Greenbrier, Homestead, Bay Hill, Pinehurst — What a winter it was!

What have you done golf-wise since dropping your last putt in the Chicago area in 2014? Not as much as me, I’ll bet.

This has been an extraordinary “offseason.’’ It began in November when we made a series of golf/travel-writing stops – a few days here, a few days there — at some very choice locations. How about French Lick, Greenbrier, Homestead, Hilton Head, Bay Hill and Pinehurst?

It’d be hard to beat those, but we also tossed in a couple of Pete Dye-related stops that aren’t as well known – Mystic Hills in Culver, Ind., and Keswick Hall, the legendary architect’s newest creation in Virginia.

And, after that 27-day golfing marathon was over, we settled in Florida where we made two stops in the Orlando area as spectators — to watch Bernhard Langer and his 14-year old son win the Father-Son Challenge and Jordan Spieth post a run-away victory in Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge at Isleworth. Then, after the calendar changed to 2015 we visited the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando and the LPGA’s new season-opening tournament, the Coates Championship in Ocala.

That was a ton of golf – but don’t think it was too much. We’re anxious for the Chicago season to start just as much as all of you who weren’t as lucky as we were in getting away for the winter.

It’d be hard to beat our November odyssey for sheer enjoyment, though. While there might be a call to rank the famous courses, we won’t do that. It’d be like comparing apples and oranges. Each has their own special charms. We just enjoyed them all.

Most interesting, though, was Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club. The 18-hole championship course there is a PGA Tour site in March, when it welcomes the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I’ve played perhaps 20 courses that have hosted PGA Tour events, and Bay Hill – while very much a challenge — is the most playable for the recreational duffer (like me).

What makes Bay Hill special, though, is Palmer himself. Bay Hill is his winter home. He was frequently around when we were there, playing cards and dining with friends. He wasn’t hounded by well-wishers. He was just enjoying himself. Where else could he be caught in such a relaxed setting?

We were told that Palmer, now 85, rarely plays the 27 holes available at Bay Hill these days but that he does frequently hit balls on the range. Simply put, he helps Bay Hill guests feel welcome in what to him is home.

Being big on golf history, we were fascinated by Homestead’s Old Course in Virginia, where we teed off on the longest No. 1 tee in continuous use in America. It was first played in 1892 and the resort, dating to 1766, is even older than the United States. The late, great Sam Snead grew up in the area and was the first head professional at Homestead’s Cascades course and his son Sam Jr. owns the Sam Snead Restaurant there. Not only was Sam Jr. on hand when we dined there, he even sent over a signed memento from our visit.

We witnessed lots of progress at both Hilton Head, the long-time golfers’ mecca, in South Carolina, and Pinehurst, where we played that famous resort’s newly-acquired Jack Nicklaus design in North Carolina. It had been called National Golf Club; now it’s Pinehurst No. 9.

The work recently completed or underway at Hilton Head was most impressive. Over $200 million has been spent on upgrades in recent years at all the resorts there with Sea Pines the trend-setter. Pete Dye’s Heron Point course was renovated there last year and Davis Love III will re-design the Ocean course beginning this October.

More noticeable is the work at Harbour Town Links, which has hosted the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage Classic since 1969. A new $25 million clubhouse will be unveiled when the tournament returns a week after the Masters in April. In May the Harbour Town course will close for a summer-long renovation.

In all Riverstone Group, of Richmond, Va., will spend $55 million on improvements at Sea Pines in addition to its projects that are either underway or completed at Kiawah, another South Carolina hotbed, and Keswick Hall, site of Dye’s recently-opened Full Cry layout.

The aggressive spending going on, particularly at Hilton Head, was another clear indication that the golf industry is weathering the economic downturn that thwarted progress the last few years.

Finally, the Dye designs continue to be well-received. Mystic Hills, one of his early ones, resulted in our completion of the seven-stop Pete Dye Golf Trail. Riverstone Group has made Full Cry the centerpiece of its spiffy Keswick Hall facility in the history-rich area near Charlottesville, Va.

French Lick’s Pete Dye Course will get its biggest dose of exposure come May when the Indiana resort hosts the Senior PGA Championship – an event that Chicago golfers should consider visiting.

NOW THAT it’s about time for golf at home again, there’s plenty on the horizon. Two Chicago area players, Kevin Streelman and Carlos Sainz Jr., got off to good starts when the PGA Tour began its first split season schedule last fall. Sainz claimed a $100,000 payday with a tie for ninth place at the Sanderson Farms Championship – only his second PGA Tour event. Streelman has wins in the last two years. He could make an even bigger impact in 2015.

Luke Donald, working again with swing instructor Pat Goss, showed signs of recapturing his former magic late in 2014 and will benefit when the BMW Championship returns to Conway Farms, his home course in Lake Forest, in September.

The local scene will also include the Champions Tour’s Encompass Championship at North Shore and the PGA’s John Deere Classic, unfortunately held over the same July dates, and Rich Harvest Farms will have a one-two punch of big amateur events when it welcomes the Palmer Cup and Western Amateur.

It’ll be another year for lots of good playing and lots of good viewing just as soon as the snow melts. I say, bring it on!

More changing of the guard for the Illinois PGA

Call it a changing of the guard, or just a transition. I’ve always thought that change was generally a good thing, and there’s certainly been plenty of that going on within the Chicago golf community in the last few months.

It started with the departure of Michael Miller, long-time executive director of the Illinois PGA who moved to Arizona to re-organize the Southwest Section of the PGA. He left town in May, and new IPGA president Jim Opp heads a group that will study 22 candidates before determining Miller’s replacement.

Even before Miller left the biggest tournament for state residents, the men’s Illinois Open, underwent a major format change with the announcement that its finals would now be played on two courses with more qualifiers. And, before the summer is out Chicago will be without its annual stop on the Champions Tour. The third and last playing of the Encompass Championship is closing in.

No where, though, was change more obvious than at the first major tournament of the season. May’s 64th playing of the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship figured to showcase the usual suspects – Curtis Malm, Travis Johns, Doug Bauman, Matt Slowinski, Rich Dukelow, Garrett Chaussard.

Well, none of them were even among the semifinalists who squared off on the last day of the four-day, weather-plagued event at Kemper Lakes in Long Grove. It was indeed an extraordinarily strange finish, since seeding was determined off last year’s player of the year point standings and none of the top seven seeds make it to the final four.

Instead the semifinalists were Jim Billiter, the eventual champion; Brian Brodell, who has worked in the area for less than a year; Kyle Bauer and Simon Allan. Billiter called them collectively “the bottom of the barrel guys’’ because none of the quartet has been much of a factor in previous IPGA majors.

Billiter, at No. 8 thanks in part to his win in last year’s IPGA Assistants Match Play tournament, was the highest seed among the semifinalists. Allan, head pro at Prestwick in Frankfort, was No. 21; Bauer, head pro at Glen View was No. 26 and Brodell, new to the section, was No. 54.

Still, all were up to the task at Kemper Lakes – especially Billiter and Brodell who battled over 21 holes in the championship match. Both were reluctant to declare a changing of the guard in the IPGA competitive ranks after it was over, however.

“It was just nice to see a lot of young guys playing along with the older pros,’’ said Billiter, whose victims en route to the title included 66-year old veteran Mike Harrigan. “I loved the mix of generations.’’

“It’s just that in the Chicago area there’s so many good players,’’ Brodell said.

The results, though, speak for themselves. Malm, the White Eagle pro who was going after his fourth straight title in the tournament, was knocked out in the fourth round by Scott Baines, a long-time assistant pro at Chicago’s Bryn Mawr club. Johns, the Medinah teaching pro who won 2010 Match Play and is the reigning IPGA Player of the Year, was eliminated by Billiter in the quarterfinals.

Biltmore’s Bauman, another past champion who reached the title match six times, had the craziest match of the week against Conway Farms’ Slowinski. Bauman was 3-up at the turn but lost six straight holes from Nos. 11-16.

The final had its crazy side, too. Billiter won the first two holes but his lead was gone six holes later. He finally got back to all square at No. 16 but promptly splashed his tee shot at No. 17 and went to the final hole 1-down. He forced extra holes with an eight-foot birdie putt before winning the title with a bogey – yes, a bogey! – on the third extra hole.

Billiter put his 8-iron tee shot in the water on that par-3 (No. 3 in Kemper’s rotation) as well and Brodell, who survived a 19-hole match with Bauer in the morning, kept his ball dry when his 7-iron tee shot bounded over the green. That put Brodell in a good spot to close out the match, but he couldn’t do it. .

“When I shanked it in the water I thought it was over,’’ admitted Billiter, “but then when I saw him hit it long I knew I still had a chance because he had a real delicate shot.’’

Billiter put a 90-yard shot from the drop area to six feet of the cup, then watched Brodell chunk his first chip shot and run his second four feet past the cup. Billiter holed his put for bogey, and that was good enough to win the match after Brodell missed.

“A sad way to end it,’’ said Brodell, who came to Mistwood last September to work with the club’s junior programs after serving as assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s teams at Purdue University. “I hit the same club on that hole as I did in the morning match, the wind was the same and I expected a two-putt uphill and the match was mine. Then all of a sudden my shot flew long and I had one bad chip.’’

That showed, once again, what a crazy game golf can be.

Billiter reached the final with a first-round bye, then eliminated host pro Matt Swann, 7 and 6, Harrigan 3 and 2, Biltmore assistant Katie Pius 2 and 1, Johns 1-up and Allan 4 and 3. All those matches came after he played 36 holes on Monday, when he wasn’t scheduled to compete at Kemper.

He was tired afterwards, but still $4,000 richer. That was the champion’s share from a purse of $20,000. In still another sign of these changing times, the field was down to 90 players, meaning that 38 drew first-round byes. The field has dwindled each year since Johns, then teaching at Twin Lakes in Palatine, beat a full field of 128 players in his first year in the section in 2010.

Next of the IPGA’s four major events is the 66th Illinois Open, to be played July 20-22 at Royal Melbourne and Hawthorn Woods. Then comes the 93rd Illinois PGA Championship Aug. 31-Sept. 2 on Medinah’s No. 1 course and the IPGA Players Championship, which returns to Eagle Ridge in Galena on Oct. 5-6.

Staff departures put Illinois PGA in limbo

The Illinois PGA is in limbo heading into the first big month of the Chicago golf season. There’s no doubt about that.

Two key staffers, Jared Nowak and Lauren Moy, left the section during the winter and executive director Michael Miller replaced them both. Robert Duke took Nowak’s place as tournament director and Catherine Wagner will inherit most of Moy’s duties in a general office re-structuring.

Wagner will manage day to day operations of the IPGA Drive, Chip & Putt competition and be responsible for execution of current player development programming including the PGA Junior League. She will also help grow the IPGA Foundation programs. Both 24 year-olds are new to the Chicago area; Duke comes from Nashville, Tenn., and Wagner from Austin, Minn.

Those changes, though, were minor compared to the one necessitated by the next departure – that of Miller himself.

Jim Opp, the new IPGA president, announced Miller’s departure in a March 20 letter to the membership. After 27 years with the section, 20 of them as executive director, Miller accepted a position as executive director of the Southwest Section of the PGA.

Miller planned to oversee the transition for the IPGA until May 1 and his tentative starting date on his new job was May 4. Opp said he was in no hurry to name Miller’s successor. A lengthy search was expected after Miller’s departure.

“It’s definitely a little strange for both parties (himself and the IPGA), but this opportunity was too good to pass up,’’ said Miller.

The Illinois and Southwest are among 41 geographical sections of the PGA of America, which has about 28,000 members nation-wide. The Southwest encompasses all of Arizona and part of Nevada, including Las Vegas. It’s larger than the Illinois Section in terms of both geography and membership. The Illinois section has 850 members, the Southwest 1,350.

Illinois has a rich history. It’s considered a charter member of the PGA, with roots to the organization’s founding in 1916. Back then, though, the section encompassing the Illinois club professionals was called the Middle States Section. Illinois got its designation in 1922 and that section has had only three executive directors.

First to hold the job was Ken Boyce, who was in charge fro 1976 to 1988. He hired Miller as his tournament director in 1986. Miller left that post in 1989 to work for Pinnacle, a Libertyville-based marketing firm, but returned shortly after Vance Redfern replaced Boyce as executive director.

Redfern named Miller as his assistant, and Miller moved up to the head job when Redfern left to become associate athletic director at San Diego State University in 1995. The IPGA had a three-person staff when Miller was first hired in 1986. It now has six full-timers and two-three seasonal interns.

“Leaving was a difficult decision because this has pretty much been my whole career,’’ said Miller. “But this will be the next stage of my career – a bigger section with a little different culture. And the climate change doesn’t hurt, either.’’

The Illinois Section members are basically at individual clubs or public courses. Resorts form a much more significant segment of the Southwest Section membership. The Southwest Section post became available when Curt Hudek resigned last fall after seven years on the job. Miller began the interview process for that job in early January.

Under Miller’s direction the IPGA established the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame and a consumer golf show and played major roles in the organization of two PGA Championships (1999 and 2006) and the 2012 Ryder Cup, all played at Medinah Country Club. The youth skills competitions that were part of the ’99 PGA and Ryder Cup were so popular that the PGA took that concept to the national level.

The IPGA Foundation also flourished under Miller’s tenure, and developing a similar one for the Southwest Section will be a priority in his new job.

With his new base in Scottsdale, Ariz., Miller will face new projects that weren’t part of his Illinois duties. The Southwest Section runs a very active junior tour, conducting over 60 events. The Illinois PGA deferred those duties to the Illinois Junior Golf Assn. The Southwest Section also oversees a Golf Pass program, which offers discounted greens fees to residents in what’s considered the offseason there.

The IPGA did have a Golf Pass program that Miller considered “fairly successful’’ for four or five years, but it was discontinued when a consumer golf show was deemed a higher priority.

Miller was also instrumental in making changes in the Illinois Open, the section’s premier event. In January he announced that the event would have a new format and the 54-hole finals would be contested at two courses in an effort to spur more entries.

Under the new format there will be 258 finalists instead of 156 and Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove, and Hawthorn Woods Country Club will share hosting duties for the finals. All 54 holes were played at The Glen Club in Glenview last year. Miller said the changes came after two years of planning.

“I’m saddened that I won’t be here to see that through,’’ he said, “but a lot of good things are in place, the Foundation is strong and the tournament program is one of the best in the country. The timing (for his departure) is good because the busiest time for planning was from October until (the early spring). By April 1 everything was in place. Now it’s just a case of execution.’’

Golf has endured some tough times lately — so let’s all just enjoy the game

Over the course of the last year or so I’ve been asked my views from a variety of people – inside and outside the Chicagoland Golf community – about the state of the golf industry. They were, of course, triggered by the general state of the economy.

Because golf is an activity requiring the spending of discretionary income, there has been the perception that play is down, that courses will close or at least lapse on their usual conditioning procedures, that potential young golfers are preferring other recreational opportunities.

Granted, I’m an eternal optimist on most everything and — as an avid life-long golfer and member of the industry myself — I want to see the game thrive. Still, I’m not blind and I have, for quite a few years, travelled widely across the United States in pursuit of golf projects of one sort or another. This year I’ve played golf in eight states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina) and witnessed a major championship (the PGA in Kentucky) in another.

That has caused me to wonder what the recent fuss is all about, where all the gloom and doom sentiment is coming from. I don’t see it at all. We may be long removed from golf’s boom times of the 1990s, when it seemed a new course was opening in the Chicago every month, but there’s plenty of evidence – nationally and locally – that the game is healthy and steadily getting stronger.

Let’s check out our Chicago area first. There either has been or will be major course work done at 22 courses, and Chicagoland Golf teammate Rory Spears, who keeps diligent track of such developments, admits he might have even missed a few.

These projects span private clubs (Kemper Lakes, Midlothian, Conway Farms, Medinah, Old Elm, Olympia Fields, Skokie, Wynstone, Glen Oak and Bob O’Link) to various types of public facilities (Arlington Lakes, Oak Meadows, Fox Run, Arrowhead, Mt. Prospect, Glenview Park District, Wilmette, Wedgewood, Settler’s Hill, Mistwood, Pine Meadow and Prairie Bluffs).

The biggest, of course, was done at Mistwood where owner Jim McWethy – in the deepest of dark times – ordered a renovation of a course that was already pretty good, the building of an elaborate Performance Center and construction of a new clubhouse (to be ready by next June) and threw in some significant upgrades to a nearby dome that caters to winter golfers.

Last month McWethy admitted to me that “the economy is not good, and golf is an activity that is being challenged.’’

Still, he committed big dollars to make his end of the golf industry better.

“It goes back to my fundamental belief that, if you do a good job with every aspect of it, there’s still enough business out there,’’ said McWethy. “There’s still a lot of people playing golf.’’

For every course closing (Plum Tree National, Rolling Knolls), there are many more course operators telling me about play at their facilities picking up as the season progressed.

Kemper Sports, the Northbrook-based course management company, is making regular announcement of facilities now under its direction. The Illinois PGA is in the process of expanding its biggest championship, the Illinois Open. The Western Golf Assn. has taken on the operation of a fourth big tournament (the Web.com Tour’s Hotel Fitness Championship) to raise more money for its Evans Scholars Foundation and the Chicago District Golf Assn. is celebrating its centennial in style.

More positive developments are happening throughout the Midwest. In Wisconsin the SentryWorld course has re-opened after an extensive renovation and Chicago’s Mike Keiser has begun construction of Sand Valley, which is projected to be as much a smash hit as his Oregon complex, Bandon Dunes. Lawsonia, one of Wisconsin’s oldest but most respected layouts, opened a new pub after changing management companies.

In Michigan, where over 800 public courses have made it a golfers’ mecca, one of the top layouts – Forest Dunes – will be getting a companion course designed by Tom Doak, who just completed the makeover of Medinah’s No. 1 layout. Treetops created a fancy-sounding new event – the National Par-3 Championship — and the sprawling Boyne Resorts just polished off a three-hole upgrade of its Crooked Tree and a bunker renovation of The Moor, and both big projects were done concurrently.

And big things aren’t happening in just the Midwest. Roger Warren, the former president of the PGA of America who heads South Carolina’s Kiawah Resort, hasn’t been deflated by economic issues – though he knows they exist.

“We had the best year in the history of the resort last year,’’ Warren told me in March, and we’ve experienced four years of double digit growth from 2009 on. I know it flies in the face of what’s happened in the rest of the game, but there’s a segment in this country that’s doing just fine – and that’s my customer.’’

Kiawah has five courses, the most prominent being its Ocean Course. But the Osprey Point layout got a makeover this year, Cougar Point will get one in 2015 and Oak Point in 2016.

And then, of course, there’s Pinehurst. The North Carolina resort expanded to a nine-course complex, adding its first Jack Nicklaus design, in the same year it hosted both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open. Then the greens on the famed No. 2 course were re-grassed immediately after the two back-to-back national championships. The results were overwhelmingly successful.

“We’ve been packed. There’s very few tee times through the second week of November,’’ Pinehurst vice president Jack Bickert reported. “We’re looking at the biggest September-October-November in our history and our advanced bookings have been tremendous through next spring.’’

OK, what else do you need to know? Work is being done and money being spent to make golf a better game. Young players may not be taking up golf in big enough numbers, but the PGA of America’s new Junior League is addressing that problem. Women’s golf received a big boost with the creation of the International Crown, a global event that was founded in part by the visionary efforts of Rich Harvest’s Jerry Rich.

Let’s sum things up. A struggling economy, an injury to Tiger Woods that may have hurt TV ratings and a big tournament shortage in the Chicago area didn’t help matters but the golf world – here and nation-wide – survived. We should all just get on with our enjoyment of this great game.

There was one day that defined this golf season

This golf season, of course, is far from over. We diehards know that fall golf is the best. Still, the conclusion of the PGA Championship does mean the end of the major championships and a good time to reflect on developments from the 2014 season.

SO, IF YOU had asked me I would have told you……

THE MOST INTERESTING day golf-wise was Aug. 16. Doesn’t it strike you as intriguing that the lowest rounds in the history of both senior professional tours were shot on the same day?

Sherri Steinhauer (left) celebrated her 63 on the Pete Dye Course with caddie Lisa DiPaulo.

On the men’s side Kevin Sutherland notched the first 59 in Champions Tour history and on the women’s front Sherri Steinhauer posted the lowest round in the 14-year history of the Legends circuit – a 9-under-par 63.

Sutherland’s hot round came in the 54-hole Dick’s Sporting Goods Open at En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, N.Y. – a layout that was the long-time base for the PGA Tour’s B.C. Open, which is no longer held.

Steinhauer’s round came on one of the reputedly toughest newer layouts, the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort in Indiana. It opened in 2009 and will host the Senior PGA Championship in 2015. Steinhauer played it at 5,890 yards, but her score was every bit as significant as Sutherland’s was. Steinhauer’s round was the lowest score – man or woman – ever shot on the tricky layout that’s already been tested by top club professionals and college players under tournament conditions.

BY FAR the most striking player-caddie combination I have ever seen was LPGA Hall of Famer Joanne Carner and her sister Helen. Carner is 75 (but can still play) and Helen is 83. They don’t look at all alike and their personalities are different as well.

Joanne Carner (left) and her sister Helen made a striking team at the Legends Championship.

Helen didn’t take up golf until Joanne gave here a set of clubs for her 70th birthday. Now she’s hooked and Joanne says she’s a great caddie.

“Helen doesn’t say much, but she can run down the fairway,’’ said Joanne.

MY ADVICE to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson would be to make Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker his picks. (Watson was scheduled to make his announcement on Sept. 2).

The fact that Watson was even considering Tiger Woods “because he’s Tiger Woods’’ was ridiculous. You don’t take a player who’s endured the season Woods has, regardless of his career record. You wouldn’t take Jack Nicklaus, now would you?

Watson shouldn’t take any of the injured players, either. Given its lack of success lately, the U.S. needs fresh blood on this team. It’ll have it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the team did quite well despite low expectations from others.

JANE BLALOCK IS one of the very best leaders in golf world-wide. She is also the least publicized. Do you even know the name of the group she heads?

Answer: the LPGA Legends Tour. Blalock created it 14 years ago, has kept it going with little support from the LPGA itself and occasionally even tees it up in tournaments.

For your information, the Legends is for women 45 and over and it has a Super Seniors division for those 63 and over (that’s where Blalock plays). The circuit has seven tournaments this year and Blalock says there’ll be at last 10 in 2015.

BEFORE WE leave the women’s side, there’s one more point to make: the U.S. Golf Assn. should create a U.S. Women’s Senior Open as soon as possible. There’s enough players to make it viable. Blalock says at least 100 of her players will enter and there are many more good senior amateurs from around the country.

The USGA already has a U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur. Adding a U.S. Women’s Senior Open to its schedule is long, long overdue.

BEST NEW event of 2014 was the National Par-3 Team Championship, which is in progress on the famed Threetops course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich. At least it seems like a lot of fun – just the type of event that golf needs to inspire a wide variety of players. You can enter through Sept. 11 by contacting the resort.

This is a two-person team event with the top 28 teams advancing to the finals on Sept. 27. (I’ll be making a rare tournament appearance in this one).

Threetops hosted the ESPN Par 3 Shootout in the late 90s and early 2000s and it involved the appearance of some top tour players. This is a nice form of revival for that popular event.

THIS WON’T SHOCK anyone, but I want to go on record anyway. The torch has been passed from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy as the world’s premier golfer.

Woods had a great run, right up there with those of Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer before him. I expect Woods to get healthy and win some tournaments again – maybe even another major – but McIlroy is the man now and will be for quite awhile.

NEXT YEAR will be much more exciting in Chicago than this one has been. The main reason is there’ll be more big tournaments.

The BMW Championship is coming back to Conway Farms. Rich Harvest Farms will host the Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event for college stars and the Illinois Open will likely undergo a much-needed transformation. I’m especially intrigued to see what form that transformation takes.

FINALLY, FOR THOSE WHO like to plan well in advance (like me), here’s some useful information:

The summer of 2016 will be historically significant in all segments of golf, with three big global events. Not all the particulars are set yet, but this much is known:

The LPGA International Crown will be held at Rich Harvest Farms. It’ll have July dates – though the days haven’t been determined – because the LPGA wants to get its big event played before golf returns to the Olympics.

Brazil is the Olympic site, and the golf competition will be played some time between Aug. 5-21. Then comes the Ryder Cup, back on American soil at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn. It’ll be played there from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2. It’ll be the first time the Ryder Cup has been played in October since 2010 and only the second time in more than 30 years

This Ryder Cup is especially noteworthy, as it will climax the PGA of America’s Centennial Celebration.

Major changes are coming to the Illinois Open in 2015

Last month’s 65th Illinois Open revealed one change – the addition of First Tee of Chicago as a charity partner. More changes are coming, and they’re likely to be just as good.

The Illinois Open officially dates back to 1950, when Felice Torza won at Onwentsia, but tournaments of the same name were played as early as 1922. This year entries were down a bit, and it’s become obvious that the self-proclaimed “State Championship of Illinois Golf’’ needs a little freshening.

There’s nothing wrong with that. The tradition-rich Western Open – later converted into the BMW Championship – benefitted first from a move to Cog Hill after a 17-year run at Butler National and later in a move to Conway Farms that involved both format and date changes after a 20-year run at Cog Hill.

In the case of the Illinois Open, it isn’t really a move that’s necessary. As Mike Miller, executive director of the Illinois PGA, sees it, the primary need is to get more spots in the final. In good years the number of entries hits 600.

“A top priority of our section is to make the Illinois Open bigger and better,’’ said Miller in a press briefing prior to last month’s tournament. “The bulk of our entries have been from the Chicago area. We want to know how to get more players from the west and south sections of the state.’’

Four years ago the IPGA set up a committee, headed by Jim Miller – head professional at Bloomington Country Club, to study ways to improve the Illinois Open. The committee’s findings are now being implemented.

Mike Miller said there are no plans to change the final from its present 54 holes to 72 and no plans to open the tournament to out-of-state residents. It’s not likely the tourney will leave its Monday-though-Wednesday schedule and have some weekend rounds, either. Some state opens have done all those things. In Texas, for instance, the state open grew into a PGA Tour stop – the Valero Texas Open.

Whether the tournament could be played outside the Chicago area is uncertain. The last time it was held at an outlying area was 1985, when Crestwicke Country Club in Bloomington was the site. Added at least one pro-am and more charity involvement are also possibilities.

Opening the field to out of state players was looked at, Miller said. “But there is the element of history, that this tournament is the championship of our state,’’ he said. “We want to protect that. We just want to grow the field.’’

That’ll probably happen in time for next year’s tournament, and just that change alone represents something substantial.

This year there were seven state-wide qualifying rounds with the survivors advancing to The Glen Club for the 156-player finals. The field played 36 holes before it was cut to the low 50 and ties for the final round.

Next year the Illinois PGA, which has conducted the tournament since 1977 and split duties with the Chicago District Golf Assn. before that, wants the first 36 holes to be played on two courses. The field could conceivably double if that happens, and the number of 18-hole qualifiers would likely double as well.

Of the seven qualifying rounds this year, the furthest from Chicago was at Effingham Country Club near St. Louis. Others were at Ironwood (in Joliet), Crystal Woods (Woodstock), Westmoreland (Wilmette), Prestwick (Frankfort), Deerfield and Inverness. That meant considerable travel for players hoping to qualify from more distant areas of the state. Their incentive to enter was diminished by those travel considerations and the limited number of finalists’ spots available, but that could change if more players can play in the finals and more qualifying tournaments are offered, thereby reducing travel concerns.

“We’ll try to grow participation by setting up a site (for the finals) at a 36-hole facility,’’ said Miller, who admitted that such a change “potentially’’ would lead to a move from The Glen Club. The Glen hosted the tourney for a record ninth time this year, with stretches from 2002-07 and 2012-14. The Glen, though, has only 18 holes. An alternate site would be needed if The Glen were to be used again.

The Illinois PGA is working the Northbrook-based Kemper Sports in determining site options. Kemper operates The Glen Club as well as 12 other Illinois courses that would be suitable for a major championship like the Illinois Open. They include Chicago’s Harborside International; Cantigny in Wheaton, site of this year’s Illinois State Amateur and Chicago Open; Hawthorn Woods, the Illinois Open site from 2008-2011; Turnberry in Lakewood, the Illinois Open site in 1989; Royal Melbourne in Long Grove, a past site for the IPGA Championship; Bull Valley in Woodstock, Bolingbrook Golf Club, Stone Creek in Urbana and Rockford Country Club.

The Illinois PGA has also used three sites – Medinah and Olympia Fields country clubs and Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake — for its section championships and Kemper Lakes (no longer connected to Kemper Sports) is the annual base for the IPGA’s Match Play Championship. They could also figure in the site selection process.

Of the Kemper-operated courses only Harborside International is a 36-hole facility. Medinah and Olympia Fields also have two 18-holers suitable for the Illinois Open.

“Hopefully in a short period of time we’ll be able to make an announcement,’’ said Miller. “We still have some logistics to work out. We’re looking at all components.’’

BEFORE ENDING this column, mention should be made of the retirement of Matt Pekarek as general manager at Village Links of Glen Ellyn. He spent 47 years at The Links, one of the area’s best public facility and for many years the site of the general qualifying round for the Western Open.

Matt started at The Links five days before the course even opened and later served a term as president of the Chicago District Golf Assn. He plans to continue his involvement with the CDGA and the Pekarek influence will remain at The Links. Pekarek’s brother Chris, the course superintendent, is in his 45th year there.

Troyanovich, the 2012 champion, could be first Mistwood player to win IWO

July will be a huge tournament month for Chicago’s best golfers, but especially for the women.

The biggest spectator event for the women comes first – the new International Crown at Caves Valley in Owings Mills, Md., from July 21-27. This is big for Chicago in particular, because the international team event’s second staging – and maybe more after that – will be played at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove in 2016. Get familiar with the event now, and you’ll be a big fan when it comes to Chicago. But more on that later.

The day after the International Crown ends the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open will tee off at Mistwood, in Romeoville. It’ll be the tourney’s 20th anniversary, and the 16th year it has been played at Mistwood.

Interestingly, Illinois golfers haven’t fared so well in their premier state championship and a Mistwood player has never won.

In fact, players from Michigan have won five of the last six titles. Jenna Pearson’s second IWO win in 2011 was the only victory by an Illinois golfer in that period, though Berwyn LPGA Tour player Nicole Jeray went to a playoff last year, losing to Elise Swartout, and Burr Ridge amateur Samantha Postillion did the same in 2012 when Samantha Troyanovich claimed the crown.

This year’s July 28-30 staging could be different – sort of. It all depends on how Troyanovich fares. Her story is an interesting one.

Troyanovich was a Michigan amateur and recent graduate of Tulane University when she took the 2012 title. That automatically made her a Mistwood member, but Troyanovich didn’t take advantage of the perk offered by owner Jim McWethy immediately.

“I took a year off from golf to get my Masters in accounting,’’ said Troyanovich. “I wanted to get that done first.’’

That mission accomplished, Troyanovich left Michigan in search of a career in professional golf. She worked during the winter with Jim Suttie, the well-regarded instructor who teaches at Mistwood, during the winter in Naples, Fla.

After that she took up residence in Naperville in May so she could work with Mike Baldwin, who directs Mistwood’s upscale new Performance Center.

“I needed to work with Mike,’’ she said. “He’s my coach, and I’m a full member (at Mistwood) and it’s my job from 9:30 to 5. It’s a perfect setup.’’

Troyanovich turned pro in January and competed on the Suncoast Tour. Since then she’s had trouble getting into tournaments. She has very limited status on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour and has entered LPGA and U.S. Women’s Open qualifiers and competed in the Michigan Women’s Open. The IWO on her home course, though, could be her best bet of the year for a career breakthrough before she enters the first stage of LPGA Qualifying School in California next month.

“The first time I played the Illinois Women’s Open it was a shot in the dark. I had no idea what it’d be like,’’ she said. Now she does.

WATCHING THE CROWN: Though Rich Harvest won’t host the global team event until 2016 owner Jerry Rich and his staff are already making the competition something special. They’ve developed a series of watch parties, much like the Blackhawks put on at various locations during their long run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Fans of the various countries will have a location where they can watch the competition live.

One will be held from July 25-27 on a jumbotron at the Sugar Grove Corn Boil. Others are scheduled on July 26 at the City Gate Center in Naperville and the Stonegate Conference Center in Hoffman Estates. Rich Harvest members and their guests will have their own version on the final day of this year’s Crown, on July 27.

More such parties are in the planning stages, and details on all of them will be announced soon. They’ll provide a new dimension to what is already the most unique new event in tournament golf.

REMEMBERING PAYNE: This year marks the 25th anniversary of Payne Stewart’s first win in a major championship. The breakthrough came at the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes and the Kildeer club, which went private in 2003, celebrated that occasion as well as its own 35th anniversary with a Payne Stewart Legacy Night during the week of the Encompass Championship.

Peter Jacobsen, the most entertaining golfer off the course, was featured as the current winner of the Payne Stewart Award. Among other things, he voiced strong support for Kemper to return as a major tournament venue.

The Stewart Legacy Night also was the last event for Janet Dobson, the club’s general manager. She announced her retirement after 35 years at the club and John Hosteland was promoted from head professional to GM as Dobson’s replacement.

MOVEMENT AT MEDINAH: The No. 3 course at Medinah Country Club got plenty of attention in recent years as it was prepared for U.S. Opens, PGA Championships and the 2012 Ryder Cup. That was understandable, but it also worked to the club’s disadvantage.

The demand for play on No. 3 made it difficult for members to get tee times, but that won’t be a problem any longer. Renovation work on the No. 1 course started the day after the Ryder Cup ended and it was opened for play in July. Michigan architect Tom Doak supervised the renovation, the end result being his first creation in Illinois.

No. 1 is expected to lessen play on No. 3. Members are excited about the new layout, and their guests will be, too. And that’s not all.

Club president Matt Lydon expects a restoration of the No. 2 course, designated mainly women and youth, will begin next fall.

MILESTONE FOR CANTIGNY: The Illinois State Amateur is coming to the 27-hole Wheaton facility from July 15-17. It’ll be the fourth time Cantigny has hosted that big event, and this staging falls during the facility’s 25th anniversary. In 1989 it was selected as the Best New Public Course in America by Golf Digest, and its reputation has only been enhanced over the years.

The State Am was previously played at Cantigny in 1996, 2002 and 2008. The Chicago Open, revived at Cantigny last October, will also be held there this fall.

Here’s 10 good reasons to go to the Encompass Championship

The Encompass Championship on the Champions Tour is coming to North Shore Country Club in Glenview from June 16-22. Tournament rounds are June 20-22. If you love golf you should be there. Here’s 10 good reasons why:

1, It’s Unique.

The pro golf tours are making fewer and fewer appearances in the Chicago area, and — with the BMW Championship going to Cherry Hills in Denver in September — the Encompass will be the only stop from any of the circuits in 2014 and is also set for another staging at North Shore in 2015.

2, It’s Meaningful.

The best players on the 50-and-over tour are playing 54 holes for $1.8 million in prize money with the champion receiving $270,000. Points are also on the line in the Champions Tour’s Schwab Cup competition, which could mean a big season-ending payday. This is no exhibition. That’s significant money and the competition will be intense.

3, The Players are Famous.

At least most of them are. With pro golf events it’s never a given on who will show up until the day before the tournament week, but the Champions Tour is filled with PGA stars of the past, and most will be competing at North Shore. Encompass director Mike Galeski is expecting Jay Haas, Colin Montgomerie. Jeff Sluman, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Chip Beck, Corey Pavin, Kenny Perry, Rocco Mediate, Steve Elkington, Fred Funk and Mark O’Meara to show up. He’s also hopeful Fred Couples, last year’s runner; 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and Tom Watson, his successor as the leader of America’s Ryder Cup effort, will make it as well. Even if a few top players decide to take the week off, name recognition may well be better at this Champions Tour event than at many of the PGA Tour stops.

4, It’s For a Good Cause.

The tourney will have four new charity beneficiaries this year – Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Illinois chapter; Jr. Achievement of Chicago, The First Tee of Greater Chicago and the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund. All are dedicated to helping youth, and the Champions Tour players will also host a Junior Clinic from 3-4 p.m. of tournament week. In addition to those organizations a Birdies for Charities program will be in effect for the first time with fans able to make pledges to charities of their choice off the number of birdies made during the competition.

5, The Price is Right.

Tickets start at $20 for grounds privileges any day, but youth17 and under will be admitted free as will military personnel, both active and retired. A book of six tickets, all good for any day of the tourney, is $90. Champions Club privileges are $250. Parking is available at Old Ochard Mall with free shuttle service to the course.

6, The Site is Special.

North Shore is one of Chicago’s oldest and most historic courses. It opened in 1924 and hosted the Western Open just four years later, Abe Espinosa winning the title. In 1933 North Shore hosted the U.S. Open, and Johnny Goodman triumphed. He’s the last amateur to win the U.S. Open. The club also welcomed the U.S. Amateurs of 1939, won by Marvin “Bud’’ Ward, and 1983, won by Jay Sigel. Prior to the Encompass the last major event held at North Shore was the 2011 Western Amateur. That event was won by Ethan Tracy. Few private clubs have hosted so many big tournaments and those that have rarely open their doors to the public. The Encompass offers one of those rare opportunities to see where so much golf history was made.

7, Viewing is Excellent.

Like most every course built before the 1950s, North Shore wasn’t designed to host big spectator events. Courses all had to be walk-able when North Shore was built because there were no golf carts. As a result, the greens and tees are relatively close together. You can easily walk a round with any player. That’s not an easy thing to do at PGA Tour events.

8, There’s a Celebrity Component.

There’ll be a tournament within a tournament during the first two days of the Encompass Championship. Each of the 81 professionals will be paired with an amateur in a 36-hole, two-man team event during the Friday and Saturday rounds. About 10 of the 81 amateur spots were reserved for celebrities and the early ones who committed to participate included Brian Urlacher, Roger Clemens, Toni Kukoc and Jeremy Roenick.

9, The Defending Champion has a Story to Tell.

Craig Stadler, better known in golf circles as The Walrus, was a surprise winner of last year’s Encompass Championship. His game was suffering before he got to North Shore – the last of his previous eight Champions Tour wins was in 2004 and he hadn’t even contended since 2007 — and it hasn’t been all that good since his victory there. Still, he was in the world golf spotlight in April when he joined son Kevin as the first father-son combination to compete in the same Masters tournament. Craig got in because he was the famous tourney’s 1982 winner. Kevin qualified as winner of a PGA Tour stop during the previous year. Kevin finished high enough to return to Augusta National next year. Craig missed the cut and has said that will be his last appearance at the Masters. Defending his Encompass title won’t be easy for the 61-year old Stadler either, but at least he appears recovered from the hip surgery and variety of other ailments that slowed him down for a six-year period.

10, You Can Always Watch.

While North Shore is a spectator-friendly place, the event won’t be hard to follow even on the days you can’t get there. Golf Channel will provide live coverage from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Friday (first round), and 2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (second and final rounds).

Harbor Shores prepares for its second Senior PGA shootout

You know what might be the nicest part of the Senior PGA Championship? It’s the one golf major played on any of the pro tours that seems to like coming to the Midwest. In fact, this Champions Tour shootout is the major played closest to Chicago in 2014. The closest the PGA Tour gets for a major is August’s PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville. The closest LPGA major is June’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, in North Carolina.

This year’s 75th anniversary of the Senior PGA presented by KitchenAid is May 22-25 at Harbor Shores, in Benton Harbor, MI. – just a two-hour drive from Chicago and well worth the trip. I’ve been to the last two Senior PGAs and found them as captivating as any golf competitions – even without big-name players winning the title.

Harbor Shore also hosted in 2012 and Bellerive, the tradition-rich St. Louis club, was the venue last year.

Going forward, French Lick Resort will host the championship in 2015 and Harbor Shores has already committed for both 2016 and 2018. The 2017 site hasn’t been announced.

This tourney wasn’t always so Midwest-friendly. Sixty of the first 62 Senior PGAs were played in Florida. The first two championships, in 1937 and 1938, were played at Augusta National and the first champion was Jock Hutchison – the long-time Flossmoor Country Club pro. Those were the days when Augusta National was just getting started as the home of the Masters, an event first played in 1934.

Bringing the Senior PGA to Harbor Shores for the first time in 2012 represented a radical departure in tradition for the PGA of America. Harbor Shores’ Jack Nicklaus-designed course had been open for only 10 months before England’s Roger Chapman emerged as the surprise champion.

Now Harbor Shores is firmly in the tourney’s rotation. That shouldn’t be considered so surprising, according to championship director Jeff Hinz.

“Think about who designed the course,’’ said Hinz. This Nicklaus design has received rave reviews, though the No. 10 green – the biggest, most undulating putting surface the Golden Bear ever created – isn’t always spoken of in glowing terms.

“The first time people see it, you wonder `what’s it all about?’’’ said Hinz. “Now it’s my favorite hole on the golf course.’’

Harbor Shores’ course won’t look much different than it did two years ago. The most significant change came with the rebuilding of the No. 17 green, a move designed to tie the par-3 hole in more closely with a nature trail behind the putting surface.

The daunting par-4 seventh hole was altered, mainly to facilitate daily play. The third-hardest hole on the course in the 2012 Senior PGA featured a very large, deep bunker marked with dune grass. Now sod has replaced the dune grass. Otherwise there are no notable changes to the course.

With the rest of the facility, though, that’s another story. The grand opening of the Inn at Harbor Shores, a 92-room hotel on the St. Joseph River, will be celebrated during the tournament. It also has 14 luxury suites and its top two floors are condominiums. The rooftop is a meeting area.

Next to the Inn is a new 100-slip marina, which can accommodate boats up to 90 feet long. The hotel, marina and residential real estate comprise a $114 million parcel that will get full exposure for the first time during tournament week.

Then there’s the Renaissance Athletic Center, a 23,000-square foot state of the art fitness facility located near the second hole of the course with an additional outdoor field and swimming pool. There’s also a lot more real estate on the premises than there was in 2012. Two of the condominium developments were in the early stages of development two years ago. Now Hideaways is 65 percent filled and Fairways is at 30 percent. The new Trailside Cottages, opened for only one year, are half-sold.

Hinz views the setting as something special.

“It’s small town, middle America hosting a major golf championship,’’ he said. “The 156 players come from all over the world, and the people who came two years ago will be pleasantly surprised by the growth and development.’’

The competition will be as stiff as ever, with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson in the field after missing last year’s event at Bellerive with a wrist injury. A two-time champion (2001, 2011) he was one of 28 winners of previous major championships invited to this Senior PGA, and about 20 are expected to compete at Harbor Shores. Colin Montgomerie, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rocco Mediate and Jeff Maggert – established players before turning 50 within the last year – will be playing in the tournament for the first time and the popular Peter Jacobson will make his Harbor Shores debut after missing the 2012 tourney because of illness.

Defending champion in the 156-man starting field will be Kohki Idoki, who rarely plays outside of his native Japan. The Champions Tour mainstays trying to dethrone him include Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Curtis Strange, Mark O’Meara, Hal Sutton, Hale Irwin, Craig Stadler, Kenny Perry, Jay Haas and Fred Funk. Perry set the Harbor Shores record with a 62 in the final round two years ago, even though that sizzling score wasn’t enough to overhaul Chapman.

The tourney’s 1,870 volunteers are spread across 23 states, a testament to the tourney’s widespread popularity.

A variety of ticket options are available. Grounds-only tickets are $15 for the Tuesday and Wednesday practice rounds, $30 for the four tournaments rounds and $100 for all six days. Tickets allowing admission to the 19th hole amenities are $45 for the two practice days, $60 for the tournament rounds and $225 for the entire week. Complimentary off-site parking and shuttle service is included in the ticket prices.

Juniors 17 and under will be admitted free if accompanied by a ticket-buying adult. For ticket questions call (800) PGA-GOLF or check the tourney’s website at PGA.com.

Wilson, CDGA centennials should be celebrated, and look out for SwingSmart, too

Since Chicagoland Golf made its debut back in 1989, the first issue of each year has focused on the year ahead. Not so in 2014. A look back is essential this time before we delve into the exciting developments on the horizon.

In Chicago, at least, 2014 is a year for centennials. One-hundred years is a long time, and just surviving that long is a cause for celebration.

For instance, Wrigley Field — the long-time home of the Cubs –was built in 1914. Though I’m only a casual baseball fan, Sports Illustrated devoted an issue solely on the ball park’s history, and I found it captivating.

No less significant, though, are two other centennial celebrations – and these are both for us golfers.

The Chicago District Golf Assn. was founded in 1914. It’s grown to over 300 clubs, some of which are even beyond the city’s borders. The organization will conduct 60 events this year, including 13 state or association championships.

Wilson Sporting Goods, based in Chicago and its suburbs ever since Thomas E. Wilson founded the company, also arrived on the sports landscape in 1914. It’s become an iconic brand – not just for golfers but for participants in other sports as well.

Tim Clarke, head of Wilson’s golf division, shows how the 100-year old company promoted products in its early years.

Both the CDGA and Wilson haven’t just survived; they’ve thrived. Both will be announcing more detailed schedules for their celebratory events as the year goes on, but some are already evident.

The CDGA’s tournament schedule, for instance, revealed a new opening event on April 14. Its Centennial Team Championship will be held at Midlothian Country Club. It’ll be a two-player team event with a unique format – six holes of best ball, six holes of total team score and six holes of alternate shot.

Teams from all CDGA clubs are eligible for the season opener, but the season-ending Centennial Founders Club Championship will be by invitation only. It’ll be played at Hinsdale Golf Club, which was the home of Francis S. Peabody, the CDGA’s first president and the person most credited with bringing representatives of 25 private clubs together for the purpose of forming the organization.

The season-ender will be limited to teams from those 25 original CDGA clubs and the competitive format hasn’t been determined. The event will not only conclude a big year for the CDGA, it’ll also climax a monumental year for Hinsdale. The club will also host the historic CDGA Amateur, the only event contested every year since the organization’s founding. Hinsdale last hosted that big tournament in 1997. This year’s version will be held June 23-26.

While the CDGA gave an inkling of its plans first, Wilson’s centennial celebration was more immediately visible. The company started it at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in late January when its tour players showed up with retro-looking equipment. Padraig Harrington, Kevin Streelman, Ricky Barnes and newly-signed Marcel Siem headline Wilson’s stable of touring pros and they’ll remind everyone of their company’s rich history for the next few months.

The retro look, which covers bags, umbrellas and headcovers, will be evident at all the PGA, European and Asian tour events through July’s British Open.

“Then we’ll move toward the look and feel we’ll have for 2015 and beyond,’’ said Tim Clarke, general manager of Wilson’s golf division. The company brought representatives from its offices around the world to Chicago to this year’s Chicago Golf Show for an internal centennial celebration.

Wilson is also prominent in other sports, but has one golf niche that has long stirred company pride. More major titles (61) have been won by players using Wilson Staff irons than any other brand. The company also had legendary Gene Sarazen on its staff for 75 years – the longest-running contract in sports history. Sarazen created the original sand wedge during his long affiliation with the company.

Not many organizations or equipment manufacturers in any sports have lasted 100 years. The CDGA and Wilson are both going strong, a testament to the tremendous respect both merit in the golf industry.

Both the CDGA and Wilson will be around for many years to come, but another reflection of where golf is going comes from a new – much more high-tech – Chicago company, NewSpin Golf. It produces the SwingSmart, a mobile swing analyzer that is as high-tech as it gets in a golf world that is continuously evolving.

Angelo Papadourakis created the SwingSmart, set up offices in North Barrington, hooked up with famed instructor Peter Kostis and saw his product win a Techy Award from Golf Magazine in the training aid category. You can swing your club with a sensor attached and get immediate feedback on your tempo, attack angle, swing speed and face angle plus a 3-D view of your swing on your iPad/Phone or Android device.

“You don’t have to hit a golf ball to get better,’’ insists Papadourakis, who says SwingSmart develops better feel and shape of the swing. The idea for the product started in 2006, and NewSpin got a patent last Nov. 19. It’s now for sale (suggested price is about $250) throughout Europe, in addition to the United States and an upgrade is coming in March.

SwingSmart has brought its high-tech imaging to the golf course.

“We decided to add fun, and make it a game of skill,’’ said Papadourakis. “We’re only limited by our own creativity.’’

So, just think about how far golf has come in Chicago since those days 100 years ago, when a few private clubs were forming their first organization and Wilson was making its first golf clubs. Now it’s possible to learn to swing a golf club properly without having to even hit a ball.

Indeed the game is constantly changing, and growing. A month ago over 1,000 companies were represented at the 61st PGA Merchandise Show in Florida, 40,000 industry members prowled the corridors of a big convention center to see new products and the trade show drew three days of national television coverage for the first time.

I’d say this 100-year journey has been mind-boggling. Wouldn’t you?