Len Ziehm On Golf

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

Jim Sobb’s playing record speaks for itself.

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

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

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

Enough already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Patrick Flavin attempt a `Mission Impossible?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Langer continue his domination in Senior Players tourney?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Illinois PGA pro is also in graduate school at Northwestern

A golf professional’s job is never an easy one. Some inevitably wind up working harder than others, however.

And then there’s Tony Semonick.

Semonick, 28, has worked on head professional Jim Sobb’s staff at Ivanhoe Club since his graduation from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., in 2012. His work days aren’t like any other assistant pros, however. He’s also a college student, and not just at any old school. He’s working on his Masters of Business Administration degree at Northwestern University’s well-respected Kellogg School.

“Ivanhoe gets more time. I’m there six days a week,’’ said Semonick, “but I don’t know anyone else doing something like this.’’

Semonick’s undergraduate degree was in Professional Golf Management, and Ferris State has been a collegiate pioneer in offering programs in that area. The school became the first university program sanctioned by the PGA of America in 1975. Semonick is from Livonia, Mich., so Ferris State was a good geographical fit.

Ivnahoe has been a good fit, too. Sobb brought Semonick to Ivanhoe as an intern three months after his graduation from Ferris State and he’s stayed on in an assistant’s role.

Last summer Semonick decided he needed more on the academic side and eventually enrolled at Kellogg School of Management, which is Northwestern’s business school.

“I applied to Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Northwestern,’’ he said, “but Northwestern was my first choice. With its part-time program it made more sense for me to keep working.’’

During the winter months Semonick spends more time on Northwestern’s campuses in Evanston and downtown Chicago, but he doesn’t avoid either after Ivanhoe members start turning out to play golf in the spring. He takes classes on Mondays, the quietest day of the week at Ivanhoe, and Tuesdays.

Monday is Semonick’s usual day off but his Tuesdays can be killers. Semonick checks in at Ivanhoe at 6:45 a.m. and runs the ladies league in the morning. When his duties there are done he returns to his home in Barrington, changes clothes and catches the 3:18 p.m. train to Chicago. It arrives at 4:30 p.m., and Semonick either takes the two-mile walk to the NU campus or grabs a ride through Uber.

Northwestern provides dinner before Semonick’s three hours of classes begin at 6 p.m. When they’re over he catches a 9:30 p.m. train back to Barrington. After a few hours rest he’s back in Ivanhoe’s pro shop for another day tending to golf projects.

“Jim’s been great, and the hours have been pretty flexible,’’ said Semonick, who needs to obtain 20 ½ credits to get his MBA with a major in finance and strategy. He’s on track to complete his requirements in August of 2019.

After that Semonick isn’t sure what he’ll do. He doesn’t expect to stay in golf, though.

“Probably not,’’ he said. “At first I thought I’d stay in golf, but then I started seeing other opportunities. There are greater opportunities elsewhere.’’

He won’t rule returning to golf, but “in a corporate role,’’ he said. He could envision himself as a financial analyst for one of the equipment or management companies.

Exmoor hosts the next of bunched up Champions Tour major tourneys

While PGA Tour Champions has always been fun to cover, I’ve always felt there was one thing that was strange about it — the circuit’s designated major championships.

Like the LPGA, the Champions circuit has designated five tournaments as major championships, while the PGA Tour has stuck to just four – the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship

I’ve got no problem with the premier circuit having only four – though I believe The Players Championship should be added to the mix eventually. I’ve also got no problem with the LPGA and PGA Tour Champions having five majors — but there is one big difference.

The LPGA spreads its majors throughout the year better than any of the three most prominent tours. Its first major, the ANA Inspiration, teed off on March 29 and the last putt of its last major, The Evian Championship, will drop on Sept. 16. The PGA’s four majors are in April, June, July and August. Good spacing is evident for both tours.

With PGA Tour Champions, however, it’s much different. Its five majors are played over an 11-week span and the first two are played on back-to-back weeks. The Region Traditions, at Greystone in Alabama, is May17-20 and the KitchenaAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., is May 24-27.

There’s not much separation between the last two, either. The Constellation Senior Players Championship comes to Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park from July 12-15 and just two weeks later the last of the circuit’s majors, the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex, comes to the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. The competitive rounds there are July 26-29.

In between the first two and last two is the U.S. Senior Open, at The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs from June 28 through July 1.

PGA Tour Champions has 27 tournaments this year compared to 48 for the PGA Tour in its 2017-18 wrap-around season and 34 for the LPGA. It would seem that scheduling its majors so close together would diminish the excitement of each one. That may not be the case, however.

Greg McLauglin, tournament director for the Western Golf Association from 1992-99, has been president of PGA Tour Champions since 2014. His circuit has thrived thanks in part to offering refreshing alternatives to the other two tours and the unusual scheduling for this year is at least good for Chicago golfers. Two of those majors are within easy driving distance for all the readers of Chicagoland Golf.

The KitchenAid PGA Championship, a two-hour drive from most parts of the Chicago area, provides plenty of familiarity for players and fans alike. It has been played at Harbor Shores three times already.

England’s Roger Chapman was the surprise winner the first time, in 2012 – which was shortly after the Jack Nicklaus-designed course opened. Harbor Shores has hosted every other year since then and that routine will continue through at least 2024.

In 2013 the tourney had another surprise winner at Bellerive in St. Louis, Japan’s Kohki Idoki taking the crown. England’s Colin Montgomerie won his first major on any tour in the 2014 at Harbor Shores and successfully defended his title at French Lick, in Indiana, in 2015.

Then it was back to Harbor Shores, where Rocco Mediate held off Montgomerie to claim the 2016 crown. Bernard Langer won in 2017 at Trump National in the Washington D.C. area. He’ll defend at Harbor Shores.

Seven weeks after the event there the stars of PGA Tour Champions come to the Chicago area for the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor, a private club with a Donald Ross-designed course. It hosted some big events since its founding in 1896, but not lately. The last significant championship played there was the Western Amateur in 2012. That tourney will return to Exmoor in 2022.

While PGA Tour Champions has played many of its regular tour stops at Chicago area courses, the Constellation Senior Players Championship will be the first of the circuit’s majors to make an appearance since Olympia Fields hosted Australian Graham Marsh’s victory in the 1997 U.S. Senior Open.

Last year’s Constellation Senior Players Championship was played at Caves Valley in Baltimore, Md., with Scott McCarron winning the title. That was McCarron’s first major title on any tour and highlighted a great season in which he won two other events and had three runner-up finishes.

While more details of the Exmoor shootout will be forthcoming closer to the event, particulars have already been revealed for the event at Harbor Shores. The Makers Trail is a new feature along the Nos. 16 and 17 holes. It’ll be a private bar serving beers and wines made by the breweries and wineries of West Michigan. There’ll also be a family fun zone at holes 7-9.

The Senior PGA is the oldest of the five annual major events on PGA Tour Champions, having been first played at Georgia’s famed Augusta National in 1937. Mediate’s sizzling 19-under-par 271 performance was the second lowest score in tourney history when he deprived Montgomerie of a three-peat the last time the event was played in Michigan. Only six-time winner Sam Snead’s 20-under in 1973 at Florida’s PGA National bettered Mediate’s performance.

Last year’s tournament was played at Trump National, in Virginia, with Langer winning the title for the first time. Long the dominant player on PGA Tour Champions, Langer has had narrow misses in all three of his chances at Harbor Shores. He tied for fourth in 2012 and tied for third in both 2014 and 2016.

Chicago-based Jeff Sluman, though he has over $30 million in winnings as a tournament golfer, has yet to contend at the Senior PGA Championship. His best in Benton Harbor was a tie for 15th in 2014, but there’s another factor involved this time. Sluman is 60 now and 10-year birthday milestones have triggered good results in the past.

Sluman was 30 when he won the PGA Championship and his win at Tucson just before his 40th birthday triggered a hot streak in which he won seven more events – four of them on the PGA Tour – in the next seven years. After he turned 50 it took Sluman less than a year to win for the first time on PGA Tour Champions.

Now he’s hopeful that 60 will bring similar good fortune, and either Harbor Shores or Exmoor would be a good place for that to happen.

Kemper Lakes’ Billiter seeks repeat as Illinois PGA Player of the Year

The Illinois PGA has been awarding its Bernardi Trophy to the section’s Player-of-the-Year for 46 years, and Jim Billiter has been a factor in two of the more interesting races.

Understandably, more Bernardi points are available in the section’s four annual major championships – the IPGA Match Play, the Illinois Open, the IPGA Championship and the IPGA Players Championship – than are offered in the stroke play competitions. Win more than major in a year and the Bernardi Trophy could be yours, right?

Well, Billiter learned that’s not always the case. In 2015 he won the Match Play and IPGA Championship, but Mistwood’s Brian Brodell took Player of the Year. In 2017 it was Adam Schumacher winning two of the big ones – the IPGA Championship and Players – but Billiter beat him out for Player of the Year.

“He deserved it,’’ said Schumacher. “Jim dominated the other events.’’

“In 2015 I played great, probably better than last year,’’ said Billiter, beginning his second season as head professional at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. “But, because of work, I had to miss the Illinois Open so I had no chance. That’s worth a ton of points, and I learned from that. My goal last year was to play in every event. You can’t win if you don’t play them all.’’

Schumacher, entering his fifth season as an assistant pro at Indian Hill in Winnetka, finished strong last year with his wins in the last two majors but the final point totals had Billiter at 2,896.35 Bernardi points and Schumacher at 2,482.93. They were at the top of a long list, as 179 IPGA members earned Bernardi points during a season that ran from April into October.

Billiter was an assistant at the Merit Club, in Libertyville, in 2015 when he learned that winning two majors wasn’t necessarily enough. His club staged one of its biggest member events opposite the Illinois Open then so Billiter understandably opted for job duties over tournament time.

“But I credit all my good play to the time I spent at Merit Club,’’ said Billiter. “Don Pieper (Merit Club general manager and director of golf) wanted me to play, either with the staff or with the members. He told me to `Go play!’ and I probably played more than any pro in the country then.’’

The chance to play that much after his move to Kemper Lakes wasn’t quite the same. As a head professional starting a new job (coupled with the fact that Billiter got married a month before moving to Kemper), Billiter found his playing time reduced. He did, however, gain one competitive advantage in the deal. Kemper Lakes is the site of the IPGA Match Play Championship, first of the four majors.

Billiter, 31, got a jump start on his rivals with Kemper as his new home course. He won the Match Play there in 2015 and took it again last year, beating Glen Oak’s Danny Mulhearn 1-up in a tense final match that triggered Billiter’s charge to Player of the Year.

Schumacher won two matches in last year’s Match Play but missed the cut in the Illinois Open while Billiter was finishing in a tie for 13th place. That doesn’t sound impressive, but he was the low IPGA pro in the field and that meant plenty of Bernardi points.

Then it was Schumacher’s turn to take over the spotlight. He won the IPGA Championship at Medinah, with Billiter finishing fifth, and added the IPGA Players title in a playoff with Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson at Eagle Ridge in Galena. Billiter tied for 13th in that one, but by then it didn’t matter as far as Player of the Year was concerned.

“I was very fortunate,’’ said Billiter. “No one announced it, by I had already won Player of the Year two tournaments before that. I knew I had won it, though probably by the skin of my teeth.’’

Billiter shot a 67 to win a stroke play competition at Calumet Country Club in Homewood a week after Schumacher had triumphed at Medinah. Billiter, who had also won a stroke play at Elgin Country Club earlier in the season, had enough Bernardi points to win the award before the shootout in Galena.

Though he came up short in the Player of the Year battle Schumacher had no complaints.

“I got hot at the right time. It was probably the best end to the year that I could have asked for,’’ said Schumacher, who hopes the confidence boost he got from those big wins will carry over into this season.

Immediately before his win at Medinah Schumacher made a strong showing in the PGA Professional Players National Championship in Oregon. He was in the top 10 after the first round and stayed in contention until an 80 in the final round doomed his chances for making it into the top 20 and earning a place in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina.

“If I’d shot even (par) in the last round I think I would have made the top 20,’’ said Schumacher. “I just got a little aggressive and tried a little too hard.’’

Schumacher, 26, landed his job at Indian Hill immediately after graduating from Ferris State, in Michigan. He’ll be just one of the promising young players challenging Billiter in his defense of the Player of the Year award. Only six players have been repeat winners since Bill Ogden, the legendary North Shore pro, won the award in 1971 and 1972 – the first two years the Bernardi Trophy was presented.

Two players – Glen Oak’s Steve Benson (1980-82) and Aurora’s Bob Ackerman (1987-89) – were three-peaters. Others to win back-to-back were Dino Lucchesi (1997-98), Roy Biancalana (2003-04), Mike Small (2007-08) and Curtis Malm (2012-13).


The story behind `Caddyshack’ rivals the movie itself

`Caddyshack’ may not be my favorite sports movie. I still lean towards `Chariots of Fire.’
`Caddyshack’ isn’t even my favorite golf movie. I give the nod there to `The Greatest Game Ever Played.’

Still, there’s no movie I’ve watched more times than the classic golf comedy that was filmed nearly 40 years ago. I had to watch it still again after Chris Nashawaty’s book, “Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story,’’ was released this month.

Nashawaty is the film critic at Entertainment Weekly. He liked the movie enough to – by his account – watch the movie 100 times. That more than qualified him to write about the behind-the-scenes making of `Caddyshack,’ and his account left me wondering how the movie ever got made in the first place.

“The shocking thing is — with the amounts of drugs and alcohol consumed — that the movie makes any sense at all,’’ said Nashawaty.

`Caddyshack’ was hardly an instant hit. It took years for it to be fully appreciated, but the movie – made on a $6 million budget – eventually made $40 million.

“When it came out in the summer of 1980 it was the followup to `Animal House,’ and expectations were high,’’ said Nashawaty. “The critics, though, tore it apart. They savaged that movie.’’

One notable exception was Roger Ebert, the late, great movie critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. “He nailed it. He really understood what was going on,’’ said Nashawaty.

Ebert was in a vast minority. `Caddyshack’ was no `Animal House’ even though those two movies had many of the same stars. Comedy was changing from 1970 to 1980 and those movies were a major proof of that.

`Caddyshack’ had a first-time director, Harold Ramis, and a first-time producer, Doug Kenney. Kenney, who had been battling a drug problem, had one of the funniest, brightest creative minds in the film industry at the time. He was despondent over the initial reaction to `Caddyshack,’ and was found dead in Hawaii ravine shortly after the movie was released. Just 33 years old, his death came under mysterious circumstances, though it was eventually ruled accidental.

According to Nashawaty’s account, drugs were rampant during the three-month filming of `Caddyshack,’ the cast of which included top box-office stars Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield.

“Not everyone was doing cocaine,’’ said Nashawaty. “It’s been said that only Ted Knight wasn’t involved. That might ben an exaggeration, but not by much. They had a good time.’’

Nashawaty also included Murray, the famed comedian who played hilarious, gopher-chasing assistant golf course superintendent Carl Spackler in the movie, from the cast members who were not into the drug scene.

“Bill Murray was not a cocaine guy,’’ said Nashawaty. “He liked his drinks.’’

One of Murray’s brothers, Brian-Doyle Murray, was – with Kenney and Ramis – a leader in getting studio executive to invest in the project. In the early stages of the process Winnetka’s Indian Hill Club was considered as the site for the filming because the Murray brothers had been caddies there during their youth.

“They wanted to shoot the film in the fall but they couldn’t shoot (in Chicago) in November,’’ said Nashawaty.

California was ruled out because the movie’s personnel didn’t want Hollywood film executives getting involved. The movie was proposed as a fun project, which it obviously was, and a filming location in south Florida, near the Ft. Lauderdale airport, was chosen.

“So many golf clubs would not allow a Hollywood crew to trample their golf course in the middle of their season,’’ said Nashawaty. The club was named Rolling Hills Country Club then, but was called Bushwood in the movie and is now known as Grande Oaks Golf Club.

Officially located in the town of Davie, Grande Oaks isn’t at all like Rolling Hills, which opened in 1959, or Bushwood. In 1999 it was purchased by Wayne Huizenga, who would later own football’s Miami Dolphins, baseball’s Miami Marlins and hockey’s Florida Panthers. The clubhouse used in the movie was demolished a year after Huizenga bought the club and the course was re-designed by legendary golfer Ray Floyd.

The climax scene in the movie was an explosion on the course that wasn’t approved by the club’s membership at the time. Apparently any bad memories from that experience have been forgotten by the private club’s current membership. Its promotional materials confirm that it was “The Home of the movie Caddyshack.’’

The Murray brothers have carried on the Caddyshack memory, opening one popular bar-restaurant by that name at World Golf Village Resort in St. Augustine, Fla., and more recently opening another in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

`Caddyshack II,’ a sequel released in 1988, was poorly received but the original is without doubt a cult classic and Nashawaty’s book won’t likely be the last written about it. Cindy Morgan, the actress who played the character Lacey Underall in the original version, has been working on a book that won’t be anything like Nashawaty’s. It’ll apparently be a coffee table book with a lot of pictures. I will be on the lookout for that one.