World Handicap System will have a unifying effect for golfers

No, Tiger Woods didn’t win his record PGA Tour record 83rd tournament this week to break a tie with Sam Snead. In fact, Woods didn’t even play in the Sentry Tournament of Champions – the PGA Tour’s first event of 2020 that concluded on Sunday with Justin Thomas’ playoff win in Hawaii.

What did happen this week is — in many ways — more important to more golfers than all that. The new World Handicap System went into effect.

A five-day blackout throughout the U.S. for posting scores came to an end on Monday following the updating of computer systems world-wide. Players who have their handicaps computed now have different numbers to use in competition.

CDGA executive director Robert Markionni was part of the 25-member committee that spent four years creating the World Handicap System.
My handicap climbed a half-stroke in the transition, and locally the change will affect 80,000 players in Illinois and parts of Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan who have their handicaps computed by the Chicago District Golf Association. The CDGA has been computing handicaps since the 1930s, but the way of doing it is different now.

Robert Markionni, the executive director of the CDGA, was on the 25-member committee that implemented the transition to the World Handicap System.

“It was about four years worth of work, but a privilege to sit in on this committee and see how the world came together,’’ said Markionni. “The handicapping system was the last aspect of golf to be globally administered.’’

Golf is a global game, and the various organizers had already dealt with alterations to the Rules of Golf and requirements for amateur standing. Six different associations, however, had their own methods for handicapping the players who form the bulk of the game’s participants. Now the associations are operating under the same set of guidelines.

Here are the major ways the new handicap system will affect the most serious Chicago golfers:

The maximum score accepted on a hole for handicap purposes is now net double bogey, regardless of ability. In the past some players (me included) could post a triple bogey. For high handicap players this would seem to make a major difference, but Markionni downplays that.

“When all the research was done by a bunch of PhDs who calculated all this stuff the reality was that it probably will have little effect,’’ said Markionni.

Handicaps will be posted on a daily basis instead of the every-two-weeks system the CDGA had been using, and it’s doubly important for players to post scores on the day they play rather than wait a day or two.

“Computers will now calculate playing conditions into the handicapping process,’’ said Markionni. “This is new to the U.S, but not new in other parts of the world. It’ll intrigue people.’’

Post late and a player’s score won’t reflect the playing conditions on the day he played his round.

Eight rounds, instead of the previous 10, will be used to calculate a handicap and a cap will go into effect to determine how high a handicap index can climb in a 12-month period. A soft cap is three shots and a hard cap is five.

There is no need for American courses to be re-rated, as the World Handicap System adopted the course rating system that has been used in the U.S. for many years.

“The important thing is that it’s good for the game,’’ said Markionni. “I’m not sure it will have a huge impact, but it brings consistency. We will all play under the same rules.

Hardy, Pope, India are ready to go on Korn Ferry Tour

It was unusual for the Chicago area to get six players into last week’s final stage of qualifying for the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour. It was even more unusual that three of them – Nick Hardy, Andy Pope and Vince India – finished in the top 40 of the 154-man field and earned immediate playing privileges when the tournaments begin next month in The Bahamas.

Formally called the Ben Hogan, Nationwide and Web.com tour, the circuit offers the most direct path to the PGA Tour. Northbrook’s Hardy, who didn’t qualifying for the circuit last year after a stellar career at the University of Illinois, tied for fifth in the 72-hole final qualifier, which concluded on Sunday at Orange County National in Winter Park, FL.

By being in the top 10 Hardy is assured spots in the first 12 tournaments of the Korn Ferry season. Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope tied for 13th and Deerfield’s Vince India tied for 30th. That means both can play in the first eight events of the campaign. Also gaining the right to play immediately was Dawson Armstrong, who won the 2015 Western Amateur title at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. He tied for seventh at Orange County National.

The other three local competitors at Orange County National – Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger and Spring Grove’s Jordan Hahn – will have to get in the tournaments through Monday qualifiers. Flavin, who tied for 76th at Orange County National, has other playing options. He finished sixth in the PGA Latinoamerica Tour and could compete there again.

Hopfinger, who has spent several seasons on the Korn Hardy circuit, tied for 90th and Hahn, a rookie pro out of the University of Wisconsin, tied for 121st. In qualifying for the third and final stage of Korn Ferry qualifying they will be able to compete in the Monday qualifiers without going into the pre-qualifying events.

India, Flavin and Hopfinger are among just 10 players who own titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. Hardy was runner-up in that tournament last year.

Here and there

Sportsman’s Country Club, a fixture on the Chicago golf scene since 1931, won’t be available to golfers again until the summer of 2021. That’s the project re-opening date now that a massive $12.5 million renovation and restoration project is scheduled to begin at the Northbrook facility. Libertyville golf course architect Rick Jacobson, who previously did work on the property in 2005 and 2006, will oversee the rebuilding of the course. A new clubhouse will also be built at a different location on the property than the present one and the practice area will be greatly enhanced.

Troy Newport, the new general manager at Cog Hill, in Lemont, has announced the addition of Toptracer technology at the 72-hole complex that was a long-time home for the Western Open championship. With 21 heated hitting bays Toptracer allows for practice sessions, virtual golf and a variety of games during the offseason months. “It’s a great fit for our Grow the Game initiatives at Cog Hill,’’ said Newport. Cog Hill is keeping its Nos. 1 and 3 courses open throughout the winter and will host the Eskimo Open there on Jan. 5.

Northwestern University has unveiled its new version of the Gleacher Center, which has allowed for indoor practice for its men’s and women’s teams. The new version includes a 5,400 square-foot short game and putting area with raised ceilings, a video-equipped three-bay hitting area and a digitally adjustable putting platform.

Eagle Ridge Resort, in Galena, following its recent ownership change, has named Ryan Brown as its a new director of golf and announced plans to remodel the pro shop at The General course.

A most memorable year of golf travel — from A to Ziehm

The iconic lighthouse on the 18th hole at Harbour Town was a great way to cap off a great year.

Golf travel has been our way of life for the last 10 years, a slow transition for me from being a newspaper beat writer for over 40 years to becoming a golfer in retirement. Turns out that – for better or worse — I’m a lousy retiree.

Consider our life from last June 8 until Oct. 23. It was virtually all spent on the road visiting golf destinations. Also, please note, all this travel was done by car. No more plane rides. Too much time was spent on those things when I was reporting on hockey, soccer and college sports in addition to golf in what was then my day job.

My “ace photographer,’’ Joy Sarver, and I had found that driving was the way to go after making a captivating month-long tour of Route 66 ten years ago. That journey included only minimal golf. Golf wasn’t minimal this time.

We started with a three-week swing through the eastern states, one that included stops at Grandover Resort in North Carolina; Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia; Valley Forge, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; Poland, Me.; and – on the way home – a tour of Newport, R.I. Thirteen courses played, three others visited, touchdowns in 14 states and slightly over 3,000 miles put on our 2011 Nissan Murano.

Royal New Kent, in Virginia, was one of golf’s best comeback stories in 2019.

So, why did we do it? An encouraging number of newspapers, magazines and golf websites were interested in where we were going. That was vital.

Among other things we checked out a links course, Royal New Kent in Virginia designed by the late Mike Strantz. Closed for several months after a series of ownership changes Royal New Kent made for a great golf comeback story.

We also learned about Arthur Fenn, who was likely the first American-born golf professional and course designer. A top player in the early 1900s, he competed against the likes of Harry Vardon and Willie Anderson but has gotten little historical recognition because he rarely left Maine. Fenn had to take care of Poland Springs Resort, which dates back to 1896 and purports to be America’s oldest golf resort.

Arcadia’s South course (above) and Bluffs’ layout couldn’t be more different — and that’s a good thing.

Valley Forge offered lots of history, too, but we couldn’t help but wonder what our colleagues at the International Network of Golf will think of the strange-looking remnants of a brick house in the first fairway when they tee off at the Raven’s Claw course in their 30th annual Spring Conference outings there this May.

On the long drive back to our Florida home we stopped to see Newport Country Club, site of the first U.S. Open in 1895. The course and clubhouse were closed, but impressive nonetheless.

After just a few days home we were off again, our first target being Texas. Two family weddings were the main focus of this trip but we did try to find the land where the new PGA of America headquarters will be built in Frisco, TX. Our GPS took us to the Dallas Cowboys elaborate training facilities instead.

This old house is centuries old, and that’s a good reason to have it on Raven’s Claw’s course.

From Texas we made a brief stay at Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort before the “hard work’’ began. We had the men’s and women’s versions of the Illinois Open and the state’s two PGA Tour stops, the John Deere Classic and BMW Championship – to cover.

Before we got back to Florida we spent a few days in golf-rich Michigan playing that state’s famous Arcadia Bluffs and its new partner layout, the South course, and made a return to one of our favorite events, the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Still, we weren’t done with this segment of our summer travels. Before we got back to Florida we had a delightful few days in Hilton Head. We learned a lot more about this special South Carolina destination than we had in several previous visits thanks to some quality time with, among others, Cary Corbitt – president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Assn. and vice president of Sea Pines Resort.

Eventually we did get back to our Florida place – but not for long. One last journey was on our itinerary. The journey back to Chicago included a stop at Indiana’s French Lick Resort to report on the Senior LPGA Championship, but that wasn’t the main reason for hitting the road again. I was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame on Oct. 18. Induction night turned out to be a very humbling experience, one that I’ll never forget.

The three-day ride back to Florida was memorable, too. With 30 miles to go the engine light on the super reliable Nissan went on. We made it back, but were advised a few days later that Old Betsy – after carry us 248,000 miles — had enough of our crazy travels. So, we traded her in for a new model.

It’s probably asking too much to have another summer as exciting and fulfilling as this one was – but, then again, you never know.

The 2019 Illinois Golf Hall of Fame Inductions on Oct. 18 at The Glen Club in Glenview, IL., were a big night for me, Palmer Moody of the Illinois PGA and fellow inductee Emil Esposito.

Iconic Harbour Town is just one reason for golfers to hit Hilton Head

The iconic lighthouse behind Harbour Town’s 18th green is one of golf’s most famous scenes.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina – The Harbour Town Links, with its iconic lighthouse behind the No. 18 green, may give Hilton Head Island most of its international exposure, but this golf destination is more than just Harbour Town.

A lot more, in fact.

While Harbour Town — home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament — celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the rest of the island also enhances the area’s reputation of being a golf mecca.

Harbour Town, along with Atlantic Dunes and Heron’s Point, are all part of the Sea Pines Resort. Atlantic Dunes was the National Golf Course Owners Association 2018 Course of the Year.

“We’re the drivers of why people come here,’’ said Cary Corbitt, president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and vice president of Sea Pines, “but not everybody wants to just play Harbour Town and Atlantic Dunes – and we’re fine with that.’’

Fee to play Harbour Town generally tops $300 and at Atlantic Dune’s it’s upwards of $150. Both are extremely well-conditioned courses that draw about 30,000 rounds annually, but there’s also perfectly fine public courses nearby that charge less than $100.

Those numbers are just fine with Corbitt, who came to Hilton Head when he was in college to work as a volunteer at the first Heritage tournament (won by Arnold Palmer), returned when he was done with college in 1974 and started at Sea Pines in 1978.

“Sea Pines is a family destination resort. We’re not bashful about what we charge, but we don’t feel we’re uppity or better than anyone else,’’ said Corbitt. “The other courses help round everything out.’’

The clubhouse at Sea Pines Resort is a Hilton Head landmark, especially in April when the RBC Heritage Classic comes to town.

Hilton Head has 40,000 full-time residents. They benefit from the island’s beautiful beaches as well as the golf, as both attract tourists. So does the nearly 300 restaurants – many of them solidly upscale – on the property.

Lodging is more than ample with more than 6,000 villas, condos and homes on the rental market and more than 20 hotels and inns also available. Custom-built golf packages are no problem.

The non-golf attractions are also plentiful. They’re highlighted by the tennis academy at Sea Pines that is run by the legendary Stan Smith who won titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Hilton Head got its name because a ship owned by William Hilton first spotted the island over 300 years ago. Charles Fraser, son of one of the families that owned most of the island, started it on its way as a tourist destination when he drew up a master plan for a resort community in 1956. Hilton Head was incorporated as a town in 1983 but golf had arrived in 1962 when the Ocean Course opened.

Golf grew rapidly after that, but not without some major developments along the way. The Ocean Course was totally renovated by Davis Love III is now called Atlantic Dunes. Famed architect Pete Dye, who designed Harbour Town with consulting help from Jack Nicklaus, also is responsible for Sea Pines’ other course, Heron’s Point. That course started under the name of Sea Marsh.

Oyster Reef isn’t part of the Sea Pines Resort but it has one of Hilton Head’s prettiest par-3s.

Now the golf landscape is spread around. Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has three courses on its 2,000 acres that are bounded by three miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline on one side and a sheltered Intracoastal Waterway on the other. This resort’s featured course is the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, which has one hole on the ocean and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1967. The others at the resort were creations of George Fazio (the island’s only par-70) in 1974 and Arthur Hills in 1986.

There’s also the Heritage Collection, seven courses and 81 holes spread over three clubs. Oyster Reef, a Rees Jones design with – at least arguably – the best putting surfaces on the island, is not to be missed. Sixteen courses are on the island and there’s also 13 off-island layouts close at hand.

All the courses are beneficiaries of the recently-expanded Hilton Head Island Airport. Last year it started twice weekly (Saturdays and Sundays) flights directly from O’Hare, so Chicago golfers could step right off the airplane and be on the first tee at many of the courses in a matter of a few minutes.

Even without that luxury transportation getting from Chicago to Hilton Head isn’t a problem. Many more flights are available to the Savannah Hilton International Airport, which is just 45 minutes from the island.

And then there’s the hurricanes. No doubt, they can be a problem but not even one of the strongest – Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – kept golfers off the Hilton Head courses for long.

Atlantic Dunes head professional Bobby Downs has worked in the golf industry on the island for 36 years. After 22 seasons at Palmetto Dunes he was eagerly awaiting the opening of Atlantic Dunes when Matthew struck at a most inopportune time.

“The Ryder Cup had just finished, and we (the U.S. team) had won,’’ recalled Downs. “We had a great Grand Opening and Davis (designer and U.S. captain Davis Love III) was to be here on Sunday with the trophy, but three days prior we got hit by the hurricane and were shut down for three weeks.’’

Tree damage was extensive, but Atlantic Dunes bounced back quickly, just like the Hilton Head courses have done for decades.

“In the end we were better off because a lot of trees that weren’t meant to be there after 50 years were weeded out,’’ said Corbitt.

Palmetto Dunes has long been one of the most popular courses at Hilton Head.

Rarely — if ever — has Chicago been so well represented in a golf tour qualifier

This week’s President’s Cup matches in Australia may be the last big golf event of 2019 world-wide, but it’s certainly not the most important for six Chicago area pro tour hopefuls.

The third and final stage of qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour is on tap from Thursday through Sunday (DEC 12-15) at Orange County National in Orlando, FL., and six Chicago area players face a 72-hole test that could be career-changing. The Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com) circuit offers a direct path to the PGA Tour and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim used it to make it to golf’s premier circuit earlier this year.

Now some other Chicago stars hope to do the same. Deerfield’s Vince India and Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger hope to retain their status as full-time Korn Ferry members. The former University of Iowa teammates are among only 10 players owning titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, but that doesn’t carry any weight when it comes to the pro tours.

Both have had their moments in several seasons on the satellite circuit but not played well enough to earn promotion to the PGA Tour. While they are assured some starts on the Korn Ferry circuit in 2020 neither met the standards for full-time membership. That’s why they’re in the nail-biting qualifying session.

Last year Hopfinger was No. 79 on the Korn Ferry money list and India was No. 85. Only the top 75 qualified for last fall’s Korn Ferry Playoffs. India’s bid to reach those playoffs ended with a heart-breaking double bogey on the last hole of the last regular season tournament.

Both are ready to give it another try, however, and they’ll be joined by four other local players – Nick Hardy of Northbrook, Andy Pope of Glen Ellyn, Jordan Hahn of Sugar Grove and Patrick Flavin of Highwood. Hardy, Flavin and Hahn are former Illinois State Amateur champions who survived the first two stages of Korn Ferry qualifying. Pope has had good success in U.S. Open qualifiers, reaching the finals four times, but has been largely unsuccessful in his other tour endeavors.

All four, though may be peeking at the right time for this week’s important test. Pope finished second in his Korn Ferry Stage II qualifier in Plantation, FL., last month. Hardy tied for fifth in his Stage II challenge in McKinney, TX, and Hahn, who just finished off a solid amateur career at the University of Wisconsin, reached the Korn Ferry finals with a tie for 18th in his Stage II test in Brooksville, FL.

Flavin, though, may be the best prepared of them all. As an amateur he became only the second player to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year (2017), then opted for a different approach to turning pro. He tested himself on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour and concluded his season with a third-place finish on Sunday in its Shell Championship. He did it with a 68-67 finish in the weekend rounds and that padded his season winnings to $68,130, the strong finish boosting him from ninth to sixth on the tour’s season money list.

Korn Ferry players can get to the PGA Tour immediately by winning three tournaments in a season. The top 25 in the regular season money list also advance to the premier circuit as do the top 25 following the season-ending playoff events.

CDGA milestones

The Chicago District Golf Association had a tie in its player-of-the-year race for the first time since the award was presented in 1993. Jordan Less, a Northern Illinois University player from Elmhurst, and David Perkins, from Illinois State and East Peoria, shared the award. Another East Peoria resident, Tim Sheppard, became the fifth player to repeat at CDGA Senior Player of the Year.

The CDGA also announced next year’s sites for its two biggest championships. The 90th Illinois State Amateur will be July 21-23 at Wynstone, in Barrington, and the 101st Chicago District Amateur with be at Bull Valley, in Woodstock, from June 22-25. The organization also has made major changes in its CDGA Golfer. The magazine will now be produced by Greater Golf Resorts of the World, which also publishes New York’s Met Golfer, and Chicago golf media veteran Barry Cronin will be the new editor.

Seconds in Florida

Carlos Sainz Jr., winner of both the Illinois Open and Chicago Open when he was an Elgin resident, was a regular on both the PGA and Web.com tours. Now based in Houston, Sainz may be on a different career path but he can still play. He finished second in the PGA Assistants Championship earlier this month in Port St. Lucie, FL

PGA Golf Club, where Sainz made his strong showing in the national event, is also the site of the PGA of America’s Winter Tournament Series, and Dakun Chang, assistant professional at Twin Orchard in Long Grove and the 2018 Illinois PGA champion, was runner-up in the second event.

Here’s two couples — and four Illinois PGA club professionals

The number of men among the PGA of America’s 29,000 members far outnumber the women. That’s no secret, and the number of married couples working in the business as PGA members isn’t very big either. It’s under 100 nation-wide.

What might be surprising out of that segment of the golf industry, though, involves two married couples who are both Illinois PGA members. In both cases the wife is a better player than the husband.

In one case there’s no question about it. Katie Pius, assistant professional at Biltmore Country Club in Barrington, is one of the best players in the section, man or woman.

“She’s just a better golfer than I am, plain and simple,’’ said her husband Josh Pius, head professional at Inverness. “She’s a talented player.’’

The playing disparity may not be as clearcut for Jennifer and Cory Ferrell, but Jennifer has been in more competitive situations. As Jennifer Broggi she was one of Illinois’ best amateurs when she was in high school at Naperville North and college at Illinois State. She turned pro after finishing up at ISU in 2002 and kept competing for awhile.

“When I got out of college I spent three winters in Florida,’’ she said. Ladies PGA headquarters is in Daytona Beach, so Florida was a good place to test her skills at a higher level.

“It wasn’t awful, but I honestly decided after getting a reality check,’’ she said. “I tried it, and it wasn’t my cup of tea.’’

The Ferrells met through the PGA’s training program and married in 2007. While they have no children, they’re both deeply involved in working with young players.

While Jennifer isn’t playing in many tournaments theses days, she isn’t completely out of the competitive side of golf. She has been the assistant coach of the girls team at Glenbard East High School since 2007.

“The season is short – just six-eight weeks, and I do enjoy it because it brings back memories of college,’’ she said.

Cory, completing his seventh season as head professional at the nine-hole Sugar Creek course in Villa Park, has 400 youngsters between the ages of 6-13 in his youth program there. He also works with Revelation Golf, a program that provides therapy through golf to military personnel.

Cory, born and raised in Maryland, grew up in the golf business. His father is a lifetime PGA member, and Cory was head pro at both Maple Meadows, in Wood Dale, and Seven Bridges, in Woodridge, before coming to Sugar Creek. He also was a teach pro at Old Oak, in Homer

Jennifer is more deeply involved in golf than just through high school coaching. She’s head professional and division manager at Glendale Lakes in Glendale Heights.

Neither of the Ferrells feel that working in the same industry presents unique problems.

“It’s no different than two teachers or two police officers,’’ said Cory. “Golf is just different because of the goofy hours.’’

Katie and Josh Pius also met through golf, when Josh was in the midst of a five-year run as an assistant professional at North Shore Country Club in Glenview and Katie was an assistant at Westmoreland, in Wilmette. They’ve been married for five years and are in their sixth seasons on their current jobs.

“I had always said I’d never marry a golf professional because I knew the hours they work,’’ said Katie, “but then I met Josh.’’

Josh grew up in Michigan and spent two years as a head professional in Wisconsin before coming to Inverness. They have two children, Betty 3 ½ and Millie, 1. Their clubs are just a few miles apart, and that’s a big help.

“There’s a lot of (time) coordination there,’’ said Josh, “but I don’t consider it difficult. I know what she’s going through, and she knows why I’m going through, so we support each other throughout the season. It’s nice having someone who understands what you’re going through.’’

“I don’t work full-time – just seasonally and part-time,’’ said Katie, who is one of three assistants working with head man Doug Bauman at Biltmore. “That’s the only way this would work. The kids are in day car on the days when I work, and we visit Josh sometimes.’’

Katie does some teaching and runs the women’s leagues at Biltmore while retaining her status as the best woman player in the section. She plays in most of the section tournaments while Josh is limited basically to what he calls “the silly season,’’ when the events are more on the social side. They make an effort to play one nine-hole round together ever month.

“Obviously I’d like to play more,’’ said Katie. “This year is the most limited my schedule has been, but I hope to get more competitive once the kids get a little older.’’

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Here’s what’s happening at some of our favorite destinations

The Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club in Orlando, FL., will again host the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions — the first event of the 2020 LPGA season. It’ll be played Jan. 13-19 and a new event, the Bainbridge LPGA Championship, will follow on Jan. 23-26 at Boca Rio, in Boca Raton, FL

U.S. golf options – for the next few months at least – will be reduced as winter weather transitions into most of the country. That doesn’t mean that interesting things aren’t happening at many of our favorite places, however.

Here’s a sampling of what’s been going on at some of the most popular American golf destinations and what they’ll be offering in 2020:

REYNOLDS LAKE OCONEE – Few places have been making as many positive changes as this 99-hole resort in Greensboro, Ga., which is roughly midway between Atlanta and Augusta.

An 18-month renovation of the resort’s premier course, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Great Waters, has been completed and a multi-million dollar transformation of The Ritz-Carlton hotel is now in the works, setting the stage for an exciting 2020 season there.

“The transformation that our resort will see over this next year will redefine luxury in Georgia,’’ said Ralph Vick, the hotel’s general manager. Luxury guest rooms and suites and the club lounge will be impacted in this latest phase of the renovation.

Jack Nicklaus had another big year. In addition to completing a well-received renovation of Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee his design at Florida’s Reunion Resort also got a long-overdue clubhouse.

AUDUBON TRAIL — Louisiana’s already impressive golf trail is growing. Three new courses have been added, bringing the total number of member courses to 18.

The new additions are LaTour, in Mathews; Oak Knoll, in Hammond; and Koasati Pines at Coushatta Casino Resort, in Kinder. LaTour is a David Toms design.

TPC Louisiana, best known of the other courses on the trail, now has new grass surfaces thanks to a $2 million enhancement project. It’ll continue as host of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

PINEHURST – The Manor Inn has re-opened after an extensive renovation. It’s the youngest of the North Carolina village’s three historic hotels.

Manor Inn opened in 1923, which pales in comparison to the Holly Inn (1895) and Carolina Hotel (1901). All of Manor Inn’s interior was renovated, with only 15 percent of the interior framing remaining.

The resort has also announced that it will host both the Boys and Girls High School Golf National Invitational for the second straight year in 2020. The girls version will feature 216 players and be contested from June 24-26 and the boys, with 324 players, will run from June 29-July 1. Both will be 54-hole tournaments with the girls using the Nos. 6, 8 and 1 courses and the boys competing on Nos. 6, 8 and 5.

The course with the most interesting story to tell in our 2019 travels was at Royal New Kent in Virginia — an outstanding creation by the late architect, Mike Strantz. The course made a great recovery after having been closed for eight months following a series of ownership changes.

MYRTLE BEACH – There’s never a slowdown at MB. The sixth annual Preseason Classic, a two-person 54-hole team event, will be played over six courses from Jan. 26-29.

Myrtle Beach will also have a notable new look, as 11 of its premier courses will go wall-to-wall green in 2020. Founder’s Group International has overseeded its courses, ensuring that players will enjoy lush green grass throughout the winter and spring. Those courses include TPC Myrtle Beach, King’s North at Myrtle Beach National, Pawley’s Plantation, Long Bay Club, World Tour, the Palmetto and Pine Hills courses at Myrtlewood, Wing Win Avocet, Tradition Club, River Club, and Willibrook Plantation.

In another new development MyrtleBeachGolfTrips,com has released the results of an anonymous survey of over 50 of the area’s PGA professionals in an effort to provide an answer to the frequently-asked question – Which of the area’s courses is best?

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design was the clear No. 1. There’s sure to be more debate, though. Rounding out the top 10, in order, were Tidewater, Grande Dunes, Prestwick, TPC Myrtle Beach, True Blue, the Fazio Course and Dye Course at Barefoot Resort and King’s North.

Myrtle Beach’s best? The area’s club professionals accorded The Dunes Club that honor.

FRENCH LICK – Cold weather may preclude golf at this southern Indiana resort for awhile, but things are looking up inside. The Valley Tower, a 71-room hotel, and the Valley Bar, both opened in November. They are part of a $17 million addition geared toward providing guests more options.

The additional rooms will supplement the existing 686 guestrooms at French Lick’s two historic hotels. French Lick Springs has 443 rooms and West Baden Springs has 243. Valley Bar will be the resort’s only 21-and-over eating establishment.

FROM THE PGA OF AMERICA

While the PGA of America is working on an eventual moving of its headquarters it’s winter home in Port St. Lucie, FL., is becoming a busy place. PGA Golf Club hosted the PGA Assistants’ Championship in November and landed two other big championships for the future.

PGA Golf Club will host the PGA Boys and Girls Junior Championship from July 13-31 of 2020 and the PGA Professional Championship in 2021.

“What’s significant about this and for everyone affiliated with the PGA Golf Club is that the facility will complete the circuit of hosting every PGA of America member championship,” said Jimmy Terry, senior director of PGA Golf Properties.

Ground-breaking was held on Oct. 18 at the PGA of America’s eventual new headquarters in Frisco, TX. It came 10 months after the projected move from Palm Beach Gardens, FL., was announced. The construction timetable calls for golf course construction to be finished in the fall of 2021, play starting in the spring of 2022 and the grand opening of the overall development in June, 2022.

The Ryder Course at PGA Golf Club will share hosting duties with the Wanamaker layout when the PGA Professionals Championship comes to the Port St. Lucie resort in 2021.

HERE AND THERE

The Sheep Ranch, newest course at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes, is scheduled to open on June 1. The design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have been creating a par-71, 6,785-yard layout. Coore-Crenshaw also designed Bandon Trails and Bandon Preserve in the golf hotbed.

Construction has begun on the 10-hole Hilltop Short Course at Forest Dunes, in Roscommon, MI., with an opening expected in the spring.

Premier club fitter Club Champion has announced the opening of new facilities in Richmond, VA.; Hartford, CT.; Louisville; Houston; Birmingham, AL., Scottsdale, AR.; and Grand Rapids, MI. And another will open soon in Omaha, NEB.

The PGA of America has announced a nationwide series of 12 clinics in connection with the KPMG Women’s Championship. The first is April 27 at El Niguel in Laguna, Niguel, Calif. The tournament proper is June 23-28 at Aronimink, in Pennsylvania.

Sailfish Point, a premier private club on Florida’s Hutchinson Island, has scheduled three major charity events – the United Way Tocqueville Society Benefit on Dec. 12, the Hibiscus Luncheon on March 2; and the Florida Oceanographic Society Fundraiser on March 29.

Sailfish Point is one of the best of Florida’s private clubs that gets involved with charitable causes.

Broken Sound, in Boca Raton, FL., has been the traditional site of the PGA Tour Champions’ season opener. In 2020, however, the tournament will be played in the fall as one of the circuit’s playoff events.

North Carolina’s Grandover Resort, which has two quality courses, is the site of many festivities connected to the PGA Tour’s nearby Wyndham Championship.

Rochester is the best bet for golf getaways in New York

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There are good reasons why Rochester should come to mind when you consider golf destinations. After all, the legendary player Walter Hagen grew up here and one of the most prolific course designers, Robert Trent Jones Sr., was not only born in Rochester but his very first design, Midvale, is also within the city limits.

Then there’s the venerable Oak Hill Country Club in suburban Pittsford. Its East Course is a Donald Ross design that dates back to 1901. The course has hosted three U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships (a fourth one is coming in 2023), two U.S. Amateurs, two Senior PGA Championships, one U.S. Senior Open and the 1995 Ryder Cup. The LPGA has played several of its majors at another Rochester club, Locust Hill.
Chicago’s own Jeff Sluman also developed his game in Rochester before becoming a fixture on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.

Golf in Rochester, though, is about a lot more than major championships, top players and course designers. The Rochester area is also a great place to visit just for the purpose of just playing golf. Not only are there plenty of good courses, they’re also affordable and the distance between them is manageable.

Those are some big pluses, and they weren’t lost on Rod Christian, who created the New York Golf Trail. Christian’s trail is the largest in the country in terms of courses (34). He has divided it into eight regions and, he says, “the most popular of the regions is right here (in Rochester).’’

Four of his New York Trail courses – The Links at Greystone in Walworth, Ravenwood in Victor, Bristol Harbour in Canandaigua and Mill Creek in Churchville – are around Rochester and they also form the Finger Lakes Golf Trail. If another course is needed to accommodate those trail packages 27-hole Deerfield, in Brockport, gets the call.

Christian operates his trail in regions to facilitate travel for participating golfers. That sets New York apart from many of the other trails, most notably the more well-known Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama.

“There’s a lot more driving on that trail,’’ said Christian. “Rochester is a great place to work with. Here you plant yourself in one (hotel) location and there’s no more than a 20- to 30-minute drive to the courses.’’

The best course on our visit was a trail course — The Links at Greystone, a facility owned and operated by the Odenbach family. Its top greens fee is $67 – a bargain given the quality of the sport course with intriguing elevation changes.

Golf has been a labor of love for three generations of the Odenbach family, who opened a quarry and mining business in the Rochester area in 1920. Using equipment from that business, the Odenbachs built three courses between 1979 and 1995, sold them in 2000 and then bought them back 16 years later. They now operate two of the courses with family members playing a variety of lead roles.

Brothers John and Gardy Odenbach own The Links at Greystone. John’s son Alex is general manager and Gardy’s son Dusty is the director of golf. John’s wife Julie, a well-known high school coach of both boys and girls teams in the area, oversees the gardening and floral arrangements at the course.

“Our family tree is large here,’’ admitted Dusty Odenbach. The superintendent, Tim Hahn, may as well be a family member, too. The son of a one-time superintendent at famed Oak Hill, Hahn has been at Greystone since it opened.

“Golf started as a sidelight for us,’’ said John Odenbach. “There was always a lot of ground around our quarries, and my Dad (also named John) loved to build golf courses.’’

The Odenbachs ventured into golf by building Shadow Lake in Pennfield in 1979. It’s a 27-hole facility with Pete Craig the designer. Craig was also the designer of Shadow Pines, which was built nearby several years later.

Craig Schreiner, who worked with the Hurdzan Design Group, collaborated on courses with tour players Larry Mize and Nick Price and produced his own designs in 10 states. The Odenbachs hired him to create the Greystone Golf Club.

“At that time there were about 40 golf courses in and around Rochester,’’ said John Odenbach. “Now there’s about 80, so there’s lots of competition.’’

In 2000 the Odenbachs sold everything – the quarry business and the three golf courses — to Old Castle Materials, an Irish company, to settle a family estate. Family members, though, continued to run both the quarry company and the courses.

Four years ago Old Castle wanted to get out of the golf business, and the Odenbachs wanted to stay in. John and Gardy bought Greystone and another brother, Fritz, became the owner of Shadow Lake with a partner. Shadow Creek was built on land that was more valuable for development rather than golf. It is now a park.

Since the re-acquisition the family has re-branded Greystone, and that included the name adjustment.

“Originally there was a lot of traditional links-style to it,’’ said Dusty Odenbach. “We’ve made several improvements to enhance the links roots. We took out a lot of trees and added a starter’s hut on the first tee.’’

Ravenwood is good, too, and probably a better tournament course. It has hosted the New York State Amateur twice and its top green fee is $65 in the summer months. Mill Creek, in Churchville, has one of the longest public facilities in the area at 6,861 yards from the tips, and its top fee if $50.

The city of Rochester has 12 golf facilities within its borders and three are municipally owned. Oldest of the courses is Country Club of Rochester, built in 1895. Like Oak Hill, it’s a private club, but Genesee Valley — one of three facilities operated by the Monroe County Department of Parks — has two seasoned 18-holers. One opened in 1899 and the other in 1925.

The Rochester area has other attractions that are also appealing – especially if you schedule your visit during the annual Rochester International Jazz Festival. It keeps the downtown area hopping with its series of free concerts.

Of the year-around offerings, The Strong National Museum of Play most accurately bills itself as “the ultimate play destination for all ages.’’ It has the world’s largest collection of toys, dolls, board games and electronic games and its Toys National Hall of Fame honors such innovators as Milton Bradley, Walt Disney, Jim Henson and George Lucas.

Then there’s the George Eastman Museum. Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, was a pioneer in the photography and motion picture industry and the museum is housed in his mansion. It has one of the oldest film archives in the U.S. and its artifacts include the world’s largest collection of camera technology.

If you want a non-golf outdoor activity take a guided cruise down the Erie Canal on the Sam Patch, a replica of the boats that traveled in the canal after its opening in 1825.

Dining is more than ample, too. We tried out The Cub Room, which specializes in American fare but has nothing to do with Chicago’s baseball team. We also sampled the Italian dishes at Branca Midtown, the unique atmosphere of the Genesee Brew House and the wines at the Casa Larga Vineyards.

All made for a great escape but the golf was in the forefront.

Iconic Harbour Town is just one reason for golfers to hit Hilton Head

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina – The Harbour Town Links, with its iconic lighthouse behind the No. 18 green, may give Hilton Head Island most of its international exposure, but this golf destination is more than just Harbour Town.

A lot more, in fact.

While Harbour Town — home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament — celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the rest of the island also enhances the area’s reputation of being a golf mecca.

Harbour Town, along with Atlantic Dunes and Heron’s Point, are all part of the Sea Pines Resort. Atlantic Dunes was the National Golf Course Owners Association 2018 Course of the Year.

“We’re the drivers of why people come here,’’ said Cary Corbitt, president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and vice president of Sea Pines, “but not everybody wants to just play Harbour Town and Atlantic Dunes – and we’re fine with that.’’

Fee to play Harbour Town generally tops $300 and at Atlantic Dune’s it’s upwards of $150. Both are extremely well-conditioned courses that draw about 30,000 rounds annually, but there’s also perfectly fine public courses nearby that charge less than $100.

Those numbers are just fine with Corbitt, who came to Hilton Head when he was in college to work as a volunteer at the first Heritage tournament (won by Arnold Palmer), returned when he was done with college in 1974 and started at Sea Pines in 1978.

“Sea Pines is a family destination resort. We’re not bashful about what we charge, but we don’t feel we’re uppity or better than anyone else,’’ said Corbitt. “The other courses help round everything out.’’

Hilton Head has 40,000 full-time residents. They benefit from the island’s beautiful beaches as well as the golf, as both attract tourists. So does the nearly 300 restaurants – many of them solidly upscale – on the property.

Lodging is more than ample with more than 6,000 villas, condos and homes on the rental market and more than 20 hotels and inns also available. Custom-built golf packages are no problem.

The non-golf attractions are also plentiful. They’re highlighted by the tennis academy at Sea Pines that is run by the legendary Stan Smith who won titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Hilton Head got its name because a ship owned by William Hilton first spotted the island over 300 years ago. Charles Fraser, son of one of the families that owned most of the island, started it on its way as a tourist destination when he drew up a master plan for a resort community in 1956. Hilton Head was incorporated as a town in 1983 but golf had arrived in 1962 when the Ocean Course opened.

Golf grew rapidly after that, but not without some major developments along the way. The Ocean Course was totally renovated by Davis Love III is now called Atlantic Dunes. Famed architect Pete Dye, who designed Harbour Town with consulting help from Jack Nicklaus, also is responsible for Sea Pines’ other course, Heron’s Point. That course started under the name of Sea Marsh.

Now the golf landscape is spread around. Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has three courses on its 2,000 acres that are bounded by three miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline on one side and a sheltered Intracoastal Waterway on the other. This resort’s featured course is Palmetto Dunes, which has one hole on the ocean and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1967. The others at the resort were creations of George Fazio (the island’s only par-70) in 1974 and Arthur Hills in 1986.

There’s also the Heritage Collection, seven courses and 81 holes spread over three clubs. Oyster Reef, a Rees Jones design with – at least arguably – the best putting surfaces on the island, is not to be missed. Sixteen courses are on the island and there’s also 13 off-island layouts close at hand.

All the courses are beneficiaries of the recently-expanded Hilton Head Island Airport. Last year it started twice weekly (Saturdays and Sundays) flights directly from O’Hare, so Chicago golfers could step right off the airplane and be on the first tee at many of the courses in a matter of a few minutes.

Even without that luxury transportation getting from Chicago to Hilton Head isn’t a problem. Many more flights are available to the Savannah Hilton International Airport, which is just 45 minutes from the island.

And then there’s the hurricanes. No doubt, they can be a problem but not even one of the strongest – Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – kept golfers off the Hilton Head courses for long.

Atlantic Dunes head professional Bobby Downs has worked in the golf industry on the island for 36 years. After 22 seasons at Palmetto Dunes he was eagerly awaiting the opening of Atlantic Dunes when Matthew struck at a most inopportune time.

“The Ryder Cup had just finished, and we (the U.S. team) had won,’’ recalled Downs. “We had a great Grand Opening and Davis (designer and U.S. captain Davis Love III) was to be here on Sunday with the trophy, but three days prior we got hit by the hurricane and were shut down for three weeks.’’

Tree damage was extensive, but Atlantic Dunes bounced back quickly, just like the Hilton Head courses have done for decades.

“In the end we were better off because a lot of trees that weren’t meant to be there after 50 years were weeded out,’’ said Corbitt.

Mission Inn isn’t one of Florida’s biggest golf resorts — but it’s one of the best

No. 17 at Mission Inn’s El Campeon course may be the toughest par-5 in Florida. It’s a double dogleg with the approach to the green requiring a third shot over a pond — plus you must either go over or around a tree in the middle of the fairway that can block a shot to the putting surface. That infuriating tree has been confronting golfers for over 100 years. That’s why the hole is called `Devil’s Delight.’

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, FLORIDA – Florida is loaded with golf courses – about 1,500 of them – and the state’s golf resorts include such famous multi-course meccas at PGA National, PGA Golf Club, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass, Innisbrook and Doral.

In contrast, Mission Inn Resort & Club on the outskirts of Orlando has just two courses but, make no mistake, it is as special a place as any of the others.

Mission Inn is just a bit different. It has one of the Sunshine State’s oldest courses, now called El Campeon, that is rich in history. Its companion course, 27-year old Las Colinas, isn’t exactly new but is a nice complement to El Campeon, which dates back to 1917.

As old as El Campeon is, the layout still holds up just fine in top-level amateur tournaments. That’s rarely the case for layouts of similar vintage, but El Campeon is the tougher of the two Mission Inn layouts. Both are well-conditioned and used regularly for the Florida high school championships. They’ve also hosted many, many college tournaments, U.S. Golf Association qualifiers and small professional events.

The par-3 eighth is the most historical hole on El Campeon. It’s the only hole that has maintained its same spot in the rotation since the course opened in 1917.

Mission Inn’s big tournament resume is surprising, considering that neither course permits walking except in extraordinary circumstances. They’ve just withstood the time as good shot-making tests for measuring which player is the best on any given day or in any give competition.

El Campeon’s history is extraordinary. George O’Neil, a Chicago teaching pro who dabbled in course design, created the course for William Howey – a citrus magnate who wanted something to entertain some of the visitors to his estate that was built just before World War I.

O’Neil is known more for his teaching than his architectural efforts. He gave lessons to such luminaries as former President Warren G. Harding, Charlie Chaplin and John D. Rockefeller. Golfing greats Harry Vardon and Chick Evans also were tutored by O’Neil.

The fifth hole is the shortest of the four par-5s on the Las Colinas course.

The 6,300-yard course was originally called Chain O’ Lakes and there was no grass on its greens from its opening in 1917 until 1938. The putting surfaces consisted of well-oiled sand and the rest of the course, without the benefit of irrigation systems, was unkempt. Visitors stayed at the Bougainvillea Hotel until it burned down in 1920.

A Scottish architect, Charles Clarke, refurbished the course while the Hotel Floridian was built to replace the lodging lost in the fire. The course continued as an attraction and its players included Ben Hogan, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias before Nick Beucher bought the facility in 1964 and gradually transformed the place into a Spanish colonial- themed resort.

The beauty of the resort provides a stunning backdrop for golfers finishing their rounds.

Beucher started a successful career as a salesman while living in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette. That came after he had fulfilled a life-long dream when he and a friend made a 39-day, 1,400-mile horseback ride from Del Rio, TX, to Mexico City. They stayed in missions along the way, and the horseback adventure led to Beucher’s renaming efforts at the resort.

The golf course, stretched to 7,015 yards, was revived and re-routed and became El Campeon. The resort and hotel became Mission Inn and it now includes El Conquistador, a fine upscale restaurant; La Hacienda, a good dining spot for breakfast and lunch; Spa Mirabella; the El Cornedor Fitness Center; a beautiful outdoor bar/gathering place called Plaza de las Palmas; and hotel segments tabbed San Angel, San Diego and San Miguel.

El Campeon has 85-foot elevation changes — some going up, some going down – on six holes and its No. 17 hole, a par-5, is one of the toughest anywhere. A double-dogleg dubbed Devil’s Delight, the green is fronted by a live oak tree in the center of the fairway and a pond. More than a few Mission Inn golfers wish that the tree would be hit by one of the hurricanes that occasionally visit the area, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Las Colinas isn’t nearly as interesting. Former PGA Tour player Gary Koch created the original design for the course’s opening in 1992 and veteran Florida architect Ron Garl made some major changes in 2007. The result is a course that is more typically resort style and user friendly than El Campeon.

This courtyard fountain is another example of the Spanish influence at Mission Inn.

The 1,100 acres that comprise the Mission Inn property contain much more than the two golf courses. There’s 30,000 square feet of conference space with 19 meeting rooms and two large ballrooms. The 176 guest rooms, suites and villas are supplemented by two lounges and a poolside bar. About 75 percent of the lodging and corporate rooms have golf course views.

Beacher passed away in 2005 at age 88 while residing in what is now the penthouse suite of the hotel. He passed on his enthusiasm for the place to his six children, however, with one son Bob the resort president and another, Bud, the vice president and general manager. Two daughters also play prominent roles in the resort’s operation.

Diners at the upscale El Conquistador are greeted by this imposing figure in a suit of armor at the front door.

The staff more recently added a significant non-family member. Roy Schindele, executive director of sales and marketing at Bay Hill, now is in a similar role at Mission Inn.

The Howey mansion and mausoleum are located across from Mission Inn but it not part of the resort property. That land, though, does include the Marina del Rey Pavilion on Lake Harris. It includes 50 slips that are used by residents and the result has two pontoon boats and one fishing boat that get heavy use in waters that are great for bass fishing.

There’s also four clay courts and two all-weather courts for tennis and two more courts for pickleball. All have lights to allow for night play. Team-building facilities, which include a rock-climbing wall, are also part of the marina area. Boat rides to Mount Dora, a quaint little town with its own unique attractions, and a short trip to nearby Tavares – the self-proclaimed “Seaplane Capitol of the World’’ – are also readily available.

The Marina del Rey provides another recreational dimension for Mission Inn guests.