Len Ziehm On Golf

Will the Trish Johnson Era continue at French Lick?

Cold, rainy weather ruled the day when the Honors Division was scheduled to compete at French Lick.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – As far as tournament play on the Pete Dye Course here is concerned, this is definitely the Trish Johnson Era.

“And I hope it continues,’’ said Johnson on Sunday – the last practice day before Monday’s start of the second Senior LPGA Championship. This is the last major championship of 2018 on any of the American pro golf tours.

Johnson made her debut on the Pete Dye Course in The Legends Championship of 2016, finishing second to Juli Inkster. Inkster was making her Legends debut in that tournament. She returned to defend her title in 2017, but Johnson dethroned her in a six-hole playoff.

Trish Johnson was in a good mood for her .pre-tourney press conference

Last year, when the tournament was transformed into the Senior LPGA — and the first-ever major for the older women players – Johnson was a wire-to-wire winner. Inkster, who had a broadcasting assignment at the U.S. Women’s Open, didn’t play at French Lick last year but she’s back for this week’s tournament. That doesn’t rule out Johnson as the tournament favorite.

“Second-first-first. I love it here,’’ said Johnson. “This course suits my eye.’’

But it looks a little different going into the 54-hole tournament that tees off on Monday. The previous tournaments on the Pete Dye Course were played in July. This one is in October, and the weather hasn’t been pleasant. Temperatures were in the 40-degree range with intermittent rain for the three pre-tournament days and Monday’s forecast is for similar weather.

“Monday will be survival day,’’ said Johnson. “A round of level par would do very nicely. After that it looks like it’ll be a bit nicer.’’

Johnson has played in only nine tournaments this year and describes her play as “very intermittent.’’ She was third behind Dame Laura Davies in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club and had one Legends win, in the Suquamish Clearwater Cup.

Caddies had it as tough as the golfers did in trying to cope with Sunday’s cold weather.

This week’s 81-player field includes four World Golf Hall of Fame members – Inkster Davies, Hollis Stacy and Jan Stephenson, whose selection was announced last week – and eight countries are represented among the starters.

The field also includes the winners of four LPGA major championships and there are four Illinois players in the field headed by Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray, who was seventh in the tournament last year and accepted a teaching position at Mistwood in Romeoville earlier this week.

Jaime Fischer, a teaching pro at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, made the starting field at this week’s qualifying round. Fischer also was a qualifier for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and survived the 36-hole cut at Chicago Golf Club. There won’t be a cut at French Lick. Other players with Illinois backgrounds in the field are Audra Burks, of Springfield, and Nancy Scranton, who grew up in Centralia.

A bundled up Martha Nause lines up a putt in the Honors Division scramble.

Hamlin, Turner are inducted into the LPGA Legends Hall of Fame

Sherri Turner celebrates her Hall of Fame induction with French Lick director of golf Dave Harner.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – Two players are inducted into the LPGA Legends Hall of Fame each year, and this year – for the first time — the two honorees were inducted on separate nights.

Shelley Hamlin was honored at Thursday night’s opening night gala preceding the Senior LPGA Championship and Sherri Turner was inducted the following night in another dinner gala that followed the event’s second Faegre Baker Daniels Pro-Am on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort.

The competition begins at noon on Sunday when the Legends Honors Division tournament tees off and the main event, — 81 players competing over 54 holes for a $600,000 purse –runs Monday through Wednesday with The Golf Channel broadcasting the action from 4-6 p.m. (EDT) each day. The champion receives $90,000.

Both induction ceremonies were held at the French Lick Resort, and Hamlin and Turner will be included in the Legends Hall of Fame room at the nearby West Baden Springs Hotel. Honorees are determined off the significant impact that each has made on both the LPGA and Legends tours. In the case of Hamlin and Turner, the inspiration that they demonstrated during their careers was instrumental in their selections.

Hamlin, who is involved in a long battle with cancer, could not attend her induction and good friend Anne Marie Palli accepted on Hamlin’s behalf. Hamlin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, during the heart of her playing career. She kept playing and fighting the disease after that winning three tournaments on the LPGA circuit and another on the Legends Tour.

Both Hamlin and Turner were among the 25 founding members of The Legends, for players who have reached their 45th birthday, in 2000.

“Shelley is a class act, and I’m sure she has a special feeling for this award, even though she’s in a fight for her life,’’ said Turner.

Turner, introduced by good friend of 40 years and fellow player Jane Crafter, was diagnosed with Juvenile diabetes when she was 15 and has coped with Type 1 diabetes during her professional career.

Both Hamlin and Turner were on the LPGA board of directors, Hamlin serving s president in 1980-81 and Turner on the player executive committee from 1997-99 before The Legends Tour was created.

“The Legends gave us the opportunity to continue to compete,’’ said Turner. “We all still love the game, and there’s nothing like the thrill of winning. It also allowed us to maintain life-long friendships.’’

Turner gave special thanks to Legends founder Jane Blalock and Jan Stephenson, who herself was announced as a member of the next induction class into the World Golf Hall of Fame last week.

Blalock and Stephenson were among those preceding Hamlin and Turner into the Legends Hall of Fame. Stephenson, along with Kathy Whitworth, was in the first induction class in 2013. Blalock went in with Nancy Lopez the following year. Others in the Hall are JoAnne Carner and Rosie Jones (2015), Sandra Haynie and Elaine Crosby (2016) and Sandra Palmer and Nancy Scranton (2017).

Stephenson, Blalock, Carner, Jones, Crosby and Scranton will all be competing this week. Haynie will hit the ceremonial first tee shot on Monday.

Sherri Turner’s big night is climaxed by her induction into the Legends Hall of Fame.

French Lick’s second Senior LPGA tourney will be bigger than the first

Defending champion Trish Johnson gets pro-am play started at French Lick.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – Last year the long overdue first major championship for senior women golfers was staged on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort. The second playing of the event, 15 months later, will clearly be bigger and better than the original.

The inaugural staging was paired with the Donald Ross Centennial Classic, a Symetra Tour event, to create a big two weeks of tournament golf on both of the resort’s courses. This year the events were split up, with the Symetra stop remaining in July and the Senior LPGA taking fall dates that figure to made it more special.

The PGA Tour has already conducted its four major championships and PGA Tour Champions has staged its five. The LPGA has completed its five majors for the regular tour, and the senior women’s played their first U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in July.

That means the second Senior LPGA Championship, with its $600,000 purse, will be the last professional major championship on any tour in 2018. It’ll also be the only one played entirely on weekdays. That encouraged television coverage, and The Golf Channel will carry the action live from 4-6 p.m. for the three tournament rounds beginning on Monday.

Barely a year ago there was one glaring void in the golf tournament calendar, with no major tournament for the senior women professionals who contributed so much to the growth on the LPGA.

French Lick was instrumental in correcting the problem, helping The Legends Tour put on its biggest tournament of the year for four years on the Pete Dye Course. The Legends Championship grew into the Senior LPGA Championship last year and it found a home on the Pete Dye Course as well.

First of the pre-tournament festivities for the tourney’s second playing were held on Thursday, with a gala and auction benefitting the Riley Children’s Hospital. First of two Faegre Baker Daniels Pro-Ams was held on Friday and the latest induction class into The Legends Hall of Fame – which is housed at French Lick Springs Resort –s was completed at the post-round dinner. Shelley Hamlin’s selection was announced on Thursday night.

On Sunday eight players will decide the Legends Honors Division title, with Jan Stephenson defending her crown in the immediate aftermath of her selection to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Once the tournament proper begins, however, the focus will be clearly on England’s Trish Johnson. She won the last of the four Legends Championships in 2016 by beating Juli Inkster in a six-hole playoff and led wire to wire last year in claiming the first Senior LPGA title.

Johnson was a three-stroke winner over Michele Redman in the first Senior LPGA, and they were the only players under par for the 54 holes. Inkster, who won The Legends Championship at French Lick in 2015, didn’t play in the first Senior LPGA because she was part of the broadcasting team for the U.S. Women’s Open.. Now she’s back as is England’s Laura Davies, who won the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open by a whopping 10 shots in Chicago.

The 81 starters include five members of the LPGA Hall of Fame and 19 in the field have won LPGA major titles.

Hanse’s architectural touch is now in full force at Pinehurst

It’s still called Pinehurst No. 4, but architect Gil Hanse has given the course a completely new look.

PINEHURST, North Carolina – Pinehurst Resort dates back to 1895, but its leadership has never been reluctant to change with the times. The estimable contributions of course architect Gil Hanse are just the latest examples of that.

Hanse’s portfolio had already featured the Brazil course used for golf’s return to the Olympic Games as well as restorations of such notables as The Country Club in Boston, Merion in Philadelphia and Oakland Hills in Michigan when Pinehurst announced his hiring for a more expansive project in November of 2016.

Not only was Hanse to create a short course on 10 acres of the property that had been part of two of its 18-holers, he was also entrusted with a complete redesign of one of the resort’s most popular layouts. Now that job is done.

The Cradle, its nine holes spread over only 789 yards, opened in April and has already played to more than 10,000 rounds. The latest version of Pinehurst No. 4 made its debut a week ago. It’s hard to image Hanse’s No. 4 topping the popularity of The Cradle, but time will tell.

Short courses are a sign of golf’s changing times.

Part of The Cradle’s charm is its marketing approach. For $50 you can play all day, and that’s a temptation. Playing this course, with its array of elevation changes and walkability, is addictive. Unless play happens to be too slow or the weather not to your liking, it’s hard to stop playing.

Pinehurst has been described as “The Cradle of American Golf’’ and that’s how the new short course got its name. The Nos. 3 and 5 courses lost their first holes in the Hanse design. There’s also a strategically placed bar – it’s portable and not in any way resembling a halfway house – that entices players not once but twice on their tour of The Cradle and background music also rocks the atmosphere at The Cradle.

The scorecard lists holes measured from 56 to 127 yards but that’s misleading. Yardages changes each day according to the whims of the maintenance staff, and up-to-date yardages are provided on the hole markers. We played one that measured only 30 yards on our visit.

Seeing players on every hole hasn’t been unusual since The Cradle opened.

More and more resorts are adding short courses to their amenities, and that’s a good thing. They’ll get more players involved with the game, and that fact is underscored once you get a look at The Cradle.

The course was created in a busy time frame for the resort. Not only were the Nos. 3 and 5 courses and the Maniac (America’s first driving range) being altered to make room for The Cradle, but the Thistle Dhu putting course was also moved to a more attractive location in front of the clubhouse and also expanded in a short time period.

Hanse turned his attention to Pinehurst No. 4 in the fall of 2017. The legendary Donald Ross designed the original course in 1919 and some others in the sport’s architectural elite had put their stamp on those 18 holes before Hanse got a crack at it. Robert Trent Jones did a re-design in 1973, Rees Jones in 1982 and Tom Fazio in 1999. Hanse’s was a look back as much as it was a look ahead.

The same rugged, natural look at Pinehurst No. 2 is also in evidence on No. 4.

Positive feedback from the re-design of Pinehurst No. 2 by the architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2011 convinced Pinehurst leadership to give No. 4 a similar look. Hanse’s version of No.4 meant the return of exposed sand and wire-grass.

The strength of Fazio’s design was its striking bunkering. Many of those bunkers disappeared as Hanse went to a more natural look. The greens are less severe now, too.

Hanse’s version may not be as pretty as its predecessor, in large part because the azaleas behind the par-3 fourth hole are gone. That hole was moved, though the rest of the rotation remained pretty much intact. The end result is that Pinehurst now has more of the more natural, rugged look that was so well-received in the Coore-Crenshaw remake of the famed No. 2.

That’ll come into play most prominently in 2019 when Nos. 2 and 4 are used for the next playing of the U.S. Amateur. No. 4 can play as long a 7,227 yards from the tips, and it measures 5,260 from the front markers. Championship rating is 74.9 and the slope is 138.

In setting the tone for the big events that are sure to be coming the new No. 4 has different policy directives than its predecessor. As is the case with No. 2, golf carts are allowed only on designated paths. And – unlike No. 2 and all the other Pinehurst courses – push carts are being allowed on No. 4 on an experimental basis. Caddies are available to both courses.

More scenes from Pinehurst:

Pinehurst Brewing Company already adds a lot to this golf mecca

Pinehurst Resort has kept up with the times golf-wise since its opening in 1895, and our regular visits over the last 20 years have described the many new things that Pinehurst has contributed to the golf world. It goes far beyond the big tournaments that have been played there.

This time, though, our report on what’s new in Pinehurst golf-wise can wait for a day. Not to take anything away from the golf side, but the resort broadened its reach when the Pinehurst Brewing Company opened a week ago.

While Pinehurst Resort has always been long on amenities for its guests, the Pinehurst Brewing Company is something that is both beneficial and needed. Now the resort has something that attracts locals as well as out-of-towners. That was obvious in our visit; we arrived early on a weekday night, waited briefly in line before being seated and left with the place packed.

From power plant to microbrewery, this place has stood for over 120 years.

Getting a handle on Pinehurst Brewing Company isn’t as easy as it might seem. Yes, it’s a brewery. Eric Mitchell came in from Heist Brewing Company in Charlotte to be Pinehurst’s first brewmaster. While the restaurant has been open a few days, the brewery has not. The debut of Mitchell’s craft beers, though, I’m told is imminent.

This 10-barrel brewery, not surprisingly, includes a restaurant with a unique style of pizza and sandwiches dominating the menu for now. While there are TVs scattered throughout the place, it’s no sports bar. It’s much more than that. There’s both indoor and outdoor bars and dining, and over 200 patrons can be accommodated at a time.

Moving forward, however, Pinehurst Brewing Company is more than just a place to eat and drink beer. Just a few days into its existence, it’s clear that Pinehurst Brewing Company is also am historical landmark.

The building that houses the brewery-restaurant was known as the Village Power House, and the steam it produced allowed the Holly Inn to welcome its first guests in 1895. The Holly Inn, of course, is still going strong.

As for the Village Power House it was in operation into the 1990s, then was shuttered and slated for demotion. The wrecking ball never came, however, and that’s turned out a good thing.

As much of the power plant as possible has been incorporated into the building of the Pinehurst Brewing Company and artifacts from it serve as table decorations. The original brick walls are still there and the historic smokestack will be rebuilt.

The entire place will be a work in progress for a while. Even in its early days, though, the Pinehurst Brewing Company adds a lot to an already special place.

GOLF/TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Carolina courses dodged big problems from this hurricane

Tidewater is among many Myrtle Beach courses to open after experiencing Hurricane Florence’s wrath

The damage inflicted by Hurricane Florence was devastating, especially in North and South Carolina, but those states’ golf courses averted serious damage for the most part.

Golf mecca Myrtle Beach, S.C., was an hour’s drive away from Wilmington, N.C., where Florence struck first. Myrtle Beach has about 100 courses in its general area. As of Wednesday 45 of them were open and that number was expected to increase to 69 by Friday.

“We are obviously excited to have golfers playing again in Myrtle Beach, and they can expect to see sunny skies and quality course conditions,’’ said Bill Golden, chief executive officer of Golf Tourism Solutions – the agency responsible for promoting the area as a destination. “The Myrtle Beach golf community was very fortunate but the impact of the storm for many of our neighbors was tragic. We wish them a complete recovery.’’

Greg Williams, of North Augusta, S.C., won the Flight Winners Playoff at the 35th Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship.

Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina, issued a special message to golfers who might be coming his way.

“We are very fortunate that we experienced no negative effects from the storm – no infrastructure damage, no power outages, no beach erosion and no flooding,’’ said Warren.

The courses were closed for a day in compliance with an evacuation order but by Sunday the resort was in full preparation mode to welcome guests. Kiawah was fully open and operational on Wednesday.

Pinehurst, the famed resort in North Carolina, also reported good news. It had no significant damage and its hotels and courses were open and fully operational on Wednesday.

Here’s an artist’s rendering of the French Lick Springs Hotel after expansion is completed.

FRENCH LICK EXPANDS: The French Lick Resort, which hosts the Senior LPGA Championship on its Pete Dye Course in October, announced the launching of a $17 million project that will add 56 guestrooms and a new sports bar near the Event Center and French Lick Casino. The six-story guestroom addition and sports bar are slated for completion in the fall of 2019.

The additional rooms will supplement the existing 686 guestrooms at the two historic resort hotels – French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs — and bring the resort’s overall capacity to 742 rooms.

INNISBROOK RENOVATION NEARLY COMPLETE: The South Course at the Innisbrook Resort, in Palm Harbor, FL., has scheduled its re-opening festivities on Nov. 30 It’s been closed all summer to allow for the planting of TifEagle Bermuda on all of its greens. That’s the same grass that was already put on the Copperhead course – site of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March – and the North Course. The North renovation was completed in 2017.

HERE AND THERE: Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club in Orlando, FL., has announced that it will host the King’s Cup from May 23-25, 2019. The national qualifying will be Sept. 27-29 at Walt Disney World Golf.

The two courses at the Tullymore Resort in Stanwood, Mich., are planning for a big finish to this season. The St. Ives course will hosts its fourth annual Ironman scramble tournament on Oct. 14 and the Tullymore facility will become a year-around facility later in the month. The Topgolf Swing Suite is being installed there.

The Red, White & You Charity Scramble has been scheduled for Dec. 9 at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL. It’ll benefit PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere). That’s the flagship military program of the PGA of America’s charitable foundation, PGA REACH.

Chuck Knebels has been named director of golf and membership at Banyan Creek, in Palm City, FL.

Big tournaments are a prelude to Eagle Ridge’s 40th anniversary celebration

The beautiful colors and the elevation changes on The General give Eagle Ridge something special.

GALENA, Illinois – Illinois’ premier golf resort turns 40 in October and the months leading into that milestone have not been easy ones on the golf end. Weather-related issues haven’t been kind to Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.

“We’ve been getting punished, for sure,’’ said director of golf Reagan Davis. “We’ve been getting five-six inches or rainfall at a time and had nine inches last weekend. Our biggest concern is the bunkers. It’s been a little scary because they’re not designed to handle that much rain.’’

Still, Eagle Ridge has carried on and two of the biggest events of the year are coming up quickly. The Midwest Regional Classic will have 36 college teams competing this weekend before the Illinois PGA Players Championship comes to town Sept. 24-25 for the last of the Illinois Section’s four major annual competitions.

Not only have the Eagle Ridge Inn’s rooms been renovated, the view outside them is stunning as well.

Both will be on the North Course, oldest of the three 18-holers on the property. The North opened in 1977, a year before the resort’s official opening — when the Eagle Ridge Inn started accommodating visitors. The South opened in 1984, the nine-hole East layout in 1991 and The General – the showcase layout – in 1997. All were designed by the late Roger Packard, with two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North pitching in on The General.

The General is one of the best layouts in the Midwest, with – for Illinois at least – its rare blend steep elevation changes. Still, when it comes to big tournaments, they most always go to the North Course. That has always puzzled me.

“Years back it was set up too tough for one tournament and others have shied away from it ever since,’’ said Davis. “It’s tough to walk, but I don’t think it’s any harder than the North. It’s (the various tournament organizers’) choice.’’

In bypassing The General, the most serious tournament players don’t get to take on the most memorable tee shot in all of Illinois golf. No. 14, a downhill par-4, has a 180-foot elevation change from the tee box to the fairway. It’s an awesome view, as parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa can be seen from the tee markers.

Anyway, this week’s collegiate event will raise money for local youth golf programs – the latest in the Touchstone Golf Foundation’s community outreach efforts. Four area high schools plus Loras College in nearby Dubuque, Iowa, use Eagle Ridge as their home base.

The Illinois PGA Players Championship, scheduled a week earlier this year than in previous years, will feature about 100 club professionals finishing up their bids for Player of the Year points. That event annually produces plenty of drama.

Indeed the resort’s 40th anniversary is a well-deserved cause to celebrate. The resort underwent a change in ownership and management in 2013. Davis and Colin Sanderson, the director of sales and marketing, arrived then and, in the last five years, that new leadership has accomplished a lot.

This year an extensive three-year project to renovate all 60 guest rooms in the courtyard area of the Eagle Ridge Inn was completed while the golf upgrading continued.

“The courses continue to get better every year, and we want to get them back to their original playing condition,’’ said Sanderson. And that’s not all.

New golf carts as well as a golf simulator were also added resort’s amenities this year.

The striking clubhouse at The General course has become an Eagle Ridge landmark.

History-rich Downers Grove, Tam O’Shanter have found ways to survive

The Downers Grove and Tam O’Shanter golf courses, once among the most famous in the United States, aren’t what they used to be. Both, though, are proof of that time-worn adage – “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.’’

Downers Grove was, back in 1892, the America’s first 18-hole course. It – or at least what’s left of it – was the first version of Chicago Golf Club before the members moved to their permanent home in Wheaton.

Tam O’Shanter was the most popular tournament site of the 1940s and 1950s, the site of the big-money tournaments put on by super-promoter George S. May.

Both Downers and Tam O’Shanter have long been relegated to nine-hole facilities operated by park districts. A few holes of each are part of their original layouts but they’re land-locked, eliminated any possibility to return to an 18-hole rotation. Both are still vibrant facilities, however, and they’re working to keep up with the changing times.

That’s been particularly evident this year, as the Downers Grove Park District and Niles Park District took on major projects to upgrade their courses. Here’s what’s been going on, with Downers going first.

In mid-July a major upgrade to the Downers practice range was opened. Ten of the range’s 22 hitting stations now have protection from the elements. They’re covered by a rook and also feature infrared heaters, lights and ceiling fans. Garage doors and solar panels on the south side of the sheltered area are targeted to be added soon. They’ll help block the wind or allow for additional airflow.

The entire construction project creates a big change in the look of the facility. More importantly, though, it will provide more playing time at the course throughout the year and extend the season for the golfers visiting there.

At Tam O’Shanter the changes weren’t quite as dramatic in appearance but a major part of the ongoing work being done to keep this place relevant for golfers and remind them of its rich contribution to American golf history. The historical aspect has been addressed much more at Tam than it has at Downers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immediately after the Niles Park District opened the course in the 1970s the pro shop was operated out of a trailer. Then an Italian restaurant was added, but it didn’t work out very well. Since 2003 the Howard Street Inn sports bar-restaurant, which adjoins the pro shop, has been a busy year-around facility – not just when golfers are on the premises.

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

While quite a few Chicago courses have gone away over the years, Downers and Tam O’Shanter are proof that courses can survive long-term.

Now it’s time to look ahead to big events at Medinah, Whistling Straits

Is there a more beautiful par-3 anywhere than No. 7 at Whistling Straits?

Usually columns for the final issue of a season are used for look-backs at the high (and sometimes – low) points of the goings-on in the previous spring and summer months. This year I’ve coaxed Chicagoland Golf publisher Val Russell into indulging my preference to move in another direction.

Rather than looking back at the Chicago golf season of 2018 I’m going to look ahead – to two events in particular. Sometimes anticipation turns out more exciting than the event itself. I doubt that’ll happen this time but upcoming events at Medinah and Whistling Straits merit attention well in advance.

Once the last putt drops in the BMW Championship at Aronimink in the Philadelphia area, on Sept. 9, Medinah will go on the clock as the site for the FedEx Cup Playoff tournament in 2019.

And, once the last putt drops in the Ryder Cup matches at LeGolf National in France on Sept. 30, Whistling Straits will be on the clock as the host for the 2020 matches in Wisconsin.

Given the Chicago golf tournament calendar of the last three years, a look-back column might sound bittersweet. There won’t be any U.S. Opens, NCAA Championships, major events on the LPGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions or an inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open to captivate enthusiasm during the cold-weather months as there has been in the recent past. In fact, none of those biggies are scheduled in the Chicago area in the foreseeable future.

There won’t be a Western Amateur in the area for the next two years, either, and the Web.com Tour’s Rust-Oleum Championship appears unlikely to return at this point.

Sounds like a downer? Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. The 2019 BMW Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup are big-time, historical attractions on world-renowned courses and they’re not all that far in the future.

Medinah last hosted a big event in 2012, when the Ryder Cup was played on its famed No. 3 course, and the American side went down to a crushing defeat with a disastrous showing in the singles matches on the final day. This time Medinah will be in play for the first BMW Championship played in August – it had been a September attraction until the PGA Tour revamped its schedule for 2019 – and there’s some uncertainty about the event’s future as well. The tourney’s sponsorship agreement concludes after the tournament at Medinah, and the Western Golf Association hasn’t announced sites for the event after 2019.

The Ryder Cup made its appearance at Whistling Straits two years before the main event.

As for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, a tournament two years down the road may seem too far off to think about now, but that shouldn’t be the case. The staff at Whistling Straits is well into the planning stages, based on our visit to Kohler, Wis., last month. Kohler is just a two-hour drive, so it’s pretty much a home game for Chicago golfers. They turned out in droves for the three PGA Championships, two U.S. Women’s Opens and one U.S. Senior Open played there.

There is also one most notable difference between the Whistling Straits Ryder Cup and those in the recent past. Whistling Straits is the first public course to host the event since South Carolina’s Kiawah Island welcomed the matches in 1991. That means that all golfers will have the opportunity to play the course that hosts the Ryder Cup – something that hasn’t happened in a long time. It should mean big business in Kohler, both leading into and immediately after the Ryder Cup comes to town.

Kohler’s pro shops and gift shops are already stocked with merchandise bearing the logo of the 2020 Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup itself was brought by as part of a nation-wide tour on Aug. 22 and more preview events will be held during and immediately after this year’s matches in Paris.

Director of golf Mike O’Reilly has no doubts Whistling Straits will be ready for its first Ryder Cup.

“It’s not like the Ryder Cup is our first rodeo – just our first Ryder rodeo,’’ said Mike O’Reilly, director of golf operations at both Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. He grew up in Darien and went to Downers South High School prior to beginning a 10-year run in Kohler as head golf professional in 2013. In addition to his present role with the Kohler courses O’Reilly is also on the executive committee for the 2020 Ryder Cup.

“The planning process for the Ryder Cup is similar to our PGA Championships, but everything is amplified,’’ said O’Reilly. “The number of volunteers needed is bigger. The number of spectators we can expect is bigger. The demand for tickets is elevated. While the number of people that will be here won’t be much bigger (than for the last PGA Championship in 2015), the demand for tickets will be much bigger. Unfortunately several thousand who want to purchase a ticket won’t be able to do that because the demand is so much greater.’’

In case you’ve forgotten what Ryder Cup fever was like prior to Medinah’s year as the host site, tickets to the matches don’t go on sale. The recipients are determined via a lottery. Those who want to be on hand for the action can file an interest form on line, and attendance will be limited to 40,000 to 45,000 per day. That was roughly the same size gallery as attended at Medinah and Minnesota’s Hazeltine layout – the last American site for the matches in 2016. Ticket prices haven’t been announced for the shootout at Whistling Straits.

The uncertainty of the lottery aside, the biggest problem for 2020 Ryder Cup patrons will be finding lodging. There’s more available than there was for the 2015 PGA Championship but, O’Reilly admits, “there’s certainly not enough.’’

“People will stay in roughly a one-hour radius and private home rentals will be off the charts for the Ryder Cup,’’ said O’Reilly. “What helps is that here you can park on site. You’re not taking a bus to the course. That’s a big advantage.’’

One Kohler attraction that won’t be at the Ryder Cup is the 22 black-faced Irish sheep that have roamed the fairways at Whistling Straights and the adjoining Irish Course. They’ll be removed for the Ryder Cup. Otherwise, it’ll be all systems go come 2020.

“The Ryder Cup will be one of the biggest sporting events in Wisconsin ever,’’ said O’Reilly. We’re trying to get as many people involved as possible.’’

The 22 sheep that have roamed Whistling Straits won’t be around when the Ryder Cup comes to town.


Fun Meter score: 8.5

Location: Galena, Ill.

Course architect: Roger B. Packard with Andy North

Opened: 1997.

Par: 72

Yardage/Rating/Slope: Black 6,726/72.8/141; Gold 6,280/70.7/136; White 5,917/69.1/132; Jade 5,240/66.0/125.

Saturday morning green fee: $$135 May though September, $115 October to winter closing.

Caddie service: No.

Walker friendly: No.

Fairways: Pennlinks Bentgrass.

Greens: Pennlinks Bentgrass.


Starter: The General is the premier course at the Eagle Ridge Resort, which has 63 holes and is the only full-service golf resort in Illinois. In its 40th season, Eagle Ridge also has North, South and East courses, all of them designed by the late Roger B. Packard. While The General is clearly the showcase layout, it has rarely been tested in tournament competition. Usually the North is used for that, just because the extreme elevation changes make The General a difficult course to walk.

Play because….: There’s no course like The General in Illinois and very few in the Midwest. It’s all about dealing with elevation changes and the greens have interesting undulations as well. There’s a 250-foot elevation change throughout the layout and the views offered are stunning.

Takeaway: In its early years The General was considered too challenging for all but the best players. That’s not the case anymore, as the course has matured, its conditioning has improved and its maximum length (under 6,800 yards) isn’t intimidating. Playing from the correct set of tees, though, is still a must. The General is on the tight side, so players who get caught up in the scenery will be in for trouble.

RATINGS (1 to 10, 10 being the highest)

Food|beverage: 8.0

Pro shop: 7.5

Clubhouse: 8.5

Course difficulty: 9.5

Pace of play: 9.0

THE COURSE scorecard

Best Par 3: No. 11, 163 yards from the tips. You must carry a huge, deep ravine that runs from just in front of the tee box to the very front of the green. The ultimate in a forced carry.

Best Par 4: No. 13, 357 yards from the tips. Not really a difficult hole, but there’s a 180-foot elevation from the tee to the fairway, making for a dramatic, most memorable tee shot. You can see three states – Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin – from the tee.

Best Par 5: No. 18, 520 yards from the tips. Tight finishing hole from tee to green with subtle elevation changes mixed in. View of the elevated clubhouse throughout your path to the green brings a picturesque finish to your round.

Website: www.eagleridge.com


Facebook: @EagleRidgeResort

Instagram: @Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

Twitter: @EagleRidge63

Rated by: Len Ziehm