Len Ziehm On Golf

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.

`Tiger Woods’ provides an inside look at the world’s most fascinating athlete

Book review time. If you ever wanted to know what Tiger Woods’ life has really been like this creation – titled simply “Tiger Woods’’ – is a must read.

Certainly anybody who has reported on golf should check it out. Co-authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian were more than qualified to take on this project and they produced a very even-handed chronological account of the many highs and lows that Woods has endured in his sometimes brilliant, sometimes chaotic 40-plus years.

The fact that Woods couldn’t be interviewed for the book is unfortunate but understandable. The way Benedict and Keteyian tackled the project, though, made that not really necessary. Their research was that good. They didn’t need Woods to do any re-hashing of the well-documented episodes that broadcast, print and social media outlets have provided for so long.

In short, Woods’ tale is the result of mixing a talented, obsessively-driven, intelligent athlete with aggressive — if sometimes questionable – parental practices. That doesn’t explain everything, though. Woods’ treatment of his first girlfriend, his wife, his long-time friend and lover (Lindsey Vonn), his highly-respected swing instructors (Butch Harmon and Hank Haney), his once-trusted caddie and Mark O’Meara – a neighbor, big-brother figure, frequent playing partner and loyal friend – are puzzling. And that’s putting it mildly.

Is Woods finally healthy again, as a few tournaments this year might suggest? I have no idea.

Will he ever break Jack Nicklaus’ record for winning major championships? I strongly doubt it, but can’t rule it out.

Has he finally found inner peace? Can he enjoy life regardless of how he performs in golf tournaments? I hope so. The sports world has produced many fascinating characters but Tiger Woods might be the most fascinating of them all.

Blalock gets well-deserved invite into the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open

Jane Blalock, getting grilled by the media before the 2017 Senior LPGA Championship at Indiana’s French Lick Resort, is the guiding light behind senior golf for former LPGA players.

Jane Blalock, who provided the only tournament options for Ladies PGA members once they reached the senior ranks, was – most appropriately – among the first two special exemptions into the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open that will come to Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton in July.

The U.S. Golf Association also issued a special invite to Mary Jane Hiestand, the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, on Wednesday but Blalock’s inclusion in the July 12-15 event on America’s first 18-hole course was more significant.

Blalock, 72, was the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1969 and went on to win 27 times on the circuit. Though ranked 19th in all-time victories, Blalock did not qualify for the USGA’s first national championship for women, both pros and amateurs, in the 50-plus age group.

In 2000, after her days as a mainstay on the LPGA circuit were over, Blalock organized the Legends Tour. It welcomed players who had reached their 45th birthday, and the circuit could muster only a few tournaments a year until 2012. Seven were held that year and 13 the next.

In 2013 the circuit had its first major event – The Legends Championship at French Lick, Ind. – and that event grew into the first LPGA Senior Championship last year. It was the first Legends event to get formal support from the LPGA as well as TV coverage.

The U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be the second major for senior women. It’s open to both professionals as well as amateurs with a handicap of 7.4 or better. The finals at Chicago Golf Club have 120 players, most determined at a series of nation-wide qualifying rounds. Many of the former LPGA stars won’t enter, however, because it’s a walking-only event. Blalock planned to enter, even if she wasn’t awarded a special exemption.

“I had goose bumps when I received the call,’’ she said. “This is a historic event of mammoth proportions, so to have the chance to participate is so significant on many fronts. (Senior women) now have the chance to compete on golf’s most prominent stage and those of us who didn’t win a U.S. Open will now have another chance.’’

Senior women’s golf has seen a dramatic upgrade in the last three years. The last Legends Championship of 2016 was played over 36 holes and had a $75,000 prize fund. Last year’s first LPGA Senior Championship was played over 54 holes and had a $600,000 purse. The first U.S. Senior Women’s Open is a 72-hole event with a $1 million purse.

Scotland’s Trish Johnson won both the last Legends Championship and first LPGA Senior Championship. Her prizes for winning were $37,00 in 2016 and $90,000 in 2017. The champion’s share of the Senior Women’s Open purse hasn’t been announced.

Tour Edge, Wilson, WGA make an impact at PGA Merchandise Show

PGA Show visitors got an early look at what Team USA will wear in this year’s Ryder Cup.

ORLANDO, Florida – The PGA Merchandise Show is – as far as the golf industry is concerned – the major annual event for the sport, and last week’s 65th staging of the show at the Orange County Convention Center underscored that.

The Show, which draws about 40,000 visitors annually, featured more than 7,500 PGA professionals from all 50 states and 87 countries. In addition to those from the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Korea, Japan and Taiwan had big contingents. Over 1,000 media representatives from 25 countries were also on hand, and 36 countries received television coverage.

Exhibits were spread over nearly 10 miles of aisles in the massive Convention Center as manufacturers put their new products on display and the two Chicago club manufacturers were in the thick of things.

Tour Edge president David Glod likes what he sees from players on PGA Tour Champions.

Buoyed by a big year in 2017, David Glod — president of Batavia-based Tour Edge – did more than put his new lines of Exotics, Hot Launch and Bazooka brands on display. He also revealed some strategic changes for the 32-year old company.

With the company showing a 25-per cent growth over the previous year, Tour Edge has beefed up its staff – particularly on the marketing side. It’ll have commercials on The Golf Channel and tour players will have an increased role in promoting Tour Edge products. Tour Edge clubs helped PGA Tour players win 10 tournaments in recent years without the company paying them to use their equipment.

“We’ll have a little different approach this year,’’ said Glod during his company’s media day preview. “We’ll go heavy on the Champions Tour.’’

One Champions Tour player, Tim Petrovic, even spoke on Tour Edge’s behalf during the Show preview event.

Callaway was just one of many companies offering some new designs for golf attire at the Show.

Chicago-based Wilson stepped up production of its innovative Driver vs. Driver2 series during the Show’s Demo Day and Tim Clarke, head of the company’s golf division, announced two new judges – hockey great Jeremy Roenick and PGA professional/coach Rick Shiels.

The series, which made its Golf Channel debut in 2016, features aspiring club designers competing to have their concepts transformed into the model that Wilson will use for its next driver. Clarke returns as a judge and Melanie Collins will again be the emcee of the series, which will make its TV debut in the fall after the Ryder Cup matches.

The Chicago-based Western Golf Association also made news, announcing a groundbreaking initiative to promote youth caddie opportunities. It’s called Carry the Game and will operate under the WGA umbrella with the U.S. Golf Association, PGA of America, The First Tee and Youth on Course also involved in the project.

Looking for a more modernized look for your golf cart? How about this one.

“Through Carry the Game, our goal is to provide young people with an early introduction to golf by creating life-changing opportunities to work as a caddie,’’ said John Kaczkowski, the WGA’s president and chief executive officer. “Ultimately we believe the experiences and mentorship gained through caddying are invaluable to a young person’s development and will help cultivate a lifelong passion for playing the game.’’

Other product introductions included Callaway’s line of Rogue drivers and fairway woods with Jailbreak technology; Cobra’s F8 drivers with Cobra Connect technology; TaylorMade’s M3 and M4 drivers with new Twist Face technology and Titleist’s new Tour Soft and Velocity golf balls.

These giant tees will be in abundance as the next Ryder Cup in Paris closes in.

The best three new products among merchandise displayed at the show, as determined by voters from the PGA and the top buyers, were Chippo Golf, a game for backyard, beach or tailgate events; Rhineland Cutlery, custom engraved cutlery sets targeting golf events; and Tsu Tsu Sport, a colorful apparel collection.

Each PGA Merchandise Show also has an Inventor’s Spotlight, for products not yet available at retail outlets. Best of those, according to selectors, was the Impact Improver — an indoor training device.

Many of the products introduced in Orlando will also be available at three upcoming Chicago area shows – the Tinley Park Golf Expo Feb. 9-11 at the Tinley Park Convention Center, the Northern Illinois Expo Feb. 16-18 at the Lake County Fair Grounds and the Chicago Golf Show Feb. 23-25 at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

More scenes from the 65th PGA Merchandise Show reflect what a colorful event it was.

Revelation Golf: A success story that’s ongoing

RevelationGolf has done lots of good things since Elk Grove resident Donna Strum created the program in 2005. Strum, a therapeutic recreation specialist, quit a job at a hospital to work with children and adults with physical disabilities, breast cancer survivors and at-risk youth.

It wasn’t until two years later, Strum and her assistant, Kathy Williams, took the program to military veterans, that RevelationGolf really took off. By 2008 there were weekly golf clinics held at various locations. Williams is an LPGA Class A teaching professional, a former Evans Scholar and head women’s golf coach at the University of Minnesota.

“Now the military veterans program is 90 percent of what we do,’’ said Strum. “The need is so great. Our programs are used as part of healing and recovery.’’

Golf, obviously, has proven to be a tool to cope with both physical disabilities as well as those suffering from such things as post traumatic stress disorder. The RevelationGolf program works, and its slogan, “a new beginning to a great game,’’ is most appropriate.

Strum says RevelationGolf gives 1,200 lessons a year to 350 “unique individuals.’’

And, it’s not just men who need help. Women and the children of the veterans have benefitted as well and Illinois PGA members have been involved from the outset. Strum, working with medical personnel, administers her program for both the Illinois PGA and Project Hope, the national version organized by the PGA of America.

Strum and her medical staffers put interested Illinois PGA members through a four-hour training session before they are allowed to work with the veterans. The first two hours are classroom work in which the different physical disabilities and the emotional side effects are discussed. Then the professionals get an hour of simulations, hitting shots from various stations under conditions that their students are facing, before getting introduced to the veterans themselves.

Some of the participants have the use of only one hand. Some have tremors. Some are visually impaired. Some are using prosthetic legs. The golf professionals are given a taste of what it’s like to be in that state.

Don Habjan, the head professional at Makray Memorial in Barrington, took his training with RevelationGolf in the fall of 2005 and has been working as a teacher since that time. Patrick Lynch, the head professional at Cantigny in Wheaton, and Cog Hill’s Carol Rhoades, the IPGA Professional of the Year in 2017, have also been long-time instructors in the veterans’ program.

Also prominent among the instructors are Brandon Evans, head professional at Village Greens in Woodridge; Jennifer Ferrell, head professional at Glendale Lakes in Glendale Heights; Matt Tullar, assistant head professional at Cantigny; Mason Wall, of the Todd Sones Golf School at White Deer Run in Vernon Hills; and independent teaching professionals Cory Ferrell and Louise Davis.

“We use a medical model for everything that we do,’’ said Strum, “and there are usually at least two teachers at every event along with one or two therapists.’’

Clinics and related events were held at 16 locations across the Chicago area in 2017, and not just at golf facilities. RevelationGolf has put on its events at dozens of hospitals and worked with a wide variety of charitable organizations.

One of the key locations is the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center at Great Lakes Naval Base in North Chicago. The PTSD veterans there were treated to sessions on a weekly basis in 2017. They were held on a bi-weekly basis before that.

Susanne Brown, a recreational therapist at that facility, could attest to the value of RevelationGolf.

“So many of our PTSD veterans suffer from persistent thoughts and memories that plague them throughout their day’’ she said. “In participation (in RevelationGolf), they have shared their ability to release those thoughts, even if only for the time they are golfing. Participating in golf, they turned their focus instead on the game and their skill. That gave them momentary release and freedom….It is exhilarating to watch them as the stress and tension fade from their bodies and their faces.’’

Women going through crises at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago were treated to the RevelationGolf programs for the first time this year – 15 participated — and the three Veterans Golf Days – held at Cog Hill, the nearby Chicago District Golf Association’s Sunshine Course in Lemont and Willow Glen in North Chicago drew a record 80 veterans. Those special days were expanded to include a dinner as well.

The RevelationGolf program doesn’t run in just the warm weather months, either. Links & Tees, in Addison, hosts clinics on Tuesdays and the Buffalo Grove Dome does the same on Wednesdays during the winter months.

A date has also been set for RevelationGolf’s 13th annual fundraiser. It’ll be held on June 11 at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights.

My big night at the ING Media Awards

Wisconsin buddies Gary Van Sickle and Chuck Garbedian joined me as winners of ING Media Awards.

I’m excited, and most appreciative. Last night three of my pieces from 2017 were cited in the 24th annual International Network of Golf Media Awards presentation, which climaxed the first day of the 65th PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

My Daily Herald piece, “Koepka wins first major,’’ was the winner in the Competition Writing category. It told the story of Brooks Koepka’s victory in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last June.

I also received Outstanding Achiever mentions for two pieces, one for Travel Writing and the other in the Competition Writing category. The Travel piece, “Simply Grand,’’ appeared in the Daily Herald and spotlighted Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort. (This piece also was published in Chicagoland Golf). It was the second year in which I’ve been cited in the Travel Writing category.

The other mention was for “Make It a Double,’’ which ran in the Chicago District Golfer. It was a report on Patrick Flavin’s victories in the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open.

Damon Hack, of The Golf Channel, was emcee for the event and a couple of my Wisconsin buddies – Chuck Garbedian (Radio Show) and Gary Van Sickle (Profile Writing) – were winners in other categories. Tony Leodora won for the third straight year in the TV Show division.