Len Ziehm On Golf

Dick Nugent was one of Chicago’s most prolific — and best — golf course designers

I was just sad to learn of the passing of Dick Nugent, the long-time Chicago golf course architect, on New Year’s Day. I don’t know more details, but Nugent was 87 — a very nice man and and one of the most prolific architects in the Chicago area.
A University of Illinois graduate — he also played football for the Illini — Nugent started his architectural career working for the legendary designer Robert Bruce Harris. He later hooked up with fellow architect Ken Killian, and they handled the design work for Kemper Lakes.
While Kemper Lakes was his best-known work, Nugent created over 90 courses in 12 states. Among his other noteworthy ones was the Dunes Club in New Buffalo, Mich. — the only 9-hole course to be ranked in Golf Digest’s Top 100.
Many of his designs came after he and Killian split up their partnership in 1983.
In addition to Kemper Lakes Nugent’s credits include some of the Chicago area’s best public layouts — both courses at Harborside International, George Dunne National, Golf Club of Illinois, Foxford Hills, Heritage Bluffs and Buffalo Grove.
He was also involved in projects at Deerpath, Big Run, Twin Orchard, Midlothian, Fox Lake , Glencoe, Glendale Lakes, Sunset Valley, Poplar Creek, Bull Valley and Ivanhoe.

IT ZIEHMS TO ME: Ibis’ Legend proves that Nicklaus courses are becoming more fun

Beware of the wall at the signature hole — the par-3 No. 13 with the island green at Ibis’ Legend Course.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – This is what I was told.

Jack Nicklaus designed the Legend Course at The Club at Ibis for an opening in 1991. More than 20 years passed, and club members asked Nicklaus to come back and check it out again. He did, and his immediate comment was `What was I thinking?’

In his early years in course architecture Nicklaus’ designs were frequently considered too penal. This was apparently one of them. The tournament player side of Nicklaus was more reflected in his course designs back then. He liked his courses to be challenging.

Having not played the original Legend, it was difficult for me to imagine what it had looked like before the current re-design was unveiled this month. (Nicklaus hit the ceremonial first tee shot on Dec. 13 and the course opened for play a week later).

According to a long-time nearby resident – a non-member who happens to be a scratch player, the new version “is more accepting to all types of players and conditions. It’s playability instead of brutality. Bravo!’’

Artificial turf isn’t made for golf, but it works as the entry and exit path to the Legend Course’s No. 13 green.

From my perspective as a first-time visitor I can’t imagine the Legend beating up any players. The fairways are extremely wide. The number of bunkers isn’t excessive, and those in the new design frame the landing areas quite well. The greens, already in excellent condition, are well contoured but provide fun for any player, be it a high or low handicapper, man or woman.

In short, this is a most enjoyable place to play. The course can welcome back big tournaments (it plays 7,442 yards from the tips) if the membership so chooses as well as stimulate beginning players (the front set of tees provides a course of only 4,492 yards.

The Club at Ibis is in the heart of Nicklaus country. In fact, it may be the center of it design-wise. Two of Nicklaus’ sons have also designed courses on the property, which is part of a gated community that requires those who live in its 1,900 residences to be members. Jack Nicklaus II, now the president of Nicklaus Design, created the immediately friendly Heritage Course, which also opened in 1991. Steve Nicklaus designed the Tradition Course, a links-style layout that opened in 2001.

Nicklaus’ renovated Legend has a particularly scenic par-3 at No. 5 but a more memorable one at No. 13. This one has an island green, fountain in the water fronting the green and a path of artificial turf leading into the putting surface from behind the green. With those features there’s no denying it ‘s the course’s signature hole.

The flowering is at its best around the No. 12 tee on this Jack Nicklaus renovation.

Jack Nicklaus, the one of Golden Bear fame, has been a resident of nearby North Palm Beach since the 1970s. His Bear’s Club, in Jupiter, has been a haven for established PGA Tour players since Nicklaus and his wife Barbara founded the club in 1999. Nicklaus also handled a 2014 redesign of the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens – just four miles from The Club at Ibis. The home of the PGA Tour’s annual Honda Classic, PGA National’s Champion Course features one of the sport’s most treacherous three-hole stretches from Nos. 15-17. It’s been declared, appropriately enough, “The Bear Trap.’’

As established as the Nicklauses are in south Florida, this year has been an extraordinary one for the clan. In November, a month before the opening of the Legend at The Club at Ibis, the patriarch of the clan oversaw the opening of the Banyan Cay Resort & Golf – another members-only club in West Palm Beach.

A double-ended practice range has 75 hitting stations in addition to a teaching area led by Golf Channel’s Martin Hall.

This one is significant because it was the 300th course that Nicklaus created. Other designers have created more. Tom Bendelow designed over 600 in a 35-year career that started in the 1890s. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed over 500 and Donald Ross over 400. None, of course, could rival the playing record that Nicklaus had to complement his architectural resume.

The Legend Course at the Club at Ibis may be Nicklaus’ most recent design but certainly won’t be his last. He and his staff of designers has 410 courses open for play in 39 states and 41 countries, and 57 more are under development in 19 different countries.

Over my nearly 50 years writing about golf I’ve played a wide range of Nicklaus courses, some high profile and some not. My favorite is one of the latter – The Club at Porto Cima, a private club in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks that opened in 2000.

Nicklaus was apparently quite proud of it, as the club’s website attributes this comment from him about the course: “On a scale of one to 10 this is as close to a 10 if there ever was a 10.’’

It’ll be hard to top that accolade, but Nicklaus has done so many quality courses that are special in their own way and to their own set of players. The Legend will stand up quite well to all of them.

All three of the courses at The Club at Ibis were designed by members of the Nicklaus family.

My favorite golfer? Why, it’s Ralph Kennedy — by a mile

Ralph Kennedy made the cover of Saturday Evening Post in 1935. (Curtis Publishing photo).

I have a new favorite golf hero, and his name isn’t Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth or even Tiger Woods.

Did you ever hear of Ralph Kennedy? Not many have. Kennedy died in 1961 at the age of 79. His claim to golfing fame didn’t come in winning big tournaments. It came from just playing. I doubt any golfer had the same love of the game that Kennedy had.

Kennedy took up golf in 1910, when he was 28 years old. Between his first tee shot at New York’s Van Cortlandt Park – the first public course in the United States – and his last recorded round in 1953 Kennedy played over 8,500 rounds on 3,165 different courses.

New Jersey-based golf writer John Sabino uncovered all the scorecards that Kennedy had donated to the U.S. Golf Association prior to his death and – very much to his credit — took it upon himself to tell Kennedy’s story.

Sabino’s report surfaced in his recently released book, “Golf’s Iron Horse,’’ which was published by New York’s Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. Sabino likened Kennedy’s feat with the 2,130 consecutive baseball games that Lou Gehrig played for the New York Yankees during his 17 big league seasons. Gehrig and Kennedy lived about six blocks apart during Gehrig’s baseball prime.

According to Sabino Kennedy’s total rounds of about 8,500 are the equivalent of a golfer teeing it up every day for 23 straight years. Kennedy averaged 75 new courses a year from his first round on July 9, 1911, until his last one on Sept. 27, 1953. They were all walking rounds, too, as power carts hadn’t arrived during Kennedy’s days on the links.

That’s not what most impresses me, however. Piling up rounds isn’t all that difficult. Lots of golfers play the same course over and over on an almost daily basis and Joe Kirkwood, a competitor in the early days of the pro golf tour, may have even played more total rounds than Kennedy. Kirkwood just didn’t document his rounds. He was more interested in tournament play and his trick shot exhibitions.

Instead, I’m most in awe of Kennedy’s penchant for travel to get to all his courses. I’ve done pretty well on that end, thanks to being blessed with jobs writing on golf for nearly 50 years. Never more than just an avid recreational player, I’ve played in 26 states and many have come in the last 10 years when my focus has been on Travel Destinations rather than tournament coverage.

My estimated courses played since my first one at age 11 in 1955 is about 600. They include a vast majority of the 400-plus courses listed in the Chicago District Golf Association membership area and 21 courses listed on Golf Digest’s Top 100.

Kennedy, by comparison, spread his rounds around the 48 of the states in the United States when he was playing. He also played courses in nine Canadian provinces and about another dozen countries. His course count total was determined off scorecards signed by him as well as a representative of each club played. On one day he played courses in four different states. On another he played four courses in the same day. Many times he played a round with just a 3- or 4-iron to reduce the physical demands required to carry a bag of clubs.

My greatest golf stunts pale by comparison — two 45-hole days in the early 1980s arranged to promote the Chicago Park District’s five nine-hole courses. I’m no Ralph Kennedy, that’s for sure.

In one area, though, I’m sure I beat out Kennedy. A vast major of my rounds have been over 18 holes. Kennedy couldn’t say that. Many of the courses in his count were nine-holers and some were even less than that.

“Golf’s Iron Horse author John Sabino likens Ralph Kennedy to baseball great Lou Gehrig. (USGA photo).

No course was too insignificant or far away for Kennedy. He played in all sorts of weather on urban, rural, desert, mountain, parkland, moorland, links and heather courses. But, his courses also included cream of the crop venues like Augusta National, Cypress Point, Muirfield and Pine Valley.

So, how did Kennedy do it? Well, he had a wife who liked to play, too. Mary Alice Kennedy played over 600 different courses and they had no children. That opened up more time for playing and traveling.

Kennedy also had a job that encouraged his golf “hobby.’’ He was a traveling salesman for a major pencil company. He was apparently good at his job, too, as he was a founding member of New York’s Winged Foot – long one of America’s premier private clubs.

Sabino takes an unusual approach to telling Kennedy’s story. He focuses more on the climate of the changing times than he does on golf shots. When Kennedy entered college at Amherst the reigning U.S. Open champion was Harry Vardon and when he died Arnold Palmer held the Masters crown. In between the country was going through two world wars and plenty of other changes.

The game of golf changed a lot in that period, too. When Kennedy was born America had 38 states and no golf courses. America’s first 18-holer wasn’t built until Chicago Golf Club unveiled its prize layout in 1892.

In the early days of American golf many of the early courses had half-par holes, a different sized ball was used, there were no rakes in the bunkers and the stymie was a key part of the game.

Many of the courses that Kennedy played no longer exist including the last one, nine-hole Hamilton Inn Golf Club in New York. That round came the same year that golf was televised nationally for the first time at George S. May’s World Championship event at Tam O’Shanter in suburban Chicago.

Katie Pius holds her own against the men in the Illinois PGA tourneys

The Illinois PGA has few members to rival Katie Pius. In fact, there really aren’t any with the background that this assistant professional at Biltmore Country Club in North Barrington has.

Gender-wise the Illinois Section is noteworthy in having, in Carrie Williams, one of the three women to hold executive director posts in the PGA of America’s 41 sections. And, this year Carol Rhoades became the first woman to be named the section’s professional of the year in 62 years. Numerically, though, the IPGA includes just 31 women among its approximately 800 members and apprentices.

Playing-wise, of those select 31 Pius is the best of them all by a long shot and she has even held her own against the men in several Illinois PGA Championships.

Earlier this year Pius was named to the athletic Hall of Fame at her college alma mater, Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C. Then Katie Dick, she played on four teams that won the NCAA Division III national championship and she was the individual champion at that level in her junior season.

In 2005, her first year at the school, the National Golf Coaches Association named her its Freshman of the Year. A four-time first team All-American, she was part of Methodist’s astonishing string of 13 consecutive national championships from 2000 to 2012.

“I don’t know why I decided to go there, but I did luck out,’’ she said. “I just wanted to go to a small school, and I hadn’t played much junior golf growing up. I wasn’t in the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) stuff.’’

Growing up in a small town on the outskirts of Youngstown, Ohio, didn’t keep Dick from achieving her goal of becoming a golf professional. She decided to attend Methodist Monarch because she would be able to play golf at a school that offered a PGA internship program. When she graduated in 2008 she had both her PGA Class A card and a degree in business.

Most players with her collegiate success would be tempted to give professional tournament golf a try, but not Dick. She still loves to compete but is doing it as the only woman in otherwise all-male fields in the IPGA tournaments.

“I just didn’t have the practice mentality,’’ she said, “plus, on the Futures (now Symetra) Tour you couldn’t make a living. I have tried the U.S. Open qualifiers because they’re a one-day thing, but playing tournament golf would be such a different life.’’

The life she has now is just fine, thank you. She is married to Josh Pius, the head professional at Inverness, and they became parents of daughter Betty who turns 2 in December. In being Lake Zurich residents, both have short drives to their respective clubs.

“I never thought I’d marry a golf pro,’’ said Katie, “but it’s worked out for us. We both get Mondays off. I don’t know that we’d ever work together, but I do understand the long hours he has to put in at times.’’

Josh had a similar collegiate experience as Katie. He attended Michigan’s Ferris State, which was a pioneer institution in creating programs for those who wanted to enter the golf industry.

As part of her college studies she spent two summers doing internships, one of which was at the famed Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Resort in Florida. She also interned at Lakeshore Country Club in Glencoe before beginning her run of assistant jobs at three of Chicago’s most established private clubs.

First came three years at Westmoreland, in Wilmette , then two at Bryn Mawr, in Lincolnwood, and she just completed her fourth year at Biltmore working under the direction of veteran head pro Doug Bauman. Katie handled teaching duties and had guided the ladies programs at Biltmore until motherhood led to her cutting back her workload.

“I want to focus on being a mom,’’ she said, “but I don’t want to lose touch with golf.’’

Through job and lifestyle changes she’s been able to do that. She survived the cut playing with the men in the last two Illinois PGA Championships, tying for 49th place at Olympia Fields in 2016 and tying for 35th at Medinah this year. She’s also had a handful of good showings in the stroke play events and competes in the Illinois Women’s Open. Still, Pius downplays the unique place she has on the Illinois tournament side.

“I’ve never won, so there’s no reason,’’ she said. “I haven’t done anything too special around here.’’

On that she’s selling herself a bit short. In the last four decades the only other woman to make a significant impact in the major IPGA events was Michele Drinkard in the 1980s. She eventually left club work and is now a successful college coach at the Division I level.

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.