hartstine went on to build courses for Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman, then sold his sod farm in 2004 and bought a course, Placid Lakes, in Lake Placid, FL. He isn’t much involved in golf course construction now but did enjoy the “explosion’’ that came around the time the North and South courses opened.

Growth came fast — maybe too fast. Pete Dye designed a third course at PGA Golf Club that had a soft opening in 1999 and an official debut in 2000 and a Learning Center also opened in December of 1999. Another Jim Fazio design, a nearby private facility then called PGA Country Club that had opened in 1988, was also in the mix but the heart of PGA Golf Club remained its original pair of 18-holers.

After enduring 10 years of play both were due for updating and that went beyond work on the courses. Each got a name change as well in 2006. The North became the Ryder Course, in honor of Samuel Ryder – the namesake and founder of the premier team event in golf. The South became the Wanamaker Course, honoring businessman Rodman Wanamaker who was instrumental in the birth of the PGA of America a century ago.

Over the years the Ryder and Wanamaker hosted a wide variety of competitions in addition to public play. The Ryder got the reputation for being the more player-friendly, with its wide fairways and putting surfaces that didn’t have many severe breaks. The Wanamaker became recognized as one of the best – and most beautiful – courses in all of golf-rich Florida.

The No. 16 hole on the Ryder Course may be the prettiest of PGA Golf Club’s par-3s.

In a five-year period after the 2006 renovations both courses took a beating and that led to more soul-searching on the PGA’s part. Play was down and more work needed to be done.

“We saw the challenge we were facing,’’ Jimmy Terry, the club’s general manager, admitted earlier this fall. “We had a five-year plan and had the complete, absolute, ultimate support from the PGA of America on what we wanted to do. We started with a very simple thing. We wanted to make sure our courses were commensurate with what would make the PGA of America members proud to call it their winter home.’’

The five-year plan is more than half over now, and it has already impacted the Wanamaker. Last year that course got new fairways, a project engineered by director of agronomy Dick Gray. The results have been well received, and the Ryder was to be upgraded next.

“That was going to be the next step,’’ said Terry, “but — because we had a couple large events scheduled for this fall – we didn’t want to take a risk. We couldn’t risk that the golf course might not be prepared in time.’’

So, instead of closing the Ryder, the Dye Course got a renovation instead. Like the Wanamaker, it was similarly well received.

“Our final step will be to do the Ryder Course next year,’’ said Terry. “At the end of the five years we will have touched every golf course and clubhouse. The response from our members has been very positive. Our private club memberships have been the highest they’ve ever been and the rounds of golf are back to a level where we’re happy with them.’’

The judges in Golf Inc. magazine’s “Most Improved Course’’ poll were impressed. They appreciated a 10.5 percent membership increase and the multi-million dollar capital improvements required for the first two renovations. Also of note was the 150 percent participation increase in social and golf events at the Wanamaker.

Now the Ryder will get the attention it needs, and that could create changes in the course rankings.

Checking out golf’s four major championship trophies is a must on a PGA Golf Club visit.

Golfweek had the Wanamaker No. 16 and the Dye No. 27 in its latest rankings of Florida public courses and Golf Magazine had the Wanamaker No. 23 and the Dye No. 30. The Ryder wasn’t a factor in either poll, which surprised me after rounds at all three of those courses.

A round at the Wanamaker won’t be forgotten thanks to the backdrop of wetlands and palm trees that give the course its beauty. The Dye’s most creative design makes for a fun round and the Ryder has its charm, too.

Its No. 16 hole may be the most beautiful par-3 on the property. With its ample fairways, the Ryder offers a pleasant, relatively stress-free adventure that gets more interesting as the holes wind down. Nothing wrong with a round like that.

Even without the Ryder redo, we found the conditioning on all three courses excellent – a most noticeable improvement over our last visit to the area four years ago – and that carried over to the clubhouse atmosphere as well. The trophy display near the historic Taplow Pub underscores the better overall display of clubhouse memorabilia and isn’t to be missed.

The Ryder, the first course at PGA Golf Club, provides an honor roll of champions at its first tee.

LPGA, French Lick create a senior major with weekday dates

French Lick’s Pete Dye Course is always a challenge, but the views are spectacular.

The Ladies PGA Tour added a major championship to its 2017 schedule on Tuesday, and it’s one with a very untraditional format.

Commissioner Mike Whan announced that the first LPGA Senior Championship will be played July 10-12 – Monday through Wednesday – at French Lick Resort in southern Indiana. Most pro golf events conclude four days of competition on Sunday, but it was difficult to find weekend dates for the LPGA’s senior members, former stars now in the 45-plus age group.

To compensate the LPGA – at the suggestion of French Lick chairman Steve Ferguson and director of golf Dave Harner – put two of its smaller tour events together. The LPGA’s developmental circuit, the Symetra Tour, will hold a 54-hole event on French Lick’s Donald Ross Course from July 7-9 immediately before 81 senior members battle for a $600,000 purse the next three days on the acclaimed Pete Dye Course. There will be no cut in the senior event. The Symetra tournament, also played at 54 holes, will have a $200,000 purse with $30,000 going to the champion.

The Ross was the site of Walter Hagen’s win in the 1924 PGA Championship and victories by Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls in the LPGA Championships of 1959 and 1960. The biggest event on the much younger Dye layout — it opened in 2009 — was Colin Montgomerie’s victory in the 2015 Senior PGA Championship.

Scheduling gets even more complex for senior women than just the assignment of weekday dates. The first LPGA Senior Championship follows one of the circuit’s regular major championships – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship Sept. 30 to July 2 at Olympia Fields Country Club — and the U.S. Women’s Open will be played the following week at Trump National in New Jersey.

Scotland’s Trish Johnson was the center of attention after her win in a six-hole playoff with Juli Inkster in last year’s Legends Championship.

“This creates a great opportunity for us to showcase our stars of yesterday, the players who really built this game, and our stars of tomorrow,’’ said Whan, who said the creation of the new event was over six months in the planning stage.

It also could mean the end of The Legends Championship, a previous brainchild of the French Lick staff who had been working with Legends Tour executive director Jane Blalock. Blalock created that circuit – acknowledged as the “official’’ senior tour of the LPGA – in 2000. The LPGA and Legends, though, operated independently.

“We’ve had a close relationship with the Legends Tour for four years,’’ said Harner. “We felt this was the right thing to do, to give the senior ladies a major event.’’

Last year’s Legends Championship, in which Scotland’s Trish Johnson whipped defending champion Juli Inkster in a dramatic six-hole playoff, had a purse of $325,000. In its four-year run The Legends Championship couldn’t get any television coverage. The first LPGA Senior Championship will have six hours of coverage on The Golf Channel. Both French Lick and The Golf Channel have multi-year agreements with the LPGA on the new senior tournament.

The Legends Hall of Fame is located at the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, and the Legends Championship has been the biggest event on Blalock’s circuit. For now, the tourney announced on Tuesday mainly amounts to a name change but the future of The Legends Championship is in doubt. Harner said it won’t be held at French Lick if it is held at all.

In addition to Inkster and Johnson, the Legends roster has included such prominent names as Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Joanne Carner, Jan Stephenson and Pat Bradley.

Harner is hopeful that Annika Sorenstam will end her long break from competition and join those stars at French Lick. Sorenstam wasn’t mentioned at Tuesday’s televised announcement, however. Michelle McGann, a seven-time LPGA winner, represented the senior players.

“This is amazing,’’ said McGann. “I went on tour when I was 18 and never thought I’d be playing in an LPGA Senior Championship. I’m so excited. French Lick has a fabulous golf course, and the people there have been so supportive of our Legends Tour.’’

Senior women had been the lone segment of the golf population largely ignored by the sport’s organizing groups until recently. The U.S. Golf Association announced in 2015 that it would conduct at U.S. Women’s Senior Open, but that event won’t debut until 2018 at Chicago Golf Club.

BIT AND PIECES: Tiger Woods announced that he would play in the PGA Tour’s Genesis Open Feb. 13-19 at Los Angeles’ Riviera Country Club. It was the site of his first PGA Tour event in 1992, when Woods was a 16-year old amateur.

Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray, long the only Chicago player on the LPGA Tour, could wind up playing in both the Symetra and senior events at French Lick. She’s one of only two players to earn money on all three women’s circuits in 2016. Jeray has full status on the Symetra in 2017 and expects to get into most of the Legends tournaments as well, but she fears conflicts with the accompanying pro-ams may limit her to playing one or the other tournament at French Lick. The first LPGA Senior Championship also includes pro-ams on the Friday and Saturday of the Symetra tournament.

Deerfield’s Vince India has regained his place on the PGA’s Web.com Tour. He finished third in last week’s qualifying school in Winter Garden, FL.

Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Good has been at least temporarily thwarted in its well-publicized bid to launch its new Triton driver. The club’s development was the focal point of a nationally-televised golf reality series, but the U.S. Golf Association says the club doesn’t conform to its rules. Wilson is working to correct the issue.

The John Deere Classic, despite having new dates and a weakened field due to the return of golf to last summer’s Olympics, was named the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year.

Illinois men’s coach Mike Small will be inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame on Wednesday night in Norman, OK.

Tournament organizers have announced that tickets are now on sale for the NCAA Championships at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove; the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship; the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, IL; and the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

LPGA and Symetra golfers will have this view as they play the 18th hole of the Pete Dye Course.