Pandemic just postponed the party at Innisbrook; now the good times are back

The flower bed on the Copperhead course sets the tone at Innisbrook Resort.

PALM HARBOUR, Florida – Golf, maybe more than any other sport, likes to celebrate anniversaries.  The pandemic took a toll on those.

The PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic was poised for its 50th anniversary in 2020.  Now it’ll be staged this July, pandemic restrictions permitting.  The International Network of Golf was to mark its 30th anniversary at last year’s Spring Conference.  That event remains in limbo.

None were more affected than the Innisbrook Resort, however.  The Valspar Championship, the PGA Tour’s annual event at Innisbrook, was the first to be called off when the pandemic hit in force.  Not only that, but Innisbrook was to celebrate its own 50th anniversary in 2020. Through it all, the resort had to close its doors for 59 days before re-opening in July.

All’s well now, though.  The Valspar returns in April, with new – and I think better — dates from previous years and managing director Mike Williams says the resort’s anniversary events have been rescheduled for November and December as a 50-plus-one celebration.

Now, speaking almost a year to the day when the dark days hit Innisbrook, Williams can look back on it as a bad memory that won’t be much longer-lasting.

“Last March 11 we learned that the Valspar would be played without fans,’’ recalled Williams.  “The next day we learned the tournament had been canceled.  The entire build-up at the course had been completed.  The entire staff was here.  Even some of the players were on site.  It was just devastating to have the rug pulled out from under us.’’

Icons of Innisbrook: the Coppershead snake and a plaque honoring course designer Larry Packard.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced the bad news during and after the first round of The Players Championship on March 12 and the Tour didn’t resume tournament play until June 11.

Innisbrook tried to make the best of it, scheduling some Playing Where the Pros Play promotions while the tournament stands were still in place.  That didn’t last long.

“Ten days later we had to close the resort,’’ said Williams.  “We completely understood that the Tour did what it had to do, but it was a year we hope we never have to go through again.’’

When golfers could return to Innisbrook they turned out in droves. Corporate business and weddings will take a little more time to return, but Innisbrook was immediately ready to welcome its  golfers back.

The Island course, with a tree in the middle of one green, is a colorful counterpart to Coppershead.

“It was amazing,’’ said Williams. “As we re-opened we were the beneficiary of the interest in golf.  We opened in a very safe manner, and each month we saw gains (in revenue) from the previous year.  Golfers are keeping us going now.  Golfers are our hot hand, and we feed the hot hand. Golf withstood the onslaught and experienced a resurgence.’’

In addition to its four Larry Packard-designed golf courses Innisbrook has 11 tennis courts, six swimming pools and the legendary Packard’s Steakhouse on its 950-acres.

The Valspar – aptly billed “the most  colorful event on the Tour’’ — will be played April 29 to May 2.. The new dates fall three weeks after the Masters and separate the Valspar from the traditional Florida Swing.  The Valspar weren’t part of the weeks when the Honda Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players take their turns in the Sunshine State’s golf spotlight as lead-ins to the year’s first major championship. The Valspar will  have an identity all its own now.

That should get all of Innisbrook’s courses more attention.  The Copperhead course has been the site of a nationally-televised pro event every year since 1989, except for the times when two national   emergencies – 9/11 and the pandemic – got in the way.

Copperhead is a classic shot-maker’s course, and very popular with the PGA Tour stars, but it may not be the best course at the resort. The Island course has its devotees, me among them.  It doesn’t have the space to host a big tournament but, of the four nines encompassing Copperhead and the Island, the Island’s front side is the toughest of the four.

Upon our arrival this year the representive at the guard gate informed us that “the Island is the easiest to find and the toughest to play’’ and the starter at Copperhead said the PGA Tour site wasn’t as difficult as its lesser-known companion course.

Innisbrook also has its North and South layouts, both of which were re-grassed in 2017 and 2018. They’re a nice diversion from the demands at Copperhead and the Island.

PGA Tour stars are big fans of Copperhead, a shotmaker’s delight that is certainly a course that’s easy on the eyes.



Rich looks ahead to the return of the Arnold Palmer Cup

Jerry Rich, the owner of Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, arrived in Florida last week while the Arnold Palmer Invitational was in progress in Orlando and he’s already looking forward to the Arnold Palmer Cup – the first big tournament of the Chicago season.  It’ll be played at Rich Harvest from June 11-13.

“I’m so excited because I’m all about amateur golf,’’ said Rich, who has hosted 52 amateur events at Rich Harvest.  They included the 2015 Arnold  Palmer Cup, the 2015 Western Amateurs and the 2017 NCAA men’s and women’s finals.

Rich believes this 25th playing of the Arnold Palmer Cup could be his biggest tournament yet. The event matches teams of college stars ,one consisting of players from the United States and other an International squad. Unlike the 2015 playing this one will have men’s and women’s competition.

“I’m hoping the whole city of Chicago will turn out for it,’’ said Rich.  “I expect a lot of spectators because you can’t believe how good these collegiate players are today. These kids are unbelievable.’’

Rich is expecting crowds between 5,000 and 10,000 – much like those on the pro tours so far this year — but believes they could be bigger if pandemic restrictions are reduced.

“With our event being in June, I’m hoping that will be all over,’’ said Rich. “I’ve got space for 10,000 cars and would like to see 30,000 (spectators).’’

TOUR EDGE TIDBITS:  Batavia-based Tour Edge rocked PGA Tour Champions with its recent signing of Bernhard Langer, the circuit’s best player, but it was another Tour Edger — Tom Petrovic — who made the bigger splash in the Cologuard Championshi8p in Arizona last week.

Petrovic made two holes-in-one in the tournament, the first Champions player to accomplish that feat in 17 years.  Both were made with Tour Edge’s Exotics EXS Pro Forged irons. He made his aces at No.16 at Omni Tucson National in Round 1 of the 54-hole event and connected again at No. 14 in Round 2.

Petrovic tied for sixth in the Cologuard event, six strokes behind champion Kevin Sutherland. Langer tied for 14th.

COUNTDOWN TO AUGUSTA: Reese Wallace, of South Barrington, and Logan Keeter, of Northbrook, had a long wait to get to Augusta National, the site of next month’s  Masters, but now their coveted trip is less than a month away.  They’ll compete in the 2020 finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on April 4, even with the 2021 qualifying events already in progress.

The two Chicago area youngsters are among the 80 nation-wide who earned spots in the 2020 finals before pandemic concerns forced the Masters to reschedule its tournament from the usual April dates until November.  The club opted to further postpone the Drive, Chip and Putt preliminary, scheduling it before this year’s Masters. The two Chicago qualifiers will compete in the 10-11 age division.

This year’s Drive, Chip and Putt registration opened on March 2 and the elimination process will carry into the fall before the 80 qualifiers for Augusta at the 2022 Masters are determined.

TOUR TALK: Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, was briefly tied for the lead during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational while he was en route to posting a 65.  He faded to an 81 in Sunday’s final round, however and finished in a tie for 36th place. That meant a $42,381 payday.

Ghim, as well as Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, will be in the field for The Players Championship, which tees off Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL. Streelman is coming off a two-week break from tournament play. The Players was halted after one round in 2020 when pandemic concerns kicked in on March 12.  Play didn’t resume until June 11.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only player on the LPGA tour, earned her first check of 2021 in the circuit’s third tournament when she finished tied for 34th in the Drive On Championship in Ocala, FL., on Sunday. She earned $8,499.

BOOST FOR ESI: The number of spectators at the Chicago area’s only pro tour event of the year is uncertain, but those that do get into the May 27-30 Evans Scholars Invitational won’t have to pay an admission charge.

The PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour event will be back at The Glen Club, in Glenview, with Servpro of Glenview covering the ticket charges.  Servpro specializes in the cleanup and restoration of residential and commercial properties after fire, smoke or water damage and offers a wide range of cleaning services. The tournament proceeds go to the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars Foundation.

HERE AND THERE: Golftec has opened a state-of-the-art instruction and club fitting center in Schaumburg…The Under Armour Junior Tour for boys and girls 6-18 has announced its Chicago spring schedule.  First event is April 11 at Cantigny, in Wheaton.  Other stops are April 17 at Downers Grove, April 25 at Zigfield Troy in Woodridge, May 1 at Cog Hill in Palos Heights, May 15 at Flagg Creek in Countryside and May 22 at Rob Roy in Prospect Heights…..University of Illinois senior Michael Feagles is the Big Ten Golfer of the Week for the second straight w afeekter leading the Illini to victories in their first two tournaments of the year……Troon, a leading club management, development and marketing company, has opened a new corporate office in Chicago.




An 11-month layoff is no problem for Illini golfers

This year has been filled with changes for everyone, but some things never change.

The University of men’s golf team, for one thing. The Illini had their season halted in March by pandemic concerns, then came the cold weather in the Midwest. Eleven months after their last competition, however, the Illini didn’t miss a beat.

Coach Mike Small took his team to Florida for a warmup dual meeting against Illinois State, a 9-7 victory in a match play competiton on Feb. 6. Then came the first tournament – the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate in Alabama. Though Small has built a powerhouse at Illinois, the sharpness the Illini demonstrated there was beyond belief.

The Illini won last week’s 54-hole, 15-team event by 17 strokes and Illini senior Michael Feagles was the individual champion with rounds of 67-67-66, a 16-under-par performance that was the second-best in the history of the Illinois program.  Feagles went wire-to-wire to win  his title by eight strokes over teammate Jerry Ji.

“It was fun to get out and compete,’’ said Small. “These guys were to excited to play.  To see their excitement after what happened 11 months ago was just awesome.’’

Next comes the Louisiana State Invitational, which tees off on Friday with a stronger field than the one in Alabama. The busy February triggers a hectic spring for the Illini, who have events scheduled in Arizona and Georgia before playing back in the Midwest at tournaments hosted by Purdue and ;Ohio State in April.

“We’ve built a schedule that will test our team, both mentally and physically, and will prepare us to reach all our goals this season,’’ said Small.  The Big Ten tournament starts on April 30 and the NCAA tournament on May 17.

FLORIDA-BOUND:  Both the PGA and LPGA tours hold  tournaments in Florida this week. The PGA has a new site for the World Golf Championship’s Workday Championship.  It’ll be played at The Concession Club in Bradenton opposite the Puerto Rico Open.  Both tee off on Thursday. Neither Kevin Streelman nor Doug Ghim, of the current Chicago area tour players, will compete this week.

The LPGA, meanwhile, will be playing its first full-field event of 2021 — the Gainbridge Championship, at Lake Nona, near Orlando — beginning on Thursday. This one is most notable for Annika Sorenstam being in the field.  A Lake Nona member, the legendary Sorenstam is making her first tournament appearance in 13 years.

Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, Chicago’s only LPGA member, will also be making her season debut at Lake Nona.

HERE AND THERE:  The Korn Ferry Tour opened its season in Florida last week with Northwestern alum David Lipsky finishing in a tie for 23rd and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Illinois alum Scott Langley in a tie for 34th.  The PGA’s satellite circuit doesn’t have another tournament until the Chitimacha Louisiana Open tees off on March 18…..Chicago golf lost one of its most inspiring figures with the passing of Coraine (Co) McArthur.  She was a long-time leader of the Women’s Western Golf Association, serving as its Foundation director for 40 years and winning its Woman of Distinction Award in 1998.The Kenilworth resident was 106 at the time of her passing….Kevin Streelman, long active with the PGA’s Player Advisory Committee, finished third in last week’s voting for that group’s presidency.   The honor went to Rory McIlroy…..SkyTrak Simulators have been added at the Cantigny Youth Links, in Wheaton…..Silver Lake, one of Chicago’s longest-standing public facilities in Orland Park, is now up for sale.  The 45-hole facility has been owned by the Coghill family since its opening…Heading the Illinois PGA’s list of 2020 award winners was Ruth Lake’s Mark Labiak, named Professional of the Year, and Glen View’s Chris Green, as Teacher of the Year….The IPGA Foundation, celebrating its 30th anniversary,  announced the kickoff to a $1 million capital campaign to raise funds for future programing.





Mission Inn is making good use of both of its courses

No. 15, at 142 yards, is the shortest, and prettiest, hole on Mission Inn’s El Campeon course.


HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida – Bud Beucher, president of the history-rich Mission Inn Resort & Club, has never been reluctant to host tournaments. Most all were high school, junior or college events.

Until now.

It’s doubtful that any golf facility in the country can match the schedule of professional tour events and U.S. Golf Association qualifiers that Beucher has lined up for 2021. It all starts on March 1 when Canada’s Mackenzie Tour holds its four-day qualifying tournament on Mission’s El Campeon layout. The circuit canceled its 2020 season because of pandemic concerns.

Next up would be the biggest of the year’s events — the Symetra Tour’s $200,000 Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship on May 28-30.  The Symetra, the developmental tour for the Ladies PGA, held a tournament at Mission Inn last October – an event organized late after a tournament in Georgia had to be canceled because of pandemic concerns.

The PGA’s Latinoamerica circuit will also conduct a qualifying session on El Campeon Nov. 1-5.  The Mackenzie, Symetra and Latinoamerica events now have multiyear contracts with Mission Inn.

With six national events scheduled in 2021, Bud Beucher (left), president of Mission Inn Resort & Club, and Roy Schindele, director of marketing and sales, have boosted the place’s profile as a tournament site.

“We’ve had pro tournaments before, but not at this level,’’ said Beucher. The previous pro tournaments were men’s events many years back – a Nike Tour stop and a visit from the Grapefruit Tour in the 1960s or 1970s before construction of the hotel was completed.

In addition to this year’s three big competitions Mission Inn will also host three USGA qualifiers – a men’s local elimination for the U.S. Open on April 29, a U.S. Amateur preliminary on July 1-2 and a lead-in to the U.S. Mid-Amateur on Aug. 30.

“We’ve worked hard to build our presence in the upper end of the golf market, and it’s paying off,’’ said Michael Bowery, in his ninth year as the resort’s director of golf and a former roommate of Beucher’s at the University of Arizona.

All the tournaments and qualifiers will be held on El Campeon, the older of Mission’s two courses.  It was built in 1917 and is one of the oldest – and best – layouts in Florida; The designer was a Chicago architect, George O’Neil.

El Campeon, which means “The Champion,’’ was declared the Florida Golf Course of the Year in 2009 by the National Golf Course Owners Association. Over the years it has also been known as the Howey Golf Club, Chain O’Lakes, Bougainvillea and Floridian.  The course has 85 feet of elevation changes, which is quite a bit for a Florida layout, and water comes into play on 13 of the 18 holes.

Even though the pro events and USGA qualifiers are on the calendar, there’s no plans for Mission Inn to cut back on its amateur events.   It’s been the site of 11 NCAA championship events and eight straight years of Florida high school championships.

Though El Campeon is by far the older of Mission’s courses, it remains the preferred layout.  The newer course, Las Colinas (“The Hills’’), was designed by PGA Tour player turned TV commentator Gary Koch in 1992 and re-designed by Florida architect Ron Garl in 2007.  It’s more user friendly than the challenging El Campeon,  and Las Colinas was given a new look late in the 2019 season.

That’s when Beucher and superintendent Danny Parks created a course within the course — an executive layout dubbed El Dorado. Though the short course was created just by building new tees, those markers were very strategically placed and the result is a most fun layout that provides a diversion from the two long-established 18-holers.

“From a price structure it doesn’t matter,’’ said Beucher, “but players can switch from the long to the shorter tees as they go along.’’

The Beucher family has been the owner and operator of Mission Inn since 1964.  The family built  first hotel in 1970 and now the resort has 176 rooms, four restaurants, a conference center, a top-level tennis facility and a restored river yacht and marina on Lake Harris.

Just by building new, strategically placed tees, Mission Inn has created an executive course– dubbed El Dorado — that was built within its Las Colinas layout.

Bernhard Langer signing is a big deal for Tour Edge

Champions Tour star Bernhard Langer  (left) joins forces with Tour Edge president David Glod.

Tour Edge, the Batavia-based golf club manufacturer, has thrived in recent years by signing top players on PGA Tour Champions.  On Monday Tour Edge president David Glod landed the biggest star on the 50-and-over circuit.

Bernhard Langer, still the Champions’ dominant player at 63 years old, has 41 wins on the circuit and that is second only to Hale  Irwin’s 45 on the all-time lists.  The German-born Langer is No. 1 on the current Charles Schwab Cup standings and leads the tour in scoring, putting, birdies and top-10 finishes  in the revised 2020-21 campaign.

Tour Edge also has Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Duffy Waldorf and Tim Petrovic on its Champions roster.  Langer will make his debut as a staff member on Feb. 26 in the Cologuard Classic in Arizona.

“I’m extremely happy to be joining the Tour Edge staff,’’ said Langer following his signing at the company’s headquarters.  “I have had some of their clubs in my bag for a long time.  They were the best option to get me exactly what I need to perform at the highest level.’’

Glod was ecstatic about the signing.

“To be able to sign this awe-inspiring icon to our staff is a crowning achievement in our 35 years as a golf brand,’’ Glod said.

STREELMAN ON THE SPOT:  This promises to be a big week for Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman on the PGA Tour.  The circuit’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tees off on Thursday and Streelman has had some strong showings in that event.

Last year Streelman finished second behind champion Nick Taylor and was one-stroke better than third-place Phil Mickelson.  Streelman also teamed with NFL star Larry Fitzgerald to win the team event for the second time in three years.  Only four teams have multiple wins in the event, which was first held in 1937.

Because of pandemic issues the team event won’t be held this year, however.  Only the professionals will compete and Streelman needs a strong showing if he hopes to play in April’s Masters. Despite a tie for 37th at California’s Torrey Pines and a tie for 22nd at Phoenix the last two weeks Streelman’s status on the Official World Golf Rankings has dropped.  He was No. 52 at the start of 2021 and is now No. 59.  The top 50 the week before the Masters get spots in the field at Augusta National.

HARDY’S FAST START: Northbrook’s Nick Hardy has been a Monday qualifier for two of the last four PGA Tour events and took advantage of the opportunities. He earned $113,850 for a tie for 14th in the Sony Open and another $23,853 for his tie for 42nd in Phoenix.  Those performances will help Hardy’s bank account, but not his status of the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour.

The Korn Ferry sends its top 25 at year’s end to the PGA Tour, and Hardy stands No. 15 after his showing in the 2020 events.  His PGA Tour winnings don’t count on the Korn Ferry standings. That circuit opens the 2021 portion of its season in two weeks at the Suncoast Classic in Florida.

Hardy needed to birdie the final five holes in the Monday qualifier at Phoenix to get into the starting field, and that burst carried over to the first two rounds of the tournament  proper (68-67) before weekend rounds of 71-70 dropped him down the leaderboard. aHHar

HERE AND THERE:  Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim, a PGA Tour rookie, had his best showing so far with a tie for fifth (worth $247,900) at The America Express in California.  He didn’t play in Phoenix but will be in the field this week at Pebble Beach….Matt Tullar has been named head professional at Cantigny, in Wheaton.  Tullar had been Patrick Lynch’s assistant since 2010.  Lynch resigned his post at the conclusion of last season….Sportsman’s Country Club, a Northbrook landmark since 1929, will have a new name once it re-opens following a year-long renovation. It’ll be called Heritage Oaks.,,,The Illinois PGA will conduct a new seven-tournament junior tour this year for players in the 13-18 age group. Announced sites include Merit Club, in Libertyville; Westmoreland, in Wilmette; Briarwood, in Deerfield; Flossmoor; and Onwentsia, in Lake Forest…..The next show on the Ziehm & Spears Podcast Series will spotlight Prospect Heights apparel company Golftini.






Frank Jemsek: A giant in the history of Chicago golf

Being the son of a famous father isn’t always easy. Frank Jemsek, however,  had a famous father, Joe. He  did many great things in golf, as both a player and course operator, and Frank has followed in his footsteps.

Frank, who turned 80 in December, followed his father into the family business at the tender age of  11. When Joe passed away at age 88 in 2002 the leadership duties at both Cog Hill, based in Palos Hills, and Pine Meadow, in Mundelein, reverted to Frank and — to no one’s surprise — the transition turned out a classic case of “Like father, like son.’’

Joe taught Frank well, and Frank’s daughter Katherine – now the president of Jemsek Golf – can attest to that.

“His favorite place now is on the first tee of a golf course, getting to know his customers,’’ said Katherine.  Frank has greeted golfers warmly for years.  He had been known to welcome them as early as 5 a.m. to do that. It’s not the case any more, but – like his father – he still wants to be on the scene.

“Thank you for playing Cog Hill,’’ was a sincere comment made regularly by Joe, Katherine’s grandfather, and Frank followed with his own trademark phrase of gratitude, “We love golfers.’’

And golfers love Jemsek back – and not just the  towering 6-9 Frank. His golf opeation has grown to include his three children and a son-in-law. Oldest offspring Marla, once one of the nation’s top amateur players, works in Cog Hill accounting department while raising a family of her own with husband Kevin Weeks.  Weeks, who also works at Cog Hill, is recognized as one of the country’s top teachers.

Katherine works with her father on a daily basis and son Joey has his own golf architectural firm with his projects including work at Cog Hill.

Joe Jemsek’s role in golf course began in 1940 when he purchased St. Andrews, in West Chicago.  That was the same year that Frank was born. The family lived off the No. 1 tee of what was then called its No. 1 course. By age 8 Frank was caddying with the help of a pull cart and by 11 he had a job keeping the parking lot clean.

“I worked at the golf course so that I could spend some time with my Dad, because he was at the golf course all the time,’’ recalled Frank. “I enjoyed my mother (Grace) and Dad and wanted to be with them. Hard work was very important to them, and that was good. I had to be there before daylight and worked until 3 p.m.  Then I could go out and play golf.’’

Spending all that time at the golf course didn’t keep Frank from trying other sports.  He was both a basketball player and wrestler at St. Edward High School, in Elgin, and earned a basketball scholarship to Loyola of New Orleans. By that time Joe had already bought Cog Hill and was making plans to build the fearsome Dubsdread course there.

“I always worked at the family business in the summer,’’ said Frank, who took over the management of St. Andrews after college while his father was making Cog Hill one of the nation’s premier public facilities. Dubsdread was built in 1963, opened in 1964 and “was my Dad’s favorite place in the world.’’

Frank took on all the jobs necessary to running 36-hole St. Andrews.  That included spending time in the kitchen and enduring a scary moment as a dishwasher.

“A guy I was helping soaked me and thought it was funny,’’ recalled Frank.  “So, I turned the dishwasher on him, and he grabbed a knife.’’

No harm was done, fortunately, and Frank’s working base changed in 1990.  Joe, battling some health problems, wanted Frank to shift his operations to Cog Hill. Now married to Pat and the father of three children, Frank moved his family to Burr Ridge. Unlike St. Andrews, they didn’t live on the golf course because Pat felt a neighborhood setting was preferable for raising a family. Frank was in agreement with that.

Cog Hill quickly became the center of golf in Chicago and Dubsdread was  a PGA Tour site for 20 years, beginning in 1991.  It was both the final home of the Western Open and the first site of its replacement – the BMW Championship.

“It was a blessing to bring in the Western Open It was one of my Dad’s dreams,’’ said Frank.  “It gave him a chance to say `Thanks for coming’ to the tournament patrons. It was a magnificent opportunity to meet people.’’

Jemsek, also a fixture in greeting Cog Hill’s players and spectators, provided a great opportunity for the Western Golf Association, which uses the tournament to raise money for its Evans Scholars Foundation.  The Jemseks provided the course free, which wasn’t the case at the tourney’s previous sites.

After the PGA Tour left Cog Hill  the Jemsek moved  on  Frank led the family team into some innovative projects..   M was the PGA Junior League.  Katherine was particularly enthusiastic about that,  and Cog Hill and Pine Meadow were the first courses in Illinois to start the break-through program that has gone nation-wide.

Then there was Family Fun Golf, a program that – for $10 a person — brought together family members on weekend afternoons. The format created new players.  Up to fivesomes were allowed, and one player had to be over 18 and at least one under 18.  Jemsek early on recognized that interest in golf was not a problem, but the comfort level for new players was. This made the game more user-friendly.

In another attempt to bring in new players, the tee structure on the No. 3 course at Cog was revamped to make the game most enjoyable for new players. This wasn’t just a case of shortening the holes. Considerable study, headed by Joey Jemsek, went into that project.

Now the popular Track Tracer technology has been added to the Cog practice range and this year lights will be added. A big event is also on the 2021 Cog Hill calendar – the Extreme Long Drive Championship. Cog Hill has always been on the cutting edge of all things golf, thanks to Frank’s willingness to adjust to the times.

Oh, yes.  And there was this horrible thing called the pandemic.  Jemsek has needed creative ways to cope with it. As always, he is taking care of his golfers even while dealing with the loss of his wife Pat in 2018 and some health problems of his own.

“A lot of the friends I played basketball with counted the days until they could retire,’’ said Jemsek.  “I would dread the day when I retire.  It isn’t work for me when I am at Cog Hill.’’








Tennis, hockey players have supplemented the golfers at Saddlebrook

Saddlebrook Resort has plenty to offer, be it indoors or outdoors.

WESLEY CHAPEL, Florida – For 40 years now, the Saddlebrook Resort has been well-equipped for golfers. For most of that time it had two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses.  Enough said.

There’s more to the Saddlebrook story than that, however.

Owner Tom Dempsey, who made his mark in the publishing industry in Cleveland, was a member at Palmer’s Bay Hill Club in Orlando when he took over Saddlebrook.  The facility then had an 18-hole course designed by Dean Refram, who had a stint on the PGA Tour after developing his game at Chicago’s famed Medinah Country Club.

Palmer was hired to remodel the original Saddlebrook Course after Dempsey took over and later designed another course on the property, now known as the Palmer Course. Both are on the short side by today’s standards, Saddlebook measuring 6,510 yards from the back tees and the Palmer checking out at 6,273 from the tips.  They’re great for resort play, though, and many of those enjoying the Saddlebrook golf experience have been prominent in other sports.

In Saddlebrook’s early years, in fact, the highest-profile athletes on the grounds were tennis players.  Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles were among the tennis stars who trained there in the 1980s and 1990s. Legendary coach Harry Hopman was in charge of the tennis side until selling to Dempsey in 1986.

Now it’s the Tampa Tennis Academy.  It has 45 courts and includes surfaces from all four of the Grand Slam tournaments.

“We still do well with that,’’ said Pat Farrell, Saddlebrook’s director of golf sales, “but American tennis isn’t what it used to be.’’

No doubt about that.  The glory years of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Chris Evert are long gone.

Cypress trees, some 100 feet tall, dominate the Saddlebrook course.

As it pertains to Saddlebrook, however, the athletes enjoying the golf courses are now hockey players. That all started in 2018 when USA Hockey chose Saddlebrook to host the U.S. women’s team when it was preparing for the Winter Olympics.

“The team stayed for seven months.  They’d train in the morning, then come back here and play golf in the afternoon,’’ said Farrell.

Oh, yes.  That women’s team also won the gold medal.

Now hockey players are back at Saddlebrook, and at a time when all such facilities can use more heads in their beds.  The pandemic has cut down the number of guests at most resorts, but the arrival of the U.S. Premier Hockey League allieviated the shortage at Saddlebrook.

“It’s the highest level of youth amateur hockey,’’ said Farrell.

About 600 players and 50 teams from around the country have used Saddlebrook as their bubble during the pandemic. On-ice training and games are conducted at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s practice rink each day, then – like the women Olympians – their action shifts to Saddebrook’s courses.

Farrell said about 60 of the youth hockey players play golf every day.  They arrived on Jan. 4 and will stay at Saddlebrook into March. Each team plays a 40-game schedule.

“Of the 540 rooms in our rental pool, they take up 470,’’ said Farrell. “We’re very fortunate because a lot of other (resorts), from a room perspective, are dying on the vine.’’

Saddlebook is not like most other multi-sport resorts. A teaching academy, Saddlebrook Prep, is also on the premises.  It has students from about 20 countries starting at the age of 13. Classes are limited to 12 students and 30 instructors are on the staff.

Saddlebrook isn’t all about sports. It also has an academy on its premises.

There isn’t much driving on the resort grounds.  Guests park their cars upon arrival, then are transported via shuttles to the golf courses, the tennis courts, the restaurants, the centerpiece swimming pool, the spa or whatever other attraction they want to use.

As for the golf, Saddlebook had one star player – India’s Sungjay Im – on the premises once the PGA Tour halted its tournament schedule on March 12.  He remained there, practicing daily until the tournaments resumed in June.

The par-70 Saddlebrook Course, has a stunning 429-yard finishing hole but its trademark is the cypress trees, some of which have grown to nearly 100 feet in height. The par-71 Palmer Course has generous driving areas with lots of humps and bumps to make them more challenging. The greens are firm, fast and undulating with a rare par-3 as its finishing hole. Both courses are undergoing a structured improvement program that started in 2016.

There’s also a 16-acre training center for the golfers that was designed by Mike Angus, the architect for the Phil Mickelson Golf Course Design Co.

ING Media Awards honor four from LZOG partner sites

Friday was a big day for Len Ziehm on Golf and its partner websites.  Four of us won Outstanding Achiever designations at the 23rd annual International Network of Golf Media Awards, which is part of the 68th PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.

I was especially happy for my broadcast partner Rory Spears, who was honored in the Radio Show category.  It marked the first time that Rory had entered the competition.  Rory’s Golfers on Golf radio show on WCPT 820-AM completed its 30th year in 2020, and I enjoyed being a full-time Contributor to the weekly broadcasts.  Rory’s award came for a June 20 show in which Tim Clarke, head of Wilson’s golf division, was a featured guest.

Mine came in the Business Writing category for a piece I did for Morning Read on the Western Golf Association’s efforts to preserve opportunities for youth caddies during the pandemic.  This was the fifth straight year that I’ve won something at the ING Media Awards, but the first time I was cited for a piece produced for a national media outlet.

Rory and I also started a weekly golf podcast series – Ziehm & Spears – last year. We did 40 shows in 2020 and have done three already in 2021.

My award came in the  Business Writing category this year for a piece I did for Morning Read on the Western Golf Association’s efforts to improve opportunities for youth caddies amidst the pandemic.  It marked the fifth consecutive year that I have won something at the ING Media Awards but the first time that I was cited for a piece done for national media outlet.

The other LZOG award winners were Dave Lockhart, who was honored again in the Television Show category for the September version of the Golf360 series, and Fred Altvater, publisher of the Ohio Golf Journal, cited in the Opinion/Editorial category.

This marked the first time that the ING Media Awards were not presented live.  Zoom was used, as the PGA Merchandise Show was done in a virtual format because of pandemic issues. ING had to postpone its 30th anniversary Spring Conference last year for that reason.  It will be held May 23-27 in Valley Forge, Pa.

Trip to Hawaii pays off big-time for Nick Hardy

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim are among the very best young golfers ever produced in the Chicago area. Ghim is a rookie on the PGA Tour and Hardy in his first season on the PGA’s development circuit – the Korn Ferry Tour.

Still, what were the chances that they’d be paired together in the PGA Tour’s first full-field event of 2021?

Ghim’s participation in last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii wasn’t unexpected. He had earned his PGA membership at the last qualifying session.  Hardy made the field  through a Monday qualifier.  It provided him some needed competition since the Korn Ferry schedule doesn’t kick in until February.

While Ghim missed the cut last week, Hardy came ready to play.  After winning a three-man playoff for the final spot in the starting field he covered the regulation 72 holes in 16-under-par total and finished in a tie for 14th place.  That earned him $113,850.

“I had Monday (qualified) into a few Korn Ferry events, but never into a PGA Tour event,’’ said Hardy after earning a shot against the sport’s best players.  “I did lose in a playoff (the last spot in a four-man battle leading into the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open).  That experience helped me (in Hawaii).  Having had that experience, I knew what to expect. I learned how to handle my emotions.’’

A University of Illinois product, Hardy qualified for three U.S. Opens and made the cut in 2015.  He also got into seven other PGA Tour events through sponsor invitations. Those experiences, some of which came when he was still an amateur, weren’t all good.  He made the cut in five of his first six events but had missed his last four cuts until the strong showing in Hawaii.

“I’m a much different golfer than I was during those four (missed cuts) events,’’ said Hardy, noting that three of the misses were by just one stroke.  “I’ve learned how to handle myself better, handle my emotions and my thoughts.  That’s what really helped me play well on the Korn Ferry Tour last year.’’

He will be a PGA Tour member if he remains in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry standings this season.

“I just feel I’m ready for the PGA Tour,’’ said Hardy.  “I really do feel I belong.’’

BULL VALLEY BONANZA:  Rarely have Chicago golf organizations announced their tournament schedules in January, but both the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association did this year. Both scheduled major tournaments at Bull Valley, which has never been a major tournament venue.

The private club in Woodstock landed the 101st CDGA Amateur, which will be played June 21-24, as well as the IPGA Match Play Championship May 10-13.  The IPGA Match Play has had a long run at Kemper Lakes in recent years.

The IPGA also announced last week that its schedule will have two other major changes. The Aug. 2-4  Illinois Open finals will again be played at just one course – Stonebridge, in Aurora. The biggest event for Illinois residents had used a two-course format to expand the finals, but that was scrapped during last season’s pandemic-impacted campaign.  Originally Stonebridge was to share host duties with Naperville neighbor White Eagle, but White Eagle wound up the lone site for the last 54 holes of the month-long competition as the finals were reduced from 264 players to 156.

Ivanhoe, meanwhile, will be the site of the IPGA Championship from Aug. 23-25.  That event had used a three-course rotation in recent years, and Ivanhoe – once the site of a Korn Ferry Tour stop – was not among the venues used.

Also notable on the CDGA calendar is the return of Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course, in Palos Park, for a notable competition.  The long-time Western Open and BMW Championship site will host a U.S. Open local qualifier in May 3.  Mistwood, in Romeoville, will be the site of the 90th Illinois State Amateur for the first time from July 20-22.

HERE AND THERE:  Mistwood head professional Frank Hohenadel had a hole-in-one, dropping an 8-iron from 170 yards in a PGA of America Winter Series event in Port St. Lucie, FL…..The Ziehm & Spears Podcast Series kicked off its second season last week.  The first campaign in 2020 included 40 weekly shows and the weekly format will be used again….The Western  Golf Association has confirmed that the Evans Scholars Invitational will return to The Glen Club, in Glenview, May 24-30.  Last year’s Korn Ferry stop was moved to Chicago Highlands, in Westchester, because The Glen couldn’t accommodate a late schedule revision .




Golf developments in 2020 were shocking, unprecedented


I’ve been reporting on golf for 52 years and never encountered a year like this one. The dreaded pandemic certainly made 2020 infamous in many ways, and that included the golf world.

What I’ll remember the most happened on March 12, when PGA commissioner Jay Monahan called a press conference during the first round of The Players Championship in Florida to announce that the remaining three rounds would be played without spectators.

That shocked all of us who were there, but later that night Monahan announced that the tournament would be canceled entirely and that the tournaments of the next four weeks were off as well.  That’s when we realized how serious this was. The shutdown was on.

On the local level the Chicago District Golf Association canceled the Illinois State Amateur and CDGA Amateur.  Mistwood Golf Club decided the Illinois Women’s Open wouldn’t be held.  The Western Golf Association dropped its two national youth championships.  The Illinois PGA didn’t even schedule an event until July.

While the drama of March 12 sticks out as the most impactful day of the golf season, the rest of it wasn’t so bad at all.  In fact, golf – more than any other sport – showed its resiliency.  No professional league got back in business quicker than the PGA Tour did.

The PGA Tour resumed tournament operations on June 11, and the three major American tournaments – the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship – were played, albeit at unusual times of the year. So was the BMW Championship, the FedEx Cup Playoff event at Olympia Fields that was the highlight of the Chicago golf calendar.  Sadly, the 50th anniversary of the John Deere Classic was a no-go.

Basically, the PGA and LPGA tour events were TV shows.  There were virtually no spectators, and media admissions were limited to only a handful of people who covered the tournaments on a weekly basis. From my perspective I saw but one event in person – a PGA Tour Champions event in late October.

Though my golf columns and even a few travel destination stops continued, watching all the big competitions only via television represented a major — and most unwelcome — lifestyle change.

On the more positive side, Western Golf Association personnel worked diligently to get youth caddies working again and its most high-profiles tournaments – the BMW, Korn Ferry Tour’s Evans Scholars Invitational and the Western Amateur – did get played. The Illinois PGA salvaged the Illinois Open and its next three biggest championships and the CDGA managed to conduct a few of its late-season events.

No golf segment was more determined than the women’s side, however. Who would have thought that  both the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA’s season-climaxing CME Group Championship could be played in December?

The tournament side, though, wasn’t the highlight of this golf season.  Some have suggested the pandemic may have even “saved’’ golf because it was one activity that allowed play outdoors during these difficult times.  Recreational play, despite restrictions nation-wide, boomed in 2020 and so did equipment sales.

No where was that more evident than in the Chicago market where public venues like Sportsman’s in Northbrook, Schaumburg Golf Club and Settler’s Hill in Geneva tackled major renovations despite the pandemic and new clubhouses were in the works at the Preserve at Oak Meadows, in Addison, and Fox Run, in Elk Grove,

By no means did the pandemic “save’’ golf, but it certainly stimulated interest in some quarters where it might have been lagging for a while.

Playing-wise the star of the show in 2020 was Dustin Johnson, winner of both the FedEx Cup and the Masters. Tiger Woods wasn’t a winner, but his 11-year old son Charley was when they paired up in the  PNC Championship this month.  TV viewers couldn’t help but note that father and son have identical swings despite the age difference.

While golf in 2020 turned out about as good as it possibly could in pandemic times, the 2021 season should be more exciting.  The British Open should be back.  The Olympics should have a golf competition in Tokyo.  The Ryder Cup, postponed a year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, will still be a fall attraction — just a year later than originally anticipated.

The pandemic didn’t diminish golf in 2020, and it may have even enhanced the sport for both its viewers and participants in 2021.