Who’s the real team to beat in this Ryder Cup?

HAVEN, Wis. – Most of the world golf media is labelling the United States the favorite in the 43rd Ryder Cup matches, which tee off on Friday at Whistling Straits. I’m not part of that group. Frankly, it’d be shocking if this U.S. Ryder Cup team even made a game of it against the Europeans.

Here’s why:

The 12-man team that U.S. captain Steve Stricker is working with is much different than the U.S. teams of the past. Six of the 12 are Ryder Cup rookies.and three of the others have appeared in only one previous Ryder Cup.

Stricker’s choices for the six captain’s picks for the squad were questionable, too. He picked four Ryder Cup rookies among his six selections – Xander Schauffele, Harris English, Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler. (The other two rookies on the team are Collin Morikawa and Patrick Cantlay, both of whom had great seasons and earned automatic spots on the team).

In going for Schauffele, English, Berger and Scheffler as his picks, Sticker bypassed Patrick Reed, who was such a stalwart on recent Ryder Cup teams that he earned the nickname of “Captain America.’’  Reed had health issues later in the season, and that impacted Stricker’s decision to exclude him.

Stricker also bypassed Webb Simpson, who owns titles in both the U.S. Open and Players Championship, and Kevin Kisner, a great match play competitor. He was runner-up in the World Match Play in 2018, won the event in 2019 and captured the Wyndham Championship – last event of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season – in a playoff.  Match play success is critical in any Ryder Cup.

If Stricker’s team needs some seasoning Phil Mickelson, the reigning PGA champion, might have been a consideration.  Mickelson, whose game faded late in the season, was made Stricker’s fifth vice captain.

The U.S. team is young, with an average age of 29.  Europe’s, with an average agoe of 34.6, is filled with veterans who are proven Ryder Cup winners., The 12-man European squad has 38 players who played in previous Ryder Cups and 28 were on winning teams. The U.S. roster, by comparison, has a roster with a combined 12 Ryder Cup appearances and three were on winning teams.

Both captains addressed the experience factor during this week’s first on-site media season at Whistling Straits. Clearly it’s an issue that will be closely scrutinized this week.

“We’ve got some young guys, and they bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy and have no bad experiences (in the Ryder Cup),’’ said Stricker.  “We’re using that as a positive.’’

“We’re very comfortable that our team has that experience,’’ answered Europe captain Padraig Harrington. “We’re strongly relying on experience.’’

Stricker, who grew up in Wisconsin before playing collegiately at Illinois, believes Whistling Straits will provide a home course advantage. In a departure from previous Ryder Cups, Stricker brought his team together two weeks ago for two-day preparatory session. He hopes that will help, but Whistling Straits has hosted three major championships and U.S golfers didn’t win any of them.  The three PGA Championships held there went to Vijay Singh of Fuji in 2004, Martin Kaymer of Germany in 2010 and Jason Day of Australia in 2015.

Harrington knows the gallery will be against his team, but is playing down its importance.

“We want the noise, the excitement,’’ he said.  “It’s much better than no fans.’’

That would have been the case had the matches been played as scheduled last year.  They were canceled because of pandemic issues but that doesn’t detract form Europe’s success in the series.

The U.S. may hold a 26-14-2 edge in the Ryder Cup, but most of that success came when the opponent was Great Britain-Ireland.  Since the opponent was all of Europe the Europeans led 11-6-2. Europe has won seven of the last nine Ryders Cups, 12 of the last 17 and four of the last five.  The most disheartening loss came at Medinah in 2012, when Europe trailed 10-6 before Sunday’s singles matches and then mounted a rousing comeback to win the competition.

So,maybe it is good the U.S. has a “different’’ team in this Ryder Cup. Their immediate predecessors were hardly world-beaters. I don’t expect this U.S. team to be one either.

 

HERE AND THERE: The last big event on the Illinois tournament calendar immediately follows the Ryder Cup.  The top 35 on the Illinois PGA’s Bernard point standings will battle in 36-hole IPGA Players Championship at Knollwood, in Lake Forest, with Player-of-the-Year honors on the line….Northbrook’s Nick Hardy started his career as a PGA Tour member with a tie for 36th (along with veterans stars Mickelson and Matt Kuchar) in California’s Fortinet Championship in California, first event of the 2021-22 season…..Lincolnshire’s David Feder won the Illinois State Senior Amateur at the Preserve at Oak Meadows.

 

 

 

 

This resort has one of Michigan’s best courses — and one of the most different

The rugged look is a trademark of Michigan’s Sage Run course.

BARK RIVER/HARRIS, Michigan – Island Resort and Casino has two golf courses.  They’re eight miles apart and have a much bigger difference in course architecture, even though Paul Albanese designed them both.

Sweetgrass, which opened in 2008, is one of the best courses in Michigan – perhaps in the whole Midwest.  Sage Run, which opened 10 years later, has its own unique style. I prefer Sweetgrass by a wide margin, but Sage Run certain catches your attention – and it should.

Sage Run was built on a drumlin. That’s not unusual in golf course architecture. Just after unveiling his latest course Albanese told me that a drumlin is “a geological formation created by a glacier….A  large ridge is a drumlin.’’

Sage Run certainly has plenty of those. The course has big, dramatic elevation changes. It also has a lot of rocks and thick – though not really deep – rough. It’s hard to find your ball in it sometimes.   Those things make this course difficult, and yet it still can be a lot of fun. It’s just one of those layouts that playing from the proper set of tees for your skill level is tantamount to enjoying the experience.

It seems as though Sage Run gets more attention than Sweetgrass just because it is so different. Even the tees are out of the ordinary.  There’s only one marker per set on each whole.  Pick the appropriate marker and you can move as far left or right as you want. That matters, too, as you’ll want to find a flat area to stick your tee in the ground, and that isn’t always easy at Sage Run.

Anyway, Sage Run isn’t built for low scoring but it’s not an overload of Albanese’s fertile imagination, either. A partner of Pete Dye disciple Chris Lutzke, Albanese also designed Tatanka, in rural Nebraska.  It was named Golf Digest’s Best New Resort Course  In 2015.  That proof that Albanese knows his stuff.

As for Sweetgrass, its conditioning is excellent.  While Sage Run has benefitted from three years of seasoning, Sweetgrass has made gigantic strides in that department.  If truth be told, I like Sweetgrass more know than I did on our first visit.

One thing you should know about both courses.  They are part of the Island Resort which has a unique location.  It’s on the border of the Eastern and Central time zones. That’s a factor you should be aware of when you make your tee times.

Sweetgrass’ pro shop Is on the grounds of the resort, but those who enjoy gambling adventures will find visits to either course a nice outdoor diversion to what the casino offers.

Sweetgrass is a beautiful layout that features this island green.

 

 

 

Tour Edge makes early introduction of its new golf clubs

Tour Edge is using PGA Tour Champions stars to promote its new clubs.

It’s obvious that the pandemic changed golf.  Play increased nation-wide last year because the sport was a safe outlet for people in need of exercise and this year, according to industry reports, play is up another 15 percent over that.

“There’s been a 40 percent bump in new golfers coming into the game or players taking it up again,’’ said Jon Claffey, vice president of marketing for Batavia-based club manufacturer Tour Edge.  “That’s bigger than any Tiger (Woods) effect we ever saw.’’

The changes within the golf industry have been broader than that, however, and Tour Edge – though not one of the bigger equipment companies – is in the forefront. On Tuesday the company kicked off Hot Launch 522. All the company’s new clubs were introduced nation-wide far earlier than previous years, and well ahead of most all Tour Edge competitors.

“It’s the biggest launch in our company’s history and we wanted to get it out in front of everyone else,’’ said Claffey.  “We’re putting the focus on game improvement, which no one else does in this industry. It’s all about making the easiest clubs you’ll ever hit. It’s all about playability.’’

Tour Edge is on a roll, thanks in large part to a decision made in 2018 to establish a strong relationship with players on PGA Tour Champions, the 50-and-over circuit. Six players – among them top stars Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman and Scott McCarron – joined the company’s staff. Their success boosted the Tour Edge brand with all  golfers.

At last week’s Ascension Charity Classic Tour Edge had 68 clubs in play, a company record.  Over the last four seasons the company has seen 2,027 of its clubs put in play by 129 professionals on three PGA Tours. Players using those clubs have had 13 wins, 76 top-5 finishes and 152 top-10s.

More recently the company made a huge expansion of its research and development department, bringing in three new engineers as well as a robot called Ted.

“He’s swinging all day long, testing shafts,’’ said Claffey. The company is excited about its new lines of equipment and took the unusual step of announcing them to the public early.  In past years most companies used the massive PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, FL., to do that.

Tour Edge has been one of the most active company participants in that late January closed-to-the-public show, which drew about 40,000 visitors annually to the Orange County Convention Center. After a 66-year run the pandemic forced cancelation of the show this year but it is on the schedule for 2022. Tour Edge won’t be there, and neither will many other equipment manufacturers.  Callaway and Titleist are expected to be the main attendees.

In previous buying cycles the club manufacturers wanted their products introduced well in advance of the Masters in April, so the January dates were ideal.  Now that’s not the case.

“The ebb and flow has changed when it comes to purchasing,’’ said Claffey.  “The PGA Show was falling behind in the sales cycle. We had been an industry trying to find a way to get rid of excess inventory.  Now it’s the opposite. We can’t get our stuff out the door fast enough to meet all this demand. There are other industries experiencing the same thing.’’

New Korn Ferry sponsor

The tournament that had been called the Evans Scholars Invitational will know be know as the NV5 Invitational presented by First Midwest Bank for at least the next five years.  The Western Golf Association announced the new sponsorship agreement for the Korn Ferry Tour event that will be played Maay 23-29 at The Glen Club, in Glenview.

NV5, with over 100 offices world-wide, is a leading provider of compliance, technology, engineering and environmental consulting solutions.

 

HERE AND THERE:  The Ultimate Long Drive World Championship begins its four-day run today  at Cog Hill, in Palos Park….The University of Illinois men’s team hosts its annual invitational on Olympia Fields’ North course Friday-Sunday…..The Illinois PGA’s Birdies for Charity event raised over $300,000 last week at Oak Park Country Club….Four Chicago area youngsters were winners in the Drive, Chip & Putt Regional at Medinah last week – Ledius Felipe, of Poplar Grove (Boys 10-11); Eloise Fetzer, LaGrange (Girls 7-9); Michael Jorski (Boys 12-13) Lisa Copeland, Naperville (Girls 12-13); and Martha Kuwahara, Northbrook (Girls 14-15).  They advanced to the national finals, to be held at Georgia’s Augusta National on the Sunday before next year’s Masters tournament…..The Illinois State Senior Amateur concludes its three-day run today (WEDNESDAY) at The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison…..Carbondale’s Britt Pavelonis’ 6-under-par 138 for 36 holes won last week’s Illinois Senior Open at Flossmoor.

 

 

 

Whistling Straits is ready as the Ryder Cup closes in

 

KOHLER, Wis. –Patrick Cantlay dominated the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs and the final PGA Tour cards were determined at  the Korn Ferry Tour Championship on Sunday. Coupled with Team Europe’s 14 l/2-13 l/2 win in the LPGA’s Solheim Cup on Monday, the golf season would seem to have reached its climax, right?

WRONG!

Last weekend only triggered the prelude to golf’s most emotional event. The 43rd Ryder Cup matches are Sept. 24-26 at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, and that area was hopping over the Labor Day weekend.

The pro shops at both Whistling Straits and nearby Blackwolf Run were buzzing with golf fans wanting to pick up Ryder Cup merchandise early. The courses at both resorts had heavy play as well, including The Baths — the new, unique short course that was squeezed in between the existing courses at Blackwolf.

What separates The Baths from the array of other innovative short courses being built around the country is that owner and co-designer Herb Kohler wanted the water holes to be open to those wanting to take a dip when play was in progress.  The Baths, a walking-only course, has 10 fun holes, ranging in length from 62 to 171 yards.

I’ve played most all of these new, non-traditional short courses around the country, and The Baths may  be the most beautiful.  It is also one of the more difficult and the bathers weren’t in evidence, at least not on the day we played. That will likely change over the next few weeks as visitors from all parts of the U.S. and Europe start arriving.

There’ll be plenty of those.  That’s been the case since the matches became competitive. That became the case starting in 1979 when players from Europe expanded their roster possibilities.  Though the U.S. holds a 26-14-2  overall edge in the series, the Europeans have an 11-8-1 edge since the most recent  of several format changes and have won four of the last five meetings.

No loss was more disheartening for the U.S. side than the 2012 event at Medinah, when Europe needed to win eight of the 12 singles matches on the final day to just retain the cup.  They wound up getting 8 ½ points to win it again, and that event became known – depending on your loyalties – as either “The Miracle at Medinah’’  or “The Meltdown at  Medinah.’’

Europe won the last staging two years ago in Paris by a whopping 17 ½ -10 ½ margin and that affected U.S. captain Steve Stricker’s planning for the next one at Whistling Straits.  Six players are assured on Stricker’s roster – Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.

Stricker will name the other six at a press conference today (WEDNESDAY) and then wants all of them to report to Whistling Straits Sept. 12-13 for an early team practice session.

“(Europe) had us over a barrel because we didn’t have enough practice rounds (in Paris),’’ said Stricker. “The other team knew the course better than we did.’’

The Paris course was a frequent site of the French Open, a boost for the European Tour players.  Whistling Straits has been the site of the PGA Championships – 2004, 2010 and 2015 – but this will be a young U.S. squad and many of the U.S. players haven’t been at the course.

As the excitement builds over the next few weeks lodging will become scarce, and very expensive, here.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Sunday that almost all area hotels and rentals are already completely booked for Ryder Cup Week and prices are starting at $300 per day in secondary markets.

At Sheboygan’s Blue Harbor Resort rooms that ranged from $190 to $330 per night are now going for $4,500. Most local options are expected to go for more than $1,000 per night by the time the event tees off.

HERE AND THERE:  Medinah will host a regional qualifier the the nation-wide Drive, Chip and Putt finals on Saturday (SEPT. 11). Those competing will be survivors of 316 local qualifying rounds, which began in May, and 60 sub-regionals.  Four boys and four girls will advance from Medinah to the national finals, to be held on April 3 – the Sunday before Masters Week begins  — at Georgia’s Augusta National….Roy Biancalana repeated as champion of the Illinois Super Seniors tournament at Pine Meadow in Mundelein.  The St. Charles-based professional shot an 8-under-par 136 for 36 holes and won by three strokes over North Barrington amateur Vince Antoniou…..Mistwood, in Romeoville, will hold a Celebration of Life next Wednesday (SEPT 15) to honor the facility’s late owner, Jim McWethy. The reception will be held from 2-8 p.m.

 

 

 

 

The Baths is making a big splash with golfers at Blackwolf Run

Can you imagine golfers interrupting their round for a dip in this “bath?”

KOHLER, Wis. – Whoever heard of allowing golfers to go swimming in the middle of their round?

Well, probably nobody – until now.

The Baths of Blackwolf Run is allowing players to enjoy a swim on its new 10-hole par-3 course that is built on 27 acres between the Nos. 1 and 11 holes of its Meadow Valleys course. Chris Lutzke, the course designer, and Dirk Willis, vice president of golf for Kohler Co., took a running leap into one of the ponds when The Baths opened in early June.

Not many have since then, but swimming remains an available option.  Herb Kohler, the 82-year old executive chairman of Kohler Co. and co-designer of the course, wanted it that way, and he’s done wonders for the golf industry in Wisconsin.

The PGA Championships of 2004, 2010 and 2015 were played at Kohler’s Whistling Straits course, which will be the site of this year’s Ryder Cup matches later this month. Blackwolf Run, which opened the first of its 36 holes in 1988, hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and 2012. Staging such big events have boosted Wisconsin’s image as a golf state and other courses have benefitted as well.

There’s warnings for potential swimmers on the water holes at The Baths.

Kohler’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.  He’s been inducted into the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame, and The Baths is his latest special project. The other courses were designed by the late, legendary Pete Dye, but Kohler took a more hands-on approach with The Baths though Lutzke, a Dye disciple for 30 years, was the project architect.

Novel short courses are the trend these days.  So are expanded putting courses, and The Baths has one of those, too – a two-acre version that can be played in 18 or 27-hole loops.  Kohler sees both as a way to attract new players to the game.

The course measures 1,362 yards from the back tees with holes ranging from 62 to 171 yards.. Staffers will provide use of a power cart or a shuttle to get you to the first tee, but after that it’s walking only. Push carts and carry bags are available, and we found that bags were the more efficient. Like Whistling Straits the course has some steep hills adorned with thick rough.  Push carts don’t work so well in that setting.

Sod-wall bunkers are prevalent throughout The Baths, and the greens have some steep elevations, so putting is always a challenge. It’s best to laugh off putts that roll off the green and down hills into the fairway.  No sense getting frustrated. The Baths is made for fun, not frustration.

The Baths is also beautifully manicured and is the prettiest of the new, novel short courses that have sprung up in the last few years – and we’ve played most of them.

Whether the swimming option takes off remains to be seen. There’s four water features of “Baths.’’ They pay homage to Kohler Company’s 128-year history of bathing design excellence. The baths have sand-line bottoms and are all very shallow. There are no drop-offs, so there’s no problem for bathing golfers who want to walk back to dry land after taking a dip.

Our only problem was following the routing.  The first six holes go out from the 125-year old log cabin that was imported from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to serve as a food and beverage station at the first tee. The final six bring you back to that log cabin. Signage was lacking in a few spots on the early holes, and holes from the Meadow Valleys 18-holer come close to The Baths’ holes to further confuse things.

We wound up playing one hole twice, but that was all right.The Baths can be played in three- or six-hole loopes, and playing extra holes is encouraged. Like the immediately popular Cradle at North Carolina’s  Pinehurst, golfers pay a daily fee  to use The Baths. You can play all day for $75.

Mix in some time on the massive putting course with multiple rounds on The Baths and you’ll have a good day – with or without squeezing a dip in the water along the way.

Steep bunkers are prominent on most holes at The Baths.

Korn Ferry finale could be a stepping stone for Vince India

Golf’s post season playoffs haven’t been kind to Chicago area players.  Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman was eliminated from the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs on Sunday and now Deerfield’s Vince India faces a tough battle in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.

The Korn Ferry event at Indiana’s Victoria National determines the final 25 from the PGA’s alternate tour to earn PGA Tour membership for the 2021-22 season.

India, one of 10 golfers to own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur (2010) and Illinois Open (2018), has toiled on the Korn Ferry for eight years and made a run at his PGA Tour card in this pandemic-impacted season that started in 2020 and concludes on Sunday.

The Top 25 on the Korn Ferry’s regular season point list received their PGA Tour cards two weeks ago.  They included Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Northwestern alums David Lipsky and Dylan Wu.  India was No. 43, his career best, on the point list then and in good position to succeed in the second phase of PGA Tour eligibility.

India, 32,  was safely into the Korn Ferry’s three-tournament playoff series, and the Finals 25 get their PGA Tour cards, too.  Unfortunately, India didn’t perform well in the first two playoff events, finishing tied for 77th in the Boise Open and tied for 58th in last week’s Nationwide Championship in Ohio. His ranking is No. 66 on the Finals 25 list so India needs a high finish to have a chance at a PGA Tour card for the 2021-22 season.

There’s hope, though.  India’s best finish last year, when the PGA opted not to award PGA Tour cards due to the shortened season, was a tie for third at Victoria National.  A repeat this week might give him a chance at moving up to golf’s premier circuit after all.

Streelman bows out

Only the top 30 in the FedEx Cup point standings will compete in this week’s season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta. Streelman entered the playoffs with a No. 53 ranking and he finishes the season at No. 64 after a tie for 64th in The Northern Trust and and a tie for 52nd in last week’s BMW Championship.

Still, the 42-year old Streelman had another solid season.  He qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the 14th straight year and enjoyed his best year in the major championships.  His tie for eighth in the PGA Championship was his first top-10 in 26 appearances in the major events. He also tied for 15th in the U.S. Open and tied for 19th in the British Open.  He didn’t qualify for the Masters.

 

HERE AND THERE: Chicago’s Larry Blatt, who played collegiately at Illinois before giving up golf for three years to become a financial trader, will turn pro after this month’s U.S. Mid-Amateur.  He announced that decision after winning last week’s Illinois State Mid-Amateur at Bloomington Country Club.  Local qualifying for the national event is Thursday at Prestwick, in Frankfort….The Illinois PGA’s Super Senior Open concludes its 36-hole run today (WEDNESDAY) at Pine Meadow, in Mundelein, and the Birdies for Charity event is Sept. 7 at River Forest, in Elmhurst….Inverness Golf Club has broken ground on a new family activity enter that will include indoor golf simulators, pickle and paddle ball courts, a restaurant, sports bar and wifi lounge.  It’s expected to open in early 2022….The Arlington Amateur will be held Sept. 11-12 at both Arlington Lakes and the nine-hole Nickol Knoll course.

 

 

Don’t sell golf short in the Wisconsin Dells

The entry to 12North opens the way to a whole new golf experience.

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. – The Wisconsin Dells area never grew much in population.  Its namesake city has never had more than 3,000 residents.  Still, the Dells has been one of the Midwest’s most popular travel destinations since its founding in 1856.

Boats trips brought tourists in first because they liked the scenery.  A wide variety of attractions followed, probably the best known being the Tommy Bartlett Thrill Show, which arrived in 1952 and just closed in 2020. Now the area justifiably bills itself as “The Waterpark Capital of the World” also has — among other things —  a casino, fishing, wineries, go-kart tracks, zipline tours and horseback riding.

Oh, yes.  There’s golf, too.  There are 12 different golf experiences available, and don’t sell them short – literally.

There’s a nationwide trend to make courses more accessible, more appealing and less time-consuming, and the Dells is up front in shifting the focus from “traditional’’ play into a new direction.

The first course in the Dells was a nine-holer, Cold Water Canyon, at the Chula Vista Resort. It opened in 1923 and was later expanded to 18 holes. Despite its longevity Cold Water Canyon has become up to date thanks to shifts in the game. Short courses are the new in thing.

General manager Patrick Steffes spent the pandemic helping to create a new course at Trappers Turn.

J.C. Wilson, who designed the front nine at Cold Water Canyon, and Dan Fleck, who created the back, put together a course that measures 6,027 yards from the back tees. That would be an extremely short course by any standards today, but the layout has tight driving holes and tricky greens. It’s no pushover.

The newest course isn’t, either, but it much better reflects the sign of the times.  Trappers Turn, which already had three nine-holers, just opened 12North – the latest in the national movement towards the unusual.  It doesn’t have nine or 18 holes; it has 12, and by next year it won’t even have any tees.

Trappers Turn’s nine-holers were designed by two-time U.S. Open champion and long-time Wisconsin native Andy North and the late Roger Packard.  North was brought back to work with Craig Haltom in creating 12North. Haltom, owner of Oliphant Golf, found the site for Sand Valley, another Wisconsin facility that became a big hit after Chicago entrepreneur Mike Keiser became an investor.

A $1 million project, 12North was constructed during the heart of the pandemic.

“We were all going through Covid and had a whole lot of time,’’ said Patrick Steffes, general manager and director of golf at Trappers Turn.  “We had a lot of fun with it.  It gave us something to do when there wasn’t anything to do at all.’’

Could there be more colorful landscaping in golf than this one at Trappers Turn?

Land from one of the holes of the original 18 was used in the construction of 12North. The longest hole is No. 12 – a 114-yard finisher.  The shortest is No. 10 at 54 yards. There were seven holes-in-one made in the first six weeks the course was open.

All the tees have mats now, but Steffes says they’ll be gone in the spring. Then the 12North will play like the tee-less H-O-R-S-E Course in Nebraska, where each player decides where to tee off.

“We travel a lot and steal some things,’’ said Steffes.  “I don’t know if we copied from there or not, but we want golfers to play where they want.  If they want to hit from 120 yards to these crazy greens, so be it.’’

Originally the plan was for a walking course.  While some players do walk 12North cart paths have been installed and will remain, as the footing can be tricky on some points of the hilly property.

Trappers Turn, marked by some beautiful landscaping on and near the courses, also will soon open a one-acre lighted putting green and adding  lodging is a strong consideration for down the road. Trappers Turn  is the most complete golf facility in the Dells and has the longest hole – the 600-yard third on its Lake Course, but the best 18  holes may be at Wild Rock at Wilderness Resort, an early work of architects Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. They later teamed up to created 2017 U.S. Open site Erin Hills, another Wisconsin gem.

Wild Rock also has a nine-hole short course, The Woods, that features an island green. Overall, the Dells has 142 holes of golf, and short is the byword.  Christmas Mountain Village has a challenging par-3 course that measures 2,881 yards to supplement its championship 18-holer.

Fairfield Hills, in Baraboo, is owned by Barrington, Ill., resident Jim Tracy. Its 12-hole course can be played in three, six, nine, 12 or 18 hole loops and its practice range is the largest in the Dells area. Fairfield Hills also offers disc golf on a limited play basis.

“A very playable course,” said Tracy, who bought the place eight years ago.  It depends on your interest in golf and the time you have available.”

Pinecrest, located  near the downtown area of the Dells, has a par-3 course mixed in with an archery course with multiple shooting stations. Longest hole on the Pinecrest links is only 150 yards.  Another nine-holer, Spring Brook, is situated amidst tall pines and can be more challenging.

Wild Rock, a Mike Hurdzan/Dana Fry design, may be the best 18-holer in the Wisconsin Dells.

 

A big win for Mistwood’s Mickelson

Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson dominated the Illinois PGA Championship at Ivanhoe. (Illinois PGA Photo)

The Illinois PGA Championship dates back to 1922, but rarely has it had a tournament like the one that Andy Mickelson won on Wednesday at Ivanhoe Club.

Mickelson, the director of golf at Mistwood in Romeoville, was the only player to complete the 54 holes under par.  He was at 3-under 213. That was the highest score to win since Mike Small’s 2-over was good enough in the 2003 staging at Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove.

A 36-hole score of 16-over-par was good enough to qualify for the final round, and 7-over was all that was needed to crack the top 10 and earn a berth in next year’s PGA National Professionals Championship in Texas.

With the title on the line in the final round only seven of the 62 players could break par, the low scorers being Jim Billiter, Ivanhoe’s new head professional, and Steve Gillie, of Randall Oaks, at 2-under 70.

“It’s a tour-quality golf course,’’ said Jim Sobb, Ivanhoe’s director of golf and a three-time IPGA champion.  “You can’t rest on this course.  There’s not a breather hole.’’

The finalists wouldn’t argue that. Ivanhoe, designed by the late Chicago architect Dick Nugent, was a three-time site for the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour events but had never hosted the Illinois PGA Championship. Ivanhoe opened in 1991.

Mickelson is not a conventional champion.  He turned pro briefly after competing successfully in the Chicago amateur events, then regained his amateur status after entering the business world at a packing company.  The late Mistwood owner Jim McWethy convinced Mickelson to return to golf at his course that has blossomed into one of Chicago’s most popular public facilities.

Chaussard, director of instruction at Skokie Country Club, owned a one-shot lead on Mickelson entering the final round. Chaussard got off to a bad start and shot 76 while Mickelson had his third straight 71. Joining Chaussard in the runner-up spot was 60-year old Kurt Rogers of downstate Forsyth.  He’s a former coach at Millikin University, in Decatur.

The final round, though, belonged to Mickelson. He was in charge from the third hole on and won the $8,160 first prize by a four-stroke margin.

“I might have hit every green but two,’’ he said.  “This was as good as I’ve played over the last two days tee to green in a long time. I had control of my golf ball, and when I have that I can beat anybody.’’

The tournament was not without a touch of controversy. A two-hour rain delay late Tuesday caused a suspension in play and IPGA officials opted to bring the players back on the course after the rain subsided.  In a departure from protocol, they weren’t allowed a warmup period on the practice range. Once back on the course, they played only 30 minutes before play was called for the day.  Round 2 still had to be completed before the final round could begin on Wednesday.

There were a number of players who didn’t like that, and it certainly didn’t help Small, who was going after his 14th title in the event.  The 55-year old head coach of the University of Illinois men’s team made eagle at No. 15 to move into a tie for the lead just before play was stopped on Tuesday.  When it resumed he finished his round double bogey-bogey-quadruple bogey and that shaky play carried over to Wednesday when he made a triple bogey on his first hole.

Small, a three-time champion in the PGA National Professionals Championship, regrouped after that and wound up in seventh place.

 

 

 

 

 

Senior LPGA awaits farewell at French Lick

An era of women’s golf is ending this week.  Indiana’s French Lick Resort, a favorite destination for golfers since the 1920s, will host the Senior LPGA Championship for the final time. the The tournament tees off on Friday on the Pete Dye Course.

“This is our ninth year working with the senior women,’’ said Dave Harner, French Lick’s director of golf.  “It’s been a great run for them and a great run for us. This week is bittersweet, and we wish them the best.’’

French Lick, known as the high school home of basketball legend Larry Bird, was the site of Walter Hagen’s first of five straight PGA Championships in 1924 and hosted the LPGA Championship in 1959 and 1960 with Kathy Whitworth and Betsy Rawls the winners.

The little southern Indiana town fell on hard times after that but began a terrific recovery after its Donald Ross Course was renovated and the Pete Dye Course created in 2010. Women’s golf became a focus then. The Legends Tour, created by 25 veteran LPGA players headed by Jane Blalock, was formed in 2000 but never received much support of the LPGA hierarchy.

French Lick stepped forward to create a Legends Championship and Hall of Fame in 2013.  After four playings of The Legends Championship the LPGA agreed to have its own championship for senior women, and the Senior LPGA Championship was first held in 2017. It was the first designated major for senior women, defined as those 45 and older.

Scotland’s Trish Johnson won both the last Legends and first Senior LPGA tourneys.  Players from across the pond – Laura Davies in 2018 and Helen Alfreddson in 2019 – won the next before the pandemic forced cancelation of the 2020 event.

The French Lick farewell will be without the first and last champions of its senior women’s events.  Canadian Lorie Kane, who won the first Legends in 2013, withdrew due to illness and Sweden’s Alfreddson, according to French Lick officials, simply failed meet the entry deadline for her title defense.  Alfreddson won both senior women’s majors in 2020, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open being the other.

Harner announced big plans for French Lick’s stop on the LPGA’s developmental Symetra Tour.  It’s been held on the Ross course the past four years and is contracted for three more.

“Next year it’ll be a four-round tournament (it had been only 54 holes) and it’ll be there stroke play championship,’’ said Harner.  “It’ll also have their biggest purse ($330,000 with $50,000 to the winner).’’

 

Streelman still alive

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman remained the only Illinois player remaining in the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs. Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim was eliminated in the weather-delayed wrapup of The Northern Trust in New Jersey.

Ghim, who shot the best round of his rookie PGA season – a 63 – in the third round, couldn’t maintain the hot pace in Monday’s final round.  He tied for 31st in the tournament but wound up No. 86 in the FedEx standings.  Only the top 70 in the rankings advance to the BMW Championship, which tees off on Thursday at Cave’s Valley in Maryland.

Streelman didn’t play as well as Ghim did in The Northern Trust, finishing tied for 64th, but he came into the event with a higher ranking (No. 53).  That number dropped to 64 after Monday’s showing, but he remained eligible to play in the BMW event.

 

HERE AND THERE:  Illinois men’s coach Mike Small, who will chase his 14th title in the Illinois PGA Championship Wednesday at Ivanhoe Club, has announced his team’s schedule for the 2020-21 season and it has an interesting start.  The Illini opener is the Indiana Collegiate Invitational.  It’ll be played the Hoosiers’ new, well-received Pfau Golf course.  Two weeks later the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational will return for its 15th staging after being canceled because of the pandemic….Architect Greg Martin, celebrating the 30th anniversary of his Chicago area-based design firm, has produced a book, “Magic Is Not Obvious’’ – an interesting series of essays on all phases of the sport….Kevin Lind, formerly golf operations manager at White Pines in Bensenville, has been named general manager at the Vernon Hills nine-holer.

Hardy will become the next Chicago area PGA Tour player

Chicago has another PGA Tour player. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy earned his membership for the 2021-22 season by finishing No. 20 in the point standings during the Korn Ferry Tour’s regular season.  It ended on Sunday at the Pinnacle Bank Championship in Omaha, Neb.

Hardy missed the cut in that tournament but maintained his spot among the 25 who earned PGA Tour cards.  Two Northwestern alums, David Lipsky and Dylan Wu, also were in The 25.  Lipsky, a 2011 NU graduate, is from California and Wu, a 2018 graduate, is from Oregon.

A stalwart for coach Mike Small’s Illinois teams from 2014-18, Hardy had 10 top-10 finishes on the PGA’s satellite circuit during the pandemic-impacted 2019-21 season. He becomes the seventh Illini player coached by Small to earn full playing privileges on either the PGA or European pro tours.

Though he failed to earn membership in his first attempt at the Korn Ferry circuit Hardy bounced back strong this season. He’ll begin his membership on the PGA Tour when the Fortinet Championship tees off at California’s Silverado course on Sept. 16.

“Nick is going to have a great career,’’ said Small.  “He deserves everything that he achieves in life because he’s a thoughtful, considerate and humble young man with world class talent, discipline and commitment.’’

The Korn Ferry Tour begins its three-event playoff series this week and by the time it ends another Chicago player could join Hardy on the PGA Tour roster.  Deerfield’s Vince India, a champion in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open who played collegiately at Iowa, is No. 43 among the 75 qualifiers for the Korn Ferry Playoffs.  The top 25 when it’s over also get PGA Tour cards.

 

Streelman ready for FedEX Playoffs

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman came up a shot short of making a six-man playoff for the Wyndham Championship title on Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., but the strong showing suggests he’s ready for a big run in the ultra-lucrative FedEx Cup postseason series.  The first of its three tournaments is The Northern Trust, which tees off on Thursday in New Jersey.

Streelman boosted his FedEx standing from 58 to 53 with a tie for seventh in the Wyndham and he’s well rested after after taking a three-week break after July’s British Open.

The Northern Trust has a 125-player field, all based on the season-long rankings, and the top 70 after its 72-hole run advance to the $9.6 million BMW Championship, which will be played this year at Cave’s Valley in Maryland.  It has been held at Chicago courses nine times since the series began in 2007, the last time being at Olympia Fields in 2020.

Only the top 70 in the standings qualifier to play at Cave’s Valley and the top 30 there go to the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta the following week.

While Streelman’s ranking makes him a safe bet to advance to the BMW Championship, Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, needs a strong showing this week to stay alive in the playoffs.  He missed the cut by one stroke at the Wyndham to drop from 83 to 86 in the FedEx standings.

 

HERE AND THERE

While Small will be keeping his eyes on Hardy’s progress he’ll have a big event of his own to compete in beginning on Monday (AUG 23).  He’s a 13-time winner of the Illinois PGA Championship, which begins its three-day run at Ivanhoe Club.  Small shook off a sub-showing in the Illinois Open to win the Illinois PGA Senior Championship for the fifth time last week at Bryn Mawr, in Chicago…..Former Hinsdale Central teammates Josh Lundmark and Mac McClear captured the Chicago District Golf Association’s Four-Ball title, beating Crystal Lake’s Ethan Farnam and Wheeling’s Michael Fastert 1-up in the title match at Flossmoor.  Farnam is the reigning Illinois State Amateur champion.