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Len Ziehm On Golf

Hamlin, Turner are inducted into the LPGA Legends Hall of Fame

Sherri Turner celebrates her Hall of Fame induction with French Lick director of golf Dave Harner.


FRENCH LICK, Indiana – Two players are inducted into the LPGA Legends Hall of Fame each year, and this year – for the first time — the two honorees were inducted on separate nights.

Shelley Hamlin was honored at Thursday night’s opening night gala preceding the Senior LPGA Championship and Sherri Turner was inducted the following night in another dinner gala that followed the event’s second Faegre Baker Daniels Pro-Am on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort.

The competition begins at noon on Sunday when the Legends Honors Division tournament tees off and the main event, — 81 players competing over 54 holes for a $600,000 purse –runs Monday through Wednesday with The Golf Channel broadcasting the action from 4-6 p.m. (EDT) each day. The champion receives $90,000.

Both induction ceremonies were held at the French Lick Resort, and Hamlin and Turner will be included in the Legends Hall of Fame room at the nearby West Baden Springs Hotel. Honorees are determined off the significant impact that each has made on both the LPGA and Legends tours. In the case of Hamlin and Turner, the inspiration that they demonstrated during their careers was instrumental in their selections.

Hamlin, who is involved in a long battle with cancer, could not attend her induction and good friend Anne Marie Palli accepted on Hamlin’s behalf. Hamlin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, during the heart of her playing career. She kept playing and fighting the disease after that winning three tournaments on the LPGA circuit and another on the Legends Tour.

Both Hamlin and Turner were among the 25 founding members of The Legends, for players who have reached their 45th birthday, in 2000.

“Shelley is a class act, and I’m sure she has a special feeling for this award, even though she’s in a fight for her life,’’ said Turner.

Turner, introduced by good friend of 40 years and fellow player Jane Crafter, was diagnosed with Juvenile diabetes when she was 15 and has coped with Type 1 diabetes during her professional career.

Both Hamlin and Turner were on the LPGA board of directors, Hamlin serving s president in 1980-81 and Turner on the player executive committee from 1997-99 before The Legends Tour was created.

“The Legends gave us the opportunity to continue to compete,’’ said Turner. “We all still love the game, and there’s nothing like the thrill of winning. It also allowed us to maintain life-long friendships.’’

Turner gave special thanks to Legends founder Jane Blalock and Jan Stephenson, who herself was announced as a member of the next induction class into the World Golf Hall of Fame last week.

Blalock and Stephenson were among those preceding Hamlin and Turner into the Legends Hall of Fame. Stephenson, along with Kathy Whitworth, was in the first induction class in 2013. Blalock went in with Nancy Lopez the following year. Others in the Hall are JoAnne Carner and Rosie Jones (2015), Sandra Haynie and Elaine Crosby (2016) and Sandra Palmer and Nancy Scranton (2017).

Stephenson, Blalock, Carner, Jones, Crosby and Scranton will all be competing this week. Haynie will hit the ceremonial first tee shot on Monday.

Sherri Turner’s big night is climaxed by her induction into the Legends Hall of Fame.

Pinehurst Brewing Company already adds a lot to this golf mecca

Pinehurst Resort has kept up with the times golf-wise since its opening in 1895, and our regular visits over the last 20 years have described the many new things that Pinehurst has contributed to the golf world. It goes far beyond the big tournaments that have been played there.

This time, though, our report on what’s new in Pinehurst golf-wise can wait for a day. Not to take anything away from the golf side, but the resort broadened its reach when the Pinehurst Brewing Company opened a week ago.

While Pinehurst Resort has always been long on amenities for its guests, the Pinehurst Brewing Company is something that is both beneficial and needed. Now the resort has something that attracts locals as well as out-of-towners. That was obvious in our visit; we arrived early on a weekday night, waited briefly in line before being seated and left with the place packed.

From power plant to microbrewery, this place has stood for over 120 years.

Getting a handle on Pinehurst Brewing Company isn’t as easy as it might seem. Yes, it’s a brewery. Eric Mitchell came in from Heist Brewing Company in Charlotte to be Pinehurst’s first brewmaster. While the restaurant has been open a few days, the brewery has not. The debut of Mitchell’s craft beers, though, I’m told is imminent.

This 10-barrel brewery, not surprisingly, includes a restaurant with a unique style of pizza and sandwiches dominating the menu for now. While there are TVs scattered throughout the place, it’s no sports bar. It’s much more than that. There’s both indoor and outdoor bars and dining, and over 200 patrons can be accommodated at a time.

Moving forward, however, Pinehurst Brewing Company is more than just a place to eat and drink beer. Just a few days into its existence, it’s clear that Pinehurst Brewing Company is also am historical landmark.

The building that houses the brewery-restaurant was known as the Village Power House, and the steam it produced allowed the Holly Inn to welcome its first guests in 1895. The Holly Inn, of course, is still going strong.

As for the Village Power House it was in operation into the 1990s, then was shuttered and slated for demotion. The wrecking ball never came, however, and that’s turned out a good thing.

As much of the power plant as possible has been incorporated into the building of the Pinehurst Brewing Company and artifacts from it serve as table decorations. The original brick walls are still there and the historic smokestack will be rebuilt.

The entire place will be a work in progress for a while. Even in its early days, though, the Pinehurst Brewing Company adds a lot to an already special place.

History-rich Downers Grove, Tam O’Shanter have found ways to survive

The Downers Grove and Tam O’Shanter golf courses, once among the most famous in the United States, aren’t what they used to be. Both, though, are proof of that time-worn adage – “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.’’

Downers Grove was, back in 1892, the America’s first 18-hole course. It – or at least what’s left of it – was the first version of Chicago Golf Club before the members moved to their permanent home in Wheaton.

Tam O’Shanter was the most popular tournament site of the 1940s and 1950s, the site of the big-money tournaments put on by super-promoter George S. May.

Both Downers and Tam O’Shanter have long been relegated to nine-hole facilities operated by park districts. A few holes of each are part of their original layouts but they’re land-locked, eliminated any possibility to return to an 18-hole rotation. Both are still vibrant facilities, however, and they’re working to keep up with the changing times.

That’s been particularly evident this year, as the Downers Grove Park District and Niles Park District took on major projects to upgrade their courses. Here’s what’s been going on, with Downers going first.

In mid-July a major upgrade to the Downers practice range was opened. Ten of the range’s 22 hitting stations now have protection from the elements. They’re covered by a rook and also feature infrared heaters, lights and ceiling fans. Garage doors and solar panels on the south side of the sheltered area are targeted to be added soon. They’ll help block the wind or allow for additional airflow.

The entire construction project creates a big change in the look of the facility. More importantly, though, it will provide more playing time at the course throughout the year and extend the season for the golfers visiting there.

At Tam O’Shanter the changes weren’t quite as dramatic in appearance but a major part of the ongoing work being done to keep this place relevant for golfers and remind them of its rich contribution to American golf history. The historical aspect has been addressed much more at Tam than it has at Downers.

Tam O’Shanter opened in 1925. May took ownership in 1937 and hosted his first tournament, the Chicago Open, in 1940. He liked the results, and the next year he created his own tournament – the All-American Open – which offered, for that era, unprecedented prize money for the best men and women golfers. The legendary Byron Nelson was the men’s champion four times in a five-year stretch and notched win No. 10 in his unprecedented 11 victories in a row there in 1945.

The All-American Open grew into the World Championship in 1946. It lasted until 1957, with the likes of Gene Littler, Lloyd Mangrum, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias teeing it up for – by far — the biggest purses in golf. None of those players had the long lasting impact on golf that Lew Worsham did, however.

In 1953, in the first nationally-televised golf tournament, Worsham holed a 104-yard wedge shot on the final hole of the World Championship for an eagle and a one-stroke victory over a stunned Chandler Harper. The drama provided by Worsham’s shot captivated golf fans and triggered the sport’s rise in popularity as both a participant and spectator sport.

May eventually had issues with the PGA Tour over player entrance fees and discontinued his tournament in 1957. He died in 1962 and the Western Open resulted in the return of the PGA Tour to Tam O’Shanter in 1964 and 1965. That was the last hurrah for Tam O’Shanter’s glory days.

May’s family sold the club to developers late in 1965 and they turned much of the land into an industrial park, closing the course in the process. Only about one-third of the land from the Tam O’Shanter of the May days is still used for golf and the clubhouse burned down long ago.

This story does not have a sad ending, however – not by a long shot.

The Niles Park District purchased what was left of the golf course and salvaged a nine-hole course that opened in 1974. It struggled for survival for nearly four decades but now, following a year-long course renovation project, Tam O’Shanter isn’t just surviving. It’s thriving thanks to a renovation that delayed its opening in the spring.

The course renovation was performed by the Illinois-based Lohmann Quitno architectural firm. Drainage was improved and new tee boxes, bunkering and cart paths were installed. Signage on the course was also upgraded as the course was given a more classic look. Only two holes – No. 1, a par-4, and No. 6, a par-3 that had been No. 16 on the old course – are left from the original 18-holer. The renovated nine-holer plays just 2,457 yards from the tips.

No. 1 is now the longest hole, at 404 yards, and the rotation calls for six par-4s and three par-3s. It’s nothing fancy, like the Tam O’Shanter of old, but players have been turning out in steady numbers since the renovated course re-opened in June.

“We weren’t really trying to preserve the course, just bring back the style it had from the old days,’’ said architect Todd Quitno. “It was more about function and maintenance than it was about history. We wanted to preserve the golf course for a long time, and to do that we had to make it more maintainable. It was about acknowledging that this course had a long history and giving it a long future.’’

That was just fine with manager Peter Dubs, who attended golf camps at the course when he was 14 years old and held part-time jobs there before becoming a full-time employee 11 years ago following his college graduation. Chris Urgo, the director of instruction, also progressed from part-time to full-time staffer during a similar time frame.

What had once been a failed, very small driving range was converted into the outdoor portion of the Golf Learning Center. The facility is heavy into youth work and draws about 1,000 pupils annually.

Immediately after the Niles Park District opened the course in the 1970s the pro shop was operated out of a trailer. Then an Italian restaurant was added, but it didn’t work out very well. Since 2003 the Howard Street Inn sports bar-restaurant, which adjoins the pro shop, has been a busy year-around facility – not just when golfers are on the premises.

While the new nine-holer only faintly resembles May’s carnival-like 18-hole version, the history of that place hasn’t been forgotten. A big history wall fronts the No. 1 tee and the learning center includes an array of photos and memorabilia from May’s big tournaments.

While quite a few Chicago courses have gone away over the years, Downers and Tam O’Shanter are proof that courses can survive long-term.

Medinah’s Johns triggered the creation of IPGA’s Birdies for Charity

The Illinois PGA’s Birdies for Charity event is one of those things that was good from the start and keeps getting better. That’ll be underscored again on Sept. 4 when the event is held for the eighth time at River Forest Country Club in Elmhurst.

Birdies for Charity involves golf professionals playing 72 holes in one day to raise funds for non-industry charitable organizations throughout Illinois. Donors make a financial pledge per birdie to support each participating professional.

Travis Johns, the director of instruction at Medinah, was involved in the creation of such an event while a member of the North Texas Section of the PGA.

“There were seven other pros who were born in Australia and working in the Dallas area,’’ said Johns. “We felt fortunate to be working in the United States and wondered how we could give back.’’

Mark Harrison, the executive director of the North Texas Section and a fellow Australian, devised the Birdies for Charity concept. The pros went to their clients, neighbors and customers inviting donations per birdie made. Among their group was Cameron McCormick, now the teacher for PGA Tour star Jordan Spieth.

The group’s first Birdies for Charity event was played at Preston Trail, one of Dallas’ premier clubs, in the early 2000s and raised about $25,000. That Birdies for Charity was eventually moved to Brook Hollow and the Australian pros were joined by hockey star Bret Hull, the son of Blackhawks’ legend Bobby Hull.

As the event gained momentum, the players decided to take advantage of extra daylight in August and expanded the event to seven rounds in one day. Johns played in the Dallas version for eight years and the event topped $1 million in charity donations by the time he left to take the job at Medinah.

While the Dallas group has continued its Birdies for Charity Johns felt it a worthwhile project for the Illinois Section to take on as well. He took the idea to Chris Gumbach, the head professional at River Forest. He was the section’s sponsorship chairman at the time.

“I pitched it to him, and thankfully he ran with it,’’ said Johns. “It was different here, though. We didn’t limit the players to seven-eight people. We opened it to every pro in the section.’’

“Travis was new to the section then, and he brought it up to a few of the guys and wasn’t getting much interest,’’ said Gumbach. “I didn’t know Travis then as well as I do now, but to me it was a great idea and the event has quietly grown.’’

This year 44 professionals from 38 clubs will participate and the Central Illinois Section of the PGA will hold its own event for the first time on the same day at Country Club of Decatur.

There are some other enhancements as well. Previous Birdies for Charity were played over four rounds. This year’s will be over five. It’ll mean over 12 hours of non-stop golf for the participants.

Johns and Gumbach were co-founders of the first Illinois PGA Birdies for Charity in 2011 and have remained as co-chairmen of the event. The Illinois Section’s first Birdies for Charity raised $44,000 with 14 professionals participating. Now the total raised is up to $1.18 million.

“I thought we were king of the hill after that first year, raising that kind of money,’’ said Gumbach. “It was just guys playing golf. Never in a million years did I think we could crack $1 million in seven years. That was pretty cool.’’

Those “guys playing golf’’ raised more money in each succeeding year with last year’s event raising a record $280,000. Thirty-five professionals made 670 birdies on that long, but most worthwhile day at River Forest.

That meant contributions of $66,390 to each of Core Four charities – the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana and the Illinois PGA Foundation. This year more charities will also benefit.

“Those four will remain the same, but a lot of other charities got wind of what we have been doing and asked to be involved,’’ said Johns, “so we’re trying to spread the wealth.’’

Two – Folds of Honor and Cal’s Angels — will benefit, but to a lesser degree than the Core Four. Each participating professional was invited to submit an entry for “bonus charity’’ status. Fifteen were nominated before those two were selected in a drawing. That policy will be continued in future years.

Johns and Gumbach have set a financial goal of $300,000 for this year’s event. While the final numbers will be totaled up on Sept. 4 it’s clear that some professionals have accumulated enough in pledges to raise $1,000 per birdie made.

The debut of the Central Illinois section’s Birdies for Charity will be held the same day with 11 professionals participating to benefit two downstate charities – Boys & Girls Club of Decatur and OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

Jim Sobb is a golf professional with a great record as a player as well

Jim Sobb’s playing record speaks for itself.

The 30-year director of golf at Ivanhoe Club won eight of the Illinois PGA’s four major tournaments, including the IPGA Championship three times. He also won nine of the section’s Senior majors, and this month he’ll go after his sixth title in the IPGA Senior Championship.

He has played in three national PGA Championships, five Western Opens, three U.S. Senior Opens and two Senior PGA Championships. In 2011 Sobb pulled off what may be his most outstanding accomplishment as a player when he swept the IPGA Match Play and IPGA Senior Match Play titles in back-to-back weeks. No other player has one that.

Now 62, Sobb has made more Radix Cup appearances (22) than any other IPGA member and – in the first year he was eligible – added the Illinois PGA Super Senior Open title to his resume.

Enough already?

Well, the remainder of the 2018 season presents a playing challenge that Sobb relishes – even though the first part of the campaign hasn’t produced a victory yet. There’s still enough big events left on the schedule for Sobb to make this year like most of the others, however.

Most notably, the IPGA Senior Championship is Aug. 13-14 at Merit Club, in Libertyville, and the IPGA Senior Match Play will be played Oct. 2-4 at Shoreacres, in Lake Bluff. Spring weather problems forced its postponement earlier.

Also, you can never count Sobb out of his favorite tournament, the Illinois PGA Championship. Though it’s been 18 years since he won the last of his three titles, he’ll be at Stonewall Orchard from Aug. 27-29 to give it another try.

Time usually takes a toll on a player’s abilities, but Sobb might be getting better with age.

“Maybe I am – by a little,’’ he said. “I continue to learn and manage my game better. There’s a lot to be said for experience.’’

What’s more surprising about this Sobb story is the fact that – despite all his playing success within the Illinois section — he never entertained thoughts of being a touring pro.

“I’ve always wanted to be a club professional. I’ve never looked beyond that,’’ he said. “I like being competitive, but (to be a tour player) you’ve got to devote yourself 365 days a year. I’m happy where I am.’’

Clearly there’s more to Jim Sobb than being a tournament golfer. He’s a lifetime Chicago guy with a unique family. His wife Tina has battled Multiple Sclerosis for many years, yet the Sobbs worked to put their two children through college. Son Ryan graduated from Birminham Southern and daughter Abbey from the University of Mississippi.

Sobb started playing golf at age 10 while growing up in Palatine. He played at Palatine Hills and Pebble Creek, a nine-hole course that is long gone, and caddied at Inverness before starting in tournament golf in the Northern Illinois Men’s Amateur Golf Association events organized by Mike Spinello. Now both Spinello and Sobb are members of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

Even back then Sobb’s focus wasn’t just on golf. He was a very decent quarterback at Palatine High School, where he also played basketball and golf, but wasn’t a scholarship athlete when he headed to Western Illinois for college.

Sobb encountered one of the very best college coaches when arrived at Western. Harry Mussatto welcomed him to the team as a walk-on, and Sobb performed well enough as a freshman to earn a scholarship the next year.

After his days at Western Sobb held assistant professional jobs at Hillcrest, in Long Grove, and the now defunct Thorngate, in Deerfield, and landed his first head job at Chapel Hill, in McHenry, in 1983. He also was the head man at Highland Park Country Club before beginning his long run at Ivanhoe.

Rather than aspire to be a touring pro Sobb had another role model.

“I wanted to be like Gary Groh,’’ he said.

While Groh did play on the PGA Tour – he even won the Hawaiian Open – his career was built around his long stint as head professional at Bob O’Link, in Highland Park. Groh worked there into his 70s and competed successfully within the state ranks much like Sobb is doing.

The Ivanhoe job has offered Sobb some other growth opportunities.. He created a high school tournament, the Ivanhoe Invitational, and was – for the last three years – the host professional for a Web.com Tour event, the Rust-Oleum Championship. He’s also mentored several former assistants who now hold head professional jobs.

Such projects helped earn Sobb the IPGA Professional of the Year honor in 1995 and 2000, the IPGA Private Club Merchandiser of the Year Award in 1997 and the Bill Strausbaugh Award, for service to his fellow pros, in 2012. He also spent 10 years on the IPGA board of directors and he’s not done yet.

“I’m very comfortable here,’’ said Sobb. “I haven’t set a date for retiring. I feel great. I like to compete, and I love what I’m doing.’’

After an array of upgrades historic Tam O’Shanter is thriving again

Six decades ago the Tam O’Shanter Country Club in suburban Chicago was among the most famous golf courses in the world. It was owned by George S. May back then, and May was a man far ahead of his time when it came to golf promotion.

Tam O’Shanter opened in 1925. May took ownership in 1937 and hosted his first tournament, the Chicago Open, in 1940. He liked the results, and the next year he created his own tournament – the All-American Open – which offered, for that era, unprecedented prize money for the best men and women golfers. The legendary Byron Nelson was the men’s champion four times in a five-year stretch and notched win No. 10 in his unprecedented 11 victories in a row there in 1945.

The All-American Open grew into the World Championship in 1946. It lasted until 1957, with the likes of Gene Littler, Lloyd Mangrum, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias teeing it up for – by far — the biggest purses in golf. None of those players had the longlasting impact on golf that Lew Worsham did, however.

In 1953, in the first nationally-televised golf tournament, Worsham holed a 104-yard wedge shot on the final hole of the World Championship for an eagle and a one-stroke victory over a stunned Chandler Harper. The drama provided by Worsham’s shot captivated golf fans and triggered the sport’s rise in popularity as both a participant and spectator sport.

May eventually had issues with the PGA Tour over player entrance fees and discontinued his tournament in 1957. He died in 1962 and the Western Open resulted in the return of the PGA Tour to Tam O’Shanter in 1964 and 1965. That was the last hurrah for Tam O’Shanter’s glory days.

May’s family sold the club to developers late in 1965 and they turned much of the land into an industrial park, closing the course in the process. Now Tam O’Shanter is a nine-hole municipal course owned by the Niles Park District. Only about one-third of the land from the Tam O’Shanter of the May days is still used for golf and the clubhouse burned down long ago.

This story does not have a sad ending, however – not by a long shot.

The Niles Park District purchased what was left of the golf course and salvaged a nine-hole course that opened in 1974. It struggled for survival for nearly four decades but now, following a year-long course renovation project, Tam O’Shanter isn’t just surviving. It’s thriving.

The course renovation was performed by the Illinois-based Lohmann Quitno architectural firm. Drainage was improved and new tee boxes, bunkering and cart paths were installed. Signage on the course was also upgraded as the course was given a more classic look. Only two holes – No. 1, a par-4, and No. 6, a par-3 that had been No. 16 on the old course – are left from the original 18-holer. The renovated nine-holer plays just 2,457 yards from the tips.

No. 1 is now the longest hole, at 404 yards, and the rotation calls for six par-4s and three par-3s. It’s nothing fancy, like the Tam O’Shanter of old, but players have been turning out in steady numbers since the renovated course re-opened in June.

“We weren’t really trying to preserve the course, just bring back the style it had from the old days,’’ said architect Todd Quitno. “It was more about function and maintenance than it was about history. We wanted to preserve the golf course for a long time, and to do that we had to make it more maintainable. It was about acknowledging that this course had a long history and giving it a long future.’’

That was just fine with manager Peter Dubs, who attended golf camps at the course when he was 14 years old and held part-time jobs there before becoming a full-time employee 11 years ago following his college graduation. Chris Urgo, the director of instruction, also progressed from part-time to full-time staffer during a similar time frame.

What had once been a failed, very small driving range was converted into the outdoor portion of the Golf Learning Center. The facility is heavy into youth work and draws about 1,000 pupils annually.

Immediately after the Niles Park District opened the course the pro shop was operated out of a trailer. Then an Italian restaurant was added, but it didn’t work out very well. Since 2003 the Howard Street Inn sports bar-restaurant, which adjoins the pro shop, has been a busy year-around facility – not just when golfers are on the premises.

While the new nine-holer only faintly resembles May’s carnival-like 18-hole version, the history of that place hasn’t been forgotten. A big history wall fronts the No. 1 tee and the learning center includes an array of photos and memorabilia from May’s big tournaments.

Nine-hole rates range from $19 to $21 for non-residents and on-line reservations are being taken for the first time. Though power carts are available, the course is ideal for walking.

Did Patrick Flavin attempt a `Mission Impossible?’

Last year Highwood’s Patrick Flavin did something very special, winning both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. No player had won both in the same year since David Ogrin did it in 1980.

This year Flavin will try to do something even more special. He’ll try to repeat in both. No player has ever done that.

In fact, Ogrin, who became a journeyman on the PGA Tour with a victory in the LaCantera Texas Open in 1996, is the only other player to capture the two major state titles in the same year. Flavin became the eighth to own titles in both events, the other six having done it in different years.

Ogrin, now 60 and the director of the Alamo City Golf Trail in San Antonio, Tex., won the Illinois State Amateur at Crestwicke, in Bloomington, and the Illinois Open at Bloomington Country Club. He turned pro shortly after taking the double, and that made it impossible for him to defend his Amateur title in 1981.

Flavin, though, isn’t in any hurry to play for money. Despite completing a solid career at Miami of Ohio, where he won eight collegiate tournaments – four in his senior season, Flavin opted to spend the summer as an amateur. His tentative plans called for turning pro for the Web.com Tour qualifying school in the fall.

“Staying amateur was a no-brainer for me,’’ said Flavin. “It was incredible to win the state Amateur and state Open last year and to repeat is a huge goal of mine, though I know the fields will be strong.’’

His title defense in the 88th Illinois State Amateur will come July 17-19 at Bloomington Country Club, where Ogrin completed his then unprecedented double. Flavin’s defense in the 69th Illinois Open comes from Aug. 6-8 at The Glen Club, in Glenview, and Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods. The last putt of his Open win last year came at The Glen.

Just repeating in either tournament has been a rarity. There hasn’t been a repeat champion in the Illinois State Amateur since Todd Mitchell in 2002-03 and only five others have won back-to-back since the tournament went to a stroke play format in 1963. Illinois men’s coach Mike Small was the last to repeat in the Illinois Open. He won three straight titles from 2005-07 and was only the fourth player to win that tournament in back-to-back years.

Flavin took both his titles last year by one-stroke margins, but the Amateur was more difficult as Flavin had to overhaul Jordan Hahn, a University of Wisconsin golfer from Sugar Grove, in the 36-hole final day. In the Open Flavin owned a six-stroke lead entering the final round but former Illinois State basketball player Brandon Holtz pulled into a brief tie for the lead on the back nine.

In the end Flavin was one swing better than Holtz and two college stars, Nick Hardy of Illinois and Matt Murlick of Marquette.

Flavin has already tested the professional ranks, when he went through qualifying for the Canadian PGA Tour while retaining his amateur status. In addition to the two state tournaments his summer schedule includes the Western Amateur, starting July 30 at Sunset Ridge in Northfield; the Sunnehanna, in Pennsylvania; the Northeast, in Rhode Island; and the Trans-Miss, in Ohio. All are invitationals. He’ll also enter the U.S. Amateur.

Those tournaments will provide more seasoning for Flavin, though his play over the last year suggests he doesn’t need much of that.

“My game is solid now,’’ he said. “I know I can play at the next level.’’

Aldeen’s French enjoys his reign as king of Illinois PGA Assistants

There are plenty of good players among the assistant professionals in the Illinois IPGA. That’s why Chris French’s domination of the 2017 Assistants Player of the Year race is so impressive.

French, one of two assistants under director of golf operations Duncan Geddes at Aldeen Golf Club in Rockford, accumulated 3,139.9 points in last year’s Assistant Player of the Year race. Runner-up Casey Pyne, of Crestwicke in Bloomington, was a distant second with 2,766.0, and Adam Schumacher, of Indian Hill in Winnetka, third with 2,760.5.

Schumacher won both the Illinois PGA Championship at Medinah No. 1 and the IPGA Players Championship at Eagle Ridge in Galena. Both tournaments are among the section’s four major events and Schumacher won both by three-shot margins but he was no threat to French in the Assistants competition. That’s how good a season French had.

“The big difference from other years is that I put in more time playing and practicing,’’ said French. “It was great to see the hard work pay off. You don’t always see that in the golf business, and if the results are not there it can be extremely frustrating.’’

French, 32, won three stroke play events outright – at Cress Creek in Naperville, Mistwood in Romeoville and Kishwaukee in DeKalb — and tied for first in another at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn. He also tied for fifth in the Assistants Championship at Merit Club in Libertyville and added some points by tying for 42nd in the Illinois Open.

Not only did French notch some victories, he did it with some great scores on quality courses – 65 at Cress Creek and Mistwood, 67 at Calumet and 68 at Kishwaukee. Those scores might not have been his best performances of the year, either. He set the Aldeen course record last fall with a 9-under-par 63.

Aldeen is an established tournament site, too. It hosted the Illinois State Amateurs of 2001 and 2013 and was the site of this year’s Illinois Women’s State Amateur.

Not bad for a player who once quit the golf business altogether for five years. That was after playing four years of high school golf at Byron, which is near Rockford, and then earning junior college All-America recognition in two years at Rock Valley College in Rockford.

After his school years he spent two years as an assistant at Reems Creek, a public course in Asheville, N.C. After that he didn’t think that golf was for him, and he left the business.

“The main thing I did then was in music. I was a recording engineer. We made records for bands,’’ said French. “That’s as far away from golf as you can get.’’

Five years ago, though, he wanted back into the game in the area where he grew up. He took an assistant’s job at Aldeen and his play steadily improved, leading up to his breakthrough campaign in 2017.

“Duncan Geddes was the main one who encouraged me to keep playing,’’ said French. “After I won this (Player of the Year) award he told me I should take it as far as I can. He gave me the time off to play and practice.’’

After his big season French spent the winter in Florida “to see what would happen’’ and then played on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour in the spring. He had the company of some other Illinois hotshots – Tee-K Kelly, David Cooke and Brian Bullington – on that circuit. Kelly even won a tournament.

French competed in tournaments in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic from early May until early June without any notable successes.

“I didn’t play very well,’’ admitted French. “I lost momentum. It was cool to play on some great courses there but it was a little shock, too, because I had never been out of the country (U.S.).’’

He plans to go back in the fall, though. The Latinoamerica Tour doesn’t hold tournaments in the summer, preferring to resume its season in the fall. So, French’s three-month stint at Aldeen will conclude in August and that’s why he gives himself little chance to repeat as Assistants Player of the Year. He will, however, be around for the IPGA Assistants Championship, which is July 23 at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette.

“I already missed two (IPGA Assistants) tournaments because I was playing in Latin America and I’ll miss more in the fall,’’ he said. “Not playing every event hurts in terms of repeating.’’

Can Langer continue his domination in Senior Players tourney?

If ever there was a player who could dominate a tournament it’d be Bernhard Langer at the Constellation Senior Players Championship.

The 60-year old German star won the tournament in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and finished second to Scott McCarron last year. Langer will try to get back on the winning side when the 36th staging of the event tees off on Thursday at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park.

Unlike some of the major tournaments, the Senior Players changes courses each year. That hasn’t bothered Langer in the least. He’s finished in the top 10 nine times in his last 10 starts in the tournament.

“It’s obviously been a lot of fun,’’ he said after his first look at Exmoor on Tuesday. “I’m having great memories, especially playing different golf courses. Sometimes you get to a golf course that you really enjoy and you play very well, but in this instance they were all different venues. I was just fortunate enough to play some really good golf on different venues.’’

He likened Exmoor, a Donald Ross design that dates back to 1896, to the Phildelphia Cricket Club. He won the Senior Players there in 2016, but Langer has been able to win most anywhere.

“He’s still the guy,’’ said long-time rival Fred Funk. “He’s 60-plus and still special, with no weaknesses. His strength is his mind. He went through the yips, then the ban of anchor putter.’’

Those putting-related issues didn’t bother Langer for long He is still the only player to win all five majors on PGA Tour Champions and his 10 wins in those events is also a record..

“This season has been good, though it started a little bit slower than some of the other years,’’ said Langer. “ I got it back on track and had a number of opportunities for victory before finally pulling one off in Houston.’’

That title at the Insperity Invitational is his only win of this season, but Langer lost two other tournaments in playoffs. He is fourth on the Charles Schwab Cup money list with $1,076,346, trailing David Toms, Jerry Kelly and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

The 78 players competing at Exmoor, though, comprise the toughest field of the season on PGA Tour Champions. It features 49 of the top 50 on the current money list, the only absentee being Steve Stricker who is competing in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic instead.

Besides Langer, five other past winners of the Senior Players Championship are in the field – Jay Haas (2009), Hale Irwin (1999), Mark O’Meara (2010), Kenny Perry (2013) and Loren Roberts (2007). Seven members of the field are in the World Golf Hall of Fame – Irwin, Langer, O’Meara, Tom Kite, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie and Vijay Singh.

Fifty-six members of the field have accounted for 328 PGA Tour victories and 52 of them have accounted for 258 titles on PGA Tour Champions. Twenty have at least one win on both the regular tour and Champions circuit.

Langer, even at 60, isn’t limiting himself to senior golf. He leaves Chicago on Sunday for the British Open at Carnoustie. That’s not the Senior British Open, it’s the third of this year’s four majors in all of golf. Langer won the event at Carnoustie in 1999.

“A brutal course,’’ he said. “I don’t know how it’ll be set up, but when I played there it was the worst setup I’ve ever seen in a British Open. That wasn’t much fun.’’

But Exmoor could be. He called the course conditioning “phenomenal.’’

“If you play well you can win on most courses, so it’s not so much the course or the setup,’’ said Langer. “But I do like this golf course. It’s all right there in front of you. There’s no trickery about it.’’

North Carolina’s Balsam Mountain Preserve will knock it out of the park

There was never a doubt about the beauty of Balsam Mountain Preserve, a private club located in the hills of Western North Carolina. The abundant views of Doubletop Mountain made the site attractive to – among others — the Arnold Palmer Design company, which built one of the most visually stunning mountain courses in the United States there.

The course opened in the small town of Sylva, N.C., in 2007 but there was a problem. There was no clubhouse. Ten cabins and a boarding house with a full-service restaurant were not deemed a suitable substitute, and the best location for a clubhouse was where the driving range was located.

Eliminating the range wasn’t an option, as Balsam Mountain Preserve has some passionate golfers in its membership. They needed more than a golf course; they needed a place to practice as well.

So, developer Ken Bowdon, a long-time member of the club, and Thad Layton, a course architect from Palmer Design, did some brainstorming and came up with what they’re calling a Golf Practice Park. They describe it as a hybrid between a driving range and par-3 course, but it’s really much more than that. It’s a novel concept, to put it mildly.

The Practice Park, expected to open sometime this summer, can still be a driving range, though a small one. It can also be a par-3 course, but its best feature will be its versatility. It includes a large practice putting green, two bunkers, five designated grass tee boxes and six synthetic turf greens.

Head professional Travis Wilson will be able to create a short game area with practice shots that can range from 40 to 170 yards. He will be able to create a five-hole course that runs uphill, as well as one that runs downhill. He can also conduct closest-to-the-pin contests from a wide variety of distances and hold night events in the Park.

“In our research we can’t find anything like it,’’ said Wilson. “There’s so many ways you can practice. We’re also thinking of cutting some holes for soccer (or foot) golf. You’re limited only by your own imagination.’’

Joe Dellinger had been connected with the club for 10 years, during which it underwent four ownership changes. When Bowdon took possession in January of 2016 he asked Dellinger to return as chief operating officer.

Describing Bowdon’s present involvement as “a passion purchase,’’ Dellinger is delighted by what’s been happening since then. In addition to the Golf Practice Park, construction of a clubhouse and tavern is to begin in June.

“There had been nothing new at Balsam for some time, but now we’re excited,’’ said Dellinger. “This will be a fun new look at what golf can be. We’re looking to the future.’’

Most of the better players will be forced to use only their irons when the Practice Park is used as a traditional eight-tee driving range.

“The original driving range was 11 acres. Now they can’t probably hit more than irons out there,’’ said Layton. `But, if the members can accept not being able to pound drivers, we can give them something better – but on a smaller scale.’’

The Practice Park is being built on five acres and almost one of those is devoted to synthetic turf. (The rest is real grass). Putting surfaces are made of synthetic turf, and Layton likes the advantages that provides.

“Synthetics have come a long way in the last 10 years,’’ he said. “Now balls will hit and check — and even back up, in some cases. That’s a huge gain for synthetics. And, we can top dress those greens with sand so we can control the speed. That’s getting more like the real thing (standard putting greens). We don’t need irrigation and we don’t have to mow to maintain it. You don’t have to worry about having pitch marks on the greens. The maintenance costs will be lower, and that also makes it more of a legitimate option.’’

Layton believes the Practice Park will serve a variety of needs, not the least of which is to encourage beginners or youngsters to give golf a try.

“It’ll be a multi-generational facility,’’ said Layton. “Playing on a mountain course can be intimidating. It’s best for kids to get introduced to golf in small bites. This course will be walk-able and won’t have any cart paths. Hopefully more golfers will be born out of this facility.’’

It’ll be a complement to the main 18-holer, a course that Layton said “probably wouldn’t be built today because of the engineering done to make it playable.’’

So, how unique is this Practice Park? Layton said the closest thing to it is at Bandon Dunes, in Oregon. The Horse Course at Prairie Club, in Nebraska, also offers some similarities, but Balsam’s Golf Practice Park is much different than those two.

“We’re very, very excited about offering something that we hope will span new generations,’’ said Dellinger. “Kids can play casually, or maybe even barefoot. This can be a place where grandfathers can play with their grandsons and grandmothers can play with their granddaughters, where people can just go hit for an hour instead of playing a four-hour round.’’