Opening nears for Palm Aire’s `re-imagined’ Champions Course

BEFORE AND NOW: When we moved to Sarasota the fairway on the  No. 11 hole of The Champions Course at Palm Aire Country Club  was under construction — but look at it now. (Mike Benkusky Photos)

SARASOTA, FL. — It’s getting exciting now.  We’ll soon have a new golf course – or at least a “re-imagined’’ one – to look at while we’re enjoying either our early morning coffee or late afternoon beverage of choice from the lanai of our new home.

The Champions Course, at Palm Aire Country Club, was in the early stages of a renovation when we moved in. We’ve closely  followed its transformation.  Illinois-based course architect Mike Benkusky, who has been coming to town on a weekly basis, is planning his next return for the Grand Opening.

While the official date for that hasn’t been set, it won’t be far off.  The club’s greens committee will address the matter at its November board meeting.

“They’re not rushing it – and that’s good,’’ said Benkusky, who did most all of his work in the Midwest after opening his office in Lake in the Hills 15 years ago.  The choice $2 million project was his first work in Florida. The course  opening was originally targeted for Nov. 1, then was pushed back to mid-November.

“Everything’s looking good.  The greens look very good. We’re right on schedule,’’ said Benkusky.

It’s been fascinating to see this project unfold, as we reside off the green at the 11th hole.  Watching the work begin in near darkness each morning has become part of our daily routine. No. 11 was a 538-yard hole from the back tees prior to Benkusky’s arrival and the scorecard from the tips was 7,005 yards.  Now the proposed yardage for No. 11 is 581 yards and the championship yardage is 7,207.

This Florida course had an Illinois flavor even before Benkusky’s hiring and our moving in. The original designer was Dick Wilson when the course opened in 1957 and Palm Aire’s other 18-holer, The Lakes, was designed by Joe Lee.

Wilson may be best known for his work at the more famous Florida courses Bay Hill and Doral’s Blue Monster and Lee was a prolific designer whose creations extended far beyond the  Sunshine State.  From a Chicago perspective, however, their most noteworthy project is one they did together in the 1960s – the Dubsdread Course at Cog Hill, a long-time PGA Tour site in Chicago’s south suburbs.

Palm Aire was called DeSoto Lakes when Wilson did his work, and the PGA Tour conducted the DeSoto Open there in 1960, Sam Snead winning the title. A year later another Hall of Famer, Louise Suggs, won Golden Circle of Golf Festival, an LPGA event, on the course. That was one of Suggs’ five wins that season.

The Champion was also a site for the televised All-Star Golf (later Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf) , two National Left-Handed Golfers Championships and  the LPGA Legends Tour’s Handa Cup team event.

A name change, from DeSoto Lakes to Palm Aire, was made in 1981 and Lee not only designed The Lakes course, which opened the following year, but he also made his first hole-in-one during that course’s opening day.

On a cloudy day the view of the No. 11 green of The Champions course from our lanai is particularly eye-catching.

Fullmer is WWGA’s Woman of Distinction

Sandra Fullmer, one of Chicago’s best amateur golfers, receives a major honor.

Sandra Fullmer lives in California, now but the Women’s Western Golf Association gave its top honor – its Woman of Distinction award – to her at the WWGA’s annual meeting on Thursday at Lake Shore Country Club in Glencoe.

Fullmer was selected for the coveted award in 2020 but the annual meeting was canceled because of pandemic concerns.  The WWGA, formed in 1899, made the presentation a year late to  honor a great player who competed against the top LPGA players in some tournaments but remained a life-long amateur. LPGA legend Patty Berg was the first recipient of the Woman of Distinction Award in 1994.

Many of Fullmer’s competitors were on hand for the awards presentation.  She enjoyed a great amateur career, winning the Mexico Amateur four times and also capturing the German and Spanish titles in 1959.  Then she moved to Chicago where she won the Chicago Women’s District title four times in the 1960s.  She also took five Illinois State Senior crowns between 1988 and 1993 and won the WWGA Senior Championship in 1988 and 1989.

Following her best competitive days Fullmer spent over 20 years on the WWGA board of directors, was its president in 2003-04 and chaired both its Women’s Western Amateur and Western Junior.

Fullmer’s father, Percy Clifford, was her instructor as well as being a top player and course designer in Mexico.  Her late husband Paul was the executive director of the American Society of Golf Course Architects for over 35 years. They were long-time Itasca Country Club members.


DiscoverGolf teaching program is going from Illinois to Desert Mountain

Richard Franklin has a good thing going at both Deerpath and Desert Mountain.

The golf lessons that Richard Franklin offers aren’t for everybody.

“Some people look at what we do and say it’s not even golf,’’ admitted Franklin, but he can live with that.

Franklin, 38, calls himself “a game designer.’’ That’s what his group lessons are – a series of games for youngsters as young as 4 years old and as old as 14. They go through three-hour sessions for up to six days a week playing  golf-relevant games.  Franklin has given them names like “Bedazzled,’’ “Catch Corn,’’  “Neanderthal,’’ “Cave Man,’’  “Night at the Museum,’’ “Croctology,’’ “King Putt’’ and — at least a version of — “Basketball.’’

“Croctology,’’ as an example, requires the student to putt through a series of very menacing cardboard crocodile teeth to reach a ramp.  That leads to the next step in the game, where precisely placed putts determine who wins the competition.

Franklin’s programs – called “DiscoverGolf’’ — may seen on the novel side, but they work. Franklin has run a successful program for 12 years at the Deerpath public course in Lake Forest.  Late in 2020 he took his program to Desert Mountain, a luxury community in North Scottsdale, Ariz.

DiscoverGolf is based at Desert Mountain from October to April, then shifts to Deerpath for the summer months. He also teaches his program to other instructors, and the methodology has reached more than 7,000 youngsters world-wide at more than 250 facilities on five continents.

“Kids love games, but games have rules, constraints,’’ said Franklin.  “Constraints are great for teaching. We create interesting, diverse games based on male or female, introverted or extroverted. It’s a pretty progressive approach to junior golf.’’

That it is.  He describes it as “more of a Montessori style.’’ Each class has at least a 4-to-1 student to coach ratio.

DiscoverGolf’s goal is to get youngsters emotionally involved in golf.

Youngsters in Franklin’s sessions are provided clubs similar to those used in the SNAG teaching program.  In Franklin’s programs, though, those clubs have different shafts, different molded grips and different head sizes.  Participants hit tennis balls during the game sessions, though some time is spent on a golf course  as well.

“Of the 800 we saw this summer (at Deerpath), only about 5 percent were interested in golf,’’ he said.  “Where junior golf has gone awry is that those programs assume that the child will be interested in pars, birdies, specific outcomes. Our challenge is to get into their imagination, their sense of wonderment, making something socially relevant. We focus 100 per cent on creating emotional investment in what we’re doing.’’

That’s evident in the structure of a day’s session.

“We spend the first two hours playing games or doing something on the course.  Then we ramp up the drama,’’ Franklin said. That’s when the games turn into mental and physical challenges.

“We’re big believers that kids are over-stimulated by screen time and undernourished when it comes to social interaction,’’ he said. The games stimulate interaction.

Franklin’s background is interesting.  Though he was born in Chicago, Franklin’s parents are from Zimbabwe, and he spent much of his youth years overseas. The family also lived in Hinsdale and had a home off the third hole of the par-3 East Course at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa in Galena. That’s where he had his first lessons as a junior golfer.

Nick Price, the great South African player, stayed with the Franklins when he was winning Western Open titles at Cog Hill in the 1990s. Franklin eventually went to the University of Arizona, had a so-so collegiate career and then qualified for the Canadian PGA Tour.

It’s target practice in this game incorporated into DiscoverGolf’s program at Deerpath.

It didn’t take long for Franklin to realize he’d be better suited to a career in golf as a teacher rather than a tournament player. He worked with Mac O’Grady, the one-time PGA Tour player who developed the “stack and tilt’’ swing method while working as an instructor in California.  Franklin was eventually a swing coach for Chip Beck, the Lake Forest resident who had his moments in some major championships before moving on to other golf-related projects.

Franklin felt much more comfortable with working with youngsters instead of professionals.

“In professional golf it’s you and a number.  They just want you to massage their egos,’’ said Franklin. “With 6, 7, 8 or 9 year-olds you’re actually changing their lives.  I really believe that.’’

In addition to his brief fling playing professional golf Franklin has a background in childhood development, behavioral psychology and graphic design.

“Golf is usually taught in a linear way – grip, stance, tempo, etc.,’’ he said. “I believe in an approach that honors the non-uniform nature of childhood development.  Leading young people requires us to adapt with culturally relevant programming that honors a child’s kaleidoscope of prior experiences, unique perspectives, emotions and personality.  That is brought to bear on our lesson tee.’’

“Basketball” is just one of the many innovative games used in Richard Franklin’s cutting edge teaching program.



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

Published by W Publishing Group in Nashville, TN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My reflections on the career of architect Arthur Hills

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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





Frank Jemsek: A giant in the history of Chicago golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








ING Media Awards honor four from LZOG partner sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s nothing miniature about Tiger’s newest venture

The PopStroke courses remind Tiger Woods of happy times in his youth.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida — Tiger Woods has a new golf venture. Woods and PopStroke, a company based in his hometown of Jupiter, FL., announced a partnership agreement 13 months ago, and it seems a fine fit after making a visit to its first facility.

There is a tendency to think of PopStroke as a souped up version of miniature golf.  It’s a lot more than that.

The first PopStroke facility is in this south Florida community located near PGA Golf Club, the designated “Winter Home of the PGA of America.’’ PopStroke consists of two 18-hole “miniature’’ courses – the Kahn Preserve and the Jackson Trap – so named because the designer’s name is Jackson Kahn. Both have artificial turf putting surfaces.The Kahn course is for beginners and is wheelchair and stroller accessible. While it’s the easier of the courses, it’s no creampuff.

By comparison the Jackson is more challenging with its 36 bunkers, false fronts and severe breaks on the greens.  All that aside, PopStroke is less about competition and more about pure fun. Just don’t expect that you’ll be putting into the “clown’s mouth.’’ None of the features on the more traditional miniature courses are present at PopStroke with the exception of the last putt. You don’t pick up the ball when you putt out.  It rolls down a pipe directly back to the reception desk.

The ambience is pleasant on the courses, to say the least.  Attractive landscaping provides the look of a real golf course, but in a miniature version. There’s lights for night-time play (the facility is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week) and there’s also equipment available for indoor activities in the event of bad weather.

Water doesn’t come into play, but it’s certainly evident when you play at PopStroke

Again, though, there’s lots more to PopStroke than “miniature’’ golf.  The course has a jumbotron, which can be used for scoring as well as watching televised sports events.  Twelve TVs are available throughout the facility, which also includes three golf simulators and a sports bar with full service dining available.

Woods, who lives in Jupiter – about 30 miles south of the first PopStroke —  and has a restaurant in that town, announced his partnership in PopStroke on Oct. 10 of 2019.  The board of directors also includes PopStroke founder Greg Bartoli and Peter Bevacqua, president of NBC Sports and former chief executive officer of the PGA of America.

Tiger merchandise is available in the welcome center and he’s pictured on the PopStroke website, so his involvement is more than in name only.

“Some of my happiest memories are spending time with my pops on the golf course having putting contests,’’ Woods said after his involvement was announced.  “I’m looking forward to others enjoying time with their kids at PopStroke.’’

Port St. Lucie has the first one.  The second opened in Fort Myers, FL., on Aug. 25 and a third is expected to open in Scottsdale, Ariz., sometime in 2021.

A jumbotron allows PopStroke golfers to watch TV sports while they’re on the course.





It’s all in the family: Coral Ridge redesign is Rees Jones’ `lifetime dream’


Rees Jones (left) was a budding architect learning his craft from his father  in his early years. They’re pictured here checking out a course in Hawaii. (Rees Jones Photo)


FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Robert Trent Jones Sr. was the premier golf course architect of his generation, having designed about 450 courses around the world. Both of his sons – Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rees – became prominent – and prolific – architects as well.

Rees, for instance, has worked on a ton of golf courses —  about 230 world-wide, according to the best estimates, and he’s  gained fame as “The Open Doctor’’ because he’s been brought in to get fine existing courses in shape for big championships. That number includes seven courses used for U.S. Opens, nine for PGA Championships and six for Ryder Cups.

Given all that, when Rees Jones calls his work on his latest course “a lifetime dream,’’ you’d best take notice. Especially when there’s a distinct tie-in with his famous father.

Son has tackled his father’s designs 18 times in the past.  Among Rees’ redesigns came at such famous places as the Atlanta Athletic Club, Bellerive (in St. Louis), the Blue Course at Congressional in Maryland, Golden Horseshoe in Virginia, Hazeltine in Minnesota and The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

This latest redo, though, is different – and more special – than all the others. Coral Ridge Country Club, the only 18-holer within the boundaries of Fort Lauderdale, is scheduled to re-open in November and that can’t help but be an emotional time for Rees Jones. Now 79, he was a part of Coral Ridge even before he reached his teen-age years..

Jones’ father designed the original 18 holes at Coral Ridge in 1954. The elder Jones had an office near the 17th hole for his architectural business and operated out of the facility’s clubhouse at the end of his career. He remained a member of the club until his death in 2000. Rees’ mother Ione, who died in 1987, was also very active in the club

Rees spent most of his formative years growing up in New Jersey, but he knew Coral Ridge quite well.

“We traveled every winter and stayed at a little hotel behind the course,’’ he said.  “I’ve been part of that facility all my life, so getting to embellish and restructure that course has been a lifetime dream because it was the fabric of both my family life and my design life.’’

To both father and son Coral Ridge was something special.

“Coral Ridge was his baby,’’ said Rees of his father.  “And, when I was first there I was 11 or 12, so I was just past a baby then.’’

In his childhood years  Coral Ridge was a swinging place.  The legendary New York Yankees’ pitcher, Whitey Ford, was a member.  So was Joe Namath, the great New York Jets’ quarterback.  Pro golfers Julius Boros and Lew Worsham were also on hand.  Boros lived on the 11th hole and gave Rees golf lessons.

“Historically athletes really liked to hang out there,’’ said Rees.

And it wasn’t just athletes.  Dave Thomas, who created the Wendy’s restaurant chain, was one of the  Jones family’s “special friends’’

“Coral Ridge is a very special place.  There’s no other place like it in Florida,’’ said Rees. “My father loved Florida, and he went to the club every day and had a lot of friends there.’’

Five years ago Rees designed a par-3 course at the club, called “The Rees Nine.’’ With holes ranging from 70 to 200 yards, It has been popular with higher handicappers and youngsters who like the challenge of the undulating, multi-tiered greens.

As for the “new’’ golf course, Jones understandably likes everything about it. The par-72 layout measures 7,322 yards from the back tees.

“The routing is the same, though we slightly relocated the No. 9 and 13 greens,’’ he said.  “All the fairways were elevated, and drainage is now 1,000 percent better than it had been.  A big reason for the renovation was because the course needed a new irrigation system.’’

It got more than that.

“We also rebuilt all the greens,’’ said Jones.  “The par-3s are all distinctly different, and the par-5s are all distinctly different.  We put the original Robert Trent Jones bunker style in, and it looks like the old-time bunker style.  But it seems a brand new golf course now. The members had no idea how great it would turn out, and  I’m blown away by what we’ve accomplished.’’

Most of the work on the course was done in the heart of the pandemic, but didn’t slow down Jones’ architectural work.  He still had three associates traveling to other job sites, one of which was in Japan.

“We had 13 jobs during the pandemic.  I was lucky because I have a reputation,’’ he said.  “But I hardly work because I love what I do.’’

His location helped, too.  Jones resides in Juno Beach and he says “golf is very healthy in the state of Florida. A lot of communities are built around golf courses.’’

Coral Ridge had at one point divided its ownership among the four Joneses – Rees, his parents and brother Robert Trent Jones Jr. Each owned 25 percent. When Jones Sr. passed on the course was sold to a local group headed by Phil Smith. Rees kept a 5 percent share then,  but sold it after designing The Rees Nine.

To this day Rees Jones remains a Coral Ridge member and believes his recent work assures the club will have “one of the top golf courses in the Southeast.’’

“We started planning for this five years ago, and work began at the end of the (last) winter,’’ said Jones.  “We wanted to restore it back to the design my father had and make the changes much like he did during the life of the club. It was like Pinehurst No. 2, when (original designer) Donald Ross lived next door to that golf course.’’

Rather than the changes being made by the father on his own designs, now those changes have been made by the son.

“We really accomplished the task,’’ said Rees.  “My father would be looking down on us and say `Well done.’’’