Who knows what the PGA’s Florida Swing will produce in the next two weeks?


Scottie Scheffler may have been the only player still smiling after the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

ORLANDO, FL. – The PGA Tour’s annual Florida Swing reached the midway point on Sunday with the circuit rarely seeing tounaments unfold the way they did last two weeks.

Daniel Berger appeared a wire-to-wire winner at last week’s Honda Classic until a surprise storm hampered play in the last three holes. Berger blew a five-stroke lead and Straka became the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour.

Sunday’s second stop in the Sunshine State, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was much more unusual than that.   University of Florida product Billy Horschel and Talor Gooch started the final round at Bay Hill tied for the lead at 7-under-par. Still, Scottie Scheffler’s 5-under 283 was good enough to win.

In summary, the scoring wasn’t good and the players were largely critical of the course setup, but the crowds were bigger than ever — though somewhat unruly in the final hours of play.

It makes you wonder what the second half of the Florida Swing will offer the next two weeks.  The Players Championship tees off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra with some notable players missing and the Valspar Championship follows the next week on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour.

One thing is certain: the Valspar — thanks to its connection to a paint manufacturer — will remain the most colorful tournament on the PGA Tour. That probably won’t brighten how the players felt about Bay Hill in the aftermath of the API.

“The course was set up harder today (Sunday) that it was yesterday.  That surprised me a little,’’ said Scheffler, who called the course “a total break-down.’’

And he was the guy who won.

“It was so challenging, a real grind. I like to challenge hard golf courses,’’  said Scheffler.

Apparently so does his 86-year old grandmother.  She walked all 18 holes with Scheffler on Sunday. The victory boosted Scheffler to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Rankings and he now tops the FedEx Cup standings as well. The API was his second win of the year.  He also won the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

The key to the Bay Hill win was two great scrambling pars at Nos. 15 and 16.

“It was not a comfortable position, having to hit to 50 feet and try to two-putt,’’ said Scheffler. “I trusted myself and played conservative the last two holes, and pars were good enough.’’

Gary Woodland went from ecstacy to agony in the final round of the API. At No. 16 (left) he holed a 40-foot putt for eagle to take sole possession of the lead. On the next hole he lost it when  he left his second shot in a bunker (right) and took a double bogey.

Even with beautiful weather all week Bay Hill proved a monster with thicker-than-usual rough and slicker-than-usual greens for the API field.  The lead got away from Horschel and Gooch in a hurry. Horschel shot 40 on the front nine and Gooch was worse, making  two double bogeys and four bogeys en route to a 43.

Even after his early blowup Horschel still had a chance to win.  Had he made birdie on his final hole he would have forced a playoff with Scheffler. Others had a chance, too. England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who won the tournament in 2020 despite a 73-74 weekend finish, was on the brink of bouncing back from a third-round 78 this time.  He was the clubhouse leader much of the day after posting a 68 on Sunday.

Hatton wound up in a tie for second with Horschel and Norway’s Viktor Hovland. They were one stroke behind Scheffler, whose par 72 on Sunday wasn’t exactly spectacular.

Most disappointed of all the near-missers was former U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland. He took sole possession of the lead after rolling in a 40-foot eagle putt at No. 16.  Then he left a shot in a bunker, leading to a double bogey at the par-3 seventeenth and made bogey at No. 18 when he needed a birdie to get into a playoff.

As if the drama wasn’t enough, there was a strange situation off the course.  Bryson DeChambeau, the defending champion who has been battling injuries, made a late entry to the field and then promptly withdrew the same day.  Jason Day, another former API champion, was also a late withdrawal after his mother passed away following a long battle with cancer.

This week’s Players Championship will have some highly noticeable absentees as well.  Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both exempt into the field, won’t play. It’ll be the first time since 1994 that both will miss the same tournament. DeChambeau decided to take another week off and Rickie Fowler, the popular past champion, didn’t qualify.  He’ll miss The Players for the first time since 2009.

It was wall-to-wall spectators all over the course on the last day of the API at Bay Hill.



It figures to be Zach Johnson vs. Luke Donald in the next Ryder Cup

Zach Johnson (left) and Luke Donald will create a good captain’s matchup in the Ryder Cup.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Neither Zach Johnson nor Luke Donald looked threatening during Thursday’s first round of the PGA Tour’s traditional Florida Swing.

The veterans teed off within 20 minutes of each other, Donald starting his round off No. 1 and Johnson off No. 10 at the Honda Classic – the first of four straight tournaments in Florida.  Johnson finished at 4-over-par 76 and Donald at 2-over 74 and were far back of the leaders.

Their competitiveness figures to change very soon, however, though not as players.  Johnson and Donald loom to be opposing captains in the next Ryder Cup matches, to be played in 2023 at Marco Simone in Italy.

If the matchup materializes it’ll pit the most popular player over the years at Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop against a Northwestern alum who has remained involved in the Chicago golf scene through his philanthropic and design efforts.

Johnson’s selection as the U.S. captain will become official on Monday at a press conference at PGA of America headquarters here, the day after the Honda finishes its 72-hole run at PGA National. It won’t come as a surprise. Clair Peterson, long-time tournament director and now executive director of the John Deere Classic – Illinois’ lone annual PGA Tour event – congratulated Johnson via Facebook on Thursday and fans at the Honda Classic did the same as Johnson played his first round.

Leading the U.S. won’t be easy.  The American side will be trying to end a 30-year stretch without a win on European soil, the last one coming in 1993 at the Belfry in England. Johnson will also have a tough act to follow.  A U.S. squad captained by Steve Stricker handed Europe its worst beating with a 19-9 romp at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin in September. That was only the fourth U.S. win in the last 13 Ryder Cups.

Stricker was part of a six-man committee named to pick the next U.S. captain — three PGA Tour players and three PGA of America executives.

Currently battling health problems that have kept him out of tournament play the last three months, Stricker was a long-time U.S. vice captain before becoming the head man, and Johnson was a vice captain at the last two Ryder Cups after playing on five Ryder Cup teams.

A two-time Masters champion, Johnson has long been involved in the operation of the John Deere Classic, a fixture for 50 years in the Quad Cities area. The Iowa native has been a member of the tournament board almost as long as he’s been playing the tour, and he won the JDC in 2012.

Europe has yet to announce its next Ryder Cup captain but Donald has loomed as the likely choice since Lee Westwood, preferring to focus on his playing career, withdrew as a candidate. Padraig Harrington was the captain of the European side at Whisting Straits and is on a five-member committee to pick his successor.

Harrington gave Donald a resounding endorsement in January.  So did Graeme McDowell, who served along with Donald as Harrington’s vice captains.

While he hasn’t won a major title Donald’s playing record stands up to Johnson’s.  Donald spent 56 weeks holding the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Rankings and, in 2011, became the first player to win money titles on both the PGA and European PGA tours in the same year.

After Monday’s big announcement the PGA’s Florida Swing continues with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, at Bay Hill in Orlando; The Players Championship, in Ponte Vedra; and the Valspar Championship, at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour.





Zero Friction’s new golf cart is a big hit at the PGA Show

Zero Friction president John Iacono introduced a three-in-one golf bag at the PGA Merchandise Show.

ORLANDO, FL. – The biggest show in golf wrapped up on Friday at the Orange County Convention Center, and the 69th PGA Merchandise Show was a bit different than the previous 68 stagings. The pandemic forced cancelation of the show in 2021 and the two-year hiatus took its toll

Normally the show has about 1,000 brands showing their products for three days at the OCCC. This year there were only about 600. The event’s Demo Day — an outdoor attraction at Orange County National the day before the OCCC opens its doors — had only a sparse crowd this time, in part because of cold, rainy weather.

While most all of the major equipment manufacturers were absent, the show was by no means a downer.  Zero Friction, the Oak Brook Terrace-based company that was a big hit at the show two years ago, didn’t miss a beat with the big companies gone.

“I was extremely disappointed to not see the large brands, the ones who consider themselves to be the leaders of the industry, to take this opportunity to back out,’’ said John Iacono, the Zero Friction president.  “I don’t think you’re a leader of much of anything if you’re not on the front lines. Here it’s the rest of the industry – the small brands like ours. Everybody had difficulties keeping their businesses going during the pandemic. The bigger brands, who profited heavily in this industry, didn’t take time to have a smaller presence here, and I feel that’s sad. It’s a sore eye for the golf industry when the leaders aren’t leading at all.’’

How the show, which has been closed to the public but still drew 40,000 industry members annually, will change in 2023 remains to be seen but Iacono is optimistic about his own company’s growth.

Zero Friction started as a manufacturer of wooden tees in 2006 and expanded to other golf products in 2012.  Both its line of tees and gloves were recipients of Industry Honors by the International Network of Golf at the 2020 show, and since then the company opened sales offices in Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City and London added its own distribution center in Melrose Park.

With many of its products produced overseas, a quality control director based in Indonesia was added to the staff. The gloves are now sold in 26 countries, and Iacono believes that the newest model of tees will be a big hit.  This model has a divot repair tool built in.

“A tee product that can be used to repair a green that can be put in every player’s hand – that’s a must have,’’ said Iacono.

The company’s newest product, the Wheel Pro golf bag, was one of the biggest hits of this year’s show.  It’s a three-in-one bag.  It starts as a push bag.  If you want to walk and carry, you pop the wheels off. If you want to ride you stick it in your cart.  That’s one versatile golf bag, and it carries a retail price of $349.

In May Iacono plans to introduce a completely recycled golf ball called the Eagle Z. The covers of old golf balls will be scraped off, recycled and put on the cores of the old balls. Ball prices figure to be soaring because of problems obtaining surlyn, a key ingredient.

“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to structure differently for long-term growth,’’ said Iacono.  “We’ll grow as long as we produce interesting new products that show technological advancement and are priced fairly.’’

PGA Show, LPGA tourneys give Florida the real start to golf season

Madelene Sagstrom (left) and the Korda sisters — Nelly (left) and Jessica — will be prime time players when the LPGA opens its season with three tournaments in Florida.

Dismiss the fact that the PGA Tour has played tournaments in Hawaii the last two weeks. The 2022 golf season really starts this week. That’s when the golf spotlight shifts to Florida and will stay there for a while.

The PGA Merchandise Show returns after taking a year off because of pandemic concerns and the LPGA – after concluding 2021 with two stops in the Sunshine State – gets back in action with its first three tournaments of the new year in Florida.

The PGA Tour returns to the mainland with the Farmers Insurance Open in California and PGA Tour Champions has its Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, but those events don’t match the glut of activity the women are planning around the Merchandise Show.

First event is this week’s LPGA’s 2022 debut, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.  In addition to the new title sponsor the tourney has a new venue, Lake Nona on the outskirts of Orlando.    It’ll be a four-day 72-hole battle of players who have won on the circuit in the last two years and there’ll be a celebrity competition mixed in.  Play begins on Thursday.

As soon as the last putt drops at Lake Nona on Sunday the scene shifts to nearby Orange County National for a scaled down version of the Demo Day that traditionally preceded the big show at the Orange County Convention Center.  Most the major club manufacturers won’t be at the show this time, but there’ll be an array of golf-related companies on hand. It won’t be quite the traditional New Year’s celebration when golf diehards gather, but it’ll be as close to a return to normalcy as we can get for now.

It won’t be easy for the LPGA’s tournament offerings to match last year’s, either.

The 2021 season started with Jessica Korda winning the Tournament of Champions and her sister Nelly winning the first regular season event, the Gainbridge Championship then played at Lake Nona. That was only the second time sisters won back-to-back events on the LPGA Tour, the first being in 2000 when Lake Nona member Annika Sorenstam and her sister Charlotta  pulled off the feat.

This year’s T of C has a new site and a $1.5 million purse for the 72-hole no-cut tournament.  The field includes six of the top 10 in the women’s world rankings and also features Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, who calls Lake Nona “my member course’’ because she practices there throughout the season; and Michelle Wie West.

This year the Gainbridge moves back to Boca Rio, in Boca Raton, with Nelly going in as the defending champion in a 120-player field with $2 million in prize money on the line from Jan. 27-30.  She’s coming off a spectacular year and the Gainbridge win started it all.  It came in late February of 2021 and was her fourth professional win but the first with her parents, both Florida residents, on hand.

Nelly went on to win four more titles in 2021 including the Olympic gold medal  en route to claiming the No. 1 world ranking.  Her sister will be the defending champion at the Tournament of Champions.

Though Nelly is the defender at Boca Rio, Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom feels like one, too.  She won the 2020 Gainbridge tournament there.  It was her first win as a pro.

“I’m biased about this place,’’ said Sagstrom, who now lives in Orlando and will also be in the field at Lake Nona. “On Friday (of her win in 2020) I shot 62 – my lowest round by three shots.’’

Adding to that, she did it with the father of her boyfriend working as an emergency caddie when her usual bag-toter couldn’t get to the tournament on time. Her game slipped a bit after the tour shut down play a month later.

“Before the pandemic I was on a role, but then we were out for five months and I lost my rhythm for a while,’’ she said, “but I did finish second in a major (T2 at British Open) and got it back.’’

The Gainbridge field also includes Delray Beach resident Lexi Thompson, who will be making her 2022 debut.  She didn’t qualify for the Tournament of Champions.  The field also includes Brooke Henderson, the popular Canadian player; New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and Korea’s Inbee Park, who is coming off a lengthy layoff from competition.

After that the LPGA concludes its run of Florida tourney to start the season at the Feb. 3-5 Drive On Championship at the Crown Colony course  Ft. Myers.



This author made the ultimate American golf trip


If you’re a golfer you’ve got to envy Tom Coyne. Lots of author types – me included to some extent – have been more than willing to write about their golf travels in some form or another. Coyne has done it much better than most. He’s a globe-trotting golfer with lots of stories to tell.

Coyne wrote two books based on his visits to hundreds of courses overseas.  There were called “A Course Called Ireland’’ and “A Course Called Scotland.’’ An Philadelphia-based writer, I found it odd  that he attacked courses overseas before exploring the great American golf scene closer to home, but he made up for that with his just-released “A Course Called America’’ (Avid Reader Press).

This is the most readable in-depth book on golf travel that I’ve ever encountered.   Coyne’s passion for golf is obvious, and he’s gone the extra mile – or many miles – to do the job right.

His plan was to play courses in all 50 states, and he did that over a series of trips that took him to 295 courses.  He played 5,182 holes over 301 rounds and covered (mostly walking) 1,748,777 yards.  In every stop he provides historical tidbits while mixing in his own encounters with a wide range of people along the way. It’s by no means limited to an analysis of the courses he visited. That approach has been tried by many golf fanatics before him and doesn’t make for very interesting reading.

Coyne tells his stories in 383 pages and then wraps it up by listing all the courses he played and naming his top 10 in several categories. Naturally I want to take issue with him on some of that, though I’ve played only 19 of the 80 he cited for special mention. Coyne’s a better golfer than I ever was, but resort golf is my thing, too, so I’m happy to note that I played seven of his top 10 in that category. His favorite resort destination was Gamble Sands, in Washington.  I’ll have to find a way to get to that one.

We did agree on Nos. 2-4 – Oregon’s Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails and Wisconsin’s Mammoth Dunes. We also both liked Florida’s Streamsong Red, Michigan’s Black course on The Loop layout and Arcadia Bluffs and Mississippi’s Old Waverly.

We’re both fans of short courses, and he had a surprise third pick in that category – Evanston’s Canal Shores. We shared enthusiasm for The Cradle, in North Carolina; Palm Beach Par Three, in Florida; and Top of the Rock, in Missouri.

As far as Best Golf States are concerned, we have big differences.  Coyne doesn’t include Florida or Illinois in his top 10.  New York is Coyne’s No. 1 – really??? – and Minnesota is No. 10 – he’s got to be kidding!

Anyway, a fun read that is full of interesting background information. It’ll challenge the knowledge of even the most avid golf historians.




Aviv’s oxygen therapy could become a big boost for golfers

With golf carts dominating street parking lots The Villages is clearly a hotbed for the sport and an ideal place to introduce an innovative new method designed to make players better.

THE VILLAGES, Florida – Golf is huge in The Villages, a fast-growing vibrant over-55 adult community in Central Florida.  That’s obvious.  Golf carts are everywhere, and not just at the courses.

Golf carts of all sizes and colors fill the area’s parking lots as well as those at the 12 championship and 40 executive courses and the three golf academies. Not all the golf carts are driven by golfers, either, but they are entrenched in The Villages’ lifestyle.

This year, though, the most significant offering for golfers might not involve the courses or the golf carts.  The Aviv Golf Performance Program was introduced four months ago, and it involves much more than hitting quality golf shots. It’s for people who are very serious about their long-range health as well as their golf improvement.

The program’s time requirements are demanding, and its $56,500 price for a 12-week program includes a personalized medical team and sophisticated equipment but doesn’t include lodging or meals.  You need to be on site because the program is built around Aviv’s proprietary hyperbaric oxygen therapy protocol, and its treatments run two hours a day, five days a week. More than anything the therapy treatments set the Aviv program apart from other golf performance offerings, but there’s more to it than that.

Aviv Clinics also include a personal protocol of neuro-cognitive therapy, physiological training and nutritional coaching in addition to golf coaching.  As far as the U.S. goes, the Aviv program is offered only in The Villages. The program, based off 12 years of research done by Dr. Shai Efrati in Israel, was taken to Dubai just after its arrival in Florida. That’s where golf specific instruction was incorporated.

Here’s one of the dives, where the hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments are administered.

More facilities are scheduled to be added in 2023, but the golf component at those has not been determined.

“Our target population is healthy individuals in the 40-45 range who started seeing a slip in their golf games,’’ said Aaron Tribby, Aviv’s head of physical performance in Florida.  “But we see a lot of other clients who have other problems.  The youngest we’ve had here is 20, the oldest 95.’’

Victims of strokes and brain injuries have benefitted from the hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments, and they’re also designed to reverse biological aging. Dave Globig, the chief executive officer of the Aviv Clinics in The Villages, and physician Mohammed Elamir both thought the program sounded too good to be true when they were invited to see it in operation in Israel but they became believers.

“At first I was very skeptical,’’ said Globig, who had worked in the health care industry for 25 years. “But I was intrigued.  Our program is still very cutting edge, and taking it is almost a full-time job. Most of our clients are battling the aging process.  They’re afraid of dementia, of losing their physical capacity.  That’s why they come to us. For aging people, what’s their No. 1 sport? Golf.’’

Elamir, the son of a neurologist, was a general practitioner looking for new opportunities.  He found the Aviv program a help in his father’s recovery from a small stroke and now oversees the oxygen therapy aspect.

Aviv’s logo — and a depiction of the brain — adorns the welcoming area at the clinic in The Villages.

Smokers are not allowed in that program, and the inclusion of golf was not taken lightly.

Aviv made a major commitment to the sport as sponsor of November’s Aviv Dubai Championships, which concluded the season for what is now called the DP World Tour. (That’s the rebranded name for what had been the European PGA Tour). DP World had been Aviv’s business partner in Dubai and got Aviv its first title sponsorship in golf.

Aviv’s golf program begins with a week of testing that includes blood work, nutrition, a cognitive and genetic evaluation, brain scan and physiology and strength exams. Then the hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions begin for each client, and they’re supplemented by appointments with 50-60 staffers specializing in other areas of need.

Each client has a personalized treatment program. Golf sessions are included in that, and the golf professionals meet with Aviv staffers on a regular basis to analyze the needs and progress of each client.

With pandemic protocols in place Dr. Mohammed Elamir explains how the Aviv Golf Performance Program works in conjunction with the medical components.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and many of the other treatment programs, are conducted at the Central Florida Aviv clinic – a floor in the Center for Advanced Healthcare, It’s a complex that includes the Brownwood Hotel & Spa, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and offices for other  providers in the healthcare field.

The oxygen therapy is administered in “dives’’ – rooms that have chambers (also called suites) for about 12 clients.  In the two-hour sessions the clients receive oxygen for 20 minutes, then are off for five minutes, and that routine is repeated until the two hours are up.  Clients wear oxygen masks (not the masks worn by so many to combat Covid in these pandemic times)  and they engage in cognitive exercises on a tablet during the process. Elamir says they only experience a popping of the ears for the first 10 minutes. Then he likens the experience to taking a ride in a small airplane.

The reward is stem cell, blood vessel and neurological growth that optimizes brain performance and improves overall health. Aviv’s leadership claims that – in conjunction with the other treatments and coaching – will translate into better golf scores as well as better overall health.

Cognitive benefits are said to be improved hand/eye coordination, increased focus and attention and better mental clarity and patience. Physical benefits are enhanced swing quality, faster recovery after a round and improved strength, mobility and stability.

“One of the biggest challenges we have in health care is that it’s so fragmented,’’ said Globig.  “Can you find a similar program (for golf development)? I’m sure you could, but they won’t have the clinical elements involved, and the foundation to go with it.’’










Bubba Watson’s `Up & Down’ is well worth reading

It was part of my tournament coverage routine at a PGA Tour events to walk at least nine holes in the first two rounds with a player just to get a handle on the course.  At that stage of a tournament it wasn’t necessary to be caught up in what players were in contention.  That could wait for the weekend.

During those early tournaments rounds there was no player I’d rather walk with than Bubba Watson. Sure, over most of those years he was one of the PGA Tour’s top players but that wasn’t why I’d spend time with him. I did it because he was fascinating to watch.  His creative shot-making skills were obvious, whether he was playing good or bad. He would try to bend shots right or left, over or around trees or hazards.  That was his style.

There’s a lot more to Bubba Watson than his shot-making skills, though.  I learned that in detail in reading a book, “Up &^ Down: Victories and Struggles with the Course of Life,’’  that he wrote largely during the pandemic stoppage of the PGA Tour season with the help of Don Jaeger (W Publishing Group).

In our frequent travels we passed through the small town of Bagdad, FL., many times and found it unusual that a town of less than 4,000 near the Alabama line could spawn three PGA Tour players – Watson (the best of them), Heath Slocum and Boo Weekley.  Watson still lives there and is active in the Pensacola area community in a variety of ways,  not the least of which is his part-ownership of a minor league baseball team known as the Blue Wahoos..

A few things that make Bubba interesting: his wife Angie was a star basketball player, they have two adopted children and — oh, yes –Watson – as you might remember – won the Masters twice.

And, there’s a lot more to Bubba Watson than that.  In “Up & Down’’ he candidly reveals his struggles on and off the course, his growing religious faith, his battles with anxiety and his ongoing efforts to make himself a better person. In short the book reveals what makes Bubba tick. It’s a most interesting, thoughtfully-written book, and I heartily recommend reading it.

Chicago experienced an extraordinary golf building boom in 2021

The 2021 Chicago golf season should be remembered for much more than pandemic-related issues.  Some extraordinary building was going on at clubs across the Chicago area, and it wasn’t all done on golf courses.

Golf course renovations are commonplace annually, but this year the most noteworthy upgrading related to clubhouses. Two facilities – The Preserve at Oak Meadows, in Addison, and Heritage Oaks, in Northbrook — opened brand new clubhouses and a third — Fox Run, in Elk Grove, will unveil its new one any day now.

And, two other facilities – Settler’s Hill, in Geneva, and Heritage Oaks, in Channahon – are well underway with clubhouse developments.  Theirs will open in 2022.

Here’s how these massive clubhouse projects look as this season winds down:

THE PRESERVE AT OAK MEADOWS: The Preserve’s clubhouse was the first to open, in early August, and it also took the longest to complete. The course, which began in 1923 as Elmhurst Country Club, was without a clubhouse since lightning destroyed the previous one in 2009.

Building a new clubhouse wasn’t as high on the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s priority list as getting the golf course up to par. It had long been beset by flooding issues.  They were solved as part of a $16 million renovation but it took three more years for the new $12.6 million clubhouse to be up and running.

The new one, measuring slightly under 14,000 square feet, was designed by Dan Wohfeil, who had previously created the much bigger clubhouse for Mistwood, in Romeoville. Nineteen architects submitted proposals before Wohfeil was selected.

Ed Stevenson was a focal point throughout the lengthy course and clubhouse projects.  Long the director of golf at the Preserve, Stevenson also served as executive director of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County during critical times when the work was going on.

The new clubhouse looks much different than the old, more stately one.  Construction began on Sept. 17 of 2019. Wohfeil’s version offers the Greenway Restaurant,  a most pleasant sports bar, great views of the golf course and also includes a pro shop.  The old one was closed in the final days before completion of the clubhouse.  It’ll be converted into to a base for indoor golf activities.


HERITAGE OAKS: The Northbrook Park District completely revamped what had been Sportsman’s Country Club. The facility started as Sky Harbor Golf Club when the course opened in 1931 and was a 54-hole facility at one time.

It was long known as Sportsman’s Country Club, with 27 holes, prior to its re-opening in late August. The change in name to Heritage Oaks Golf Club was in keeping with the complete upheaval involved in the construction process.

“It was almost like opening a brand-new facility,’’ said general manager Greg Baron.  “The Sportsman’s name  didn’t suggest we were a very inclusive facility, but 30 to 40 percent of our play is women, and we’ve never been a country club.  We’re a golf club.’’

Unlike the Preserve at Oak Meadows, the course and clubhouse creations were handled simultaneously and the facility was closed for the  entire 2021 season.  The clubhouse, the 18-hole and 9-hole courses and the practice range all opened together.

Libertyville architect Rick Jacobson supervised work on the courses and range and  RATIO Architects of Indianapolis handled the clubhouse.  The renovations of the property was a $12.75 millions property with the clubhouse costing $6 million.

The 10,000-square foot clubhouse includes the full-service Acorn Grill, a bar that seats 20 and an area set aside for two golf simulators. The restaurant can seat 80 inside and 48 more on the terrace.  There’s a window wall that opens to the outside. In the Sportsman’s days there was no bar.  “It was just a glorified walkup window,’’ said Baron.


FOX RUN: The 18-hole course in Elk Grove wasn’t touched while an $8.5 million clubhouse was under construction.  The construction work was expected to be completed in mid-October and general manager Tom Klaas anticipated  completion of the project would come in late November or early December.

Klaas and his staff have operated out of a trailer this season, and it was taken down on Oct. 15. Williams Architects of Itasca designed the new building.

“We designed away from the traditional pro shop,’’ said Klaas.  “Our planning started with the maintenance building, which was built in 1984 and was the oldest on (Elk Grove) Park District property.’’

Eventually the decision was made to combine the maintenance facility with a new clubhouse.  The old one was demolished after Labor Day in 2020.

“We’ll be a 12-month facility now,’’ said Klaas.  “We wanted to keep our players engaged in the winter.  We’ll have a sports bar opened all winter with a kitchen and lots of TVs.  We’ll also have three Full Swing screen simulators and we do have our slots room, too.’’


AND STILL COMING:  New clubhouse construction was barely underway at Settler’s Hill and Heritage Bluffs as the 2021 season was fading away.

Settler’s Hill was closed all season for work on the course, but that all was dictated by plans for a new clubhouse. The old course had no practice range with neither of the nines returning to the existing clubhouse. That’ll be corrected with the building of a new, more centrally located clubhouse.  The old one will remain as a banquet facility. Target date for completion is mid-July of 2022.

Heritage Bluffs, owned by the Channahon Park District, is a well-established, well-received course that opened in 1993.  The Park District board approved a design for a new clubhouse in January, the  most notable feature being an indoor-outdoor bar area. Construction began in June and the old clubhouse was demolished in July. The new clubhouse is also slated for an opening some time in 2022.






Palm Aire’s Champions Course re-opens on Dec. 1

The par-5 eleventh hole of The Champions Course at Sarasota’s Palm Aire Country Club has come a long way in the construction process. (Mike Benkusky Photos)









SARASOTA, FL. – The Champions Course at Palm Aire Country Club was one of the more difficult courses in Florida, and it may still be. It will, however, have a much different look when it re-opens following an extensive $2 million  renovation on December 1.

The original version, created by architect Dick Wilson, opened in 1957 when the club was named DeSoto Lakes. The club added a second 18-holer, The Lakes – a Joe Lee design, in 1984 when the Palm Aire name went into effect.

In its early years the Champion layout was known as the Green Monster and was the site of PGA and LPGA Tour events as well as the National Lefthanders Championship and the LPGA Legends Tour’s Handa Cup. Tour events won’t likely return because the practice range is on the short side, but new features will stir conversation once the club’s members and their guests have crack at it.

Illinois-based architect Mike Benkusky, who had worked almost entirely in the Midwest before landing the Palm Aire project, calls the renovation “a re-imagining’’ of the course that the respected Wilson brought to life.  Wilson’s work also included Bay Hill and Doral’s Blue Monster in Florida and the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill in the Chicago area.

The Champion’s  “re-imagining’’ will feature runway tees, two of them measuring about 100 yards; the use of 15 acres of crushed shells that will benefit cart traffic but will come into play as well; and a vastly different scorecard. There’ll be eight – yes, eight – sets of rated tee markers for the men and five for the women and they’ll be designated by numbers, not the colors used in the past. Tee markers will range from 4,466 yards on the short end to 7,126 at the tips – that’s 125 yards longer than the pre-imagining layout.

“Using tee numbers instead of colors will change peoples’ mindsets,’’ said Palm Aire director of golf Jay Seymour, who has been at the club for 11 years.  “Instead of playing the white tees, players may decide to play the 4-tees or the 5-tees. It comes down to what yardage do you want to play, not what color.’’

The flagsticks will all have white flags, so they won’t designate a pin placement in the front, middle or back of the green.

“That’s not always the best way to utilize the greens surface,’’ said Seymour. “We’ll be taking advantage of technology to do that.’’

Palm Aire has been a test site for Easy Locater’s state of the art app that provides a more detailed description of the pin locations.

While most of the concrete cart paths will remain, the crushed shells will combine with the runway tees to create a more modern day look for the course overall. The long tee boxes not only provide an updated appearance but will  also  enhance maintenance procedures.

Sixty-five oak trees were removed in the “re-imagining’’ and lots of collection areas were created around the greens.  A history wall was erected around the No. 1 tee. Greens were expanded to their original size and bunkers were given a more severe look while the new BillyBunker system will improve drainage in them. And, the sand is now white instead of tan.

While overall yardage hasn’t changed dramatically, the way it has been distributed will be noticeable.

“For those who preferred the White tees the yardage stayed the same, about 6,000 to 6,100 yards,’’ said Seymour, “but the par-5s will now be on the shorter side and the par-3s will be on the longer side.  There’ll be a nice mix of par-4s.’’

The original target date for the re-opening was Nov. 1, then the greens committee pushed it back to Nov. 13 and finally to the recently announced Dec. 1.

“They’re not rushing it – and that’s good,’’ said Benkusky.“Everything’s looking good.  The greens look very good. We’re right on schedule.’’.

Seymour said some college events and USGA qualifiers would like be held on the Champion Course.  That’s in contrast to when Wilson did his work. The PGA Tour conducted the DeSoto Open there in 1960, Sam Snead winning the title. A year later another Hall of Famer, Louise Suggs, won Golden Circle of Golf Festival, an LPGA event, on the course. That was one of Suggs’ five wins that season.



Opening nears for Palm Aire’s `re-imagined’ Champions Course

BEFORE AND NOW: When we moved to Sarasota the fairway on the  No. 11 hole of The Champions Course at Palm Aire Country Club  was under construction — but look at it now. (Mike Benkusky Photos)

SARASOTA, FL. — It’s getting exciting now.  We’ll soon have a new golf course – or at least a “re-imagined’’ one – to look at while we’re enjoying either our early morning coffee or late afternoon beverage of choice from the lanai of our new home.

The Champions Course, at Palm Aire Country Club, was in the early stages of a renovation when we moved in. We’ve closely  followed its transformation.  Illinois-based course architect Mike Benkusky, who has been coming to town on a weekly basis, is planning his next return for the Grand Opening.

While the official date for that hasn’t been set, it won’t be far off.  The club’s greens committee will address the matter at its November board meeting.

“They’re not rushing it – and that’s good,’’ said Benkusky, who did most all of his work in the Midwest after opening his office in Lake in the Hills 15 years ago.  The choice $2 million project was his first work in Florida. The course  opening was originally targeted for Nov. 1, then was pushed back to mid-November.

“Everything’s looking good.  The greens look very good. We’re right on schedule,’’ said Benkusky.

It’s been fascinating to see this project unfold, as we reside off the green at the 11th hole.  Watching the work begin in near darkness each morning has become part of our daily routine. No. 11 was a 538-yard hole from the back tees prior to Benkusky’s arrival and the scorecard from the tips was 7,005 yards.  Now the proposed yardage for No. 11 is 581 yards and the championship yardage is 7,207.

This Florida course had an Illinois flavor even before Benkusky’s hiring and our moving in. The original designer was Dick Wilson when the course opened in 1957 and Palm Aire’s other 18-holer, The Lakes, was designed by Joe Lee.

Wilson may be best known for his work at the more famous Florida courses Bay Hill and Doral’s Blue Monster and Lee was a prolific designer whose creations extended far beyond the  Sunshine State.  From a Chicago perspective, however, their most noteworthy project is one they did together in the 1960s – the Dubsdread Course at Cog Hill, a long-time PGA Tour site in Chicago’s south suburbs.

Palm Aire was called DeSoto Lakes when Wilson did his work, and the PGA Tour conducted the DeSoto Open there in 1960, Sam Snead winning the title. A year later another Hall of Famer, Louise Suggs, won Golden Circle of Golf Festival, an LPGA event, on the course. That was one of Suggs’ five wins that season.

The Champion was also a site for the televised All-Star Golf (later Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf) , two National Left-Handed Golfers Championships and  the LPGA Legends Tour’s Handa Cup team event.

A name change, from DeSoto Lakes to Palm Aire, was made in 1981 and Lee not only designed The Lakes course, which opened the following year, but he also made his first hole-in-one during that course’s opening day.

On a cloudy day the view of the No. 11 green of The Champions course from our lanai is particularly eye-catching.