Illinois golf courses are allowed to open — but with restrictions

To play golf, or not to play golf — that’s been a hot topic around lots of states during this coronavirus pandemic. In Illinois – especially since the recent snowfall has melted and temperatures have climbed over 60 degrees — it’s created confusion that was somewhat cleared up with a statement by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that was made available to some media members on Wednesday.

Yes, courses are allowed to remain open, according to the amended statement issued on Tuesday night. Prior to that a Governor’s Executive Order ruled that the courses should be closed until April 7. Not all courses abided by that ruling, however, and many across the state accepted players. Private clubs and public venues in Central Illinois were particularly defiant of the original Governor’s Executive Order.

As of Wednesday courses could legally open, subject to the following conditions:

The clubhouse must remain closed and only online or telephone scheduling and payment of tee times is allowed.

Food and beverage service, including food or beverage cart service, cannot be provided. The use of carts by golfers won’t be allowed, either. Rounds will be walking-only.

Driving ranges will be closed due to concerns about social distancing and use of shared equipment. Golfers and course staff must also observe social distancing guidelines.

Those regulations were passed on to Illinois golf industry leaders on Tuesday night via a Coronavirus Update put out by the Allied Golf Association. That group encompasses the Illinois Section of the Professional Golfers Association of America, the Chicago District Golf Association, the Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents and the Greater Chicago Chapter of the Club Management Association of America.

Until that statement was issued all the states bordering Illinois were allowing courses to open. In a strange twist on Wednesday, once the Illinois courses were allowed to open course operators in Wisconsin were informed that the state’s governor, Tony Evers, had ordered all the courses in that state to close.

With temperatures hitting 60 degrees, Wisconsin’s golf professionals weren’t happy about that. One reported he had “a full tee sheet from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m…..What am I going to do? Call them all and tell them not to come?’’

Some Chicago area courses haven’t opened at all yet, and the status of each course is different. Players are advised to call ahead to make sure a course is open or a tee time is available.

“Everybody has a different operation,’’ said Bob Malpede, general manager at White Deer Run in Vernon Hills. “Because we’re also a restaurant we do have curbside (food service).’’

Nearby Pine Meadow, in Mundelein, began an aerification project on its greens after the initial Governor’s Executive Order, which didn’t allow the courses to be open. Now that play is allowed, Pine Meadows’ greens will be closed and pins with be placed in the fairways. Green fees will be dropped to $15 until the greens are put back in play again. In addition to the driving range being closed the only restrooms available will be in the clubhouse, with one person using them at a time.

Players should also anticipate courses in need of more maintenance work. The only maintenance in progress is considered “Minimum Basic Operations.’’

Many of the courses will use versions of elevated cups in their hole placements to keep players from putting their hands into the holes.

The biggest public facility in the Chicago area, 72-hole Cog Hill in Lemont, will have its Nos. 1 and 3 courses open. Mistwood, home of the Illinois Women’s Open in Romeoville, is considering opening later in the week as are Naperville courses Naperbrook and Springbrook. Village Greens, of Woodridge, could open as early as this weekend.

The change in the Governor’s Executive Order was a surprise, and other courses are debating when to allow play. Poplar Creek, in Hoffman Estates, plans to open on Sunday (MARCH 29) and it’ll be a day later for Prairie Landing, in West Chicago.

Cantigny, in Wheaton, won’t open until April 6. So will another Wheaton facility, Arrowhead. Schaumburg Golf Club expects to open on or shortly after April 6.

The strangest day I’ver ever had covering golf — by a long shot

Fans turned out in droves at TPC Sawgrass for the first (and only) round of The Players Championship.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL. – Commissioner Jay Monahan gave his annual state of the PGA Tour announcement earlier this week, noting with pride that the circuit has events in Asia, Canada, Bermuda and the Dominican Republic and three allied international tours in Canada, China and Latin America. He added that over 200,000 fans were expected and 900 media were credentialed for The Players Championship, which teed off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.

The questioning after Monahan made his pre-tournament remarks, though, focused on something else – the coronavirus pandemic.

“A very dynamic situation,’’ Monahan conceded. Just how dynamic became very clear on Thursday morning, four hours after the first players had teed off in the most lucrative tournament of the season. The Players has a $15 million purse.

Then, about 12 hours after that, the PGA Tour issued a statement saying that The Players, as well as the tournaments of the next three weeks, wouldn’t be played. In 51 years reported on golf I’ve covered some wild scenarios – but never anything like this.

Monahan first announced that the final three rounds of the tournament would be played without fans as would the next three tournaments – next week’s Valspar Championship in the Tampa area; the World Golf Championship’s Dell Technologies Match Play Championship March 25-29 in Austin, TX.; and the Valero Texas Open April 2-5. The Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship, to be played opposite the Match Play event, was also postponed.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama acknowledged the crowd after his record round, then — a few hours later — the cheering stopped.

The cancellation statement of Thursday night came without comment from Monahan, who was to speak with the media about the latest abrupt change of plans on Friday morning.

Big prize money was on the line in those as well — $6.9 million in the Valspar, $3 million in the Dominican Republic stop and $7.7 million in the Valero Texas Open. Those events lead into the Masters, the first major championship of 2020. It’s scheduled for April 9-12 in Augusta, Ga., and could go on without fans as well. Masters officials have been in talks with Monahan.

“I’ll leave it to Augusta to share their thinking when they’re prepare to share their thinking,’’ said Monahan. “But they have been a great partner, a great help to us as we have been thinking through this over the last several weeks.’’

The decision to go without fans was not taken lightly. It came after the National Basketball Association suspended its season and the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. announced that fans would not be permitted in its postseason tournaments.

Monahan had talks with President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the hours leading up to Thursday’s announcement.

“Both the White House and the Governor’s office have been and are supportive of the precautionary measures we have taken,’’ said Monahan. “This is an incredibly fluid and dynamic situation. We have been and are committed to being responsible, thoughtful and transparent with our decision process.’’

The setting at TPC Sawgrass during the first round was a most pleasant one, then reality set in.

With 93 players from 28 countries, the PGA Tour is more global than most other sports but Monahan didn’t opt to cancel the events entirely.

“If you look at our venues, obviously we’re an outdoor sport,’’ he said. “We’re not in a stadium and this week players are making their way over 400 acres. We’ve got 144 players here and over the course of a round they generally socially distance themselves. We felt, by taking this step to address the problem with our fans, we’re in a position where we can continue to operate the events as of right now.’’

The situation, though, remained a fluid one. On Wednesday night the Players tournament staff, learning that three more coronavirus victims were reported in the North Florida area, issued a statement that fans who planned to attend the tournament could request a ticket refund or exchange. In an effort to reduce interaction the players were also told not to sign autographs.

“We’re relying heavily, as other leagues and sports and entertainment venues are, on the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control,’’ Monahan said in his meeting with the media, “but primarily, given the fact that we’re playing 175 tournaments over six tours, this really is about a market-to-market exercise.’’

Already there’s been reports that the second major tournament — PGA Championship, scheduled to be played in May at Harding Park in San Francisco — would be moved to TPC Sawgrass if the coronavirus pandemic required it.

Monahan downplayed that report but admitted “when you get in these extraordinary circumstances you have to make yourself available to your partners. You have to work as closely together as you ever have to help each other get through this.’’

Streelman hopes for another strong showing at The Players

Golf ‘s major championship season – for all intents — tees off on Thursday, and Chicago’s best tour player will be there.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is in the field at The Players Championship, long designated as the men’s “fifth major.’’ The Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and British Open remain the official ones, but The Players is getting closer and closer to their status.

Conducted by the PGA Tour, The Players is contested at the organization’s home base at TPC Sawgrass, in Ponte Vedra, FL. The tournament course is a Pete Dye-designed layout that features the most famous short hole in golf – its No. 17, a par-3 over water with an island green. Golf drama gets no better than it does at this shorty that plays no longer than 132 yards.

The 122-player Players field includes 110 who have been winners on the PGA Tour, and Streelman is one of those. He’s won twice, the last time in 2012, and was on the brink of adding to that total earlier this year.

“At Jackson (Sanderson Farms Championship in September) I almost won. At Pebble (the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February) I almost won,’’ said Streelman. “In the others I had a bunch of missed cuts by one.’’

Streelman missed eight cuts in 14 starts but the two good tournaments – a second at Pebble and tie for fourth in the Sanderson event – helped put his season winnings at $1.4 million and his FedEx Cup ranking at No. 36 with the season not even at the halfway point yet. His career winning just topped $20 million.

The Players will be Streelman’s third of four straight weeks of tournaments, all on the PGA’s annual Florida Swing. He tied for 47th at the Honda Classic and missed the cut, after a second-round 77, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I also did four in a row on the West Coast Swing. That’s just the way I do it,’’ said Streelman. “I find that sometimes in weeks three or four my energy runs out.’’

He hopes that won’t happen at The Players, but it could. Streelman is on a different routine this season. In previous years he travelled with his entire family –wife Courtney and children Sophia and Rhett. Sophia entered kindergarten this year. Her school work in Arizona has altered the family travel plans, Streelman goes it alone most of the time.
The family was re-united last week in Orlando.

“They used to be with me at 90 percent of the tournaments. Now it’s more like 40 or 50 percent,’’ said Streelman. “It’s really a change in lifestyle, but I’m never more than two weeks away from them. It’s what I do, and I still love it. I’ll do it as long as I can.’’

New home for IPGA

The Illinois PGA has changed headquarters. It’ll now be based at the former home base of the Western Golf Association/Evans Scholars Foundation in Golf.

Both organizations have shifted bases. The WGA departed its home of 64 years to move into its new building at 2501 Patriot Drive, in Glenview, last fall. The IPGA had been based in The Glen Club, just a few blocks away.

“The Illinois PGA Foundation and Section have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with KemperSports and The Glen Club, where we’ve been fortunate enough to have a rent-free office space for nearly 20 years. Their generosity cannot be overstated,’’ said IPGA executive director Carrie Williams.

“The Glen Club has also been home to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, which the Foundation manages, but the time has come for us to establish our own headquarters and John Kaczkowki (president and chief executive officer of the WGA) and its board have given us an incredible opportunity to make it happen.’’

In the WGA’s case, the move to Glenview allowed for the consolidation of several offices and employees under one roof. Village of Golf municipal offices and the U.S. Post Office will remain tenants when the IPGA takes over its new office space.

Getting first PGA Tour win proves elusive for Fleetwood at Honda Classic

England’s Tommy Fleetwood will win on the PGA Tour eventually. The 29-year old Englishman is too good a player to stay winless for long.

Still, after a final round collapse on Sunday in the Honda Classic, Fleetwood remains the only non-winner on the PGA Tour listed in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Rankings. He entered the Honda with a No. 12 ranking and has played in 22 PGA our stops and another 17 major championships or World Golf Championship events without notching the elusive first win.

Twice Fleetwood cracked the top five in the U.S. Open and was one the brink of posting a 62 in the final round at Shinnecock in 2018 until an eight-foot putt refused to drop on the last hole.

Fast forward to Sunday. The shaggy-haired Fleetwood, owner of five wins on the European PGA Tour, claimed his first 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour stop at the rugged Champion Course at PGA National. He had a one-shot lead on playing partner Brendan Steele and a two-shot cushion on fellow Europeans Lee Westwood and Luke Donald to start the final round.

Fleetwood beat them all, but couldn’t handle two young upstarts. Sungjae Im, a 21-year old South Korean, and Mackenzie Hughes, a 29-year old Canadian, got hot playing together in front of Fleetwood. They fired 66s, and Fleetwood couldn’t answer.

Im won the $1,260,000 first prize (plus a new car) by posting a 6-under-par 274. Hughes was one shot behind Im and one ahead of Fleetwood, who settled for a final round 71 than included a critical water ball on his approach shot to the 18th green. Fleetwood needed a birdie there to force a playoff with Im.

“At the end of the day I was really good mentally. I hung in until the end and gave myself a chance,’’ said Fleetwood. “I just said that I don’t feel like I’m getting worse at golf. I’ve just got to keep pushing.’’

He promises to keep doing that.

“I’ve had chances before, and hopefully I’ll continue to have chances,’’ said the affable Fleetwood. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.’’

Fleetwood attributed his failure to get the job done to a lack of tournament play lately.

“I had a bit of a layoff and hadn’t played loads since the end of last year,’’ he said. “Coming out on such a tough golf course, and more than anything proving to yourself that your game is there in a good place, you’re going to move forward.’’

Fleetwood said his first PGA Tour win – whenever it comes — “would be another win. Realistically it’d probably be another step in my career but I’m not going to lie and say `I don’t really mind about winning in America.’ Of course I do. I want to win everywhere, and the PGA Tour is one of those places where I haven’t done it yet.’’

With The Players coming up at TPC Sawgrass later this month and the Masters looming in April Fleetwood will have some bigger stages to get that first win on American soil.

The fields will be a lot stronger than the one he encountered at PGA National. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed were among those who bypassed the Honda Classic and Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose didn’t survive the 36-hole cut. McIlroy will be the defending champion this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando.

The youngsters who ruled at PGA National, though, will be another power to be reckoned with – Im in particular. He won twice on the PGA’s alternative Korn Ferry Tour in 2018 and was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year after earning seven top10 finishes in the 2018-19 season.

Im won the Honda in his 50th PGA start at the age of 21 years, 11 months, two days. He’s the youngest champion since Joaquin Nieman won The Greenbrier at 20 years 10 months eight days.

Return to winner’s circle proves elusive for Donald at Honda Classic

South Korea’s Sungjae Im celebrates his Honda Classic win and checks out his new car.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Luke Donald knew the drill. To win on the Champion Course at PGA National you don’t take many chances. The Jack Nicklaus-designed layout is too tough. It’s annually one of the hardest courses on the circuit.

“There’s just such a lot of nerve-racking and daunting shots out here so you’re playing to a lot of good, safe targets,’’ said Donald, who lives at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter just 10 miles from PGA National. “Often times I’ve finished up four rounds here and just kick myself. If I’d played little bit safer in spots and holed a putt here or there I would have been right there.’’

That game plan didn’t work for Donald on Sunday. He had a solid chance to claim his first PGA Tour victory in eight years and give his comeback from lingering back issues a big boost, but that didn’t happen.

Playing in the next-to-the-last group to tee off, Donald parred the first hole and stuck his approach on the second a foot from the cup, setting up a tap-in birdie that pulled him within a shot of the lead.

Luke Donald couldn’t stay in contention during the final round of the Honda Classic.

For Donald, that was the end of story. His tee shot at No. 3 found water, leading to a bogey. He made another one on the next hole and never got anything going after that until a birdie putt dropped at No. 18. The end result, a final round 72 which dropped him from a tie for third to a tie for 11th.

It was a trying weekend for Donald after he jumped into contention with a 4-under-par 66 on Friday. Even though he is a past champion in the Honda Classic, a former world No. 1 and a Jupiter resident for many years he wasn’t shown much respect at the first tee on Saturday.

The announcer introduced him as “Luke McDonald’’ and said he was the 2016 Honda Classic champion. Not only was his name butchered, Donald’s title came in 2006, not 2016. He shrugged of that annoying incident, but his game wasn’t the same as it had been the day before. Donald struggled in with a 71, still good enough to put him in position to win with strong final round.

He couldn’t deliver, and 21-year South Korean Sungjae Im won the title. He deserved it, too, shooting a 4-under-par 66 on Sunday for a one-stroke victory over Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes who also shot a 66. Im was 6-under 274 for the tourney’s 72 holes.

Im won twice, had three runner-up finishes and won the money title on the PGA’s satellite Korn Ferry Tour last year. He earned $1,260,000 and a new car for his first win on the premier circuit.

Im and Hughes played together and staged a dazzling head-to-head duel down the stretch. Hughes made a 54-foot birdie putt on the 17th green to pull even with Im. The tie didn’t last long, though. Im made his own birdie putt from eight feet at No. 17 and then saved par from a green-side bunker on the finishing hole to secure the victory.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, the other Chicago area tour player to qualify for weekend play, shot a 6-over 75 in the final round and dropped 24 spots to a tie for 47th.

The PGA Tour continues its four-tournament Florida Swing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando, this week with Rory McIlroy the defending champion.

Fleetwood leads, but Donald is in position to win at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. — Winning the Honda Classic is still a possibility for injury-plagued Luke Donald entering Sunday’s final round on PGA National’s Champion Course. Donald is tied for third, two strokes behind leader Tommy Fleetwood, through three rounds.

Donald isn’t predicting victory, but not ruling it out, either.

“With a back injury at 40 years old you can lose a bit of momentum,’’ he said. “Confidence breeds confidence, and you need to keep plugging away and getting yourself into position.’’

Donald’s definitely “in position’’ now, and a Donald victory would be a popular one in the Chicago golf community. Not only was the one-time world No. 1 a star at Northwestern, he is also a member at Conway Farms and helped that Lake Forest club land a coveted spot on the PGA Tour calendar.

Conway hosted the BMW Championships of 2013, 2015 and 2017 thanks in part to Donald’s influence. He also remained an active booster of the Northwestern golf program, The First Tee of Greater Chicago, the Ronald McDonald House of Chicago and the Western Golf Association’ Evans Scholars Program long after his college days and Chicago area residences were over.

Now, though, he’d like to get back on the win trail after a two-year battle with back problems. Donald won the last of his five tournaments on the PGA Tour in 2012, at the Transitions (now Valspar) Championship in Florida. He also had wins in the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan that year.

The back problems, however, eventually put Donald on the sidelines. In the two years since then he has appeared in just 21 tournaments and never contended for a title until this week, at an event just 10 miles from his long-time Florida home in Jupiter.

Though Donald won the Honda tourney in 2006, he needed an exemption off his spot on the PGA Tour’s career money list to get into this week’s field. He jumped into contention on Friday, shooting a 4-under-par 66 – the low round of the tournament — to move into a tie for second place behind Brendan Steele. Steele’s caddie just happens to be Donald’s brother and former bag-toter Christian.

“Chris is staying with us this week, so we’re one big happy family,’’ said Donald. “He’ll be in the final group (in the final round). I’m happy for Chris, but I’m chasing Brendan.’’

Steele, one of the growing number of PGA Tour players representing Chicago-based club manufacturer Wilson, is alone in second place, one shot behind Fleetwood. They’ll play together in the last twosome on Sunday.

Donald is tied for third with Lee Westwood as golfers from England are dominating the first of the four straight tournaments comprising the PGA’s annual Florida Swing. Donald and Westwood will be paired for the second straight day in the final round.

Donald, Fleetwood and Westwood all grew up in England. Fleetwood is bidding for his first win on the PGA circuit and Westwood, like Donald, is a former No. 1-ranked player. Donald was golf’s No. 1 player for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012.

Steele and Donald were tied for the lead after Saturday’s front nine. Then Donald made bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12 as Fleetwood was charging playing in front of him. A birdie to finish, however, left Donald in good spirits entering Sunday’s final round.

“This is a tough course to go low on,’’ he said. “You have to stay patient. I had a round that could have gotten away, but I still have a good chance tomorrow. I feel I’m right where I want to be.’’

It’ll be a tougher road for the other Chicago player in the field. Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman shot 72 on Saturday and goes into the final 18 in a tie for 23rd place.

A comeback story? Donald has 8-birdie round at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Could Friday’s second round of the Honda Classic be the start of something big for Luke Donald?

Time will tell, but Donald certainly looked like the golfer who was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012. The former Northwestern star and member at Conway Farms in Lake Forest made eight birdies in a 13-hole stretch on a cold, windy day to post a 4-under-par 66 on PGA National’s Champion Course.

That was the low score of the day but Brendan Steele, an afternoon starter, garnered the 36-hole lead, shooting a 67 for a 5-under-par 135 score. That was one better than Donald, J.T. Poston and Lee Westwood at the midway point in the first of the four tournaments on the PGA Tour’s annual Florida Swing. U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland is another shot back in the 72-hole test, which ends on Sunday.

“It’s nice to be back in contention. It’s been a little bit of a while since I’ve played decent,’’ said Donald, who has struggled mightily during a two-year struggle with back problems. His Official World Golf Ranking was 456 and his FedEx Cup Ranking stood at 212 entering the Honda Classic.

By his standards Donald last “played decent’’ at the Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour last October – a tie for 10th place. Before that it was last March, when he tied for ninth in another Florida PGA event — the Valspar Championship. In the 2019-20 PGA Tour season Donald made three of four cuts but his best finish was only a tie for 43rd in November’s RSM Championship.

Obviously there’s been a big dropoff for the 42-year old who has won five times on the PGA Tour and has eight international victories. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at PGA National, however, has long been one of Donald’s favorites and that showed on Friday.

The Champion has long been considered one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour, but Donald has played it consistently well. He won the Honda Classic in 2006 and was runner-up in 2008. He also had three other top-10 finishes, the last being in 2015.

“I practice a lot on Bermuda and am very accustomed to this type of grass,’’ said Donald. “I’ve had decent finishes around this place before. It sets up well for me.’’

Donald, born in England, has had a residence in south Florida for many years. He had an early tee time in the second round, which was played in weather rarely seen in these parts.

“We’re not used to 46 degrees at 7 in the morning,’’ said Donald. “It’s usually a little bit warmer, but I like it when conditions are tough. That’s when I play my best, especially with this northwesterly wind. The course tends to play a little bit tougher this way, and you’ve got to be very patient.’’

Donald was certainly that after a less-than-ideal start. Starting on No. 10, he was 3-over-par after five holes. Then he made birdie twos on two par-3s – Nos. 15 and 17. The second of those came on the last hole of the course’s treacherous Bear Trap, statistically the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour.

After that it was clear sailing, as Donald made six birdies on the front nine to conclude his round.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, who is four strokes behind Steele in a tie for 15th, remains in contention but defending champion Keith Mitchell and established stars Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka all missed the 36-hole cut. So did PGA Tour rookie Doug Ghim, of Arlington Heights.

A first? Chicago area has three players in the Honda Classic field

Kevin Streelman (right) posted a 69 and Luke Donald (left) a 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – It’s been quite a while – at least five years — since the Chicago area had three card-carrying members of the PGA Tour and even longer since three played in the same PGA Tour stop.

That made Thursday’s first round of the Honda Classic a milestone event. Kevin Streelman, Luke Donald and Doug Ghim were all in the field at PGA National in the first stop on the four-tournament Florida Swing.

Streelman did the best, posting a 1-under-par 69 to move into a tie for 11th place behind co-leaders Tom Lewis and Harris English. Lewis and English both posted 4-under-par 66s. Donald had a 70 and is tied for 23rd and Ghim shot 74 and is tied for 103rd. The tournament runs through Sunday.

Wheaton’s Streelman came into the Honda off a spectacular showing in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California two weeks ago. He finished second as an individual and paired with football-playing partner Larry Fitzgerald to win the team title for the second time in three years.

Streelman is off to a solid start, standing No. 31 in the FedEx Cup standings with winnings already over $1 million for the 2019-20 season. In addition to challenging for the title at Pebble Beach he also had a tie for fourth in the Sanderson Farms Classic in Mississippi in September, in the second tournament of the PGA’s split season.

Donald, the former Northwestern star and Conway Farms member, is still working to regain the form that made him the world’s No. 1-ranked player. The Honda was a home game for him. Donald has maintained a residence in the Palm Beach area for several years. Though he had made three cuts in four starts in the PGA’s 2019-20 season his best finish has been a tie for 43rd at the RSM Classic in November.

Ghim, in his rookie season on golf’s premier circuit, got into the Honda field as the fifth alternate after a series of withdrawals by qualified players. Like Streelman, he arrived here off his best showing of the season – a tie for 20th at last week’s Puerto Rico Open.

Like Donald, Ghim has some work to do as the meat of the golf season closes in. He has made only three of 10 cuts since earning his PGA Tour card at last fall’s qualifying school.

Chicago Golf Show has more exhibitors than ever before

Carrie Williams, the executive director of the Illinois PGA, calls the Chicago Golf Show “the unofficial start of the Chicago golf season.’’ Maybe it should be designated as the official start, based on the wide range of participants in the three-day event that tees off on Friday at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

This year’s 37th staging of the show will have more than 400 exhibit boots, the most in the event’s history.

While the celebrities featured on the Daily Herald Main Stage are mainly present or former football stars – Robbie Gould, Patrick Mannelly, Jay Hilgenberg, Emery Moorehead and Otis Wilson – World Long drive competitor Steve Kois of Wheaton will be there, too.

Attendees will again receive free golf rounds at the 14 area courses operated by GolfVisions. It’s the 11th year that GolfVisions president Tim Miles has offed that incentive to attend the show, and the Illinois PGA will have 60 of its professionals on hand to provide swing and putting lessons. Indiana’s French Lick Resort returns as the show’s presenting sponsor.

Show hours are noon-7 p.m. on Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $6 on Friday and $11 on Saturday and Sunday. Youth 12-15 can get in for $4 on all three days and those 11 and under are free.

Two Jemsek courses get Open locals

The U.S. Golf Association has announced 109 sites for U.S. Open local qualifying, and four are in Illinois. Both facilities owned and operated by the Jemsek family were included. The Dubsdread course, at Cog Hill in Lemont, with host on May 4 and Pine Meadow, in Mundelein, on May 11.

Other Illinois locals are at Spencer T. Olin, in Alton, on May 4 and Illini Country Club, in Springfield, on May 11. Illini will host a local for the 42nd consecutive year. Sites haven’t been announced for the sectional qualifiers, which will send survivors directly to the U.S. Open proper at New York’s Winged Foot course from June 18-21.

BMW tourney update

The Western Golf Association has announced its BMW Championship will be headed out of town in 2021 after this year’s event is played in August at Olympia Fields. Cave’s Valley, in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Springs, Md., will host the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoff event from Aug. 17-22 in 2021.

The tournament rotated in and out of Chicago since 2007 with Medinah hosting last year. The event was set for Olympia Fields – which meant back-to-back Chicago stages — when contract negotiations with the auto manufacturer were stalled temporarily.

The WGA also announced sites for two of its women’s championships in 2021, both of them at Chicago area private clubs. The Women’s Western Amateur will be at Park Ridge and the Women’s Western Junior at Aurora.

Here and there

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman has been named to the 2020 PGA Player Advisory Board.

Jordan Abel-Haq has resigned as executive director of the Illinois Junior Golf Association to become a loan officer for Chicago’s Homeside Financial. He was with the IJGA for nearly 10 years, the last four as executive director.

Joliet Country Club, one of the oldest golf facilities in the Chicago area, is apparently headed for redevelopment. Joliet operated as a private club for 114 years before going public and being renamed Joliet Golf Club last July.

Cog Hill has started a Senior Club for players 60 and over. A $35 membership fee will give players a reduced rate Monday through Thursday on the Nos. 1 and 3 courses, which are open year-around.

Vince Juarez, general manager at Deerpath, in Lake Forest, and T.J. Sullivan, director of instruction at Golf-Tec Oak Brook, have earned Master Professional status from the PGA of America.

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: PGA events make Florida the place to be for golfers

PGA National’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion course — home of the fearsome Bear Trap series of holes — was the scene of Keith Mitchell’s surprise victory in 2019. He out dueled established stars Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler then. This week Mitchell defends his title.

If you want to see the PGA Tour live there’s only one place to go – at least for a while. That’s Florida.

After spending the first two months of the year bouncing around between Hawaii, California, Arizona and Mexico the circuit will be in Florida for four consecutive weeks. The season heats up now on tougher courses than the circuit had been playing on.

Only four PGA Tour events had 36-hole cuts over par in 2019, three were in Florida and the toughest of them all was the opening event of the Florida Swing. The Honda Classic, which tees off on Thursday at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, had the highest cut number in relation to par – 2-over.

The Honda field again be without Tiger Woods (who lives in the area) and Rory McIlroy. The field, however, will include winners of three of last year’s majors – Brooks Koepka (PGA), Gary Woodland (U.S. Open) and Shane Lowry (British Open) – as well as Rickie Fowler. Koepka and Fowler tied for second last year behind surprise winner Keith Mitchell.

Competition resumes up the following week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando. Competition rounds there are March 5-8 with Francesco Molinari the defending champion.

Best field of the month will be at The Players Championship March12-15 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, when McIlroy tries for a repeat title, and the Valspar Championship ends the Florida swing from March 19-22 at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour. Paul Casey will go for a three-peat in that one. The 2019 cut fell at 1-over at both Bay Hill and Innisbrook.

When the last putt drops at the Valspar the golf focus turns to the Masters. The year’s first major will be played three weeks later.

The Fox Club, a course designed by Roy Case and renovated by Darren Clark in Palm City, FL., is a public facility now. Its dogleg left par-5 finishing hole is one that’s hard to forget.

Playing around the Honda

PGA National has a variety of stay-and-play packages available during the Honda Classic.

“It has become one of the most anticipated PGA Tour stops for players, fans and resort guests each year, said Jeffrey Mayers, managing director of the resort. “We’re thrilled to provide our guests with premier access to watching the best players in the world compete as well as an outstanding array of golf and resort amenities. It’ll make for a fun-packed week to long remember.’’

There’s more golf not far away, with the PGA Golf Club – winter home of the PGA of America – less than an hour to the north. Palm City is located between the two PGA destinations, and it offers something different from past years at two of its facilities.

The Fox Club, a long-time private club in Palm City that was once known as Cobblestone, became a public venue last fall and the Evergreen Club underwent an ownership change and total makeover. It’s now called Crane’s Watch.

Resurfacing the putting green is one of the updates in progress at just re-opened Crane Watch, formerly the Evergreen Club. A new short game area is being built on the other side of the clubhouse.

Here and there

The North & South Bar has opened in Pinehurst, N.C. That completes a nearly year-long renovation of The Manor. It’s the youngest hotel in Pinehurst – at a mere 97 years old.

Two Mississippi courses that we’ve visited more than once — Old Waverly and Mossy Oak – will be offering stay-and-play opportunities beginning on March 17.

Tickets are now on sale for the 26th annual Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It’ll be played for the 18th consecutive year at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club on April 11.