Illinois Open is downsized after major restructuring

Though some restrictions were lifted for Illinois golfers on Friday, the season remains a trying one for the state’s golf organizers. Tournament scheduling remains a fluid thing due to concerns over the COVID-19 Pandemic.

First it was the Chicago District Golf Association canceling the Illinois State Amateur and the CDGA Amateur – its two oldest and most prestigious championships – and joining the Illinois PGA in dropping the Radix Cup matches.

Then came Mistwood Golf Club, in Romeoville, calling off the Illinois Women’s Open and, on Thursday, the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic was canceled.  It was scheduled to celebrate its 50th anniversary at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.

Now it’s the Illinois Open in the spotlight – but at least it’s not because of a cancelation.  The Illinois PGA announced a major restructuring of the 71st staging of the championship.

The Illinois Open normally draws about 700 entries from all parts of the state and they’re whittled to 264 for the 54-hole finals through eight state-wide qualifying rounds. Now the tourney – the biggest event for Illinois residents — has been downsized.

White Eagle Club, in Naperville, remains as the host of the Aug. 3-5 finals, but there will be only 156 finalists instead of 264.  There won’t be the usual alternate site for the finals.  Stonebridge, in Aurora, was to co-host for the first two days.

“We are hopeful to bring the event back to Stonebridge in the near future,’’ said Carrie Williams, executive director of the Illinois PGA.  “We are confident this revised format will provide a competitive test for players and continue the tradition of crowning a champion of Illinois Golf.’’

Qualifying rounds will also be reduced.  Four have been canceled and the remaining four will be July 14 at Flossmoor Country Club, July 16 at Deerpath in Lake Forest, July 22 at The Hawk in St. Charles and July 29 at Willow Crest in Oak Brook Hills. The survivors will join the players exempt off past performance in the finals.  Players who registered for earlier qualifiers have until July 8 to transfer to another qualifying event.

The Illinois PGA is already assured of a lean tournament season.  Normally its season starts in May, but now the first of the stroke play events is July 6.  The CDGA schedule is also filled with cancelations, and its next event is on July 8.

Two bigger Chicago area events remain on the Western Golf Association schedule – the Women’s Western Amateur at Prestwick in Frankfort from July 20-25 and the BMW Championship, a FedEx Cup Playoff event for PGA Tour players, is Aug. 25-30 at Olympia Fields Country Club.  The WGA also has the Evans Scholars Invitational, a stop on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour, rescheduled from May to Sept. 9-13 but no site for that event has been announced.

John Deere Classic is canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

John Deere Classic canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

Illinois won’t have its longest-standing PGA Tour stop this year.  The John Deere Classic was cancelled on Thursday.

The JDC, the only PGA Tour event held annually in the state, was to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a July 6-12 playing of the $6.2 million championship at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.  It was to be the first PGA Tour event to allow spectators since tournament play was stopped on March 12 after the first round of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, FL.

Tournament play will resume on June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth, Tex.

Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic had led to the immediate cancellations of the next six tournaments on the schedule after The Players.  The Charles Schwab Challenge was moved from May 21-24 dates to become the first event after the PGA Tour re-opened its tournament schedule.

“Because of the ongoing health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic the difficult decision was made to cancel,’’ said Clair Peterson, the JDC tournament director.  “While we considered several alternatives, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad City community at large.’’

“We know this announcement will come as a disappointment to the Quad City area and to the broader golf community,’’ said Mara Downing, John Deere’s vice president of global brand and communications.

She said the tourney’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021.

The JDC has proven a successful fundraiser with its Birdies for Charity program that has benefitted a variety of organizations in the area. Last year’s tournament raised $13.8 million for 543 local and regional charities.  That brought the tourney’s all-time total to $120 million since its first playing in 1971.

 Ninety-one percent of the charity money raised has come since John Deere assumed title sponsorship of the event in 1998.  Peterson said the participating organizations will receive a five percent bonus over what they raised for this year’s event.

“Thanks to John Deere’s ongoing support, we are able to promise a bonus, even though we are not having the tournament,’’ Peterson said.

One PGA Tour event in Illinois, the BMW Championship, remains on the schedule.  The FedEx Cup Playoff event will be played at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs from Aug. 27-30.

The JDC cancellation was the first since PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a greatly revised schedule to finish out 2020.

The RBC Heritage Classic, in Hilton Head, S.C., had been scheduled for April 16-19 – the week after the Masters.  Now it’ll be the second tournament after the re-opening.  It’ll be followed by the Travelers tourney in Hartford, Ct., and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.  Those are the tournaments that would have led into the JDC.  All will be played without spectators.

Now the Memorial tournament, on July 16-19 at Ohio’s Muirfield Village course, figures to be the first PGA Tour event to welcome spectators since the pandemic began.  The Memorial also was postponed earlier but it was moved into the July dates after the British Open was cancelled.

The PGA Tour’s alternate circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, will also re-open play on June 11 on the Dye Course in Ponte Vedra, FL.  That tour has two Illinois tournaments – the Lincoln Land Classic, at Panther Creek in Springfield, on Sept. 3-6 and the Evans Scholars Invitational at a Chicago area course still to be determined the following week.

Lincoln Land had been scheduled in July.  The Evans Scholars event, put on by the Western Golf Association, was originally May 21-24 at The Glen Club, in Glenview, before being postponed.  The Glen Club had schedule conflicts with the September dates, forcing the tourney to find a new home course.

USGA should award Pope a spot in this year’s U.S. Open

Glen Ellyn’s Andy Pope has played his way into four of the last five U.S. Opens. That’s an extraordinary feat, given that around 10,000 golfers file entries each year and only 156 make it to the 72-hole finals.

This year, though, Pope can’t play his way in. Instead he’s relegated to campaigning for a spot in the field for the 120th playing of the championship Sept. 17-20 at New York’s Winged Foot course.

Pope, 36, has struggled to stay on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour since 2012 but he has gotten his game together for the Open qualifiers. This year the U.S. Golf Association had 108 local qualifiers – all at 18 holes – scheduled in May and 12 sectionals – all in one day over 36 holes in late May and early June — scheduled to determine the finalists competing at Winged Foot.

Not surprisingly the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that. The finals, originally June 18-21, were pushed back to September. Then, as golf restrictions varied across the country, the USGA decided that qualifiers wouldn’t be possible.

“Qualifying is a cornerstone of USGA championships,’’ said John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of championships for the USGA. “We take great pride in the fact that many thousands typically enter to pursue their dream of qualifying for the U.S. Open, and we deeply regret they won’t have the opportunity this year.’’

Pope, who attended Glenbard West High School and Xavier University, resides in Orlando, FL., now and is married with two children. His golf career has been put on hold since March 12 because of the pandemic but will resume when the Korn Ferry circuit restarts its season on June 11 at St. Augustine, FL. Then he’ll have seven tournament weeks in a row as his bid to earn a place on the PGA Tour continues.

He doesn’t want to miss the U.S. Open, though. The USGA selection committee will determine the field, making the Open more like an invitational this year. Pope hopes his record over the last five years will get the selectors’ attention. He survived the 36-hole cut in two of his four Opens, including last year’s.

“At first I got excited, thinking that possibly having made the cut last year might get me in. That would have been awesome,’’ said Pope. Then he called Jason Gore, the USGA player relations director.

“I’ve known him for 15 years,’’ said Pope, “and I asked if giving me that kind of exemption had been brought up. He said `To be honest, no.’ That really hurt.’’

Fifty players are exempt based on past performance categories so roughly 100 spots will be invitees. Pope is relegated to writing letters to make his case for a place in the field. His first letter will go to Gore, who said he’d forward it to all members of the board of selectors.

“I just hope the USGA doesn’t take it off the world rankings,’’ said Pope. “All the players know that that’s a completely flawed system. My understanding is they’ll pick 15 amateurs and the top eight on the Korn Ferry Tour.’’

Pope believes he’ll play well at Winged Foot if he does get in the field. Last year he played the historic course for the first time and shot a 67.

“I just hope the USGA has a soft spot for me,’’ said Pope. “I’m not as optimistic as I was at first, but who knows?’’

NOTES: The Women’s Western Golf Association has announced that Sandra Fullmer will be the next winner of its coveted Woman of Distinction Award. Fullmer’s selection was long overdue. A life-long amateur, she won national titles in Mexico, Germany and Spain in the 1950s and was a dominant player in the Chicago ranks from 1964-91. A past president of the WWGA, she was named to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 1997.

The Chicago tournament season apparently won’t resume until July. Latest event to be cancelled was the June 1 Radix Cup matches, which pitted the best amateurs from the Chicago District Golf Association against the top professionals from the Illinois PGA at Oak Park Country Club.

Woodstock Country Club is now for sale. The nine-hole private course, designed by Tom Bendelow, opened in 1916. Asking price is $895,000. Bendelow was a prolific designer in the early years of Chicago golf with Medinah’s famed No. 3 course among his creations.

Golf starts the return of live TV sports events — and I can’t wait

It won’t be long now. Live televised sports competition is about to return, and golf is leading the way. While tentative tournament schedules were drawn up months ago, now there’s something concrete and – as a purely personal perk – the first two big events will be conducted almost in my Florida backyard.

A four-player charity skins game put on by equipment manufacturer TaylorMade will kick things off on Sunday. It’ll have three of the game’s top stars – Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler – participating along with a promising up-and-comer, Matt Wolff.

They’ll play at Seminole Golf Club, a famous course in Juno Beach that has never been seen on television. McIlroy and Johnson will take on Fowler and Wolff, both Oklahoma State alums, in a four-hour telecast that will be played without spectators. It’ll raise at least $4 million for COVID-19 relief efforts.

Not only that, but the event — called TaylorMade Driving Relief – will provide the first look at what tournament golf will be like in the “new normal.’’ The players won’t have caddies. They’ll be carrying their own bags, practicing social distancing and adhering to a variety of new policies designed to make golf safe in these trying times.

Seminole, an ultra-private club, usually closes for the season on Mother’s Day but the Donald Ross design that opened in 1929 is staying open a few more days to help raise money for pandemic relief efforts.

“We have a big responsibility on ourselves to make sure that we practice all the guidelines that the PGA Tour is going to set in place,’’ said Johnson. “Obviously everyone is going to be watching what we’re doing, so it’s very important for us to do it all correctly.’’

“It’s really cool to be able to bring some live sports back,’’ said Fowler. “Everyone is taking the right measures to make sure it’s done the correct way.’’

Next week the first major tour event since the pandemic concerns kicked in will tee off. The Korean LPGA Championship will have three members of the world’s top 10 — all Korean players — among those competing for a $1.8 million purse. There won’t be any American players or TV coverage for that one, but on May 24 another televised event will put the spotlight back on South Florida.

“The Match: Champions for Charity,’’ another four-player televised event featuring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, will be played at Medalist Club in Hobe Sound, which is 18 miles from Seminole. This will be more of a fun thing, with legendary quarterbacks rounding out the foursome. Woods will team with Peyton Manning and Mickelson with Tom Brady.

There’s some interesting, off-course sidelight to this one, which also won’t have spectators. Mickelson is in the process of establishing a residence in South Florida and is joining Michael Jordan’s new club, Grove XXIII, which is also in Hobe Sound. Brady, who signed with a new team – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – in football’s off-season, recently became a member at Seminole.

Medalist is where Tiger Woods does most of his practicing. Before May is over Medalist will host another Woods-Phil Mickelson match, but this one will be much different than the one they staged last year because both will have partners.

Golf is already in full swing, since the last of the 50 states re-opened their courses for play this week and there have been some smaller events played. One is this week’s Outlaw Tour Scottsdale (Ariz.) Open, and Wheaton’s PGA veteran, Kevin Streelman, was in the field.

Streelman, along with other PGA Tour players, received a 37-page Health and Safety Plan from PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan this week that outlined the procedures that will go into effect when tournament play resumes. The men’s PGA and Korn Ferry Tours will get into the swing of things on June 11, the PGA in Texas for the Charles Schwab Challenge and the backup Korn Ferry at Ponte Vedra, FL., for a new event.

“The message from Jay was that we’ve talked to doctors, talked to professionals, talked to politicians. These are the steps we need to take to be safe,’’ Streelman told reporters at the Scottsdale Open. “Now are you guys comfortable playing competitive golf in this arena? The answer was a resounding yes.’’

The last televised golf was played on March 12, at the first round of The Players Championship. The PGA Tour cancelled the remainder of the tournament and a series of cancellations followed. Last year the PGA Tour schedule had 49 events. This year, if all still scheduled are held, the total will be 36. The Korn Ferry had 28 events last season; this year’s it figures to be 17.

Billy Horschel is one PGA Tour player who has made the most of the difficult stretch without tournaments. He hunkered down with his wife and three children in Ponte Vedra.

“We’re just fine,’’ said Horschel. “We’re very fortunate that my wife and kids and our friends are all healthy. We’ve been getting by just like everyone else. Every day is a different day. Every day seems to be Groundhog Day with my kids. We have a lot of the same meltdowns and timeouts – all those things you have with three kids under 5, but it’s been an enjoyable time to spend with them.’’

Horschel, who has five PGA Tour victories and won the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus in 2014, also did some business during the time away from tournaments. He became in investor in beam CBD, a wellness product.

“I’m very happy because it looks like we’ll have some special golf in the future,’’ said Horschel. “I never had any doubts that we’d play again, but it was just when. With sports we provide a sense of relief that allows fans to take their minds off their own worries and struggles. It’ll be nice to see the world get back to a sense of normalcy.’’

JDC’s 50th anniversary staging maintains its spot on revised PGA Tour schedule

While the PGA Tour schedule remained in a state of flux on Thursday, there were some noteworthy developments. Two involved Illinois tournaments.

The Evans Scholars Invitational, scheduled as the next event on the PGA’s alternate Korn Ferry Tour, won’t make its scheduled May 20-24 playing at The Glen Club, in Glenview. It’s not being cancelled, though.

And the John Deere Classic, the annual PGA Tour stop in the Quad Cities, will not only remain on its July 6-12 dates at TPC Deere Run, in downstate Silvis. It is also being targeted as the first PGA stop to allow spectators since the coronavirus pandemic forced a series of postponements and cancellations on both circuits.

It’s a big year for the JDC. The tourney will be celebrating its 50th anniversary and its volunteer staff was alerted on Thursday that it should be prepared to welcome spectators. According to the PGA Tour’s revamped schedule, released on Thursday, the first four tournaments will be closed to the general public. That policy could change, though, based on recommendations of local and state authorities in each market.

The latest schedule has the PGA Tour resuming play at the Charles Schwab Challenge, at Colonial in Ft. Worth, TX., the week of June 8-14. That event was to be played from May 18-24 – the same dates as the Korn Ferry event at The Glen Club – but was pushed back as other dates opened up.

The RBC Heritage, at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina, is getting a second chance at playing. The tournament was to be played the week after the Masters in April. Now it’s scheduled for June 15-21 – the dates originally planned for the U.S. Open.

Also preceding the JDC are the Travelers Championship, in Connecticut, June 22-28 and the Rocket Mortgage Classic, in Detroit, July 2-5.

The John Deere Classic is traditionally held the week before the British Open, but the British has already been cancelled. Taking over the British dates is Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament in Ohio July 13-19. It had originally been scheduled in May.

There will be only three major championships this year instead of the usual four. The PGA Championship, at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, is Aug. 3-9 and PGA officials say it will go on without spectators if conditions demand it. The PGA of America, adamant about using those dates, said the tourney could also be moved if conditions require it.

The U.S. Open, at New York’s Winged Foot course, is on Sept. 14-20, a week before the Ryder Cup matches between the U.S. and Europe at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. The Masters tournament has been rescheduled for Nov. 9-15 in Georgia.

With 22 events having been played through the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, the adjusted season-long schedule – again subject to change – will consist of 36 events including three Fed Ex Cup Playoff events. The second of those is the BMW Championship. It was previously moved back a week, to Aug. 24-30, and will remain at Olympia Fields in Chicago’s south suburbs.

Thursday’s announcements also revealed that the Canadian Open and Barbasol Championship on the PGA Tour have been cancelled and the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic has been moved to Sept. 21-27. It’ll be played opposite the Ryder Cup matches.

In addition, A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier won’t be on the PGA Tour’s fall schedule. It’s ending its 10-year run by mutual agreement with the tour. It was under contract through 2026 at the West Virginia resort owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.

As for the Evans Scholars Invitational, which made its debut on the Korn Ferry circuit last year, the Western Golf Association is working with the PGA Tour on finding dates later in the year. Three other Korn Ferry tournaments were cancelled on Thursday.

“We conduct the Evans Scholars Invitational to raise funds and greater awareness for the Evans Scholars Foundation’s scholarship programs for caddies, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to hold the invitational at a later date,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, the WGA’s senior vice president for tournaments. “We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to conduct the Evans Scholars Invitational in May. However, our first priority remains the health and safety of the players, fans, sponsors, volunteers and everyone in the local community.’’

The Korn Ferry features 28 tournaments played in 20 states and four countries outside the U.S.. That league’s season culminates with the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in August. Its top players have a direct path to the PGA Tour for the 2020-21 season. The Korn Ferry is scheduled to return to competition with a new tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, the week of June 8-14 without fans in attendance.

Streelman hopes for another strong showing at The Players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New home for IPGA

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Golf Show has more exhibitors than ever before

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

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

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

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

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

Two Jemsek courses get Open locals

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

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

BMW tourney update

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

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

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

Here and there

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

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

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

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

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

Cog Hill is back on the calendar as the site for a big-time event

Chicago’s biggest public golf facility will soon by back in the national – if not the world – spotlight.

Cog Hill, in Lemont, was named Tuesday as the site of the 45th annual World Long Drive Championship. It’ll be held Sept 3-9 with national television coverage on The Golf Channel. The event will be held under the lights the last two days.

This is a big breakthrough for Cog Hill and the Jemsek family, which has been a leader in Chicago golf over nearly nine decades. The 72-hole facility last hosted top level competitive golf in 2011, the last year the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship was played on the facility’s Dubsdread course.

Dubsdread was the site of the history-rich Western Open from 1991 until 2006. That event, which had been contested 103 times over a 108-year span, was converted to a FedEx Cup Playoff event and was moved off its traditional Fourth of July weekend dates.

The playoff event was shifted to August and the Western Golf Association opted to play the tournament at sites away from Chicago every other year. The tournament was last held on Dubsdread in 2011. Then its Chicago site was Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, for three stagings. Last year it was played at Medinah and this year it will be staged at Olympia Fields in August.

The Jemsek family, long-time owners of Cog Hill, had been trying to land a high profile event ever since the BMW was last played there but had no suggest until landing the World Long Drive. The club will construct a custom hitting grid that will be used throughout the competition.

“We’re thrilled,’’ said Cog Hill president Katherine Jemsek. “Long drive championships are in our blood.’’

Her grandfather, Joe Jemsek, won the World Fair’s Long Drive Championship in 1934 with a poke off an elevated hitting station that measured over 500 yards.

“Cog Hill’s tradition in the sport reflects our own storied history,’’ said Matt Farrell, executive director of the World Long Drive Assn. “We’re expanding our commitment to global development of the sport through a broader qualifying series that includes expansion to Asia and other parts of the world.’’

While the World Long Drive is new to Chicago, this year’s schedule of lead-in events includes a qualifier in Thailand and a series of regular stops around the country. The first is April 17-22 – the Clash in the Canyon in Mesquite, Nev. That was the site of the Long Drive finals from 2008-2012.

Seven didn’t turn out a lucky number for Small, Wu

This was a weird first tournament week of the season for two of Chicago’s most prominent golfers. Both Mike Small and Dylan Wu blew seven-stroke leads in their 2020 tournament debuts but still finished as runner-ups in their events.

Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach who owns 12 wins in the Illinois PGA Championship and four titles in the Illinois Open, didn’t compete much in 2019. There was a good reason for that. A shoulder injury that required extensive rehab limited his tournament play, but Small is on the comeback trail now.

This week he competed in the PGA Winter Series for the first time and opened 65-66 in the PGA’s Senior Stroke Play Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL. The hot start gave Small a seven-stroke lead in the 54-hole event for players from across the nation in the 50-59 age group.

The 76 he shot in Tuesday’s final round cost him the championship but was hardly deflating. Small finished a stroke behind New York teaching pro Frank Esposito.

“I just came down here to see how the shoulder was,’’ said Small. “I had no expectations and was thrilled to be 13-under and make eight birdies in the first two rounds. I showed some resiliency.’’

GAINEY’S DAY: Wu, a 23-year old former Northwestern star, was seven ahead after two rounds in the first tournament of the Korn Ferry Tour season but he couldn’t hold his lead in the opener of the PGA Tour’s alternate circuit.

After opening 67-66 Wu slumped to 76-72 in the final two rounds and wound up in a tie for second, four strokes behind champion Tommy Gainey in the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. It was Wu’s second runner-up finish on the Korn Ferry circuit, the first coming in the Lincoln Land Classic in Springfield last year.

Andy Pope of Glen Ellyn, back on the Korn Ferry Tour for the first time since 2012, tied for 44th in the season opener while the Korn Ferry’s other two Illinois players, Vince India and Nick Hardy, missed the 36-hole cut. They’ll be back in action quickly, as the second tournament – also in the Bahamas – tees off on Sunday.

CLOSINGS: Chicago’s local golf media contingent took a big hit this week when two long-time outlets announced their closings on the same day. Chicagoland Golf had published for 31 years as an in-season print publication, and The Scorecard on the Score was featured on WSCR Radio for 10. Both closed up shop in Monday and will be missed once the next season kicks in.

Chicagoland Golf was founded by the late Phil Kosin in 1989, and publisher Val Russell took it over following Kosin’s death in 2009. Russell directed the operation for 11 years. Ed Sherman and Steve Olken were co-hosts of The Scorecard, a popular weekend show throughout the local golf season.

HERE AND THERE: Kevin Buggy, a seven-time club champion at Park Ridge Country Club, is the new chairman of the Western Golf Assn. The 68th chairman in WGA history, Buggy succeeds Glen View’s Frank Morley.

Batavia-based Tour Edge has renewed its endorsement contracts with PGA Champions Tour stars Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Tom Petrovic and Duffy Waldorf.

Andy Micheli has left Cantigny as the Wheaton facility’s sales manager to become assistant general manager at Butler National in Oak Brook.

World Handicap System will have a unifying effect for golfers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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