Here’s three surprising qualifiers for the U.S. Open

Nobody is going to pick Andy Pope, Dylan Frittelli or Dylan Meyer to win the 121st U.S. Open when it tees off Thursday at Torrey Pines in California. Still, all three have tee times and high hopes.

All were survivors of what has been dubbed “Golf’s Longest Day,’’ when nine 36-hole qualifiers played across the country determine the last of the 156 qualifiers for the Open proper.

For Pope, from Glen Ellyn, being ready for the U.S. Open is nothing new. The 37-year old Korn Ferry Tour veteran didn’t have much momentum going into last week’s U.S. Open sectional qualifier, having missed three straight cuts and tying for 66th place in the two Korn Ferry tourneys leading into his elimination in New York.

So what happened? Pope shot 67-70 and finished third in a qualifier that had four spots at Torrey Pines available. Pope has had only limited success on the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit, but he’s been consistent at U.S. Open time.

With entries world-wide annually in the 10,000 range Pope has made it into the 156 starters in five of the last six U.S. Opens that included qualifying (the field for the pandemic-impacted 2020 tourney was all invitees).  And Pope made the cut in two of the four Opens he played in.

And then there’s Frittelli, the South African-born reigning champion of the John Deere Classic. His chances for playing in the U.S. Open weren’t promising before his sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.  With his title defense in the JDC coming up next month Frittelli had missed the cut in four straight PGA Tour stops before his qualifier.

So what happened? Playing in a field that featured a big contingent of PGA Tour players who had not met U.S. Open qualifications, Frittelli got hot in his afternoon round, shooting a 65.  That put him at 8-under-par 136 for his 36 holes and in a tie for sixth place.  Sixteen spots at Torrey Pines were available in Columbus.

“It was a long day, and my first time in Columbus,’’ Frittelli said in a media session last week designed to preview the 50th anniversary celebration of the July 8-11 John Deere Classic in Silvis, IL. “I made two eagles in the afternoon round and was in the last group to finish before sunset. It was a pretty magical day.’’

Unlike most every player in this week’s field, Frittelli has a victory on the Torrey Pines course. He won the 2007 World Junior title there – and by a five-stroke margin, no less.

“I went there to get the attention of college coaches,’’ said Frittelli, who went on to play on an NCAA championship team at Texas.  “That golf course has changed a little since then.’’

The other Dylan – ex-lllinois star Dylan Meyer – was also an unlikely qualifier in that he has no pro tour membership this year and has had trouble getting into tournaments.  He qualified in a sectional in Springfield, Ohio.

Unlike Pope and Frittelli, Meyer has already proven himself in the U.S. Open.  He made his professional debut in the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, in New York, and tied for 20th.

JDC EXEMPTIONS: Michael Feagles of Illinois and David Perkins of Illinois State headed six collegiate players awarded sponsor exemptions into next month’s John Deere Classic.  Others were Tripp Kinney, of Iowa State; Alex Schaake,  Iowa; Luke Kluger, Kansas; and Willie Mack, Bethune-Cookman.

Meanwhile, Illinois alums Nick Hardy and Brian Campbell had top-10 finishes in the BMW Charity Championship  on the Korn Ferry Tour, and Illini coach Mike Small, making a rare appearance on PGA Tour Champions, tied for 37th in the American Family Insurance Championship in Wisconsin.

BITS AND PIECES:  Team USA took a 33-17 victory over the International team in last weekend’s Arnold Palmer Cup matches at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove….Mark Hensby, a past champion in the Illinois State Amateur, Illinois Open and John Deere Classic, trying to make his first cut on the PGA Tour in five years at the Palmetto Championship, withdrew after getting 10 penalty strokes for playing the wrong ball in the first round…..The 59th Radix Cup matches between the top players in the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association is on tap for Thursday at Oak Park Country Club…The 88th Illinois Women’s State Amateur completes its three-day run on Thursday at Pine Meadow, in Mundelein.

 

 

This Nicklaus did indeed enjoy having the `Best Seat in the House’

Published by W Publishing Group in Nashville, TN.

Book reviews were once a regular thing for me, until I realized I hadn’t done one in quite awhile.

It’s not because I haven’t kept up a steady diet of reading on a fairly wide variety of topics. I continued to have a book going at all times,  virtually all of the non-fiction variety, but I didn’t deem any – for whatever reason – worthy of a review.

“Best Seat in the House’’ is different. It was written by Jack Nicklaus II in partnership with Don Yaeger,  a fellow Floridian with a resume that includes significant ties to the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

In capsule, this is a son’s loving tribute to a father who is both famous and exemplary. “Best Seat in the House’’ is much more than that, however.  It’s a guide to good parenting. It’s a portrait of how an ideally functional family operates. And, it provides good insight into what made a great athlete great.

Jack Nicklaus II was the first-born of the legendary golfer’s five offspring. He was also frequently his father’s caddie, most notably  in the 1986 Masters where the elder Nicklaus, affectionately called the Golden Bear, won the title at age 46. In my nearly 60 years reporting on a wide variety of sports for a variety of publications and websites, this was the most most dramatic of individual victories. No question Jack II had the “Best Seat in the House’’ for that one.

Like his father, Jack II is the father of five. He’s also president of the golf course design company that his father created; a member of the board of directors of Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which has down tremendous things on the charity front; and the chairman of both the Muirfield Village Golf Club and the Memorial Tournament, the PGA Tour event held there annually.

Yes, Jack and Jack II Nicklaus are close – and that’s putting it mildly. What’s it like being the son, and namesake, of Jack Nicklaus?  Jack II knows, and tells it in a most touching way.

I had a hard time putting this 189-page book down. Apparently his father did, too. In the forward to the book, Nicklaus – after reading the manuscript — admitted  “I did not realize what the impact some of our experiences together had meant to him.  I will treasure these words forever.’’

Reflections on big tournament victories were almost incidental in comparison to the father-son interaction when Jack II was growing up and the period of growth for both after the days of PGA Tour glory were winding down.  You’ll find this book – for a lot reasons —  is well worth reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Arnold Palmer Cup has a new look for its return to Rich Harvest

Jerry Rich, owner of Rich Harvest Farms, has never been reluctant to bring big amateur golf events to his private club in Sugar Grove, and this week is one of the biggest.

The 25th anniversary of the Arnold Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition that will be staged from Friday through Sunday. It’ll mark the second time Rich Harvest has hosted the event, the first being in 2015 when the United States team of collegiate stars defeated an International squad, 18-12.

This week’s matches will be much different than six years ago, however.  The first was all-men. This one will have men and women playing side by side as partners, the result of a format change made four years ago.  The last staging at Rich Harvest welcomed spectators.  This one is closed to the public due to pandemic concerns.

Competitors in previous Arnold Palmer Cups have included nine winners of major championships, and over 100 have gone on to careers on the PGA or LPGA tours. Regardless of the format used, the competition has been tightly contested with the U.S. leading the series 12-11-1.

This year’s  competition includes two players with Illinois connections. Northwestern sophomore Irene Kim, the Big Ten women’s golfer of the year, is on the U.S. team and Adrien Dumont de Chassart, from Belgium, was a stalwart on the Illinois team that reached the match play portion of last week’s NCAA Championship. He’ll play for the International squad.

U.S. OPEN-BOUND: Monday was the annual “The Longest Day in Golf,’’ with nine 36-hole sectional qualifiers for the June 17-20 U.S. Open at California’s Torrey Pines. Twenty-two players with Illinois connections were among the 837 nation-wide who either survived local qualifiers or were exempt for the sectionals, and only three earned spots at Torrey Pines.

Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope, a journeyman on the Korn Ferry Tour, continued his extraordinary success in Open qualifiers.  He shot 67, the low score in the morning round at the sectional in Purchase, N.Y., then followed up with a 70 in the afternoon to finish third.  His sectional offered four spots at Torrey Pines, so Pope becomes a U.S. Open finalist for the fifth time in the last six years of qualifying.

There were no qualifiers last year due to pandemic concerns.  The U.S. Golf Association filled out the field by issuing invitations to players its committee deemed deserving, and Pope wasn’t among them.

Another Korn Ferry Tour member, Northwestern alum Dylan Wu, advanced through a sectional in Rockville, Md.,l shooting 66-71 to finish second. Dylan Meyer, a former star for Illinois who hasn’t earned membership on any tour for this season, was among seven qualifiers in a sectional at Springfield, Ohio. He tied for fifth there while former Illini teammate Nick Hardy came up one shot short of advancing to a playoff that determined the final survivors.

Bryce Emory, the reigning Illinois Open champion from Aurora, was a similar near-miss in the Columbus, Ohio, elimination. Due to a costly bogey on the 17th hole of his afternoon round he finished one shot out of a five-man playoff to decide the final four qualifiers for Torrey Pines. That sectional, which included most of the PGA Tour players who were not otherwise qualified for the Open, offered 16 spots at Torrey Pines.

Tyler Isenhart, a redshirt freshman at Baylor University who attended high school at Geneva, appeared on the brink of advancing after leading the morning round at Springfield with a 66.  He faded to a 79 in the afternoon to drop out of contention.

HERE AND THERE: The Baths of Blackwolf Run, the new 10-hole par-3 course that includes a two-acre putting green, opened this week in Kohler, Wis…..The Chicago District Senior Amateur concludes its four-day run on Thursday at Merit Club, in Libertyville….A new season of Dave Lockhart’s Golf360 TV show started this week on NBC Sports Chicago.  The CDGA has taken over as presenting sponsor and ex-Bears’ center Patrick Mannelly returns as host….Bolingbrook Golf Club will host one of eight 72-hole tournaments on the new Forme Tour.  The professional circuit has players from 21 countries and provides a path to the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour.  The Bolingbrook stop is July 20-23.

 

 

One good showing could pay big dividends for Patrick Flavin

The PGA Tour’s developmental circuit has gone by various names – Ben Hogan, Nationwide, Nike, Web.com — over its 32-year history, but the just-concluded Evans Scholars Invitational on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour was an event like no other.

Chicago has hosted various events over the years, but local players never made the impact that they did last week at The Glen Club, in Glenview.

Patrick Flavin and Nick Hardy tied for fifth.  David Lipsky and Vince India tied for 12th.  Luke Guthrie tied for 18th after enduring a string of 23 missed cuts.  Brad Hopfinger, Brian Campbell and Andy Pope also made the cut and went away with paychecks.

Flavin, from Highwood, was the happiest because the strong showing meant he could keep playing on the circuit, at least for one more week.  He’s not a Korn Ferry member and hopes the points he made will enable him to play beyond the REX Hospital Championship, which tees off on Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. He earned a spot in Raleigh because he was in the top 25 at The Glen.

“It felt incredible to get a sponsor’s exemption and then capitalize,’’ said Flavin. “It definitely got my juices flowing.  I was bogey-free on the weekend, and I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. I’m hoping to make enough points to play the rest of the year.’’

Flavin has gotten into only six Korn Ferry events and, prior to the ESI, had made the cut in only one. The Glen, though, had been good to him in the past.  He won the 2017 Illinois Open there to complete a sweep of that year’s Open and Illinois  State Amateur titles.  Only David Ogrin, 37 years earlier, won those two titles in the same year.

Hardy, from Northbrook, wasn’t as ecstatic as Flavin.  He hovered near the top of the leaderboard for three rounds and played in the last group with eventual champion Cameron Young on Sunday. In the end two double bogeys on the par-3 ninth hole led to Hardy’s undoing, but he still notched his third top-five finish and fourth top-10 in his last six starts.

“I learned a lot about handling my emotions,’’ said Hardy.  “I’m getting closer to winning out here.  I know it’s going to come.’’

Hardy maintained his No. 14 spot in the Korn Ferry standings. The top 25 get PGA Tour cards at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season in August.  With nine tournaments remaining that comfortable spot in the standings has led to Hardy skipping the Raleigh stop and return to action on June 7 in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Springfield, Ohio.

ILLINI FEAGLES IS FOURTH: Illinois’ Michael Feagles, a fifth-year senior, finished fourth in the individual portion of the NCAA men’s Division I tournament played in his hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz.  Clemson’s Turk Pettit was the individual champion but that paled in comparison to what’s on the line Wednesday.

The top eight teams following the wrapup of the individual competition on Monday advanced to the match play portion.  Illinois was fifth, trailing Arizona, Oklahoma State. Pepperdine and Oklahoma. The quarterfinal and semifinal matches were played on Tuesday with the national champion to be determined on Wednesday (TODAY).

HERE AND THERE: Doug Ghim tied for 14th and Kevin Streelman tied for 20th in the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas on Sunday. Both are in the field for this week’s Memorial tournament in Ohio and Streelman has learned that he can bypass next week’s U.S. Open sectional qualifying because his status on the Official World Golf Rankings (No. 57) gives him an automatic berth among the 156 starters in the Open finals at Torrey Pines, in California, later this month….Brian Tulk has departed Royal Fox, in St. Charles, and is now general manager at Klein Creek, in Winfield….Foxford Hills, in Cary, will hold a two-person scramble event on Saturday.

Florida’s Palm-Aire course gets a `refreshing’ from a Midwest perspective

Illinois-based architect Mike Benkusky is bringing his touch to what had been one of Florida’s toughest courses.

SARASOTA, FL. – Mike Benkusky had worked basically in the Midwest throughout his career as a golf course architect.  That’s not surprising, given that he grew up in Iowa, did his college work at Iowa State and then entered the architectural world under the tutelage of long-time Chicago-based architect Bob Lohman.

In 2005 Benkusky opened his own design firm, based out of his hometown of Lake in the Hills. His Illinois creations are topped by St. Charles Country Club and Arlington Lakes, and his remodeling efforts included Stonebridge, this year’s Illinois Open site in Aurora;  Bloomington Country Club and the East course at Countryside, in Mundelein. He’s also done considerable work in Iowa and Indiana.

That’s why it was an eye-opener when Benkusky was named to overhaul The Champions course at Palm-Aire Country Club. Formerly called DeSoto Lakes, the Palm-Aire club has 36 holes.  The older of the 18-holers – and the one getting Benkusky’s attention now – was designed by Dick Wilson.  It opened in 1958.

The other 18-holer, called The Lakes, was designed by Joe Lee and opened in 1982 The membership approved a $2 million budget for Benkusky’s work on the Champion and is considering an updating of The Lakes as well.

Runway tee boxes, a trademark of Dick Wilson courses, will be eye-catching when the Champion course re-opens.

Wilson and Lee worked together on many projects before Wilson’s passing, at age 61, in 1965.  Wilson’s work in Florida touched some well-known courses – Bay Hill, Pine Tree, the TPC Blue Monster at Doral and PGA National. Lee, who died in 2002 at the age of 81, was also active in Florida where he either designed or renovated about 80 courses.

Benkusky had never worked in Florida before, but his Illinois background was helpful in his landing the job.  Though both Wilson and Lee spent time as Florida residents, they did combine efforts on a major Illinois course – Cog Hill’s Dubsdread layout that was a long-time PGA Tour site.  The Palos Park course was the site of the last 16 Western Opens (1991-2006) and was the part-time base of its successor, the BMW Championship.

The Western Golf Association conducted the Western Open and has taken the BMW Championship, which is part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, to a variety of sites since 2007.

In Benkusky’s case, his knowledge of golf history overcame the fact that Midwest courses have different soils and grasses than those  in Florida. Palm-Aire members were impressed by that.

“I got a recommendation, and –with what Dick and Joe had done – I was familiar with both,’’ said Benkusky. “I was as interested in their (Palm-Aire) history as they were themselves. I’m also finding that Florida is a little easier because of the soil. It’s all the same sandy material.’’

Palm-Aire’s clubhouse features a wall full of good memories.

Wilson’s Champion layout was one of the most difficult courses in the country when it opened. The PGA Tour visited in 1960, when Sam Snead beat all the stars of that era in the DeSoto Open.  The LPGA came the next year and also had a legendary winner.  Louise Suggs captured the Golden Circle of Golf Festival event. Memorabilia from both decorates a clubhouse wall.

The club has also hosted the National Left-Handers Championship, the LPGA’s Legends Tour and the made-for-TV All-Star Golf series. The Champion has been its showcase course.  It’s longer than the Lakes, which is more of a community course with homes lining many of the fairways.

When Benkusky’s work is completed The Champion might well host some big events again.

“I’ve had good bones to work with,’’ Benkusky said of Wilson’s original design.  “The golf course was all there, and it had some teeth to it.  There was a lot to work with, and there weren’t any drastic changes.  A solid design was there. We’ve added a little length, kept the greens and put in a new bunker style, but the bunkers will still play just as they did in the past.’’

Benkusky’s finished product won’t be a re-do or a renovation.

“It’s a refreshing – more a hybrid of what (Wilson) did because the greens had all been rebuilt since the Wilson days in the 1990s,’’ Benkusky said.

The irrigation system was only eight years old, so it didn’t need replacing.   Re-grassing with new strains of Bermuda was done on 70 acres and 12 acres of crushed shells are being put down around trees and as replacements or extensions of some cart paths.  Sixty trees were also taken down, though some will be replaced before the course opens on Nov. 1.

The tee boxes will have long runway tees – one is 90 yards long – and they will give the Champion a new look but remain in keeping with what Wilson did. The original runway tees, though, were gradually broken up over the years.

“He (Wilson) was known for them,’’ said Benkusky.  “A lot of them were taken down for maintenance, but now it appears they’ll be easier to maintain.’’

This view of the 18th green could emerge as the signature hole of the Champions course.

 

Meet the next induction class into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame

The next induction class into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame will be much different than the last one, which was enshrined in 2019.  The next class celebrates the playing accomplishments of both the male and female stars.

On the women’s  side there was Bessie Anthony, who was one of the nation’s top stars in the early years of American golf.  On the men’s there’s Gary Pinns – the only player to win the Illinois Open five times. While Illinois has had some great players since the sport was first played here in 1892, few have rivaled the playing success of Anthony and Pinns.

Also being enshrined at The Glen Club in October will be renowned swing guru Dr. Jim Suttie; Mason Phelps, a two-time Western Amateur champion; Herbert James Tweedie, who designed the first nine holes of the original Chicago Golf Club; and Phil Kosin, creator of both Chicagoland Golf magazine and the Illinois Women’s Open.

The IWO celebrates its 26th staging in July at Mistwood Golf Club, in Romeoville, but it may never have a player the caliber of Anthony. Playing out of the long gone Westward Ho club, she was the first Chicago area woman to make her mark on the world stage.

An Evanston resident and the daughter of a Chicago lawyer, Anthony Helped found the Women’s Western Golf Association and then won its first three tournaments from 1901-03.  In 1903 she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chicago Golf Club, beating another Chicago player – Anna Carpenter – by a whopping 7 and 6 margin in the title match.

That was basically it for Anthony’s golf career.  She had announced her engagement before winning the national title and opted not to made a title defense after getting married. There’s no telling how many more titles she might have won had she remained competitive.

Pinns remained competitive for a long time. He strung his five Illinois Open titles over three decades, winning the first as an amateur in 1978, then winning the next three in the 1980s.  The last one – in 1990 – was especially memorable as it came at Village Links of Glen Ellyn, his home course and the club where his brother Doug was a teaching pro.

Among Pinns’ other victories were the 1974 Illinois high school title and the 1977 Illinois State Amateur crown.

After a solid amateur career Pinns took a crack at the PGA Tour before returning to Chicago where he established himself as one of the area’s top teaching pros. He was the 2014 Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year and was director of instruction at Oak Brook Golf Club for 27 years.

This year’s 27 nominees were whittled to the final 10 in the first selection meeting of a state-wide panel representing all of Illinois’ major golf organization.  The six survivors were chosen after the second selection session on Tuesday night.

“The committee worked very hard to select this group from an outstanding roster of candidates,’’ said selection committee chairman Tim Cronin.  “They range from the early days of the game in the state to today.  Each has been recognized as a leader in their aspect of golf.’’

The inductees will be enshrined on Oct. 1 at The Glen Club, in Glenview, which houses the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

 

 

Evans Scholars tourney is loaded with Chicago golf stars

 

The Evans Scholars Invitational, the only pro tour event in the Chicago area this season, tees off on Thursday at The Glen Club, in Glenview. It’s an annual stop on the Korn Ferry Tour, which provides a direct path to golf’s premier circuit — the PGA Tour.

Scottie Scheffler won the inaugural ESI at The Glen in 2019 and is now a regular on the PGA Tour.  Curtis Thompson was the champion last year when the tourney had to be shifted to Chicago Highlands, in Westchester. He’s back in the field this week, but Thompson is in a precarious position.

A former Louisiana State golfer, Thompson turned pro in 2014 and his lone Korn Ferry victory came at Chicago Highlands.  Now he’s 27th on the circuit’s point list and only the top 25 at season’s end earn PGA Tour cards.

The current Top 25 includes Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, whose fourth-place finish on Sunday in the AdventHealth Championship in Missouri boosted his status to No. 14. David Lipsky, a former Northwestern golfer, is No. 6.  A flock of other players with Illinois connections have work to do in the final 12 tournaments of the season to crack the coveted Top 25.

Deerfield’s Vince India, winner of an Illinois Open at The Glen, tied for sixth in Kansas City but that only improved his status to No. 56 on the Korn Ferry list. Northwestern alum Dylan Wu remained No. 28 after finishing in a tie for 21st. Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger, a titlist in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, is No. 45.

This week’s field at The Glen also includes two others with wins in both the State Am and Illinois Open – Mark Hensby and Patrick Flavin.  Also scheduled to go are former University of Illinois players Brian Campbell, Luke Guthrie and Scott Langley, ex-Illinois State Amateur winner Jordan Hahn and former Glenbard West golfer Andy Pope, who reached the finals in four U.S. Opens but remains a regular on the Korn Ferry circuit.

Also in the field are Stefan Jaeger and Chase Wright, who won the titles at Ivanhoe when the Korn Ferry stop was played there as the Rust-Oleum Championship, and Dawson Armstrong, who won the 2015 Western Amateur played at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.

The reigning Western Amateur champion, Pierceson Coody, received the traditional sponsor’s exemption to the ESI but he’s opted to play for Texas in the NCAA Championship instead. Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen of Denmark, the other finalist in the last Western Am, will be in this week’s ESI field.

Since last year’s staging First Midwest Bank has agreed to be the ESI’s presenting sponsor and SERVPRO, of Glenview, is providing complimentary tickets to the Thursday-Sunday tournament rounds.

PGA AFTERMATH: Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman made a strong showing in last week’s PGA Championship but bogeys at Nos. 13 and 17 in the final round cost him dearly.  Streelman started the final round in fourth-place and climbed into a tie for second during the last 18.

The back nine letdowns, though, landed him in a nine-way tie for eighth place.  He still had a $263,000 payday, but only the top four and ties received automatic invitations to next year’s Masters.

Brad Marek, the former Hersey High School standout and 2005 Illinois State Amateur champion, was second-low club professional in his first appearance in the PGA Championship.  He earned $18,800 and had the satisfaction of beating three of the top four players in the world rankings going into the event.  Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele all failed to survive the 36-hole cut.

HERE AND THERE: Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only player on the LPGA Tour, had her best finish of the season on Sunday – a tie for seventh in the Silk Championship in Virginia….Eighth-ranked Illinois is the only area qualifier for the men’s NCAA Championship, which tees off on Friday at Grayhawk, in Arizona….Mistwood has set the dates for the 26th Illinois Women’s Open.  It’ll be played July 6-7 on the Romeoville course…..Arlington Heights’ Ryan Kowalski won the Chicago District Mid-Amateur title at Lake Shore, in Glencoe.  It was Kowalski’s first appearance in a CDGA championship.

 

 

My reflections on the career of architect Arthur Hills

How good a golf course architect was Arthur Hills? This book says it all.

 

I wish I could say that I knew Arthur Hills better than I really did. Our only in-depth meeting came in 1993, when – as a Chicago golf columnist – I was invited to the Grand Opening of one of his designs, called The Thoroughbred in Rothbury, Mich. I do know Hills’ work quite well, though.

Last year, at the request of friend and colleague Fred Altvater,  I had the honor of introducing the Arthur Hills Golf Trail to not only the readers of  the Ohio Golf Journal but golfers nation-wide through pieces that ran in other publications and websites.

In addition to Hills’ four Illinois designs I’ve also played his courses in Michigan and South Carolina. My favorite is the Arthur Hills Course at Michigan’s Boyne Highlands Resort, but there were so many good ones. Hills eventually designed over 200 courses and renovated over 150 in a career that began in 1967.  He worked as a course designer into his eighties before passing away on May 18 at the age of 91.

While Pete Dye may have received more notoriety for his golf architectural efforts, Hills’ work will never be taken lightly. Residential courses were his staple and, in my native Illinois, he created good ones in Stonewall Orchard, a long-time site of the Illinois PGA Championship; Bolingbrook, the  centerpiece of the community of the same name; Ivanhoe, site for several Korn Ferry Tour events; and Chicago Highlands, a private club that hosted the Evans Scholars Invitational on the Korn Ferry circuit last year.

Stonewall, in the north suburb of Grayslake, was Hills’ first Illinois course. It opened in 1999.  Bob Malpede, now the director of golf at White Deer Run in Vernon Hills, directed the interview process that brought Hills to the golf rich Chicago area.

“Art was most cooperative and he wanted to be in Chicago,’’ Malpede recalled. “He came once a month (when the course was under construction) and we walked all 18 holes each time – and it was hard keeping up with him. He was very involved with the project, and he was very enjoyable to work with – except on the 18th hole.’’

The design of No. 18 was controversial then, and still is with some players.  Malpede suggested a second look at it, Hills wanted it the way he designed it and that was that.

Creating Stonewall was basically a three-year project and Malpede kept in touch with Hills after that, even attending his 80th birthday party in Atlanta.

Heritage Harbour’s  No. 17 may be controversial if you play it from the tips, at 224 yards. We didn’t try that.

Hills, of course, did much more work in Ohio and Michigan than he did anywhere else. He was always based in the Toledo area, with partners Steve Forrest and Shawn Smith.  Hills, Smith & Forrest was one of the country’s most prominent golf architecture firms. Forrest worked with Hills for 42 years.  Smith started with the group in 2010.

Nine of Hill’s designs are in Ohio, the first of which was Brandywine in 1967, and 17 are in Michigan.  The latter includes 27-hole eye-catcher Bay Harbor.

“I had the great privilege of learning all aspects of golf course architecture from a distinguished professional practitioner and humble gentleman,’’ Forrest told the Toledo Blade after learning of Hills’ passing. “Arthur became a father-like figure to me – a mentor, instructor, exhorter and admonisher always trying to improve his own skills.’’

Dave Hackenberg, long-time columnist and golf writer for the Blade, knows the impact Hills has left on a town long noted for its golf enthusiasm.

“Art was one of a  handful of Toledoans who spread the city’s golf brand far and wide over the past century,’’ said Hackenberg.  “He started with the Yellow Pages and modest ambitions….then made his mark with masterful, dramatic course designs around the nation and around the world.’’

Altvater announced the formation of the Arthur Hills Golf Trail at the 2019 Toledo Golf Show.  The Trail  includes three courses in Michigan – The Legacy in Ottawa Hills and Stonebridge and Leslie Park in Ann Arbor – and two in Ohio – Stone Ridge and Maumee Bay.

“There’s probably 10-12 good Arthur Hills designs in the Toledo area,’’ said Altvater.  “Down the road we hope to have them involved as well.’’

I was assigned to be Hills’ cart partner in that long-ago Grand Opening of The Thoroughbred. It was  a well-attended outing, a most enjoyable event that had us starting off the No. 1 tee on a typical Hills’ course. I generally found Hills’ courses marked by one hole that was either controversial, goofy, unusually tricky, memorable – you pick the adjective.  The Thoroughbred definitely had one, though I can’t remember which one it was after 28 years.

While Hills was a solid Toledo product with degrees from Michigan, Michigan State and the University of Toledo, his designs are as far away as Portugal, Croatia, Sweden, Mexico and Norway.

Just two days after Hills’ passing my good friend and golf partner Herb Gould lined up a couples’ round at Heritage Harbour, in Bradenton, FL.  Herb didn’t know of Hills’ death at the time, and neither did the personnel in the pro shop when we arrived. We all reminisced about Hills’ courses and then the staff stunned me by bringing out a beautiful book, “The Works of Art.’’ It’s a terrific collection of most all the Hills designs.

“You need to have this,’’ the staffer told me – and he was right. I wasn’t aware such a book on Hills existed, and it’s a real keeper.

As for Heritage Harbour, it wasn’t one of Hills’ most notable creations – a residential layout that had extremely wide fairways but most challenging shots into the greens.  Playing it on an extremely windy day made those shots especially challenging, but it was still a lot of fun.

That controversial hole? Staff members thought it might be the par-3 seventeenth but that didn’t coincide with my view.  It wasn’t one hole that was controversial at Heritage Harbour. It was the cart paths. The starter at the first tee said we’d be covering 10 miles of cart paths during the round.  After finishing I don’t doubt him, but I’ve never played a course anywhere with that much time spend in a cart.

The one controversial hole concept seemed to me (and a few others, I might add) to be a Hills trademark.  I’m not sure he felt that way, however. What we should remember, first and foremost, is that all of his courses brought so much joy to golfers of all abilities. They enriched the lives of so many people just because they were so much fun.

 

Herb and Liz Gould joined Joy and me in a round that celebrated the career of Arthur Hills.

 

 

 

 

From Dundee Crown to Kiawah: Roger Warren’s career in golf

Roger Warren’s career in golf started in 1986, when he took on a summer job at Village Links of Glen Ellyn. Now he’s the president of the Kiawah Island Resort, host of the 103rd PGA Championship which tees off on Thursday.

Warren had college stints at both Northern Illinois and Western Illinois and was both a teacher and basketball and golf coach at both the Illinois Math and Science Academy and Dundee Crown High School before his career change into golf.

At Village Links he learned what it was like to work at a 27-hole public facility that drew 95,000 rounds a year and had tee times as early as 5:30 a.m. on weekend mornings to accommodate the demand for play.

“It was a great training ground for lots of people – Dave Glod (founder of Batavia club manufacturer Tour Edge), Matt Pekarek, Ed Posh.’’  Pekarek was the general manager at The Links and Posh the long time head professional.

After working there from 1986-91 Warren moved over to the then brand new Seven Bridges, in Woodridge, from 1991-2003 and served a term as president of the Illinois section of the Professional Golfers Association of America. Then it was time for another move, to Kiawah which gained instant fame as host of the 1991 Ryder Cup matches.

“The experiences I had at Village Links and Seven Bridges prepared me for a skill set to understand what it took to provide great service and a great golf experience,’’ said Warren.  “When I was promoted to (Kiawah) president in 2005 I had to learn the hotel business, villa rentals and the restaurant business.  It was the change that I was looking for, but initially it was like drinking water from a fire host, trying to figure it out.’’

Warren did figure it out.  He became president of the PGA of America in 2006, and this week is Warren’s second stint as president of the major tournament’s host.  Kiawah hosted in 2012, when Rory McIlroy won.  This time Kiawah offers the longest course in history — 7,876 yards.

“The Ocean Course hasn’t changed much in nine years,’’ said Warren. “We’ve added 20-30 yards to a few holes and transplanted some mature oak trees from other parts of the golf course to strategic positions to create challenges.    The conditions are different in May than they were in 2012 when the tournament was played in August. We’ve put in some different grasses and the rough will be deeper.’’

Warren has dealt with other changes at the resort, too – most recently the pandemic. Kiawah, located on a 10-mile island off Charleston, S.C., has four other courses.

“We closed in April and furloughed 1,000 of our 1,200 employes,’’ said Warren, “but we got them all back in early August.’’

Then the golf boom kicked in over most of the country, but especially at Kiawah.

“Play has been up 38 percent over the best year we’d ever had,’’ said Warren.  “It’s been a very good year for us.’’

And it won’t slow down after the exposure the resort will receive during this week’s PGA Championship. Ninety-nine of the top 100 players on the Official World Golf Rankings are in the field including 70 international players from 25 countries.

AN IPGA EPIC: Last week’s final in the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship at Bull Valley, in Woodstock, brought together Jim Billiter, now at Ivanhoe Club, and Garrett Chaussard, director of instruction at Skokie.  Between them they had won four of the previous six titles.

This time Billiter claimed his third title since 2015 despite going 4-down after seven holes.  He made birdies on six of the next 10 holes and won 2 and 1.  Chaussard was a finalist for the fourth straight year.

HERE AND THERE: The Chicago District Golf Association concludes the first event its 108th championship season on Wednesday when the CDGA Mid-Amateur, canceled by the pandemic last year, wraps up at Lake Shore, in Glencoe….Northwestern legend Luke Donald didn’t qualify for the PGA Championship but his game is improving.  He shot 66-67 on the weekend to make his second straight cut and tied for 13th in last week’s Byron Nelson Classic. Illinois alum Dylan Meyer made the field through Monday qualifying, shot 66 in the first round and tied for 68th place. A day later Meyer shared medalist honors at the third and last Illinois local qualifier for the U.S. Open, shooting a 3-under-par 68 at Illini Country Club in Springfield.

 

Ex-Illinois Amateur winner qualifies for his first PGA Championship

 

Twenty club professionals qualified for next week’s PGA Championship at South Carolina’s Kiawah course at a 312-player elimination last month in Florida.  None of the qualifiers were members of the Illinois PGA session, but one of the 20 has deep Chicago area roots.

Brad Marek came out of Hersey High School, in Arlington Heights, where he won a sectional title as a senior in 2002.  He also won the Illinois Junior State Amateur and was the state’s Junior Player of the Year that year and captured the Illinois State Amateur at Crestwicke, in Bloomington, in 2005.

“A junior amateur legend, both in summer events and high school matches,’’ said long-time Hersey coach Dan Caporusso, who is headed to Kiawah to watch Marek play in his first major championship. He earned his spot against the world’s best players by finishing in a tie for eighth at the PGA Professionals Championship, posting a 3-under par 287 over 72 holes on the Wanamaker and Ryder courses at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL.

A three-time Academic All-American at Indiana, Marek turned pro in 2008 and was strictly a tournament player through 2017. He won 15 times on various mini-tours and had a couple near-misses in U.S. Open qualifiers but never earned a place in a PGA Tour event.  He did, however, come through in his first try at a PGA Championship berth.

Marek became a member of the PGA of America in 2019 and was eligible for its Professionals Championship for the first time in 2020, but the event was canceled due to pandemic concerns.

“It’s funny,’’ said Marek.  “I’ve been playing my best golf since I stopped playing full time.’’

He’s won five times since then, even though his main job is running a junior golf academy designed for students who want to play college golf.

“There’s quite a bit less pressure than there was when playing full-time was my only source of income,’’ said Marek.  “I’ve been practicing smarter because I don’t have as much time to work on my own game, and I’m enjoying the challenge of it.’’

Marek settled in Berkeley, Calif., in 2015 and teaches at Corica Park in Alameda. He returned to Chicago last week for a full-day session with Garrett Chaussard, the director of instruction at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, and he arrived at Kiawah for the first time on Tuesday – a full week before the tournament tees off on May 21. He’s lined up Clare Langford, a top amateur who lives in Oregon, to be his caddie again.  They teamed up at Florida in April and they’ll have a longer lead-in time time before the second major championship of 2021.

“I’ve heard Kiawah is a special place, and I heard from others who said they got worn out before the event when they played in their first major championship,’’ said Marek. “I’ll work longer the week before the tournament.’’

Caporusso and five other friends from Chicago will be on hand to cheer Marek on at Kiawah, and he plans to file regular reports on Instagram to keep others informed of his progress throughout the tournament.

CANTIGNY SURVIVORS: Two-time Illinois State Amateur champion Tee-K Kelly, of Wheaton, and Roselle’s Dan Stringfellow, a former Illinois prep champion who played collegiately at Auburn, shared honors with 4-under-par 68s at Monday’s U.S. Open local qualifier at Cantigny, in Wheaton.

Michael Schachner, an assistant coach at DePaul, was one shot behind the co-leaders and reigning Illinois Open chapion Bryce Emory, of Aurora and Tyler Isenhart, of Geneva, carded 71s. They were the only players under par in the second Chicago local.  They’ll bid for played in the Open proper at Torrey Pines, in California, in sectional play next month.

Last of the three Illini local qualifiers will be Monday at Illini Country Club, in Springfield.

HERE AND THERE: Illinois’ Adrien Dumont de Chassart and Northwestern’s Irene Kim have been selected to play in the Arnold Palmer Cup matches at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove on June 11-13…..The Korn Ferry Tour’s Evans Scholars Invitational, coming up May 27-30 at The Glen Club  in Glenview, will have its first presenting sponsor.  First Midwest Bank will have that honor at the $600,000 event….B.J. Paul has been named director of player development at Bolingbrook….Nike golf camps will begin at Mistwood, in Romeoville, on June 7….The Illinois, Notre Dame and Northwestern men’s teams were all assigned to next week’s regional in Oklahoma with the top five teams and top individual going to the NCAA finals the following week at Grayhawk, in Arizona….Grand opening of the Youth Golf Development Center is scheduled for May 24 at Sunset Valley, in Highland Park….The Illinois PGA Foundation has begun a series of clinics for military veterans at Pine Meadow, in Mundelein, and Veterans Memorial, in North Chicago.