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

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

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

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

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

That’s putting it mildly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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












Medinah No. 3 braces for its biggest overhaul yet


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MEDINAH NO. 3 REDO: The New Look


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




These Brit golfers can talk the walk

Stewart Golf’s “electric caddie” is changing the way golf can be played.

Mark Stewart was still a teen-ager when – with encouragement from his father and grandfather – he started thinking about golf bag designs. His family, from Great Britain, was on vacation in St. Petersburg, FL, at the time.

“When we got home I was just curious,’’ said Stewart.  “We developed prototypes on and off for about three years.’’

During that time Stewart was earning a degree in engineering at Loughbrough University in the United Kingdom, and his curiosity expanded beyond golf bags.  He focused instead on developing what the British were calling  electric “golf trolleys.’’

There were some on the market, but not what Stewart had in mind.

“We wanted something remote-controlled, because there were some out there at the time, but they had trouble with balance and stability and the steering wasn’t very good,’’ said Stewart.

In 2003 Stewart Golf was launched and the following year its X1 Remote model was on the market. Courses across the pond were receptive to it.

“There was nothing controversial about it,’’ said Stewart.  “Ours just looked different.  Trolleys were a huge advantage for playing, but there was a huge stigma attached to it.  They were just for old guys who had a bad knee or some other disability. We were looking for amateur golfers walking the fairways, and if we could make it look different we had a chance.’’

The chance was worth taking, and paid off. Stewart Golf has sold its products in about 50 countries. The first sales in the United States were made in 2008, and they’ve since been made in every state except Hawaii and Alaska.

The British have arrived with their Trolleys, now called Electric Caddies. Mark Stewart (right) heads Stewart Golf with associates Ross Plank (left) and Luke Cummins helping with introductions in the U.S.

Initially golfers could strap their bags to Stewart Golf’s “trolley’’ and then enjoy their walks around the course without carrying their clubs. The bags could move with remote commands that a golfer would make with a hand-held device and could be attached to a belt or contained in a back pocket.

That was all well and good, but business really took off in 2015 when the “follow’’ system was launched.  That made it possible for the bag to follow the golfer, much like a human caddie would.

“It was a big change in our business, because it took us to another level,’’ said Stewart.  “It was not just eye-catching, but it was fun to watch something following someone down a fairway.’’

The present version, called the Q Follow, has a futuristic look as it follows a golfer automatically down the fairway and also has full remote-controlled functionality.  The golfer can putt out on a green, then remotely guide the trolley to the next tee without walking back to his bag.

While it takes a few holes for beginners to get the hang of using the device, it’s not a long-term problem.  We’ve tested Golf Bikes, and found them good for just more exercise, and Golf Boards, which are fun but intimidating at least at the beginning.  Neither problem existed when we received a tutorial from Stewart.

Stewart Golf made its first appearance at the PGA Merchandise Show in Florida in 2015. That was a big financial gamble — “many tens of thousands of dollars,’’ Stewart said – but this one paid off, too. His company’s bags are now promoting “Dream Machines.’’

“Everybody told us that no one walks here in America,’’ Stewart said during a stop at The Glen Club in the Chicago area. “We come from a culture in the U.K. where 98 percent of golfers walk. I’d be surprised if it was more than 20 percent in the United States.’’

So would I, but things could be changing. Credit the pandemic for that.

“Our mission statement as a company is to show people a different way to play golf,’’ said Stewart. “The experience of walking a golf course is like nothing else – it’s outdoors, you get the exercise of walking and you can be talking to friends.’’

American golfers were reminded of that when pandemic restrictions were enforced.

“Our business in America is four times what it was in 2019,’’ said Stewart.  “That’s why it’s now our biggest market, followed by the U.K. and Canada.  People were forced to walk and our demand went up.’’

The big difference is that Stewart Golf’s products in the U.S. are called “Electric Caddies’’ instead of “trolleys.’’ They’re all made at a 10,000 square-foot factory in Gloucester, a two-hour drive from London. Stewart Golf also operates out of a warehouse in Clearwater, FL.

Stewart doesn’t see human caddies, with the Western Golf Association and its flourishing Evans Scholars program thriving, or power carts as rivals.

“Caddies are a different thing,’’ he said. “Caddies aren’t at many golf courses. There’s plenty of room for all of us to play.  There’s a time and a place for riding, like when it’s hot. People point to pace of play, but walking is no slower than riding.  Some people think they play better when they walk, but that’s just in their heads.’’

“Electric Caddies’’ have one big advantage that might not be obvious to many who have not tried them.  They’re not affected by “Cart Path Only’’ restrictions. That alone improves pace of play.

Stewart Golf products are most easily purchased on line, and they cost about $2,500 regardless of the model chosen, some of which offer customized colors to match your car, golf club bag or other things. Those models will also be continuously improving.

“After the pandemic it feels like we’re starting again, but with lots more knowledge and experience,’’ said Stewart.  “We have to keep making our products better.’’




Sentry will be a more prominent name in golf for years to come

SentryWorld may have the best picture of its iconic Flower Hole on the wall of its pro shop.

Patience and loyalty are enviable qualities, and they figure to pay off big time for Sentry Insurance once the 2023 golf season gets into gear.

Sentry was patient, closing the course at its headquarters in Stevens Points, Wis., for two major renovations in the last 10 years.  Now it’s on the clock to host one of golf’s most popular events, the U.S. Senior Open, in 2023.

And that’s not all.  In August Sentry agreed to a sponsorship extension with the PGA Tour as the title sponsor of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.  The agreement started in 2018, as the company’s first major sports sponsorship, and  now it’ll be the season-opening event on the PGA Tour from 2024 through 2035.

The tournament will be an early highlight of the 2022-23 season Jan. 2-8 at The Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii with a $15 million purse, up from $8.2 million in 2022 and will lead off the 2024 season when the circuit transitions to a calendar-year season.

With professional golf in a state of flux since the arrival of the controversial LIV Tour the role of Sentry Insurance will be enhanced.

“Our thanks to Pete McPartland (Sentry’s chairman of the board, president and chief executive office) and his team for their partnership, loyalty and trust in the PGA Tour,” said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

“One of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made was to align ourselves with the PGA Tour,” echoed McPartland.

Sentry entered the golf business in 1982 with the creation of SentryWorld.  The course   drew immediate attention for one reason.  It’s par-3 sixteenth hole was – at least arguably – the most beautiful hole in golf.

The hole that architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his associate, Bruce Charleton, created wasn’t a tough one, but it had over 30,000 flowers on it so it was very easy to look at – and it still is. We had our latest look at it this past July.

In its early years the course simply had 17 other holes, and now – after a trying 10 years – it has much more than that.  Jones and Charleton did one renovation of the course in 2012-13 with Wisconsin architect Jay Blasi helping out, and then Jones and Charleton returned in February of 2020 to expand on what they’d done after the resort landed the 2023 U.S. Senior Open.

In effect the course – the only 18-holer on the property – was shut down twice, for two-years each time, over a 10-year period. The accompanying Inn was also  almost completely rebuilt as well so, obviously, the first golf destination resort in Wisconsin history was a quiet place for a substantial period.

“That brings back a moment in time when there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears,’’ said Mike James, the resort’s general manager who came on the scene in 2014.  “It’s been pedal to the metal on improvement projects to make SentryWorld as good as it possibly can be – and it’s been fun over the years seeing where SentryWorld was and where it is today.’’

James declined to give a cost figure on all the work that has been done on the golf course and in the creation of a beautiful boutique hotel, but he’s convinced “it was money well spent.’’

Jones called the parkland-style course “My Mona Lisa,’’ when it opened 40 years ago. His work there in the first renovation – it’s called a “re-imagining’’ now – resulted in water coming into play on 12 holes.  At that time the restaurant and banquet hall were also completely redone.

The new terracotta cart paths stand out on SentryWorld’s new course almost as much as the Flower Hole.

The “re-imagining’’ was created in 2012 and 2013, and the course re-opened in 2014. Most striking was the building of the terracotta colored cart paths.  The iconic Flower Hole remains, with 33,000 flowers planted over two days every June. Each year there’s a new palette, with the color scheme and design changing.

Then, in February of 2020 — a month before the U.S. Golf Association announced that SentryWorld would host the 2023 U.S. Senior Open and the pandemic shut down the PGA Tour and most of the golf world — the second renovation began.

“We closed due to Covid and took advantage of that time to make more improvements,’’ said James.  “In a weird way the pandemic afforded us the opportunity to make changes when there weren’t golfers on the course.’’

The major project this time involved the installation of the Sub Air irrigation system on every green.

Both the pandemic and the landing of the big tournament played a role in what was happening at the resort.

“It’s hard to tell how we would have progressed,’’ said James, “but the championship means so much to us.  They don’t hand those tournaments to just anybody.  As for the pandemic, we’re a destination facility and wanted to be careful.  We wanted to protect our staff and customers.’’

This is the view that greets you when you enter the new Inn at SentryWorld.

The Inn, with a unique Frank Lloyd Wright architectural flavor in its design, didn’t open until March 29 of this year and it isn’t there because of the one golf tournament.

“It was done for the benefit of SentryWorld’s general business and Sentry Insurance’s business,’’ said James.  “It was a business decision made without regard to the U.S. Senior Open, although it will be utilized for the championship.’’

Last touches on the course are still to be made, and the two new refreshment stations just opened on July 12.  SentryWorld went on the clock for its Senior Open as soon as this year’s version at Saucon Valley, in Pennsylvania, was completed.

The event will be contested on SentryWorld’s course from June 29 to July 2 in 2023, six months after the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. The Senior Open will  be the third U.S. Golf Association national championship played at the resort.

“No doubt it’ll bring the spotlight on SentryWorld,’’ said James. “It’ll be broadcast in 125 countries around the world, and having the best players in the world playing our golf course is an honor.’’

It goes beyond that, however.  Other big championships have been held in Wisconsin – at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits in Kohler and Erin Hills in particular – but this will be the first such event in the central part of the state.

“It’ll have a $20 million-plus impact to the area, and that’s significant,’’ said James. “We want to give the players a great experience and have the community, the state and the region experience this.  Once the final putt drops we’ll start thinking about what else we can do.’’

This plaque commemorates all that’s been done by Robert Trent Jones Jr. at SentryWorld.



Shipnuck’s “Phil” puts Mickelson’s career in perspective

Having worked in the golf media for over 50 years, I know most of the people who have written books on the sport.  I haven’t met Alan Shipnuck, author of the just-released “Phil,’’ which bills itself as “the rip-roaring and unofficial biography of golf’s most colorful superstar.’’  This book has gotten immediate buzz because of Phil Mickelson’s involvement in the controversial Saudi golf league.

Normally I’d be wary of an “unauthorized’’ biography, feeling it might well be a hatchet job of some sort.  This one wasn’t.  I don’t know that I’d call Mickelson golf’s “most colorful superstar.’’  I lean toward “most interesting’’ or “most complicated.’’ Mickelson certainly fits both of those descriptions.

That’s not really important, though. I found three subjects that Shipnuck addressed most interesting – the recount of Mickelson’s breakup with long-time caddie Jim “Bones’’ Mackay (Shipnuck said Mackay “actually fired Phil’’), the details of Mickelson’s gambling  issues  (Shipnuck says Mickelson’s losses totaled over $40 million from 2010-14) and, of course, his background on Mickelson’s connections with the Saudis’ golf venture.

That latter is an ongoing saga that factored in Mickelson not playing in either the Masters or the PGA Championship (in which he was the defending champion). Shipnuck  provides some perspective on the events that have been prominently reported over the last few months, even though the Saudi league has yet to stage its first tournament.

The Saudi saga requires more time to unfold, and a full explanation for Mickelson taking a break from tournament golf isn’t provided here.  There must be more to why he didn’t play in the first two major championships of 2022.  Frankly, his absence from the PGA Championship was disappointing to me and an unfortunate distraction to both the championship and the sport overall.

Those subjects are covered in the last 50 pages of the 239-page book. Shipnuck’s ability to shed light on these sensitive subjects is a credit to him.  So is his presentation of Mickelson’s great playing career, his exemplary family life and his charitable generosity.

Lots of prominent people in and out of golf have provided anecdotes to Mickelson’s character,  and Shipnuck has had plenty of personal experiences with the golfer – even if the book is “unauthorized.’’

Overall Mickelson comes across as a basically good guy who gets stuck in awkward or controversial situations at times – and those times were never more evident than they are right now. Shipnuk’s “Phil’’ keeps it all perspective.



`Tiger & Phil’ is an important addition to golf history


At first I felt bad for Bob Harig, a friend of mine who authored the recently-released `Tiger & Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry.’ Bob and I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and, while I’m a little older, we became friends over the past few decades while covering the pro golf scene for our various media outlets.

Publishing deadlines can sometimes be tricky, and those affecting Bob meant that he couldn’t include the latest big events in the lives of the two great golfers – Tiger’s dramatic return to last April’s Masters, where he survived the 36-hole cut  after a long layoff while he recovered from an auto accident, and Phil’s controversial stance involving the imminent arrival of Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed golf tour.

Upon further reflection, though, I came to realize that lack of attention to those newsworthy matters doesn’t much matter.  There’ll be a lot more to cover in the careers of both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and Harig had better start thinking about a sequel.

The bottom line is that `Tiger & Phil’ (St. Martin’s Press) stands by itself in being an important addition to golf history.

I’ll gently take issue with calling this one “golf’s most fascinating rivalry.’ Having written about the sport for well over 50 years, I still lean a bit more towards Nelson vs. Hogan and/or Nicklaus vs. Palmer. Those seemed more intense, personal matchups than Woods vs. Mickelson.

These are different times, though, and Harig has nicely blended the careers of Woods and Mickelson into a very comprehensive, even-handed report that begins when both were amateurs and captures the highs and lows in their days as professionals.

I was on site for a lot of those highs and lows, so that made the book all the more intriguing to me.  I loved the recounting of Mickelson’s frustrations in winning his first major championship after 46 misses, especially the story of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Payne Stewart won that title, and Phil was the runner-up with the birth of his first-born child as a ffbackdrop. Then there was his collapse on the final hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, which handed the title to Geoff Ogilvy.

As for Tiger, his flops in competition were few and far between, making his run of victories seem all the more staggering. The 2008 U.S. Open win in a playoff with Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines was perhaps the most dramatic of them all, but his story isn’t done.  Right or wrong, Woods’ numerous battles after off-course issues make him front page news every time he decides to make a comeback.

Their personalities and backgrounds are different.  So are their playing records with the exception of Ryder Cup play.  Both were less than spectacular in those matches, a fact that has always puzzled me.

In short, while the exploits of both Woods and Mickelson have been covered extensively by media over the years, Harig’s version of combining their careers into one book was a great idea.  Still, there’ll be more to tell — and Harig may be one to do it the best.



Rick Reilly’s latest book is another winner

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book report, but Rick Reilly’s “So Help Me Golf’’ (Hachette Books) certainly merits one. It goes on sale May 10, but I was accorded a sneak preview.

A great writing talent, that Rick Reilly.  I’ve met some of those gifted types and read many more of them over the years.  I got to know Rick a bit when we both reported on the PGA Tour’s Memorial tournament in the 1990s, and we played some informal rounds of golf while the event was going on.

I’ve read a few of Rick’s nine previous books, my favorite being “Commander in Cheat,’’ an analysis of Donald Trump’s involvement in golf.  “So Help Me Golf’’ is much different than that one. It’s one of those rare books that you can read briefly, put it down for a day or so and then pick up reading without missing a beat.  It’s filled with short but very readable segments on such celebrities as Bryson DeChambeau, blind entertainer Tom Sullivan, basketball legend Michael Jordan and golf personalities  Jordan Spieth, Joel Dahmen, Sophie Popov, Erik Compton and Mike Keiser.

At least those were the segments that were most memorable to me. They were presented in an unusual setting, Reilly tying the book into his own family matters – most notably a difficult relationship with his father. The paperback version is 258 pages, all filled with interesting vignettes.  Some might already be familiar to you, others not.  All benefit from the Reilly touch.

Scott Gneiser knows what it’s like to caddie in the Masters


Every year when April rolls around the world’s best golfers turn their attention to the Masters.  That’s true for their caddies, too.

Scott Gneiser, a Chicago area resident for 22 years, should know. He’s in his 33rd year as a tour caddie and estimates that he’s worked 15 Masters.

“Everybody circles that on their calendar,’’ said Gneiser, who carried for 2001 PGA champion David Toms in most of his visits to Augusta.  He’s also been a Masters bag-toter for Andy North and Bill Haas and had stints on the bag for such prominent players as Jeff Sluman, Brent Geiberger and Anthony Kim.

Oh yes, he’s also caddied for his son Billy in the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. The Masters, though, still triggers a ton of memories.

“I started as a caddie in 1989 for a friend of mine from Michigan,’’ said Gneiser.  “He didn’t make the tour the next year so I was going to go back to a resort (Sugar Loaf) where I had been working.’’

Then Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion, asked him to be his caddie for the 1990 season. Gneiser wasn’t so sure he wanted to do that until he saw North’s tournament schedule.  It included the Masters.

“So, l said `I’m in,’’’ said Gneiser. “It was so exciting. Andy was winding down his career at that time, but he was such a great story-teller. Andy was pretty special.’’

First of the Masters memories was the Par-3 Contest, which was a bit different than it is now. Family members of the players are used instead of tour caddies now.

“Andy asked that I not walk over before we were to tee off,’’ said Gneiser.  “He walked me behind Butler Cabin to those nine holes.  It was a slice of heaven back there. When it was time to tee off it was so loud.  Back then the tickets for practice rounds were unlimited, and they jammed people in there. They also had beer stands, which they’ve since taken away.  It was a huge party with wall-to-wall people. You could hardly move back there during the Par-3 Contest.’’

The Par-3 was even more special when he carried for Toms, who wound up winning it, albeit reluctantly.

“He gets to the last hole 4- or 5-under par and his name is at the top of the leaderboard,’’ said Gneiser.  “He asked me what he should do – hit it in the water? — because nobody has ever won the Par-3 Contest and gone on to win the tournament. David was playing pretty well at the time.’’

Gneiser convinced Toms to go for the win because he’d get his name on a board of champions and also pick up some crystal.

“David gets up there, quick-hits it and his ball rolls to four inches from the hole,’’ Gneiser recalled.  The victory was assured, but those good shots didn’t carry over to that Masters tournament. Toms, though, had some good moments at Augusta, tying for sixth in 1998 and tying for eighth in 2003.

“My biggest bummer was that I was never in contention down to the end,’’ said Gneiser.  “I had a bunch of top 10s but nothing like on Sundays with the big nerves going.’’

Haas did provide him a glimpse of what front-running was like at Augusta. Haas grabbed the first-round lead  In Gneiser’s second tournament carrying his bag but didn’t stay in contention.

Gneiser’s arrival at the Masters came a few years after Augusta National’s membership allowed tour caddies to work the tournament.  Only Augusta caddies were allowed before that.

“The old caddies weren’t happy that we were there, and you could feel for them,’’ said Gneiser.  “We were frowned upon for being there, but one guy stood up for us – Herman Mitchell, Lee Trevino’s caddie.’’

The caddie atmosphere eventually improved, and there was a big upgrade when the old caddie hut was replaced by a modern one that offered food all day.  Even some players and club members visited after that.

“I loved going to the Masters, but it was one of the toughest tournaments to work as far as clubbing your player goes,’’ said Gneiser.  “If you missed by even two inches on those greens it could mean a bogey.  It seemed like Augusta was a place you’d go to get fired.  That’s how intense it was out there.’’

There was also the need for extra planning at Augusta.  Usually the caddies rented houses and stayed together, but Gneiser shared a place with Toms on one occasion.

In the midst of those Masters experiences Gneiser met Jane Mikita, daughter of hockey great Stan Mikita.  They were married in 2001 and have three sons, all of them into golf.  Charlie plays at Carthage College in Wisconsin and Billy at DePaul.  Tommy is finishing up high school.  The family plays most of its golf at Cog Hill or Carriage Greens, which is near their Darien home.

Gneiser and Toms took a couple breaks — “He fired me once, and I fired him once’’ – but continued as a team for the last five years on PGA Tour Champions, the 50-and-over circuit. That’s meant a reduced workload, a good thing with Gneiser turning 57 this year.

“It’s a little easier there.  You get carts for pro-ams and the tournaments are usually only three rounds,’’ he said. “The Champions season is also only 22-23 weeks, and on the regular tour it was 30 weeks plus.’’

Still, Gneiser wouldn’t rule out a return to Augusta.

“I’d have to get in pretty good shape to walk around that place,’’ he said.  “But when you say Augusta and the Masters you get a different feel. The energy level is up.  It’s a very hilly golf course, and it’s always a long week so you have to pace yourself.  Still, I’d love to go back and do it again.  You never know.’’



Historic Disney World Golf celebrates a 50-year milestone

The Champions Pavilion showcases 42 years of PGA Tour golf played at Disney World.


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – The date was October 1, 1971. The world of travel changed a lot that day. It’s when Disney World opened its gates.

The popular tourist destination has welcomed visitors from all ages, backgrounds and countries for 50 years now – and that huge contingent also includes golfers.  Opening Day for the Magic Kingdom was the day that two of its golf courses – the Magnolia and Palm – also opened.

Joe Lee designed both of those courses, and they’re still going strong. So is Oak Trail, the nine-holer that uses the same pro shop as the two original layouts, and nearby Lake Buena Vista, the third 18-holer that opened 10 years after the Magnolia and Palm. Lake Buena Vista is also a Lee design.

The story of how these courses came into being, and the events held there, merits a recalling as the resort is in the midst of a year-long “World’s Most Magical Celebration’’ and the golf arm is proclaiming itself “the Happiest Place on Turf.’’

Alex Forsyth, the director of sales and marketing for Walt Disney World Golf, said the 50-year celebrations will carry all the way through 2022 and even into the start of 2023 but a big part of the golf festivities will come over the next few weeks when he says “a major announcement about future development’’ will be made.

Forsyth wouldn’t go into details about that but did admit that “there are no plans at present to get back on the PGA Tour.’’

Been there, done that.

Mickey Mouse lives on forever in this bunker on the Magnolia course.

The Disney courses hosted events on the PGA Tour for 42 consecutive years, from 1971 to 2012. Most were at the tail end of a year and drew the top players and big crowds. Then the FedEx Cup Playoffs were incorporated into the PGA Tour schedule, creating a big climax to each season, and the Disney tournament became an early event in the following year’s schedule.

“In the first events of a new season there were not big names,’’ said Forsyth, “and without big names there weren’t big crowds. We relinquished our spot on the PGA Tour calendar, and that’s worked out well for us.’’

The resort’s attention shifted from big money tournaments to recreational players, and that has proved a good thing for all concerned.  The glory days of tournament play, though, are fondly remembered.

Golf very much remains a part of the Disney experience, as does its golf history. Credit the late Arnold Palmer for much of that. Palmer’s role in the development of Disney World Golf started before the first tee shots were hit on the Magnolia and Palm courses and evolved into his firm, Arnold Palmer Golf Management, operating the Disney golf properties long after his death. The resort and APGM signed a 20-year agreement in 2011.

Palmer and Disney World arrived in the Orlando area at roughly the same time.  Palmer was making plans to purchase  the Bay Hill Club the same year that Disney World opened. Palmer, who didn’t complete the purchase until 1975, had big plans of his own for Bay Hill, but he was willing to meet with Sandy Quinn , the resort’s director of marketing prior to the grand opening.  Quinn was assigned the task of getting a PGA Tour event on the new courses, and Palmer was willing to help.

His interest in the resort didn’t start with golf, though.  It started with a ride on the Monorail, but he brought some friends together and the World Disney World Golf Classic was held for the first time in December of 1971. Jack Nicklaus won the tournament the first three years. The format was switched to a team event from 1974-81 and then reverted back to its original format until its farewell in 2012.

Two of the most memorable events in tournament golf at Disney World are remembered in signage — Jack Nicklaus’ three victories and the eight holes-in-one at Magnolia’s third hole in the 2002 tournament.

The tournament grew with the times, changing sponsors and titles along the way.  Nicklaus’ winning prize was $30,000 in 1971, and Charlie Beljan – the winner of the final tournament in 2012 — earned $846,000. Tiger Woods won titles in 1996 and 1999.  Other champions included Larry Nelson, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh  David Duval, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw and Luke Donald.

Magnolia, longest of the Disney courses at 7,516 yards from the tips with 97 bunkers and water on 11 of its 18 holes, was the layout most in the spotlight when the PGA Tour visited simply because the final round was always played there.  TV coverage was basically a weekend thing back then, so the cameras weren’t at Palm, which was also used for early rounds in all 42 stagings of the tournament, and Lake Buena Vista, which was used 17 times.

The tournament’s rich history is chronicled at the Champions Pavilion beside the first tee of the Magnolia. That course was also used for the Senior PGA Championship, and it had some well-known winners, too. Charlie Sifford, Pete Cooper, Julius Boros, Joe Jimenez and Jack Fleck won at Magnolia from 1975-79.

When the PGA Tour stop completed its 42-year run it was the longest-running tournament on the circuit’s calendar. Lake Buena Vista also has a notable historic reference; it was the site of the HealthSouth Classic from 1996-97 and that tournament was the first event on the Ladies PGA Tour to be broadcast live on The Golf Channel. Karrie Webb and Michelle McGann won those tournaments at Lake Buena Vista. Pat Bradley won her title at Eagle Pines, a Pete Dye design that closed in 2007.

Back to Palmer.  He competed many times in Disney’s PGA Tour stop but never won. Even with the PGA Tour event established at Disney World, he wanted an event at Bay Hill and convinced the circuit to move the Florida Citrus Classic from another Orlando course, Rio Pinar, to Bay Hill in 1979. Now called the Arnold Palmer Invitational, It’s had been held 44 consecutive years there.

Palmer’s design company also renovated Disney’s Palm Course, a six-month project in 2013 climaxed by the course winning Renovation of the Year honors that year.

Disney World’s fourth course, and only nine-holer, has an interesting history as well.  It started as a six-hole course in 1982, called Wee Links. The course was built in conjunction with the PGA Tour as a base for affordable junior golf. The course had artificial tees and greens, a unique concept at that time.

Wee Links consisted of the present holes 1-4 and 8-9.  It expanded to nine holes when Florida-based designer Ron Garl built three holes, all much stronger than the other six, in 1991.