Walters’ `Gambler’ is about a lot more than Mickelson

This, most recent, book that merits your attention had some unusual pre-release promotional literature. “Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk’’ by Billy Walters with Armen Keteyian  (Avid Reader Press) hinted that it was more about golfer Phil Mickelson than it was about Walters, who created his own autobiography.

If that was intention it worked with me. I wanted to know more details about Mickelson’s long reported gambling habits so was quickly on Barnes & Noble’s waiting list for its arrival.  Walters, who had a five-year gambling relationship with Mickelson, provided some insight – mostly in the 20th of 28 chapters in the 356-page book.

Walters claimed that Mickelson once owed him $2.5 million and, during the 2012 Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club, asked him to place a $400,000 bet for him on the U.S. team to win. Walters said he refused the request and Mickelson later denied making such a bet.

According to Walters, Mickelson wagered more than $1 billion during the past three decades and believes the golfer could have helped him avoid a five-year prison sentence for insider trading. Instead Mickelson told Waters that “his (Mickelson’s) lawyers didn’t want him to face questions on the stand.’’

Walters said all he wanted Mickelson to do was to tell “the truth’’ and – after the jail time was over — he said Mickelson apologized.

Anyway, enough about Mickelson.  This book is all about Walters and he has led a very interesting life. He came out of extreme poverty growing up in Kentucky to become successful – and very rich – in the gambling industry. He did well in other ventures, among them golf.

Walters details how his company revived or developed courses across the country, a list of 13 that includes Golf Club of Illinois, Burr Hill, Black Hawk and Eagle Brook in the Chicago area.

He also was successful in building 22 car dealerships and some ventures in residential and commercial real estate.

In his autobiography Walters is especially willing to share his secrets on sports gambling.  I certainly learned a lot about that from reading this book.

Walters did  more learning than that: “I beat my addictions and overcame my worst vices to become a successful gambler, entrepreneur, businessman, investor, philanthropist, father and husband.’’

Walters is a complicated man with a story to tell. In “Gambler’’ he does it well.  His book is interesting, and – more importantly – well worth reading.

How `Swede’ it is at the John Deere Classic

A golfer from Sweden was expected to contend in the John Deere Classic this week, but it wasn’t Jonas Blixt in Thursday’s opening round.

Blixt, a 39-year old journeyman, has won three times on the PGA Tour, the last time in the 2016-17 season. He hadn’t even played in a PGA Tour since the Byron Nelson tournament in May, and hadn’t survived a 36-hole in five of his eight tournaments this season.

All that changed once he got to TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis, IL. Blixt, an early starter playing in ideal weather conditions, made four birdies and a 43-foot eagle putt in his final eight holes to post a 9-under-par 62.

Blixt also made an eagle on the par-5 second hole.  He shot 29 on TPC Deere Run’s back side and ended the day with a two-stroke lead on Grayson Murray, a player who has been similarly unspectacular the last few years.  His 64 was his best round in three years.

Though their scores were great on Thursday, their games have been in decline.  Blixt arrived in the Quad Cities with a No. 210 ranking in the FedEx Cup standings, with only the top 70 advancing to postseaon play, and he is No. 842 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Murray, 29, is No. 221 in the FedEx and 225 in the OWGR. He got a big boost by winning an event on the Korn Ferry Tour a month ago.

So, what happened to turn their games around?

“I saw my swing coach back home (he lives in Jacksonville, FL., now) and, after six weeks off I just tried to put some swings on it,’’ said Blixt, who played collegiately at Florida State.  “It worked out.’’

The two eagles were obviously the key.

“Those holes, if you take advantage of them, you’re really happy,’’ said Blixt.  “I was happy to make those (eagles) and get going.’’

Murray was bogey-free in the afternoon until his approach to No. 18 landed in a green-side bunker.  He couldn’t get up-and-down to save par but had no complaints.

“I missed a couple of birdie chances early, but stayed patient and it worked out,’’ he said.  “I had such a solid back nine. I’ll take it, even with the bogey to finish.  I’m in a good position going forward.’’

The question is can Blixt and Murray stay there?  Time will tell.

Pre-tournament talk centered on another Swede, 23-year old Ludvig Aberg. He’s shown great promise since sweeping all three collegiate player-of-the-year awards in his final season at Texas Tech. He’s in his fourth PGA Tour event since turning pro and finished in the top 25 twice.

Counting his amateur days Aberg appeared in five PGA Tour events and made the cut in every one. He has been getting noticed, and the JDC gave him a special pairing in Wednesday’s pro-am.  He played the front nine with the event’s celebrity, Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark. The popular Clark swelled the galleries and impressed Aberg.

“She’s a rock star.  I was just a passenger,’’ said Aberg.  “It was cool.’’

Last week in Detroit he was paired for two rounds with Luke Donald, the European Ryder Cup champion. That spiked talk of Aberg possibly being a Ryder Cup selection for Europe. He called Donald “a great guy’’ but was guarded about the Ryder Cup.

“If I was asked about the Ryder Cup a few weeks ago I’d have said `no way’ because I was still in college,’’ said Aberg.  “All I can do is prepare for every tournament and see where that takes me.’’

Next week it’ll take him to the Scottish Open, the last stop before the year’s final major – the British Open.

Aberg’s 68 on Thursday matched the score of defending champion J.T. Poston, who – like Blixt – started with a 62 en route to leading wire to wire last year.

Best of the Illinois contingent was Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who is tied for 13th after posting a 67. Doug Ghim, D.A. Points and Dylan Wu all carded 70s and Kevin Streelman is at 71.



Stanford beats Johnson — and weather — to win Senior LPGA


England’s Trish Johnson was the focal point of the Senior LPGA Championship, as she chased her third title in six years at Sultan’s Run. She didn’t win, however. (Joy Sarver Photos)


JASPER, Indiana – The Senior LPGA Championship, only six years old, is the youngest of golf’s designated major tournaments. It was first played at French Lick’s Pete Dye Course in 2017 and England’s Trish Johnson was the winner.

This year’s tourney was played only 20 miles away, at Sultan’s Run Golf Club, and Johnson was in position to win for the third time — but she didn’t.  A triple bogey-bogey finish by Johnson handed the title to Texan Angela Stanford, who reached the tourney’s 45-year old age requirement only seven months ago.

That wasn’t the only strange happening at the event, either.  The weather almost trumped the competition, and it was touch-and-go whether the event would finish on time.

Not only could no one in the 72-player field finish the first 18 holes on Thursday’s opening day, but two threesomes couldn’t even tee off.  The day-long rains were that bad, making a marathon second day inevitable.

Angela Stanford celebrates her firs title in the Senior LPGA Championship. (Mike May Photo)

Rain couldn’t dampen Round 2, but some players had to play 36 holes.  That long day ended with Johnson, shooting the day’s low round of 66, opening a three-stroke lead over defending champion Karrie Webb and Becky Morgan with Stanford five strokes back in her first Senior LPGA appearance.

Bad weather was in the forecast for Saturday’s final round, and players were to begin play at 7:30 a.m. with threesomes starting off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees to get the round in as quickly as possible.

Even that strategy didn’t work, and it wasn’t even close.  The first tee shots weren’t hit until 1 p.m. Though the Sultan’s Run course held up well despite the heavy deluge of rain the cart path only rule was put into effect. That slowed up play, and late in the afternoon tournament officials were warned that more bad weather – including tornado threats – was on the way.

Australian Karrie Webb finished third in her Senior LPGA title defense.

Johnson had a four-stroke lead, though, so hopes of a finish before darkness or more storms set in were high.

And then Johnson hit a bad tee shot off at No. 17. That led to a triple bogey.  Stanford, playing a group in front, made birdie at 18 and the four-shot swing left them both at 10-under-par. A Johnson birdie on the finishing hole would still give her the win but a par would force a playoff and more golf in – to put it mildly – questionable weather.

Johnson couldn’t shake off the nightmare at the 17th.  She hit another bad tee shot on the 18th and had a 12-foot putt for birdie that would have led to extra holes.  For better or worse, the putt missed.  Stanford was the champion and the weather issues were then of minimal importance. (They would have been a factor, as storms and strong winds emerged as darkness was setting in).

The end result was that Stanford was $60,000 richer after claiming the biggest prize from a $400,000 purse.  The low round of the tournament – a 65 – got her the win, which will go together with the seven she captured on the LPGA Tour.  Stanford then hurried off to California for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach.

“I’m leaving with more confidence than when I came here, that’s for sure,’’ she said. “I just figured some things out and got my mind right this week. I’ve had some confidence issues lately.’’

Now confidence issues might be Johnson’s problem.

“My game was great for about 16 holes, then I ended triple bogey-bogey to finish,’’ she said. “There’s not much more you can say, really. It was just a horrible finish. It was very disappointing, literally throwing the tournament away, but life goes on. There are worse things.’’

No. 18, the classic finishing hole at Sultan’s Run, was the scene of great drama in the 2023 Senior LPGA Championship. It’s a great hole for viewing from the clubhouse, too.


Sultan’s Run brings Senior LPGA tourney back to Indiana

Sultan’s Run boasts that its 18th hole is the most dramatic in Indiana.


JASPER, Indiana – Golf’s top senior women players found a home at French Lick Resort, which hosted big tournaments for nine straight years. The senior run ended in 2021 when the last of three Senior LPGA Championships was played on the Pete Dye Course there.

“A great run for them, and a great run for us,’’ said Dave Harner, long-time director of golf at French Lick Resort. He triggered the arrival of the Legends Tour, a circuit for players who had starred on the Ladies PGA Tour and wanted to continue to compete after reaching their 45th birthday. And now, 10 years later,  his team at French Lick played a major role in bringing the Senior LPGA Championship back to Southern Indiana.

The Legends Championship was a French Lick fixture from 2013 to 2016.  Then the event was upgraded, to the Senior LPGA Championship – the first major tournament for women in that age group.

French Lick opted to focus on the LPGA’s up-and-coming stars after that, and hosted a Symetra Tour event on its Donald Ross Course. That evolved into the biggest-paying event on what is now the Epson Tour when it makes its final appearance in the small southern Indiana town from Aug. 3-6 with a $335,000 purse on the line.

Women’s championship golf isn’t leaving the area, though, and Harner remains very much a part of it.  He helped steer the Senior LPGA back to Southern Indiana for this year ‘s Senior LPGA.  It’ll be played at Sultan’s Run, a public course located about 20 miles from the resort.

Sultan’s Run, which opened in 1992 and was remodeled by Pete Dye protégé Tim Liddy four years later, has been named the site for this year’s Senior LPGA.  It’ll run from June 26 to July 2.

“Salina Country Club (in Kansas) was the site last year, but there’s a renovation going on out there, so they had no site for 2023,’’ said Chris Tretter, co-owner and general manager of Sultan’s Run. “They reached out to Dave.’’

“Salina had really done a good job and wanted to come back,’’ said Harner. “They wanted to make sure the tournament had an appropriate venue for this year, and Sultan’s Run in a quality venue.’’

The relationship between the French Lick Resort and Sultan’s Run has always been a warm one. There were even talks about the resort buying Sultan’s at one point.  The resort staff managed Sultan’s for two years and Harner considers it “a sister course.’’  When there’s an overflow of play at French Lick or some guests want an extra course to play he sends them to Sultan’s Run.

“It adds another dimension to our golf experience,’’ he said.  “Having the Epson Tour has been super, and I wouldn’t be surprised – based on how the Senior LPGA goes – if the Epson came back here to play at Sultan’s Run.’’

That’s a topic for another day, but Tretter is excited about Sultan’s Run getting its biggest tournament  yet.  The course has received numerous state awards and been well received as the site for many Indiana amateur and professional events.

The course got its name from a legendary race horse, Supreme Sultan, who trained on the grounds before the course was built. The course has what’s been billed as “the most dramatic finishing hole in Indiana.’’

Tretter and Harner invited Tim Kramer of the PGA out for a visit in October.  They toured the course and Kramer immediately said “We’re coming.’’  More details, however, had to be worked out before the announcement could become official.

“This will be our first big women’s event, and we’re thrilled,’’ said Tretter.  “The history of the women’s tour is really robust, and very interesting.’’

The last Legends event at French Lick was won by England’s Trish Johnson in 2016.  Johnson also won the first Senior LPGA the following year. Laura Davies was the Senior LPGA champion in 2018 and Helen Alrfredsson in 2019.  The tourney was cancelled in 2020 due to pandemic issues, then Johnson won again in 2021.

Australian Karrie Webb was the winner last year in Kansas, and now Sultan’s Run is looking to add similarly great  champions to its resume like the ones who won at French Lick.  In addition to the Senior LPGAs played there the Legends winners included Lori Kane, Laurie Rinker and Juli Inkster, and Jan Stephenson won the Super Senior Division when it was part of the Legends format.

The winner at Sultan’s will receive the Steve Ferguson Trophy, honoring the chairman of the board of Cook Group, just like the previous champions did.

French Lick won’t be out of the tournament spotlight either.  The Pete Dye Course will become the site of the men’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship beginning in 2024.  That event will end its run at another Indiana course, Victoria National, this fall.  French Lick has a five-year agreement to take over that big event.






New owners will boost Mission Inn’s prominence on Epson Tour

Mission Inn, one of Florida’s best golf resorts, has a big tournament coming up on a special course.

HOWEY-in-the-HILLS, Florida – Mission Inn, one of Florida’s oldest golf resorts, is no stranger to hosting tournaments. The fourth playing of the Epson Tour’s Inova Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship is coming up in May, but this time it’ll be different.

On Dec. 9 the resort changed ownership.  The Beucher family, with deep roots in Illinois, had owned the resort for 58 years, before selling it to MMI Hotel Group, a similar family operation based in Jackson, Mississippi.  The Sturdevant family has been part of the ownership group of MMI for 67 years.

The family ownership aspect played a part in the sale. The Beuchers still reside in the area, are members of the club and still own some of the land on which it was built.

MMI used an elaborate media day event as a means of getting involved with the golf side of the Mission Inn operation. Attendees included two of the top international players on the Epson circuit – Sophie Hausemann, from Germany, and Klira Riihijarvi, from Finland — and Mary Mills, winner of three major titles in her career as an LPGA player. Also on hand was Kay McMahon, a member of the LPGA Professionals Hall of Fame.

The Mississippi group, with roots in the Southeast, has had hotels in Florida but its portfolio includes only one golf facility – The King & Prince Beach and Golf Resort in St. Simons Island, Ga.  The company is all in with the golf operation at Mission Inn, however.

“We’re a golf resort, and golf is critical to our success and always will be,’’ said Dominick Buompastore, MMI vice president of operations. “We’re thrilled to be part of this tournament.  These (the Epson Tour) are the next level of players.  That’s really great for us, and we have a contract for future years.”

Buompastore said an investment in technology has been the first order of business in the first three months of MMI’s ownership.  Next comes an analysis of what should be done with the two golf courses – El Campeon, site of the Inova event with roots back to 1917, and Las Colinas, an 18-holer designed by ex-PGA Tour winner turned broadcaster Gary Koch in 1992.

The Epson Tour will visit Mission Inn for the fourth straight year on the historic Ek Campeon layout.

El Campeon is one of the oldest and most challenging courses in Florida.  It was designed by a Chicago architect, George O’Neil, and was brought into prominence after the Beuchers took over the resort in 1964. It’s hosted a variety of high school, college and state professional tournaments, and its steeply-elevated terrain sets it apart from other Florida courses.

“It’s a tough track, a cool track,’’ said Riihijarvi, who played in the tournament last year.  “We don’t see many of these on the Epson Tour.’’

The tournament rounds are May 26-28.  The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after 36 holes and two scramble pro-ams, on May 24 and 25, will precede the tournament rounds.

Riihijarvi, who recently earned her LPGA membership, will play on the premier women’s circuit when it reaches the Drive On Championship in Phoenix but she was still willing to promote the event a Mission Inn.

Three players who won on the Epson Tour in 2022 – Jillian Hollis, Daniela Iacobelli and Britney Yada – are in this year’s field at Mission Inn as are Cydney Clanton and Silvia Cavalleri, both of whom have won tournaments on the LPGA circuit.

Previous winners are Missi0n Inn were Matilda Castren (2020), Min Lee (2021) and Gina Kim (2022). This year’s 144-player field will compete for $200,000 in prize money, with $30,000 going to the champion.

Michael Bowery (left) and Dominick Buompastore are leaders in Mission Inn’s ownership change.


Golf-wise the ownership change produced a significant staff adjustment.  Michael Bowery, the director of golf at Mission Inn, has turned the golf reins over to Brian Mulry.  Bowery is taking on a sales and marketing role under the new ownership.

“It’ll allow me to go out to bring in things like this,’’ he said of the Inova Championship.  “We’re always looking at those opportunities.  I’d love to have a televised LPGA event on this golf course.  That’s really my goal.’’

The resort is a 35-minute drive northwest of Orlando. Its Spanish Colonial architecture features 176 hotel guest rooms, 131 deluxe rooms, 38 club suites, four one bedroom suites, two two bedroom suites and one penthouse suite with three bedrooms.

In addition to the two golf courses, Mission Inn has four restaurants,  two lounges and a poolside bar. Its amenities include tennis, pickleball, jogging and cycling trails, volleyball courts, a spa, fitness center and a marina offering pontoons, bass boat and kayaks for eco-touring. More than 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space is available for meetings, banquets, holiday parties, weddings and special occasions.

El Campeon, which opened in 1917, has elevation changes that are rare in Florida courses.



Honda showed the Ryder Cup captains have the right attitude

THE END: Chris Kirk (left) beat Eric Cole (right) in a playoff to win the PGA Tour’s final Honda Classic.

Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, Luke Donald, had an interesting pairing in his two rounds at the Honda Classic last week.  He played with Padraig Harrington, the European Ryder Cup captain when the U.S. scored its record victory at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits in 2021, and Zach Johnson, who will be Donald’s rival U.S. captain in this year’s Ryder Cup in Italy.

The trio got along well, though Johnson and Harrington survived the 36-hole cut and Donald – despite playing a rare event near his Florida home — didn’t. Given the contentious atmosphere in golf now that the PGA and LIV tours are both in action again, that was refreshing.

Granted, the next Ryder Cup is still months away, but there isn’t a more competitive event in the sport. Johnson, though, calls Donald “always a good friend, and to partner with him in this endeavor, in this distinct honor, is awesome.’’

The friendly vibes even go beyond the rivalry between two veteran touring golfers.

“It’s (Luke) and (his wife) Diane, for that matter,’’ said Johnson.  “I love the Donalds.’’

The competitiveness of the Ryder Cup, however, won’t be lost in the sweet talk.

“We’re in this together,’’ said Johnson.  “Bottom line is that we’re ultra competitors first.  We’re probably similar in the way we approach the game, and our temperaments are pretty comparable….I’m confident in saying that we’ll both try to lead the proper way and let the golf clubs of our 12 players do all the talking.’’

Just who those players will be is a mystery.

Johnson knows he won’t be able to use players competing on the  controversial Saudi-backed LIV Tour but Donald isn’t sure. The European powers that be are  non-commital.

“There is some differences, some subtle and some substantial, between what he’s (Donald) going through and I’m going through,’’ said Johnson.  “I don’t even understand it all with his team, but I don’t need to.  I feel for him.  It’s not the easiest thing to navigate. And I’m not sure what clarity I really have, to be honest with you, because it’s ever changing.’’

One thing is certain.  Johnson’s game is better than Donald’s at the moment.  Johnson finished tied for 12th in the Honda, his best finish in six starts in the 2022-23 season.  Donald missed three cuts and tied for 40th in the Genesis event at Riviera in his four starts this season.

Both are in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this week and Donald has a sponsor’s exemption to compete in the last event of the Florida Swing, the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor. Donald won there in 2012.

Long-time Florida resident Billy Horschel hopes PGA National will have another tournament in 2024.

Before moving on from what was the final Honda Classic there’s some indications that PGA National will welcome the PGA Tour players again.

Florida native Billy Horschel was not happy that the Honda – the longest-running title sponsor on the PGA Tour – won’t return in 2024.  The tournament began in Ft. Lauderdale, as the Jackie Gleason Inverarry Classic, in 1972.  Honda was the title sponsor since 1982 and PGA National was the site since 2007.

“We used to have two tournaments in South Florida – here and Doral,’’ said Horschel.  “Now we only have one, and we’re not going to lose this one.  I’ve been told we’re going to stay here.’’

Difficult dates led to weak field at the Honda in recent years.

“You’ve got 30 to 40 PGA Tour pros who live within a couple miles of this place, and only a handful played last week.  That’s disappointing,’’ said Horschel. “The PGA Tour needs to make sure this event is put in the right spot (on the schedule) so they get all the top players here on a regular basis.’’

Like Horschel, Jack Nicklaus – whose nearby children’s hospital was the Honda’s main beneficiary – also believes a tournament will be back at PGA National once new sponsorship is finalized.

The Honda Classic, a fixture on the PGA Tour since 1982, won’t be forgotten. (Greg Wise Photo)







Check out these innovative products unveiled at the PGA Show

Mike Friedman’s Tall Order socks have a link with baseball star Aaron Judge.


ORLANDO, FL. – With 400 companies and 800 brands participating the PGA Merchandise Show was in full swing for its 70th staging at the Orange County Convention Center.

Those weren’t quite the numbers in pre-pandemic years, but they underscored a good recovery for the golf industry’s biggest event and product innovation was at a particularly high level.

Here are three that particularly intrigued us.  All had creators with a story to tell, and all three involved brothers working together.

TALL ORDER SOCKS – Towering twin brothers Mike and Dan Friedman are New Yorkers who, inevitably, had to think big.  Mike is 6-11 and Dan 6-9.

“We were so big that we had trouble finding socks that would stay up,’’ said Mike.  “I’d be wearing dress socks and walking to work in the snow, and my socks would fall down in my boots.’’

In the fall of 2017 they addressed not only that problem but also did something they felt was overdue.

“We started our business in honor of our Dad (Andrew),’’ said Mike.  “He was killed in the World Trade Center in 2001.  We wanted to do something that honored his legacy. We remember vividly giving out clean white socks to people who were rescue workers or first responders. At first we made our socks for just tall people.  Now we make them for everybody. Our motto now is `Made for all, not just tall.’’

The socks have seamless toes, extra cushioning and arch support.  They range in price from $10-18 for dress socks, $25-30 for ankle socks and $30 for a three-pack.

“We wanted to provide people with as much comfort as possible,’’ said Mike.  “Plus, we donate a portion of what we see to give back to various organizations – families of first responders and rescue personnel.  It’s important for us to give back.’’

The story doesn’t end there, however.

In 2020 the Friedmans got a call from an equipment manager for the New York Yankees.

“He said Aaron (Judge) is upset with his socks,’’ said Mike Friedman.  “They were too tight and not comfortable.  He asked if we could make him some socks, and we did. In Aaron’s first game wearing his new socks he went three-for-5 with four RBIs including a moonshot home run, and he’s worn them ever since.’’

Judge, of course, has gone on to greater things with his home run-hitting prowess and that’s not all.  He’s also become an equity partner in Tall Order.

Tim Wright has found a way to combine hockey with better putting.

CALIBER GOLF –This company, based in Kenosha, WI., unveiled a putting grip and shaft with roots in a hockey stick.  Other would-be golf inventors have worked with hockey sticks over the years but with little success. Caliber’s first version wasn’t a success, either.

Tim Wright, like his brother Chip, is a hockey devotee, and they played on a championship team at the University of Wisconsin.  Tim started their creative effort in a one-car garage because he couldn’t make a four-foot putt.

“As a hockey player I could rip a slapshot in the net over a goalie’s shoulder from the blue line,’’ he said.  But the seemingly easier four-foot putts rarely found the cup.

In desperation Wright cut one of his putters 7 ½ inches off the blade of the shaft.  Then he took a hockey stick, hollow inside, inserted the putter blade and taped it up.

“I wound up winning my flight in an event at the Kenosha Country Club,’’ said Wright.  “The pro there allowed me to play with it but the members were disappointed because the putter was non-conforming.’’

Wright went to the U.S. Golf Association for advice.

“I needed to get the hockey shaft to conform to the Rules of Golf, and I was told that, for 30 years, people have submitted the hockey shaft to try to get it to conform,’’ said Wright,  “but a hockey shaft vs. a putter shaft doesn’t deflect equally from all angles.  That’s written in the rules and regulations.’’

Wright beat that problem by inserting a tube into the hockey stick shaft, then  inserting the putter head into the tube and glued it in so the head wouldn’t wobble.

“Then there was no vibration or movement (when putts were struck),’’ he said. “It didn’t matter what putter head wa suns used, and now it’s patented.  A putter grip can be non-circular.  Every other club has to have a round grip.’’

The Caliber Putting Grip & Shaft costs $199. The company can insert the putter head of choice but that task can also be performed by club professionals or players with some expertise in club construction.

Dan Sunseri (left) and Rodney Wilson are boosting the Brim Buddy for sun protection.

BRIM BUDDY – This is a hat attachment devised by another set of twins, Dan and Don Sunseri, who are from California’s San Francisco Bay area.

“We had skin cancer and our doctor told us to wear a big hat,’’ said Dan.  “We tried a million of them and don’t like them.  We prefer baseball caps.’’

Don was the brainchild for the Brim Buddy, a circular brim with a hole in the center.  It fits on top of a traditional golf cap, thereby adding protection from the sun. The Sunseris had the product in development for four years before unveiling it in Orlando.

“It’s an easily affordable product that can always be in your golf bag and provides 360 sun protection,’’ said Dan Sunserie. “We have two models – one for average light and a heavier one that will hold up in the wind. The whole idea is about sun protection, to get a product out to people who love the outdoors. The response from the show was fantastic.’’

A local pro, Rodney Wilson, came on board after the Sunseris introduced the Brim Buddy.  Its priced at $17 wholesale and can be personalized with player, club, outing or company names inserted.

Rodney Wilson, a golf professional, was quick to jump on to the Brim Buddy bandwagon.

PGA Show triggers some big news by Chicago area golf companies

The par-3 seventh on the Blue Course is one of the most memorable holes at Streamsong. a unique Florida resort that just underwent an ownership change.



ORLANDO, FL. — The biggest week so far in the 2023 golf season is on tap, and – though the Ladies PGA Tour’s season-opening Tournament of Champions is being played nearby – the focus will be on the 70th PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

The show has been the industry’s biggest event, having regularly drawn 40,000 visitors in pre-pandemic times.  Attendance has been meager by comparison the last two years but most all the major manufacturers — there will be 450 companies and 800 brands represented — will return next week, and the event always triggers big news from throughout the golf industry.

This year one of the biggest developments has already been announced, and by  Northbrook-based KemperSports to boot.  The company, founded in 1978, just announced the purchase of Streamsong, one of the nation’s premier golf resorts.

Kemper had managed the three-course operation since the resort’s opening in 2012 and took over full management duties for owner Mosaic, a mining company, two years ago.  Mosaic sold Streamsong, located in the town of Bowling Green near Lakeland, FL., to  Lone Windmill LLC, an affiliate of KemperSports  supported by Kemper’s equity members, for $160 million.

Kemper executive director Steve Skinner arrived early for next  week’s show to check in at Streamsong – a 50-mile drive from Orlando — and he’ll be around for the start of the PGA Merchandise Show, which starts a busy three-day run on Tuesday. Kemper will present a survey “Teeing up the Future of Golf,’’ to show attendees in the aftermath of the Streamsong purchase.

“We’re very excited,’’ said Skinner, who has been with Kemper since 1998 and was involved in the creation of Streamsong since its opening in 2012. The purchase includes the three championship courses, two clubhouses, a lodge and other amenities on a 7,000-acre property.  Only 2,000 acres are in use now so there’s plenty of room for growth.

Skinner said that construction will begin in March on The Chain, a 19-hole short course designed by the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw architectural team, and a two-acre putting course.

“Down the road we’d like to build some cottages and then, if the demand requires it, a fourth big course,’’ said Skinner. “Golf has been the beneficiary of a new lifestyle coming out of the pandemic. We’ve seen a great demand, and there’s no place like Streamsong in the winter golf season.’’

Kemper has 140 properties on its management portfolio, owns 15 of those facilities and leases another 12.  The company owns The Glen Club, in  Glenview; and Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove; and Hawthorn Woods in the Chicago area.  Streamsong is its fourth acquisition in Florida.

Mike Scully, who had been director of golf at Medinah when that club hosted the 2012 Ryder Cup matches, is in his second year as director of golf at Streamsong.

Other Chicago companies will have prominent roles when the Merchandise Show kicks off with 400 companies and 800 brands participating.  Most interesting is  Oakbrook Terrace’s Zero Friction. President  John Iaconno came out with new tees, gloves, rangefinders  and balls at previous shows, but now his featured product is more cutting edge models of golf bags and trolleys.

Iacono introduced his first bag at last January’s PGA Show, launching the Wheel Pro — a pushcart model that has removable wheels and weighs only 10 pounds. That makes it great for traveling but the launch didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

“We had a delay in getting them out,’’ Iacono said.  “They were supposed to arrive in April but didn’t until late August.  Supply issues.’’

Iacono is more optimistic about the model that he will unveil next week. Called the Wheel Pro Stride, it’s an electric golf bag that includes a battery life of 36 to 45 holes and weighs 15 pounds.

“It is like having your own private caddy that can essentially travel anywhere in the world with you,’’ said Iacono.  “It even follows you around the golf course.’’

Chicago’s Wilson Sporting Goods just introduced a new line of clubs that is a throwback to the 1950s.  The Dynapower equipment line, which made its debut in 1956, will be re-launched with adjustable drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and irons.

“Dynapower changed the game of golf seven decades ago, and it’s time for Wilson to do it again,’’ said Tim Clarke, president of Wilson Golf.  “These powerful irons and adjustable drivers are built with our legendary history in mind as we continue to innovate and deliver top-of-the-line products that raise the confidence of golfers at all skill levels.’’

Wilson also adjusted its large professional advisory staff leading into the show, adding Kevin Kisner and Trey Mullinax after 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland switched to Cobra.  Mullinax won the PGA’s Barbasol Championship last season while Kisner compiled five top-10 finishes and played on the U.S. Presidents Cup team.







Florida’s Bonita Bay has completed an extraordinary course renovation

Bonita Bay Club, with five courses spread over two campuses, is a Florida golf landmark.


NAPLES, Florida – Most every golf course in south Florida was impacted when Hurricane Ian hit the area on Sept. 28.  That included Bonita Bay Club, long recognized as one of southeastern United States’ premier facilities.

Bonita Bay, Florida’s largest private club, has five golf courses spread over two campuses that are 10 miles apart.  The crowned jewel of those layouts, the Cypress Course, re-opened after a 14-month renovation on Oct. 14 but it took a while for the word to get out on just how elaborate the project was. Hurricane Ian had a lot to do with that, though relatively minor damage was reported at Cypress.

Two of the club’s courses – Cypress and Sabal – are at the Naples location and the other three – Creekside, Marsh and Bay Island – are in Bonita Springs, which was harder hit by the hurricane. The trio there are Arthur Hills designs created between 1985 and 1994.

Bulkhead walls were used for the first time in a Fazio design at Cypress.

The Tom Fazio Design Group created Cypress and Sabal in the late 1990s, Cypress opening in 1997.   The Naples site is about 1,000 acres, and about 500 are donated to conservation projects. There are no homes around the property, a rarity for Naples area courses.

Not only does Bonita Bay have five golf courses, it has most everything else that might entice a prospective club member – as evidenced by the fact that the club has a long waiting list. When it was deemed time to upgrade its facilities the membership was all in, but it wasn’t a quick fix at Cypress.

“It took about a year to do the renovation but we needed three years of planning,’’ said Paul Fissel, Bonita Bay’s greens committee chairman. “Both of our courses there needed refurbishing to bring them up to a more modern era. Tom and his team delivered exactly what he said he would — a golf course that plays firm and fast in conditions now that normally are soft and wet.’’

The look of the bunkers at Cyypress has changed. Now they have `Augusta-like’ white sand.

There was no question about who would oversee the renovation project. Tom Fazio’s architectural firm was brought back with Tom Marzolf, a senior associate of the Fazio team and a member of it since 1983, directing the effort. Marzolf was well qualified, having done work on such nationally known courses as Oakmont, Merion, Winged Foot, Firestone, Oak Hill and Riviera.

At Cypress the entire course was raised by 12-18 inches to improve drainage. Six new lakes were created and four more expanded, resulting in 200,000 cubic yards of earth being spread over the property.

The fairways were widened, and 450 new catch basins added.  Perforated pipe was laid underground to steer water away from playable areas and the tee placements were increased from five to seven per hole. One tee was added in front of the previous front set and another was added behind what had been the tips.

“We wanted the course to play shorter (to accommodate older players), plus the (Florida) section pros play a lot of their events there so we picked up yardage for the back tees,’’ said Marzolf.

Architect Tom Marzolf (left) and greens chairman Paul Fissel led Cypress’ renovation project.


Tee markers are now at 500-yard intervals – from 4,500 yards to 7,500.  Cypress is the first Fazio-designed course to have a 3,000-yard spread between the front and back tees.

“From a club professional’s perspective we have a course that is championship-ready” said E.J. McDonnell, Bonita Bay’s director of golf.

“Our members enjoy the variety of playing options afforded by having five courses,’’ said Paul Nussbaum, chairman of Bonita Bay’s board of directors.  “Cypress remains our most competitive but – with seven sets of tees –our golfers will find the right challenge for their games.’’

The number of bunkers was reduced from 70 to 50.  “But now more are in play,’’ said Marzolf.  The new bunkers also have a “cleaned up, Augusta look.’’

Greens and collared areas were also re-designed, resulting in more fun options to get the ball to the flagstick. Putting from off the green may now be more popular than chipping.

Work at Cypress created an exciting new layout at great expense to the membership.  However, Bonita Bay’s other courses are already slated for major renovations, according to the club’s Golf Master Plan. Creekside will get special attention in 2023 and Sabal in 2024.

Among many projects discussed and pending approval are performance centers for both Marsh and Creekside and a renewed clubhouse at Naples.

Being on the edge of the Everglades, the Cypress course has plenty of wildlife.








ING’s Fall Forum provides a sneak preview of the PGA Show

Rick Versace’s Proud 90 is now the official apparel of the International Network of Golf.

SEBRING, FL. -The International Network of Golf is a fixture at the PGA Merchandise Show and the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship.  ING also hosted an annual Spring Conference around the country prior to pandemic concerns.

Still on the brink of celebrating his group’s 30th anniversary, ING executive director Mike Jamison moved in another direction. He organized his first Fall Forum, an event that was smaller in number of attendees than other events when ING members got together but its format may well be the wave of the future.

Attendees got a more close-up look at new golf gear in advance of January’s PGA Show as well as an informative social marketing seminar led by Sabrina Andolpho, a former college golfer turned social media whiz.

And all that was in addition to two golf outings – the first at the Citrus Golf Tour Open’s pro-am and the second at the return of the Durland Cup scramble. The Citrus Tour is a minor league circuit that offered a $20,000 first prize at its tournament immediately after the pro-am at Sun ‘N Lakes Country Club.  The Durland Cup has been a fixture at ING events over the years.

This time, though, the four — more personalized — new gear presentations may have been the event’s biggest hit.  Here’s what they revealed:

Zero Friction’s John Iacono gives a video preview of the trolley he’ll introduce at the 2023 PGA Show.

ZERO FRICTION’S WHEEL PRO – Illinois-based Zero Friction has come on like gangbusters, with president  John Iacono coming out previously with new tees, gloves, rangefinders  and balls. Now comes the much more cutting edge bags and trolleys.

Iacono introduced his first version at last January’s PGA Show but the launch of the Wheel Pro, a pushcart bag, didn’t go smoothly.  It has removable wheels, weighs only 10 pounds and is great for traveling.

“We had a delay in getting them out,’’ Iacono said.  “They were supposed to arrive in April but didn’t until late August.  Supply issues.’’

That’s been an all too frequent problem in many industries in the aftermath of the pandemic, but Iacono is more optimistic about his newest products – The Hybrid and The Fairway.  He expects the Hybrid – a power version of the Wheel Pro — to hit the marketplace in mid- to late-2023 and he’ll provide a sneak preview of The Fairway on the Thursday of the 2023  PGA Show in Orlando, FL.

The Fairway is an electric, follow me remote control golf bag that is being developed in England.  Golfers can set the speed, and it’ll include a 36-hole rechargeable battery. A ramp is under construction that will be used during the PGA Show introduction.

Weighing 32 pounds, The Fairway is not designed for carrying and Iacono anticipates a market price of $1,899.

Proud 90 has created the official ING apparel for men and women.

PROUD 90 – Want something different in golf apparel? Rick Versace has it, though he isn’t sure his famous clothing designer last name is part of the equation.  Versace founded Proud 90 three years ago and is now its chief executive officer.

“Our mission is to make golf as much fun as possible for all skill levels,’’ said Versace, who said the company name comes from that fact that “most golfers don’t break 90.’’

He got the idea after watching PGA star Rickie Fowler (on television) playing with no shoes on one of the nicest courses in the country.

“We wanted to create a vacation vibe, no matter where you’re at,’’ said Versace. His polos started with Hawaiian prints and progressed from there to include a variety of eye-catching designs.  They’re also known for being especially comfortable. The company’s logo – a dog standing on a green gazing up at a flagstick – underscores that. That dog is Versace’s Great Dane, named Tank.

Versace now has 12 sales reps and his polos are in 250 clubs around the country.  They’re priced at $79 retail and $39 wholesale. They have ING’s support. Jamison declared the Proud 90 “the official ING apparel company for at least six months….We’ll see how that goes, but we love it so far.’’

The adjustable weighting system makes Mayfield Putters something special.

MAKEFIELD PUTTERS – Pennsylvania-based Everett Farr was browsing through a lot of golf ads during pandemic days, and that encouraged him to take his engineering talents into the creation of a state-of-the-art putter. Its adjustable weighting system makes it stand out and provides its users with a wide variety of customization options.

The Makefield putters are designed with Path of Inertia, which guides your stroke, balances the clubface to the path to the hole and provides centeredness of impact.  That encourages an immediate, consistent roll that should lead to lower scores. Five tour players and some Walker Cup players are testing it.

“One of my companies made a prototype,’’ said Farr, who got immediate positive feedback.  Three months later the putter was in construction.

Michael Little, a two-time Philadelphia PGA Player of the Year, is a co-founder of Makefield and Michael Brown, who held the amateur titles of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware at the same time, is part of the Makefield team.

Farr came up with the Makefield name on a drive through Lower Makefield, a Pennsylvania town on the Delaware River.

“Make’’ is what a putter is designed to do, and `field’ is who you play against in a tournament,’’ said Farr, who still occasionally plays with a Ping putter that his father – a PGA Tour official – gave him in 1968.  The Makefield version has captured his heart, however.

“This is all new to me, but it’s an absolutely amazing putter,’’ said Farr.

Buckets Golf went heavy with Buckey the raccoon as its marketing focal point.

BUCKET GOLF – You’ve got to have fun with this company’s golf balls.  Mac Ross  certainly has.

“We sell golf balls,’’ said Mac Ross, who launched his company last May.   “Buckets is associated with basketball, but it works with golf, too.’’

Mac’s wife is a teaching pro who grew up on a golf course, and he recalls selling balls gathered off a course near his home when he was 10 years old. Both have full-time jobs now but are having fun with their new business venture.

They’ve named the apparel company logo “Buckey’’ and are looking to give their raccoon mascot a marketing personality.  The ball packaging is the best part, though.  Its round shape —like a coffee can — makes it multi-purpose.  It could be converted into putting cup, along with a variety of storage uses.  No other golf ball manufacturer showcases its product the way Bucky does.

Apparel and golf accessories will come later, but for now Bucket balls are working out just fine.  Ross got off to a promising start at the ING Fall Forum. Though not professing to be a great golfer, he won the long drive contest at one of the Fall Forum outings.

“He hit it at least 350,’’ marveled Jamison. Ross, of course, hit a Bucket ball on his long blast and another player made a hole-in-one with the ball at another of the outings.

Bucket balls so far have been made in China, and Ross is looking for manufacturers in South America and Taiwan. Ross has applied for USGA ball approval and expects no problem getting it.  The balls are being sold off the company’s website  ( for $28.99, not including shipping.

Sabrina Andolpho, who played collegiately at Barry in Florida, has become one of golf’s best social media influencers. Her presentation was a highlight of ING’s first Fall Forum at Inn on the Lakes in Sebring, FL.