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.




A special day for Joy

Citrus Tour pro Chris Wiatr (left) showed Joe Sarver how to make a hole-in-one.

SEBRING, FL. — The International Network of Golf’s first Fall Forum in 2022 couldn’t have been scripted better for Joy and me.

In Tuesday’s pro-am for the Citrus Golf Tour Open we played on different teams.  Joy witnessed a hole in one by her professional partner, Chris Wiatr, and my team’s pro, Donnie Trosper, tied Chris for low pro honors by holing out his last shot from the rough.  Donnie, good friend Tony Leodora and I won the team title.

That produced some understandable excitement but nothing like Joy created on Wednesday in the Durland Cup Scramble at Sebring Golf Club. Joy wasn’t happy with her play on Tuesday but that was quickly forgotten in the Durland Cup, an annual feature at ING events.  Joy started her round playing well and made her first-ever hole-in one on the fifth hole, sinking a 7-wood shot from 101 yards.

Joy and I were in the same group this time, with noted golf architect Ron Garl, eSouthernGolf editor Dave Daubert and Joey Johnson of Alabama’s Southern Fairways as our partners.  Joy used the new Buckets golf ball, which was introduced at the Fall Forum by Mac Ross of Palm City, FL.

Chicago Golf Club lands a U.S. Women’s Open

Chicago’s dryspell in hosting major golf championships is over.

The U.S. Golf Association announced Tuesday that Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton, will be the site of the 2033 U.S. Women’s Open as well as the 2036 Walker Cup matches.

Once a hotbed for major tournament golf, the Chicago area last hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 2000, at Merit Club in Libertyville, and the men’s version of that championship was last played in the Chicago area at Olympia Fields in 2003.

The last USGA national championship of any sort in the area was also at Chicago Golf Club – the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open of 2018.  That’s the most recent of 12 USGA championships played in the Chicago area.

“The history of the USGA and American golf can’t be told without Chicago Golf Club, and just over 125 years after hosting its first USGA championship, we’re thrilled to announce our return for two additional significant events,’’ said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s chief championships officer.

“With the tremendous support of its members and a world-class venue, we’re confident that Chicago Golf Club will deliver memorable moments and an opportunity for golf fans around the world to see one of the country’s finest golf venues.’’

Chicago Golf Club was founded in 1892 on ground that now houses the Downers Grove Park District course.  The club was quick to move to Wheaton as the first 18-hole course in the United States and became one of the five founding members clubs of the USGA in 1894.

Charles Blair Macdonald, the first U.S. Amateur championship in 1895, designed the original Chicago Golf Club course and also served as the first vice president of the USGA.

Macdonald’s original layout was redesigned by Seth Raynor in 1923, and the course recently underwent a restoration to return the original fairway lines and dimensions of all 128 bunkers on the course.  Thirteen of them were reinstalled after the club discovered maps that indicated they were part of Raynor’s original layout.

Chicago Golf Club has staged USGA championships in three centuries.  U.S. Opens were played there in 1897, 1900 and 1911.  Four U.S. Amateurs were played there between 1897 and 1912.  The U.S. Women’s Amateur arrived in 1903, the U.S. Senior Amateur in 1979 and the Senior Women’s Open in 2018.

The Walker Cup, an amateur team event between the U.S. and Great Britain-Ireland, is also rich in history. It was previously played at Chicago Golf in 1928 and 2005.

Only six courses have hosted more USGA events than Chicago Golf Club’s 12 and Illinois ranks No. 5 among all states with its 61 championships.

“Hosting the best players in the world – men, women, amateur and professional – for USGA events is a point of pride for our club and a significant part of our long history,’’ said Herb Getz, the Chicago Golf Club president.  “We very much look forward to building upon that history and continuing our valued partnership with the USGA on an event larger stage well into the future.’’

Chicago Golf Club has never hosted the U.S. Women’s Open, but that event was played at LaGrange Country Club in 1974 and the Merit Club, in Libertyville, in 2000. Sandra Haynie won at LaGrange and Australian Karrie Webb at Merit Club.

Laura Davies, the Women’s Open champion in 1987, was a stunning 16-under-par in a 10-stroke win over Juli Inkster when the USGA hosted its first championship for women over 50 years old at Chicago Golf Club in 2018.

“Hoisting a trophy there was a highlight of my career,’’ said Davies.  “Chicago Golf Club is a great test of golf within a supportive golf community.  It should make for a fantastic U.S. Women’s Open venue.’’

U.S. captain Bob Lewis called the 2005 matches at Chicago Golf Club “the greatest Walker Cup ever played.’’

The U.S. held off Great Britain-Ireland 12 ½-11 ½ to reclaim the Cup after three straight defeats.



Tiger’s PopStroke will test the best putters in national tourney

Here’s what PopStroke Sarasota looks like for the upcoming national putting championship.


How could Tiger Woods’ new PopStroke National Putting Championship be scheduled any better for us?

The finals are Oct. 26-28 in Sarasota, FL., about three miles from our home here, and the first list of qualifying tournaments included a Sept. 10 elimination at Deerpath, in Lake Forest.  We have family members living within walking distance of that public golf facility.

PopStroke, for now at least, is a Florida thing.  Woods opened his first location in Fort Myers and the second in our former hometown of Port St. Lucie (we enjoyed our introduction to the concept there).  Since then he’s opened a location in Orlando prior to this year’s debut of PopStroke Sarasota, which is pictured here.

Basically the PopStrokes are high-end mini-golf destinations but they’re a lot closer to real golf than the miniature golf version, where you putt around contrived hazards to get the ball into a clown’s mouth (or something like that).   In PopStroke you have artificial greens created by TGR Design (Woods’ design firm),  and they’re challenging.

Woods made his announcement of the national tournament  on the same day that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced radical changes coming for the PGA Tour.  Just a coincidence?  I doubt it.

Anyway the qualifier at Deerpath will give Chicago golfers a chance to get introduced to The Lawn – a 30,000 square foot putting and chipping green that opened on July 6.  It’ll be set up for a nine-hole putting course from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 10.

Golfers pay $10 per round and can go around as many times as they wish to post a qualifying score for the national tournament. The first and second-place finishers qualify to play in Sarasota where a $100,000 prize fund will be on the line.

The tournament in Sarasota will be over 72 holes and will be open to both amateurs and professionals.


Another big women’s week at French Lick — but this one is different

The players have changed, but enthusiasm for women’s golf still runs high at French Lick.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – It’s transition time for women golfers at Indiana’s premier golf resort.

It’s hard to imagine any golf facility doing more for the women’s game in the last decade than this southern Indiana resort has been willing to step forward for two pro circuits — The Legends for players who have reached their 45th birthday and the Epson (formerly the Symetra) for future Ladies PGA Tour stars.

“We’ve been a long-term supporter of women’s golf,’’ said French Lick long-time director of golf Dave Harner.  “There’s been a lot of opportunities here for the ladies to play.’’

That’s putting it mildly.

French Lick, best known for being the boyhood home of basketball legend Larry Bird, was in a revival mode after its oldest course – the Donald Ross – underwent a renovation while construction on its newest one – the spiffy Pete Dye Course – was wrapping up.

The resort needed a big event to showcase its new course, and the LPGA’s Legends Tour needed a big tournament.  It was a good marriage.

French Lick put the focus on the Legends Tour, which was only nominally a part of the LPGA at the time. It consisted  of women touring professionals who had hit their 45th birthday.  One of them, Jane Blalock, struggled to get a circuit started for her colleagues in 2000, but it took French Lick leadership to really get it done.

The Legends Championship, a 54-hole tournament with a $500,000 purse, made its debut in 2013 on the spectacular Pete Dye Course, and that wasn’t all.  The resort also established the Legends Hall of Fame in its West Baden Springs Hotel.

Lorie Kane was the Legends first champion followed by Laurie Rinker, Juli Inkster and Trish Johnson. In 2017 the Legends Championship was transitioned into the first major championship for senior women players.  It became the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship, and Johnson won again.

French Lick not only paid a substantial price to get television coverage but 2017 also marked the arrival of the Symetra Tour in town.  The young, budding LPGA stars competed in the Donald Ross Memorial tourney, held to celebrate the centennial of the oldest of the little town’s three courses. Three LPGA tourneys had been held there, including the 1959 and 1960 LPGA Championships.

The gardens at the West Baden Springs Hotel offer a stunning  lead-in for visitors to the Pete Dye Course.

Using the golf spotlight to benefit the Riley Children’s Hospital, French Lick also hosted Senior LPGA Championships in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and the Symetra’s Donald Ross Classic in from 2017-19 and 2021. Neither tournament was held in 2020 because of pandemic issues.

That was a big load for any golf facility to take on, so something had to give. It was “So long, Legends’’ and a big welcome back to the Epson Tour, which had taken over the title of the developmental circuit.

The Legends had a great run at French Lick, with some celebrated champions before departing.  Laura Davies followed Johnson as the winner of the Senior LPGA in in 2018, Helen Alfredsson was the champion in 2019 and Johnson won again last year.

Harner, in a final farewell to the senior stars, played in the pro-am prior to this year’s Senior LPGA at Salina Country Club, in Kansas.  Their circuit is now called The Legends of the LPGA but it’s in transition, too.  Blalock took a diminished role in the circuit’s operation when Jane Geddes was named executive director.  Geddes didn’t stay in that role very long, though, and now Linda Chen is the circuit’s executive director of business development.

Over the years the Legends have raised nearly $24 million for charity, and that number will grow with three more events on this year’s schedule – The Land O’ Lakes Classic in Minnesota this month, BJ/s Charity Classic in Massachusetts in September and the Rosie Jones Invitational in South Carolina in October. Those players also have a second major championship coming up with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Aug. 25-28 at NCR in Dayton, Ohio.

The horse statue will greet the Epson players when they approach the entry to the Pete Dye Course.

This year’s Donald Ross Charity Classic won’t have the same big names in women’s golf in its field but will have the brightest young stars, headed by the season’s leading money-winner, Lucy Ly.

Previously known as the Futures and Symetra tours, the Epson has been around for 41 years but the tourney at French Lick will be something special.

Most significant is the prize money — $335,000, with $50,250 going to the champion.  It’s also a 72-hole event, a rarity on the women’s pro circuits, and has been designated as the Epson’s flagship eent, meaning it will offer more Rolex World Golf Rankings points than any tournament this season.

Two full-field pro-ams are on tap for Wednesday on the Pete Dye Course and the LPGA is livestreaming the last two rounds of the tournament.

“It’ll be big,’’ said Harner.  “It’s the biggest purse in their history.’’ The previous biggest purse was $300,000 in 2019 when the tourney was held at a layout on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Casey Danielson earned $37,500 for her win in last year’s event at French Lick.  That catapulted the former Stanford University golfer to the LPGA, but she’s coming back to French Lick to defend her title this week.

Erynne Lee, in 2017; Stephanie Kono (2018) and Patty Tavatanakit (2019), were other winners of the Donald Ross tourney.  They’ll find a much different atmosphere and challenge when they take to the Pete Dye Course.

A couple young stars to watch include 17-year old rookie phenom Alex Pano and Jaravee Boonchant, who arrived last week from  her native Thailand.  Even without a practice round on the tournament course Boonchant was a seven-shot winner in the Illinois Women’s Open immediately after arriving in the United States. She went on to finish a strong tie for 13th on Sunday in the Epson Tour’s Firekeepers tournament in Michigan.

The Firekeepers had a surprise champion in Xiaowen Yin, who won in a playoff with Gina Kim.  Yin, who won $30,000, came into the tournament at No. 24 on the season money list while Kim was No. 6.

“The Pete Dye Course has a tradition of hosting major championship golf,’’ said Mike Nichols, chief business officer of LPGA Qualifying Tours.  “By elevating the tournament experience for the Epson Tour, French Lick Resort has set an example for our current and future partners of how we can ally to support these professional athletes chasing their dreams.’’












Medinah No. 3 braces for its biggest overhaul yet


The members of Medinah Country Club have never been reluctant to order updates on their No. 3 course,  the most famous 18 holes in Chicago golf. The project that will be going on there this year, though, will go far beyond anything that has been done in the past.

Club president Williams R. Kuehn announced the latest project last December, noting that “the members voted with overwhelming approval of the Course No. 3 Master Plan.  This renovation is especially timely as the club looks forward to hosting the 2026 Presidents Cup.’’

The Presidents Cup, a team event between the best touring professionals from the United States and the rest of the World’s countries minus Europe, will be a fun event for the Chicago golf community but Medinah has already hosted much bigger things.

No. 3 was the site of the U.S. Opens of 1949, 1975 and 1990, the PGA Championships of 1999 and 2006 and the Ryder Cup of 2012.  Most recently the 2019 BMW Championship was played there as part if tge FedEx Cup Playoffs. Most all carry a higher profile than the Presidents Cup.

So, what’s this latest update all about? The complete renovation comes with a price tag of $23.5 million. Surely the club is looking far beyond a Presidents Cup, even though its spokesmen aren’t going into specifics. Kuehn’s initial announcement was just a starting point. This renovation will be followed by far more than just the Medinah membership from the time the hard work begins this fall until the first tee shot is hit in the next major event played there.

It’s been a long dryspell since the last one – the 2006 PGA Championship or the Ryder Cup, both played at Medinah — and it seems that Medinah is the only facility that has the wherewithal, the infrastructure and the enthusiasm to bring back those good old glory days.

America’s first 18-hole course was built in Chicago – by the Chicago Golf Club in 1892. The staging of the sport’s biggest events at Chicago courses were commonplace for decades after that, but that’s not the case anymore. Medinah can change that, and its members are more than willing.

Board member Ryan Potts made that clear in the aftermath of Kuehn’s announcement.

“As part of our strategic planning process we poll our membership as to what is important to them and what we, as stewards of the club, should try to accomplish,’’ said Potts.  “Our members, for better or worse, we could argue, told us they prioritize hosting championships.  We would like to host majors and desire to remain in the Top 100.’’

So the “investigative process’’ began and lasted over two years. A variety of architects were considered and OCM Golf, an Australian firm consisting of Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead, was chosen. OCM does not have a high profile in American golf, though Ogilvy did win the U.S. Open in 2006. He had not been on the Medinah premises before Kuehn made his announcement.

Only in 2020 had OCM tapped into the American market, renovating Shady Oaks – a Texas course designed by Ben Hogan. Medinah has a much high profile than Shady Oaks, and the present version of No. 3 was deemed worthy enough to host the President’s Cup. Still, Medinah went with the Australian group for the renovation.

“The PGA Tour staff all had experience working with OCM,’’ said Michael Scimo, the club’s President’s Cup chairman and former president.  “They were supportive of our choice and like the design.  All parties are on board.’’

A couple things undoubtedly weighed into the need for a major change.  Medinah members may play more times on their Nos. 1 and 2 courses but they’re proud of No. 3 and sensitive to low scoring there.  To them that suggests the course isn’t tough enough.  In the 2019 BMW Championship Justin Thomas covered the 72 holes in 25-under-par 263 that included a third-round 61 – a record on No. 3.  Enough said.

Those Golf Digest annual rankings were disturbing, too.  No. 3 was No. 60 in the most recent one after being as high as No. 11 in 2007.

Medinah members want their tournament course to be better respected. Respect comes from its position in the various rating surveys and its ability to land big championships.  Once the members are done enduring the eye sores that construction will inevitably bring they’ll have another course that they expect will be the envy of the golfing world.

This version may also be more user friendly, when played from the non-tournament tees, and more  attractive, with more of Lake Kadijah in play, if the OCM design pans out as planned. The present design has been criticized for three of its four par-3 holes being too similar.  Nos. 2, 13 and 17 all play over water.  That won’t be the case in the OCM design.

Like Medinah’s other two 18-holers, No. 3 was designed by Tom Bendelow.  It opened in 1928, four years after the Shriners established the club as one of the premier private clubs in the world. No. 1 opened in 1925 and No. 2 in 1926.

Over the years a series of architects  have been called in to improve No. 3 with Rees Jones the most prominent.  Working with co-designer Steve Weisser, Jones supervised major re-design projects in both 2003 and 2010.

Dick Nugent, in 1970, and Jones’ father Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Roger Rulewich, in the 1990s were other architects involved in work on No. 3 but OCM uncovered historical material from a visit by legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast in the 1930s that became a factor in the latest renovation plans.

The current No. 3 will remain in play this season. Scimo exected the moving of dirt will begin in October or November and work on the greens and bunkers will start in early 2023.  The course will be closed for all of 2023 with a re-opening in the spring of 2024 expected.  The Presidents Cup will be played there in September of 2026.


MEDINAH NO. 3 REDO: The New Look


So, what’s Medinah No. 3 going to look like a year from now?

According to Michael Cocking, director for the Ogilvie, Cocking Meade Golf design team, it’ll be a lot different than it has been for all the big events that have been played there over the years.

“Medinah has such an interesting history, and we’re fortunate to have some wonderful old aerials, photos and plans available,’’ said Cocking.  “With many prominent architects having been involved over the past 100 years we found ourselves finding many elements we were keen to restore, other areas we wanted to retain and perhaps just tweak a little and then there were some which we felt required a more significant change.’’

The latter come at the end of the course, specifically the last six holes. The current Nos. 13 and 17 – both par-3s over water —  will be gone and five or six holes ranging between 60 and 100 yards and a big putting green will take over some of the old course’s land along the club’s entrance road.

Here’s how Cocking envisions the last six holes looking once the renovation is completed.

No. 13 – It’ll still be a par-3, but the tee shot won’t be across the water of Lake Kadijah. The hole will play along the water’s edge and be converted to a shorter version of what it was.  The lake edge will be reshaped so water will provide a backdrop to the green and also protect its right side.

No. 14 – Half of the current hole will go.  The tee will move up to where the fairway had started and the current green will be replaced by one further back.  The hole will no longer feature a carry over water from the tee.

No. 15 – The old version, designed by Rees Jones, will disappear and No. 15 will now be a somewhat altered version of the old No. 16. That was a famous hole historically after Sergio Garcia hit an approach to the green off a tree root – with his eyes close to boot – in the 1999 PGA Championship in an effort catch eventual champion Tiger Woods.

No. 16 – Cocking says this hole will represent “the most dramatic change to the course.’’ He calls the new version a “Cape style’’ par-4 that will start from what had been the tee for the old par-3 seventeenth.  Lake Kadijah will create a diagonal hazard all the way to the green.  “It’ll be spectacular,’’ said Cocking.

No. 17 – The proposed new hole replaces both the present Nos. 13 and 17 as a short hole played over Lake Kadijah. Cocking says the new one will “far exceed the drama’’ produced at those two old holes. He said the hole could play as long as 225 yards but suggested a length of 150 or 160 would be better.

No. 18 – The new version not only opens space for construction of the short course and big putting green, it also provides an opportunity to restore an element of the original design, created by Tom Bendelow in the 1920s.  The fairway to the 18th green will run beside the No. 1 fairway again with the hole measuring about 500 yards.  Cocking says it’ll still be a par-4 for tournament professionals but a par-5 for everyone else. That means that the course will remain a par-71 for the big tournaments but a par-72 otherwise.