Len Ziehm On Golf

Here’s how to repair your divots and protect your back as well

Rick Hetzel’s premier divot tool fits right with his clubs.

When it comes to analyzing the latest in golf equipment I tend to defer to Jason Bruno, my Florida golf website partner who is a scratch player. I’m clearly not.

Bruno, the creator of the LinksNation website, and I had a catch-up round this week – our first since I returned from the Chicago area in September. We played at PGA Golf Club’s Dye Course along with Rick Hetzel, the president of InstaGolf LLC.

The company, based in Hetzel’s hometown of Cape Girardeau, Mo., specializes in golf accessories. Its products, sold predominantly on line, include shoes, putters, towels and rain gear. His offerings are certainly fair game for me to analyze as well. You don’t have to be a scratch player to analyze them.

I quickly became interested in all of Hetzel’s products, but divot tools in particular. There are so many of these — from so many manufacturers — on the market. Hetzel himself has four different models. The one that intrigued me the most was his SPIDERPro. If you have a bad back, this one is for you.

You don’t need to bend down to repair a divot if you have a SPIDERPro. It fits into your golf bag like an extra club. If one of your shots does damage to a putting surface you pull out the SPIDERPro, unscrew the top, poke the stainless steel legs on the exposed end into the divot and watch it disappear. Hetzel’s divot tools come in more standard looks as well, and he reports that all have been well-received by golf course operators.

Cog Hill golfers get another chance at PGA Junior national title

Cog Hill’s team of all-stars will go after the PGA Junior League’s national title this week.

With cold weather bringing the Chicago golf season to a close, the top players need to travel to find competition – and that’s what the PGA Junior League team from Cog Hill in Lemont is doing again.

Cog Hill’s team, captained by Kevin Weeks and coached by Clayton Pendergraft, earned a return to this week’s eight-team national finals at Grayhawk, in Scottsdale, Ariz., through regional eliminations.

Three days of match play competition to determine the national champion begin on Friday for all-star teams from eight states. Cog Hill represents Illinois, with the other teams coming from New Jersey, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, California, New Hampshire and Ohio.

The PGA Junior League program began in 1995 and has grown steadily. This year there were 42,000 youngsters and 3,400 teams participating nation-wide.


Samantha Troyanovich, who won the 2012 Illinois Women’s Open title, could give the Chicago area a rare player on the Ladies PGA Tour if she can survive the third stage of Qualifying School scheduled for Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Troyanovich, who played out of Mistwood — the IWO’s home site in Romeoville — when she won her title, has been playing primarily on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour since turning professional. She survived the first two stages of this year’s Q-School, each of which had nearly 200 players. She tied for 38th in the first stage in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and tied for 68th in the second stage in Venice, Fla.

Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray has been the only Chicago product to maintain a presence on the LPGA circuit in the last two decades.

Kemper Lakes’ JIm Billiter collects his Illinois PGA Player of the Year award at Medinah Country Club. (Rory Spears Photo)

They’re the best

Both the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association have determined their players of the year for 2017.

The IPGA had a tight race between Jim Billiter, head pro at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer, and Adam Schumacher, assistant pro at Indian Hill in Winnetka. Schumacher won the last two of the section’s major tourneys – the IPGA Championship and IPGA Players – but Billiter was more consistent in the big events. He won the IPGA Match Play title, was fifth in the IPGA Championship and tied for 13th in both the Illinois Open and Players.

Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb was the IPGA’s senior player of the year. He won the award for the fourth straight year and the eighth time in the last 11.

On the amateur side Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, a senior at Miami of Ohio, dominated the CDGA’s standings after becoming the first player in 37 years to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year. Terry Werner, of Schererville, Ind., was the CDGA’s senior player of the year.

Scheduling dilemmas

While the full tournament schedule for next season isn’t available, there’s some unfortunate conflicts already.

The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, is on the same July dates as the PGA Champions’ Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor in Highland Park and the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club.

And that’s not all. An LPGA major event– the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes – is scheduled opposite the top amateur tournament — the Women’s Western Amateur – in June.

Forced carries like this one are the trademark at St. James Bay, recently taken over by a Chicago group.

Here and there

Three Chicago area men – John Green of Cary, Michael Lerner of Barrington and Michael Balkin of Winnetka – have purchased a public course in the Florida Panhandle. The course, St. James Bay in Carrabelle, was a 2003 design by Joe Lee, whose many creations nation-wide include the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill.

Jacquelyn Endsley, who has working experience at KemperSports and Chicago’s Harborside International, has been named championship director of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The Wisconsin native had also been championship manager of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open.

Illinois men’s coach Mike Small has signed two Illinois players –Luke Armbrust of St. Francis in Wheaton and Tommy Kuhl of downstate Morton – to national letters of intent.

Organizers of both the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club have issued their first call for tournament volunteers.

Ed Stevenson: the man behind the massive renovation at Oak Meadows

Ed Stevenson’s name doesn’t appear on the leaderboard in any Illinois PGA tournaments. Only very rarely has he even played in them. Still, Stevenson is considered by all as the consummate PGA professional.

That was underscored recently when Stevenson was promoted to a lofty position beyond his duties as director of golf at The Preserve at Oak Meadows facility in Addison, which just underwent a massive renovation. Stevenson remains as Oak Meadows’ director of golf, but he is also the executive director of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County now.

That means Stevenson will oversee not only the District’s three golf facilities but also its myriad of other properties. The District owns 13 percent of the land in DuPage County and manages 26,000 acres. In addition to the golf courses that includes 62 forest preserves, 145 miles of trails and five education centers.

Stevenson, 45, has worked full-time for the District since 2004 and has been its director of golf course operations since 2011. Last November, while playing a lead role in the Oak Meadows renovation, he also took on the added duties of interim executive director and now the interim tag has been removed. Board president Joe Cantore explained why.

“Ed is a tenured member of our leadership team, and in his time overseeing our business enterprises he has demonstrated a keen ability to think creatively, manage big projects, reduce expenses and grow relationships. He has proven he has the necessary skills to lead this organization.’’

In other words, Stevenson proved he can do it all, and his versatility was greatly enhanced through his variety of roles as a golf professional.

In addition to the things he did while managing golf courses Stevenson also has been co-host of a popular radio program, Golfers on Golf, that has run weekly for 10 years throughout the golf season and he also has been director of instruction for Marianjoy Hospital’s programs for adults and children with disabilities.

Those factors undoubtedly led to Stevenson’s elevation beyond the golf world.

“All the roles of a PGA professional means he has to wear a lot of hats,’’ said Stevenson. “That’s the right background to prepare someone for a job like this. It’s been an interesting path to get there.’’

It all started while he was growing up in Deerfield.

“Ultimately I grew up in a family with some avid golfers,’’ said Stevenson. “My Dad grew up in Scotland, so my loving golf was almost mandatory. Plus, I was fortunate to grow up in a community where I had the opportunity to caddie.’’

Briarwood Country Club had a good caddie program, and professionals Joel Zelaszny and Randy Cochran took a liking to Stevenson.

“I enjoyed the culture of the game, and – even as a caddie – I enjoyed helping others enjoy the game,’’ said Stevenson.

While he played on some competitive teams at Deerfield High School and participated in Illinois Junior Golf Association events, Stevenson didn’t play golf while earning a degree in journalism at the University of Iowa.

During his summers away from school he worked as a caddie master at Briarwood. Anticipating a future of writing press releases after graduation in 1994, Stevenson looked for other career options and Cochran suggested he take the PGA of America’s playability test. That kept him in golf a little longer — and it turned out to be a lot longer.

Stevenson served his PGA apprenticeship at Briarwood and moved over to Oak Meadows as an assistant professional in 1996.

“The members at Briarwood treated me wonderfully,’’ he said, “but I realized it was time to learn something new, and I switched to the public end of the industry. Oak Meadows was a beautiful opportunity, and I could progress through a lot of different roles.’’

By 2001 he had attained full PGA membership and was named Oak Meadows’ head professional. When he moved up to the District’s director of golf he became the overseer of three courses instead of one. Nearby Maple Meadows, which then had 27 holes, and nine-hole Green Meadows, in Westmont, came under his jurisdiction.

Oak Meadows, though, remained his biggest concern. The course, built in 1923, had a long history of flooding problems that dated back to the time it was called Elmhurst Country Club. The course, designed by Charles Wagstaff, was deemed good enough to host the 1941 Chicago Open, won by no less a legend than Ben Hogan, but flooding was always a problem and the situation was made worse in 2009 when the facility lost its clubhouse in a fire caused by lightning.

For several years District personnel contemplated what to do with Oak Meadows. Eventually a $16 million renovation was deemed the answer, and Batavia architect Greg Martin took on the project while also serving as president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Stevenson worked closely with Martin during the two-year construction process.

“We looked at renderings, drawings and planning, so it was more like a five-year project,’’ said Stevenson. It was something much bigger than a golf course revival. Only one-third of the hefty price tag went toward the course.

The area can now hold 20 million more gallons of storm water than it could before construction began. The construction process involved the moving of 700,000 cubic yards of earth, the removal of 1,000 non-native trees and the planting of 500 more suitable ones along with 308,000 baby wetlands plants. Thirty new areas of wetlands were added to the 10 that had already been there.

The renovated course was well received during its soft opening this summer. A grand opening is planned for the spring, then the clubhouse will become a high priority. An architect has already been named and a design approved by the District board. Ground-breaking is targeted for early in 2019 and the opening in 2020.

Until then, at least, Stevenson will remain a golf guy while enjoying family life with Kathy, his wife of 17 years, and their two daughters.

“Golf being my background and passion, I wanted to stay involved,’’ said Stevenson, “but we’ve got a lot of other projects going on throughout the Forest Preserve. We have an equestrian center renovation under way and I’m working on a master plan that will set priorities for the next five years.’’

Yes, Stevenson is one golf professional who has transformed himself into much more than a golf guy.

Over 3,000 — myself included — set to tee off in Myrtle Beach World Amateur

Golfers packed the rafters at the House of Blues for the World Amateur welcoming party.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – For 50 years now Myrtle Beach has been one of America’s foremost golf meccas for one major reason. The owners of its nearly 90 courses know how to work together.

That’ll be underscored shortly when Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday puts on the biggest tournament in golf – at least when it comes to the number of participants. The 34th Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship will begin its five-day run on Aug. 28 with over 3,200 players – and I’ll be one of them.

Players from all 50 states and 30 countries will be among the participants. Fifty-five of the players are from Illinois and one most notable one is from just over the Illinois line. Paul Ciancanelli, of Demotte, Ind., has played in all of the previous 33 World Ams. Only six other golf fanatics have done that, and all were honored at Sunday night’s welcoming party at the local House of Blues.

The event has grown steadily over the years, and this year 52 courses will be used for the 72-hole portion involving all the entries. Players will be placed in flights according to gender, age and handicaps. There’ll be 9 a.m. shotgun starts for the first four 18-hole rounds, then the various flight winners will advance to a playoff at The Dye Club course on Sept. 1 to determine the overall champion.

I’m quickly coming to realize what a big deal the World Amateur Handicap Championship really is.

There’s a welcome reception at the local House of Blues on Aug. 27, the day before the competition begins, and the World’s Largest 19th Hole – a three-hour gathering after each day of play – will be held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

The whole project is a massive undertaking, and this year’s version will be special as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the sport’s largest non-profit marketing consortium.

Back in 1967 Myrtle Beach was by no means the golf mecca that it is today. It had only nine courses then. Now Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday lists about 90 within the 60-mile Grand Strand from Pawley’s Island to just across the South Carolina state line into Brunswick County, N.C., among its members. The list includes every relevant public course in the area.

Seven of the nine original Golf Holiday courses are still around — Pine Lakes, The Dunes Club, Conway Golf Club, Surf Golf & Beach Club, Whispering Pines, Pines Hills course at Myrtlewood and Litchfield Country Club.

“It’s amazing what those first owners created,’’ said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. He joined up 19 years ago after working for Golf Digest magazine and never regretted it.

This is the trophy the next World Am champion will receive Friday.

“In golf space we’re very unique,’’ said Golden. “Golf has been so important here, and people have been supportive. The owners are competitive on one level, but if they didn’t work together this wouldn’t have worked out. They’ve taken the attitude that if it’s better for everybody, let’s do it. That’s refreshing, and it’s been a great lesson to learn.’’

Golden readily admits that “it’s never been easy…the golf industry has gotten so complicated.’’

But, in Myrtle Beach, it’s still become big business. The Myrtle Beach area attracts nearly 1 million golfers every year and Golden reports that the area courses together have 3.3 million rounds annually. That’s a lot of rounds.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday has a staff of seven headed by Golden, a former collegiate player at Villanova. Four members of the staff focus on tournaments with Jeff Monday directing that group.

The World Am is their biggest event but the staff stages six others and helps with some put on by other groups. The Holiday events started as early as February this year, when the Preseason Classic drew 200 players from 22 states. The March Championship has drawn over 70,000 players in its 32-year history.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday also hosts the Palmetto Championship, the nation’s largest high school tournament, and the Dustin Johnson World Junior, which is played at TPC Myrtle Beach – where the world’s recent No. 1-ranked golfer has many of his trophies on display.

First course in the area was Pine Lakes, which opened in 1927 to complement the Ocean Forest Hotel, which catered to that era’s rich and famous. Pine Lakes is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2017 and it’s also known, for obvious reasons, as The Granddaddy.

Of all the Myrtle Beach courses Pine Lakes is the richest in history. The original holes were designed by Robert White, a native of St. Andrews, Scotland, who was also the first president of the PGA of America.

The Dunes Club – the second course to open in 1948 — has hosted tournaments on all the major tours as well as many top amateur events. This year it was the site of the U.S. Golf Association Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Caledonia, True Blue and Tidewater are my personal favorites among Myrtle Beach’s courses, but the area offers an embarrassment of riches for all golfers. Twelve of its courses have been ranked on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses and more than half of the Golf Holiday member facilities have been given 4-star or better rankings in that publication’s Best Places to Play Guide.

Flood concerns led to Chicago getting an intriguing new golf course

Ed Stevenson spearheaded the creation of the Preserve over a five-year period.

Finally, after several years of political debate and two years in the construction phase, The Preserve at Oak Meadows is ready to welcome golfers.

Economic conditions being what they area, new golf courses are a rarity anywhere and the wait to see how The Preserve would turn out has been a tantalizing one.

“We looked at renderings, drawings and planning, so it was more like a five-year project,’’ said Ed Stevenson, who was the director of golf for the three courses operated by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County when construction began and is now – in his 13th year with the District – its executive director. “To know we’re so close to having people come out, see the property and enjoy it is really rewarding.’’

Public play begins on Monday, Aug. 7, at the Addison course but tee time holders and some golf industry personnel will be getting sneak peeks before that. Fees for public play will start at about $50 and top off at $89 on weekend mornings for golfers using power carts.

The Preserve was built on land that had embraced the 18-hole Oak Meadows layout and the Maple Meadows East nine-holer. They were last played on July 7, 2015.

Before that the 288-acre site contained two country clubs, Elmhurst and Brookwood. Elmhurst opened in 1923 and became Oak Meadows when the Forest Preserve District took it over in 1985. Brookwood closed its doors in the early 1990s.

Whatever the name, the courses operating on the property had a checkered past. On the good side, Elmhurst was used for the 1941 Chicago Open. It was won by Ben Hogan in a duel with Sam Snead. Golf didn’t get any better in that era.

On the other end of the historical spectrum was the area’s reputation for flooding, which was clearly evident to all drivers on nearby Interstate 294. Salt Creek would over flow after every reasonably heavy rainfall.

“A big part of the construction was addressing the mounting issues of flooding,’’ admitted Stevenson. “The course got the reputation for being `Soaked Meadows.’’’

Batavia architect Greg Martin supervised the rebuilding process while also serving as national president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. His work was put to the test with the heavy rains that wreaked havoc in many Chicago suburbs this summer.

“Rain used to put five greens under water as well as seven of the fairways and some of the tees,’’ said Stevenson. “Mother Nature put us to the test, and there was minimal impact with the rains we’ve had in 2017.’’

There’s a good reason for that. Of the $16 million spent on the project, only about one-third went towards the golf course. Flooding concerns were addressed as the 27 golf holes were reduced to 18. The area can hold 20 million more gallons of storm water than it could before the construction began.

There’s now 40 acres of wetlands spread around The Preserve at Oak Meadows.

The course still needs time to grow in, but it will be well received. The many golfers who played at Elmhurst and Oak Meadows will find two familiar holes; Nos. 1 and 18 have been rebuilt but use the same corridors they did in the old days. After that, though, it’ll be a whole new playing experience.

“We’re excited for the public to come in,’’ said Stevenson. “Those who played here before will see some parts they knew from before and other parts they’ve never seen before. It’s a wonderful blend of some familiar views with some brand new holes. It’s truly a brand new golf course. We think it’ll have a special place in the Chicago golf community for years to come.’’

Construction involved the moving of 700,000 cubic yards of earth and the removal of 1,000 non-native trees. About 500 more suitable trees were planted along with 308,000 baby wetland plants. The expansion of the wetlands may be what new players notice first. Thirty new acres of wetlands were added to the 10 already there.

The Hogan Tree was salvaged in memory of Ben Hogan’s victory in the 1941 Chicago Open.

Most courses in the Chicago area are built on less than half the land used for The Preserve. Its hefty acreage suggests players who prefer walking to riding may have reservations about the new layout but Stevenson believes the tees and greens are close enough together to make for an enjoyable walking round.

The only real downer is that the old No. 16, an historic par-3, is no more. Designed by original architect Charles Wagstaff, it featured the first island green in North American golf. Martin couldn’t salvage it because of flooding concerns.

Martin’s design is highlighted by three short par-4s – Nos. 4, 12 and 16. There’s a lot of risk-reward shot options on each of them, and they’ll be the prime subjects of discussion for The Preserve’s first players.

Players are sure to like the square tee boxes and the numerous playing options. Every hole has at least five tee placements and some have as many as seven. The course will play at 7,100 yards from the tips and my sneak preview verified that the course — given its newness – offers more than satisfactory playing conditions.

Bunkering was also upgraded. Twenty were removed from what had been Oak Meadows and 54 new ones – all with striking white sand – were incorporated into the new design.

Rectangular tee boxes are one of architect Greg Martin’s special touches at The Preserve.

One thing The Preserve doesn’t have — and needs badly — is a clubhouse. A 50,000 square-foot version was built by Elmhurst members and was inherited by Oak Meadows players until it burned down after been struck by lightning in 2009. The DuPage board could approve a more modern 17,000-square foot replacement designed by architect Dan Wohlfeil at a meeting this week. Wohlfeil was the architect for the well-received clubhouse at Mistwood, in Romeoville..

Until then The Preserve will operate out of Oak Meadows’ old pro shop, a structure that will be torn down once the new clubhouse is up and running to make space for an expanded practice area.

There’s a chance the ground-breaking for the new clubhouse could coincide with The Preserve’s Grand Opening. It won’t be held until next spring. The few months left in this season are mainly for introductory purposes and the number of rounds will reflect that.

“A golf course goes through a maturation process,’’ said Stevenson. “We’re opening with tee times spread out so the young turf is able to take root and mature.’’

There are more bunkers on The Preserve than there were at its predecessor — and the sand is white.

After 57 years Murle Breer is competing again on Ross Course at French Lick.

Erynne Lee accepts the champion’s $30,000 check after winning the Donald Ross Centennial Classic.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – How significant is the first Senior LPGA Championship that tees off today on the Pete Dye Course here?

Well, it’s so important that Murle Breer was willing to come out of a long hibernation from tournaments to be involved in big-time golf just one more time. Breer is 78 years old and hasn’t even been playing on the LPGA Legends Tour, the senior circuit that has been the only avenue for competition for the players that got women’s professional golf on the sports map.

Breer, as the U.S. Women’s Open champion in 1962, was a welcome addition to the Honors Championship — a nine-player one-day event that was weaved into the Symetra Tour’s Donald Ross Centennial Classic that concluded on Sunday on the Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort.

“My daughter wanted me to sign up for this,’’ said Breer. “Her husband came and my grandson was my caddie. We had a good time.’’

Using a mixed bag of clubs garnered from her daughter and French Lick director of golf Dave Harner, Breer shot 86 and tied for sixth in the Honors event, which was won – as usual – by Jan Stephenson with a 3-over-par 74. She has dominated that category during the last four years that the Legends Tour has visited French Lick.

“I never got a chance to play 18 holes before today,’’ said Breer, who plays most of her golf at Wilmington Island Golf Club in Savannah, Ga.. “I have no excuses, but my score was horrendous. I was embarrassed.’’

Murle Breer, the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open champion, recounts her return to French Lick after 57 years.

There was no need to be, as Breer’s connection to this historic event was special.

In 1960 the Ross course was called the Sheraton Hotel Country Club and it was in the last of a three-year run as an LPGA Tour site. Breer was in the field for the LPGA Championship, a major event then and now, on that layout.

“I was a youngster. I can’t remember how I finished,’’ said Breer, who was single and played as Murle MacKenzie then. “What I do remember was that they’d had a lot of rain and all the cornfields were dried because the sun came out and baked them. The sun also baked the greens and they were slick. Trying to putt on them, that’s what I remember about French Lick. It was a different sport then, but the people were great to us.’’

Breer’s caddie in 1960 was Bill Kendall, who emerged as a long-time club professional in the area. Now retired, he works part-time at French Lick and was on gate duty during Sunday’s competition.

The legendary Mickey Wright won the LPGA Championship at French Lick 57 years ago, beating Louise Suggs by three strokes. The LPGA didn’t return until the Legends – a circuit of former LPGA players who had reached their 45th birthday – landed an annual tournament on the Pete Dye Course in 2013.

Jane Blalock, a former LPGA star, organized The Legends Tour and was second to Stephenson – four strokes back – in the 18-hole Honors competition on Sunday. Both Stephenson and Blalock will be back today to play 54 more holes on the Pete Dye Course in the main event. At 71 Blalock will be the oldest player of the 81 competing over the next three days in the first nationally-television (Golf Channel) senior women’s tournament.

Jan Stephenson is the Honors winner again at French Lick.

The best golf played Sunday, understandably, was by the much younger Symetra Tour players. Their 54-hole Donald Ross Centennial Classic focused on the final threesome. Erynne Lee, of Silverdale, Wash., defeated August Kim, of St. Augustine, Fla., on the third hole of a sudden death playoff when Kim hit her second shot over the green and took a bogey.

Kim shot a 7-under-par 64 in Sunday’s final round to earn a shot at Lee, who posted a second straight 66, in extra holes. Lee, though, took home the $30,000 first prize and with it a likely place on the LPGA Tour in 2018. Interestingly, Lee and Kim were 12-under-par over their regulation 54 holes. Wright was just 4-under-par for 72 holes and Suggs, at 1-under, was the only other player to beat par during the LPGA Championship back in 1960.

“This is an amazing place,’’ said Lee, who used her father as her caddie. “The golf course was in great condition and it felt like a U.S. Women’s Open golf course. I’m just glad the greens weren’t any faster.’’

Thailand’s Benyapa Niphatsophon, who played with Lee and Kim, finished solo third – three strokes ahead of everyone else. Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, who was tied for the lead midway through Saturday’s second round, struggled in with a 75 and finished in a tie for 34th.

Erynne Lee shows her winning form off the No. 10 tee at French Lick’s Donald Ross Course.

Legends Hall of Fame gets four new members

Steve Ferguson, Sandra Palmer, Nancy Scranton and Dave Harner are Legends Hall of Famers now.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – The Legends Hall of Fame inductions had been a seasonal highlight at French Lick Resort the last four years, but none of the previous celebrations was like the event staged on Saturday night in the Hoosier Ballroom of the hotel’s Event Center.

According to script the induction was to honor two more top players – Sandra Palmer and Nancy Scranton. When the emotional night was over, however, the Hall of Fame – located in the nearby West Baden Springs Hotel – had four new members instead of two including the first men accorded the honor.

Joe Vezzoso, vice president of resort operations, also welcomed Steve Ferguson, chairman of Cook Group, and Dave Harner, French Lick’s director of golf, to the Hall – a tribute to their leadership in creating the first Senior LPGA Championship, which tees off on Monday on the resort’s Pete Dye Course.

And that wasn’t all.

Vezzoso also unveiled what is certain to be recognized as one of the most impressive trophies in all of sports. Dubbed “The Fergie’’ in Ferguson’s honor, the trophy will honor the champions of the Senior LPGA Championship and reside at French Lick. The winner will take home a smaller version.

Among those in attendance at the rousing gathering were golf architecture’s power couple, Pete and Alice Dye, and Suzy Whaley, who will become the first female president of the PGA of America in 2018. Whaley will play in the three-day 54-hole tournament on a sponsor’s exemption.

“The Fergie” is sure to become one of sport’s most impressive trophies.

Ferguson and Harner were instrumental in bringing the LPGA Legends Tour to French Lick in 2013, and Ferguson was taken aback with the trophy named in his honor.

“I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am. I don’t feel I deserve this,’’ said Ferguson before the enthused attendees gave him a rousing ovation to assure him that he was.

Ferguson in turn put the focus on the $600,000 tournament that will receive three days of live television coverage on The Golf Channel. That represents the first TV coverage of the women’s tournaments at French Lick.

“This is the inaugural event,’’ said Ferguson. “It really is important, a really important time.’’

Palmer and Scranton both lauded the French Lick staff and Legends Tour for the creation of the upcoming big event. Palmer pointed out the big events that have already been played on the resort’s Donald Ross Course. It hosted LPGA events in 1958-60, the last two being a major – the LPGA Championship.

“French Lick is one of the richest communities in golf,’’ said Palmer. “Women’s golf got a big start in this community.’’

Both players also looked back fondly on their starts in tournament golf. For Palmer it came in 1964 when she left her home in Texas in a car by herself for her second professional tournament in Baltimore. She went on to a star-studded career from there, the highlight of which was a victory in the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I’m just as excited about golf now as I was then,’’ she admitted.

Scranton got her start as a teen-ager in Centralia , Ill. She went on to win three LPGA tournaments, one of them a major, and leads Legends players with five wins on that circuit. She thanked French Lick for creating a Hall of Fame for the 45-and-over circuit.

“It means so much to us to be recognized,’’ said Scranton. “We appreciate that you see the value in our tour.’’

Scranton, who combines her Legends tournaments with the demands of being the mother of 12-year old twins, credited fellow Legends Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez fot getting her serious about golf.

“I didn’t get interested until I was 15 or 16,’’ said Scranton, who received a set of clubs as a birthday present when she turned 8 years old but wasn’t excited about that gift.
“Then Nancy brought so much focus to women’s golf. I started thinking that would be a good thing to do.’’

At 19 Scranton qualified for The Rail Championship, an LPGA stop in Springfield, Ill. Her father was her caddie and a friendship with Joanne Carner, another Legends Hall of Famer, started that week with some tips on the practice range.

The induction ceremonies led into heat of the competition in the unprecedented six straight days of tournament golf in progress at French Lick. The Symetra Tour’s Donald Ross Centennial Championship concludes on Sunday and so does the Honors Division of the Senior LPGA Championship, which will be played along with the LPGA qualifying tour’s event.

Both the $200,000 Symetra event and Senior LPGA Championship will be played at French Lick for the next five years.

The Hoosier Ballroom was the site of the biggest Hall of Fame induction ceremonies yet.

Here’s why the John Deere Classic is so successful in the Quad Cities

Just how good can things get for the John Deere Classic?

Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event will be played for the 47th time from July 10-16 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, IL., on the outskirts of the Quad Cities of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa.

That’s the smallest market on the PGA Tour but its tournament is the circuit’s best. Some may want to argue that, but the 2016 JDC was named the Tournament of the Year by the PGA Tour and the event also received first place awards for Most Engaged Community and Best Social Media Activation.

And that’s not all. The tournament received those accolades despite being pushed out of its usual July dates to avoid conflict with the Olympics golf competition in Brazil. The schedule conflict also hurt the tournament’s field, but that had little effect on the event’s success either.

Last year’s JDC, played in August, raised a record $10.54 million for charity and 491 participating charities benefitted from that. The tourney, known under various titles and played at different locations, has raised $81.3 million since its founding in 1971. Last year the tournament ranked first in per capital contributions at $28.10 for each of the 375,000 residents of the Quad City area.

The tourney’s volunteer base has grown nearly 30 percent over the last two years with 1,700 offering their services to the tune of 22,000 hours in 2016. And that doesn’t count the 750 boys and girls who participated in the tournament’s annual Youth Day on Tuesday of tournament week.

On the social media side the JDC’s Facebook page generated more than 150,000 “Likes’’ – more than any other event page on the PGA Tour—and the 38,000 combined followers on Twitter and Instagram was second on the circuit.

Most of the tourney’s great numbers came after locally based John Deere signed on as the title sponsor, and that event will be celebrated this year. John Deere will mark its 20th year with its name and financial backing on the tournament and the company has signed on through 2023.

Sam Allen, the chairman and chief executive office of John Deere & Company, earned an Evans Scholarship for his efforts as a caddie and played golf in college. His passion for the game are a big reason why John Deere and tournament golf are such a great fit but he insists that the event’s success isn’t just due to good sponsorship.

“You’ve got to recognize everybody that’s been involved with it,’’ said Allen, “and for the first so many years it was all about survival. It’s a great story from that perspective, that they were able to keep this tournament going without a title sponsor or the same title sponsor. That part of the journey was the hardest.’’

Now it’s not like that. Allen spent time on the tournament’s executive board when the partnership was evolving. John Deere was all in right from the start. The first contract signed 20 years ago was a nine-year agreement. A sponsorship agreement of that duration was unheard of at the time, but it was worth it to all concerned.

“We’ve emphasized that this is not the Quad City Open sponsored by John Deere,’’ said Allen. “It’s the John Deere Classic. The brand is first and foremost, and (the tournament) has got to end up shining the brand, not tarnishing the brand, and it has done that in spades.’’

This year the tournament is back on its familiar July dates, the week before the British Open, and it has an admirable defending champion. Ryan Moore used his victory in last year’s JDC to do even greater things. He was the last player named to the U.S. Ryder Cup team and he delivered the 15th and clinching point for the U.S. at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

Moore has always played well at the JDC, which has called Deere Run home since 2000. Since 2012 he was tied eighth, tied 22nd, tied seventh and tied 24th prior to his win last year. This year he also played well in the first of the four major championships, finishing in a tie for ninth at the Masters.

This year Moore will bring his family – wife Nicole and two sons – to the Quad Cities in hopes of extending his run of 23 sub-par rounds at Deere Run. He shot 22-under last year with rounds of 65, 65, 65 and 67 and was bogey-free on the weekend.

“I want to go back and try to do the same thing this year,’’ he said. “(The tournament staff) has done a phenomenal job of making it a fun week, a family week, and really just a great event.’’

This year’s tournament will feature a record purse of $5.6 million with $1 million going to the champion.

“Tommy’s Honour” is a must-see movie for all serious golfers

I suspected finding a theater to watch “Tommy’s Honour,’’ the newest golf-themed movie, might be difficult and I was right.

The movie made its U.S. debut on April 14 when we were in the golf hotbed of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Much to my surprise, no theaters were showing it there. A few days later we were in the golf mecca of Pinehurst, N.C. No showings there, either.

Back in Chicago our plight was the same. Showings were extremely limited in the north suburbs, which was somewhat surprising given that two of the film’s producers – Keith Bank and Jim Kreutzer – are from Lake Forest. Finally, after eventually finding a theater showing the movie, we made an hour’s drive to Oakbrook and were among just four people in the audience for an afternoon matinee.

Don’t assume the movie isn’t worth seeing, though. Any serious golfer should see “Tommy’s Honour.’’ After all, it is the story of the father-son team from Scotland – Old Tom Morris and son Tommy — that really gave the sport its start in the mid- to late-1800s. A good case could be made that Tommy was the first touring professional.

Granted, the Scottish dialect used by the actors was hard to understand at times and some background in golf history was a requirement to fully appreciate this movie, which was based on a book of almost the same name by Kevin Cook. His title (called “Tommy’s Honor’’) just had a slightly different spelling. As is so often the case, I found the book – which came out in 2007 — better than the movie.

Still, the film received a warm welcome overseas. It was nominated for awards in two categories in the British Academy Awards.

“Tommy’s Honour’’ should be easier to see as it works its way out of the theaters and into other distribution areas. It’ll be a perfect fit for The Golf Channel.

Unfortunately, I suspect the next “required movie’’ for golfers will encounter the same difficulties that “Tommy’s Honour’’ did in getting into theaters. “The Founders’’ is the story of the 13 women who started the Ladies PGA Tour in 1950. Their story is every bit as important historically as that of the Morris clan.

I haven’t been able to find “The Founders,’’ but it has been in some film festivals and – like “Tommy’s Honour’’ — was well received in Europe. I have seen the trailers for “The Founders.’’ They contain some vintage clips of Babe Didrickson Zaharias, Louise Suggs and Patty Berg but their story merits more than just a few classic action shots from the “good old days.’’ Their accounts of the tough days in founding the LPGA is long overdue.

“The Founders’’ shouldn’t be confused with “The Founder,’’ another recent release profiling Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s hamburger chain. Only four of the 13 LPGA women who started the LPGA were alive when “The Founders’’ was filmed. Like “Tommy’s Honour,’’ I’m sure more than just golfers will find it well worth seeing.

Eglin’s Eagle was among the first Florida courses to lure Chicago golfers

A typical tee shot on Eglin’s Eagle course offers wide, tree-lined fairways

NICEVILLE, Florida – Every year we’ve made a conscious effort to visit some of the 53 courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail. This Trail isn’t like many of the others around the country. Its courses are selected for historical purposes, and more states should create such trails.

The Florida courses must be open to the public for at least 50 consecutive years. Each has an interesting history. Some have suffered, some flourished over the years but all have survived. You never know what you’re going to get golf-wise when you play a course on the Florida Historic Golf Trail, but you know you’ll get a taste of what golf was many decades ago.

We’ve played 12 courses on the Trail, the most recent being the Eagle Course at the Eglin Golf Club, which is part of the Eglin Air Force Base nearby. It’s not the best course on the Trail – El Campeon at the Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills rates above it – but none of the courses we’ve played on the Trail have quite the interesting history that the Eagle does.

It was built as part of a resort in 1923 by a group of businessmen from Chicago. James E. Plew, founder of the Chicago Towel Company who also built the nearby Valparaiso Inn, was the leader of that effort and his cohorts reportedly included the infamous gangster Al Capone. The course was in the town of Valparaiso then and was called the Chicago Club of Valparaiso.

The members built their own nine-hole course before bringing in the architectural team of William Langford and Theodore Moreau to design an 18-holer. After they finished it in 1927 a trainload of 200 golfers from Chicago came for the grand opening. The course went bankrupt in 1929 and the name was changed to the Valparaiso Country Club.

Eglin’s clubhouse wall contains memorabilia from its early days as a get-away for Chicago golfers.

It operated as a resort in the 1930s, during which it was reduced to nine holes again. In 1937 the course was renamed Eglin Field in honor of an airman who had been killed in an airplane accident. In 1942 Plew sold the course to the U.S. Government and it is now part of what is a bustling Air Force base. Under the new ownership the Eagle was restored to an 18-holer that is ranked among the best military golf facilities in the country. The course was also deemed good enough to host a pro-am event for the top PGA players in the 1960s. (Doug Ford and Mason Rudolph comprised the winning team).

The course was named the Eagle after the F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft and it received a companion course, called the Falcon with nine holes being built in 1960 and another nine in 1989. The Eagle greens underwent a renovation in 2008 and the routing was changed after a new clubhouse was built. The present Eagle has five sets of tees, with the course playing at 6,861 yards from the tips and 4,484 from the front.

Even a week after aerification procedures the course was very playable. It has spacious, undulating fairways but walkers can certainly enjoy it, too.

The Eglin clubhouse is more than adequate for the wide range of golfers visiting the course.