Youth caddies face an uphill climb amid coronavirus

Golf is back to being played in all 50 states again. That’s a good thing. Progress in the battle against the pandemic, it would seem, is being made.

Unfortunately there’s one segment of the golf industry that hasn’t benefitted yet. Caddies – particularly the youth variety – have been included in the restrictions that various governing bodies have insisted upon before allowing courses nation-wide to re-open.

That is a concern to the Western Golf Association, which has been giving college scholarships to deserving bag-toters since 1930 when life-long amateur legend Chick Evans declared caddies to be “the life-blood of the game.’’ Now the overwhelming number of caddies are deemed non-essential workers. The fewer the number of people on a course the better, or so the thinking goes.

Golfers can walk and carry their own bags. They don’t need a caddie, who might be a hindrance to social-distancing guidelines. It’s Tim Orbon’s job to make sure that the young caddies who dominate the nearly 800 caddies programs throughout the U.S. and Canada aren’t forgotten – and he doesn’t think they will be.

“Things are changing rapidly – and in a good way,’’ said Orbon, who is director of caddie development for the Chicago-based WGA. “People want to play golf again, and caddying isn’t far off. We couldn’t be more excited.’’

The caddies who are working now are largely the adult variety. Those who have carried bags during their breaks from high school and college studies in past years are left in the lurch as far as part-time employment goes. While Orbon expects caddie programs to return, he admits that they will be different.

“Not seeing kids caddying is OK for now,’’ he said. “Until Memorial Day kids are supposed to be in school. For now it’s somewhat of a waiting game. Experts will tell us when the time is appropriate, when caddying is safe and permissible. Right now we’re in a little pause, a hiccup. That’s OK, but it’s not ideal. We’ve taken this time to do our homework.’’

It’s been extensive. The WGA puts on six tournaments a year, highlighted by the BMW Championship — part of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, to raise awareness and money for its Evans Scholars Foundation. Not every caddie is a candidate for a coveted Evans Scholarship, but caddying has introduced thousands of youngsters to golf in addition to providing a healthy, educational learning opportunity.

“We work with clubs in 27 states and Canada,’’ said Orbon. “All the clubs are a little different, but a lot want to keep caddies employed.’’

To do it while adhering to social distancing guidelines requires adjustments, and Orbon has a game plan that is being presented to course owners and managers. Here’s some of the things that are, or will, be changing when caddie programs return.

Caddies will be scheduled in four-hour shifts. They won’t be allowed to congregate around the clubs before and after their loops. They may receive payment for their work in sealed envelopes or electronically through a system like PayPal. It won’t be through a cash transaction. They’ll wear appropriate protective gear, including a mask and any other safeguards as required by the club, and carry hand sanitizers.

A caddy’s duties on the course will change, too. Each will carry rakes and divot repair mix. They’ll locate golf balls, give yardages and can help read greens but they won’t touch clubs. The players will pull them from the bag. There’ll be no hand-shaking or any other other non-verbal contact with golfers.

The WGA is also proposing a hole-specific caddie plan, which some clubs may find more desirable than the standard procedures of the past. One to four caddies will be assigned per hole. They’ll be stationed on greens and tee boxes and be available at positions beside the fairways to help in locating balls.

Under this hole-specific plan caddies will repair divots but never touch the flagstick. They can wash golf balls, but then must throw them back to the player rather than have a hand-to-hand exchange. The caddies will greet each golfer as he plays through but won’t be with any one player throughout his round.

In anticipation of parental concerns about caddie procedures, prominent Chicago physician, former caddie and long-time WGA supporter Kevin Most has advised clubs on health precautions. Orbon anticipates “some attrition’’ in the caddie ranks due to all the changes mandated by pandemic concerns.

“We think kids will want to come out, but parents will ask questions,’’ said Orbon.

Both Orbon and his wife Gaelen were Evans Scholars, Tim at Northern Illinois and Gaelen at Marquette. Orbon, in his eighth year with the WGA, also worked as a club professional for 11 years. During the current lull period he has led WGA efforts to beef up on-line caddie training and created a caddie manual, a practice exam and a caddie playbook that includes short videos. All will help clubs and caddies adjust to the changing times.

“This is a challenging time in golf work,’’ said Orbon, “but new caddie programs are starting in Kentucky, the Kansas City area, Iowa and even down in Florida. We want to grow the game.’’

Trio of Palm City, FL., courses are poised to bring in more golfers

Strategically-placed hedges are a striking feature at the Fox Club.

PALM CITY, Florida – With many restrictions lifted on Florida’s golf courses this week, some encouraging developments in one south Florida community came into focus.

Palm City, a town of about 25,000 located off Interstate 95 between the PGA Golf Club – the “winter home of the PGA of America’’ – to the north and PGA National Resort – home of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic — to the south.

Those are golf meccas, but it’s been in Palm City where new things have been happening since the last days of 2019. Public golfers should take note now, just as Corey Hamlin and business partner Jon Whittemore did no less than two years ago. Both are members of Advanced Golf Partners and worked at PGA National during its 2007-10 rebirth period.

Now they own a Palm City course, Hammock Creek, in addition to two courses on Florida’s west coach – Legacy at Lakewood Ranch and Serenoa. On Feb. 21 they took ownership at Hammock Creek, one of three Palm City public courses that have taken dramatic changes in the last few months despite the restrictions caused by pandemic concerns.

Those restrictions were reduce on May 4, which meant more attention for the good things going on in Palm City – especially at Hammock Creek.

“We were looking at courses for two years — on the Treasure Coast as well as the Carolinas, Georgia and the west coast of Florida,’’ said Hamlin. “We liked the growth in Martin County and Palm City. We’re poised for that growth.’’

Others liked the possibilities at Palm City courses as well, and each facility has a story to tell.

The movement all began when The Fox Club opened up for public play last fall. That was a big deal. The Fox Club opened in 1989 as Cobblestone, the first creation of architect Roy Case. It became The Fox Club after a 2004 ownership change and Darren Clarke, a former British Open champion, and Eoghan O’Connell concocted a re-design in 2017.

As a private club Fox Club regulars included PGA Tour Champions members Gene Sauers, Fred Funk and Jesper Parnevik, and Larry Laoretti, the 1975 U.S. Senior Open champion, has been a long-time member. The decision to go public opened the way for a new wave of players, among them LPGA veteran Christina Kim.

The Fox Club has remained a championship layout (distance is 7,115 yards and slope is 148 from the tips) despite a series of changes over the years. Its 18th hole is the most memorable – a par-5 that hooks around a lake and seems to go on and on. (It’s 586 yards from the back tees).

Well-conditioned greens, interesting bunkering, lots of forced carries and lengthy drives from greens to tees are trademarks of The Fox Club layout, and its clubhouse is very much that of an established club.

Meanwhile, The Evergreen Club — another one-time private club — is the best revival story of these Palm City courses. It had been closed for eight months until a group of investors from Pennsylvania took over the ownership in early December.

In two months the course was re-opened and had a new name – Crane Watch Club – and that’s not all.

Reviving the course required new agronomic practices under the leadership of course superintendent Chris Thatcher. The greens were revived, new sand was put in the bunkers and the irrigation system was repaired and upgraded. Though in hardly ideal condition the course was playable when players returned on Feb. 3.

Most eye-catching change at the club is the construction of a short-game area in the front of the clubhouse. The putting green was resurfaced and a new Club Car fleet of carts was brought in. General manager Dave Salerno put out progress reports several times a week throughout the pandemic, when play was limited almost entirely to Martin County residents. The report reached a new high in the May 4 reduction in restrictions when dining in the clubhouse – including evening dinners – was granted approval.

At Hammock Creek it’s been a different situation since the ownership change. There weren’t any alterations to the course, designed by the father-son team of Jack and Jack Nicklaus II. It opened in 1995.

“We love the golf course,’’ said Hamlin. “It’s very customer-friendly and has no pace of play issues. We had no intention of changing anything with the golf course.’’

The new ownership quickly signed a licensing agreement with Nicklaus Design and there was no changing of the staff, either. Rod Curl Jr. remained as director of golf with Hamlin becoming the on-site managing partner. Like Hamlin, Curl is a 20-year member of the PGA of America.

“We loved the staff,’’ said Hamlin. “We’ve kept 100 percent in the transition. Then we started to renovate and improve the restaurant.’’

The new owners want to name the restaurant, and are welcoming suggestions. Negotiations are also underway to bring in a golf academy from the immediate area.

Getting first PGA Tour win proves elusive for Fleetwood at Honda Classic

England’s Tommy Fleetwood will win on the PGA Tour eventually. The 29-year old Englishman is too good a player to stay winless for long.

Still, after a final round collapse on Sunday in the Honda Classic, Fleetwood remains the only non-winner on the PGA Tour listed in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Rankings. He entered the Honda with a No. 12 ranking and has played in 22 PGA our stops and another 17 major championships or World Golf Championship events without notching the elusive first win.

Twice Fleetwood cracked the top five in the U.S. Open and was one the brink of posting a 62 in the final round at Shinnecock in 2018 until an eight-foot putt refused to drop on the last hole.

Fast forward to Sunday. The shaggy-haired Fleetwood, owner of five wins on the European PGA Tour, claimed his first 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour stop at the rugged Champion Course at PGA National. He had a one-shot lead on playing partner Brendan Steele and a two-shot cushion on fellow Europeans Lee Westwood and Luke Donald to start the final round.

Fleetwood beat them all, but couldn’t handle two young upstarts. Sungjae Im, a 21-year old South Korean, and Mackenzie Hughes, a 29-year old Canadian, got hot playing together in front of Fleetwood. They fired 66s, and Fleetwood couldn’t answer.

Im won the $1,260,000 first prize (plus a new car) by posting a 6-under-par 274. Hughes was one shot behind Im and one ahead of Fleetwood, who settled for a final round 71 than included a critical water ball on his approach shot to the 18th green. Fleetwood needed a birdie there to force a playoff with Im.

“At the end of the day I was really good mentally. I hung in until the end and gave myself a chance,’’ said Fleetwood. “I just said that I don’t feel like I’m getting worse at golf. I’ve just got to keep pushing.’’

He promises to keep doing that.

“I’ve had chances before, and hopefully I’ll continue to have chances,’’ said the affable Fleetwood. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.’’

Fleetwood attributed his failure to get the job done to a lack of tournament play lately.

“I had a bit of a layoff and hadn’t played loads since the end of last year,’’ he said. “Coming out on such a tough golf course, and more than anything proving to yourself that your game is there in a good place, you’re going to move forward.’’

Fleetwood said his first PGA Tour win – whenever it comes — “would be another win. Realistically it’d probably be another step in my career but I’m not going to lie and say `I don’t really mind about winning in America.’ Of course I do. I want to win everywhere, and the PGA Tour is one of those places where I haven’t done it yet.’’

With The Players coming up at TPC Sawgrass later this month and the Masters looming in April Fleetwood will have some bigger stages to get that first win on American soil.

The fields will be a lot stronger than the one he encountered at PGA National. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed were among those who bypassed the Honda Classic and Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose didn’t survive the 36-hole cut. McIlroy will be the defending champion this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando.

The youngsters who ruled at PGA National, though, will be another power to be reckoned with – Im in particular. He won twice on the PGA’s alternative Korn Ferry Tour in 2018 and was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year after earning seven top10 finishes in the 2018-19 season.

Im won the Honda in his 50th PGA start at the age of 21 years, 11 months, two days. He’s the youngest champion since Joaquin Nieman won The Greenbrier at 20 years 10 months eight days.

The One is the latest and greatest when it comes to golf gloves

No matter what the angle, The One looks different than all the other golf gloves.

Golf gloves don’t produce much excitement when new equipment hits the marketplace. Rarely is there much to talk about when it comes to new gloves, plus lots of players (me included) don’t even wear one.

In recent years Chicago-based Zero Friction introduced a one-glove-fits-all model and produced it in 13 colors. Pocketec Inc., in Stuart, Fla., introduced a glove with the pain relief properties of copper infused technology at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show and that big event also led to the arrival of The Claw, by CaddyDaddy of Arizona. It has a silicon mesh across the palm for better gripping and it’s also reportedly machine –washable.

For me, though, the most cutting edge of new golf gloves is The One. It’s a single finger glove that not only has a distinctive appearance, but also has – according to its supporters – many other advantages over traditional golf gloves.

“I’ve been involved with glove design and manufacturing for over 20 years,’’ said Dave Atkinson, the Champion Gloves president. “I’ve never seen a product like this. It has changed my mindset on how a glove should function and look.’’

The One is manufactured by Champion but isn’t one of the company’s products. Its
most vocal endorser is Nancy Fitzgerald. She won the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in 1997 and the Canadian Senior Women’s Amateur in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Fitzgerald lives near and plays out of Crooked Stick, one of Indiana’s premier private clubs, and is a member of the state golf halls of fame in both Indiana and Michigan. She was part of a four-person creative team that worked for nearly seven years on the concept of a one-finger glove. The others were Tom Clark, who owns the company; Chris Szilagyi and Atkinson.

They decided that traditional leather on the back of the glove wasn’t needed, and a suede material from Japan was used in the manufacturing process.

“It’ll last at least three times longer than a regular glove because of this material,’’ said Fitzgerald. “Purses and gloves have been made from this material. It’s so strong, you can’t put a hole in it. People can wash their hands with it on.’’

For players who don’t use a glove, The One may make them think twice.

“Now it’s either no glove or a five-finger glove,’’ said Fitzgerald. “I fell in love with this one. It doesn’t feel like you have a glove on.’’

While many golfers take their gloves off when putting, Fitzgerald says there’s no need for that with The One. It’s rain-proof, and players can wear rings and won’t have problems reaching into their pockets with the glove on.

It’ll also benefit players with restrictions, such as arthritis, and provides a cooler feel for players in hot weather.

Fitzgerald has brought the product to the attention of the U.S. Golf Association and expects the USGA to approve it for use in its championships.

“We can sell The One. We don’t need (USGA approval),’’ said Fitzgerald. “I just want it. I want them to be behind something that helps other people.’’

She expects the glove to sell for about $20 at golf shops. It’s now available through the company’s website, www.theonegolfglove.com.

Florida’s El Campeon lives up to its championship name

The par-5 seventeenth is the signature hole at El Campeon — and it’s very challenging for any golfer.

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida – Mission Inn Resort & Club, on the outskirts of Orlando, has two golf courses. In most such multi-course facilities the feeling is `new newer, the better.’ That’s not the case here.

Mission Inn’s older course is El Campeon, built in 1917. Its new one, Las Colinas, isn’t all that new. Former PGA Tour player turned broadcaster Gary Koch designed it in 1992 and another of Florida’s favorite golf sons, full-time architect Ron Garl, touched it up in 2007.

Make no mistake, though. El Campeon – the 14th oldest course in Florida — is the resort’s bigger golf drawing card – and not just for tournament or recreational rounds. It’s also a film star.

El Campeon has much more elevation than most Florida courses, and that’s part of its charm.

“The PGA Tour heard about the beauty of El Campeon,’’ said Michael Bowery, Mission Inn’s director of golf. “It’s become a primary chosen location for golf filming.’’

In addition to the PGA Tour, which has used the course to film commercials for its sponsors, El Campeon has been used for filming purposes by Callaway, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Golf Channel and NBC Sports.

“So many courses are surrounded by homes, so (film-makers) can’t get wide shots,’’ said Bowery. “El Campeon has a lot of character and great vistas. It’s a parkland course with a Florida aspect to it. It’s got elevation, by Florida standards, but our hills are just little speed bumps. That’s what makes it so unusual.’’

NCAA championships (or regionals) have been played on El Campeon for 23 consecutive years and the Florida high school championships have visited the last nine years. The course has also hosted U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur qualifiers as well as qualifying tournaments for both the PGA’s Latinoamerica and Canadian (Mackenzie) tours.

“It’s a busy place,’’ said Bowery, in his eighth year on the job. He attended college at the University of Arizona with Bud Beucher, whose family has owned the facility since 1964. The Beuchers matriculated from the Chicago area

El Campeon has an interesting history. The little town in which it is located is named after William Howey, a citrus magnate. Howey, wanting something to entertain some of the visitors to his estate in the days immediately before World War I, hired George O’Neil to build him a golf course.

O’Neil was mainly a teacher in Chicago then, and he gave lessons to such diverse luminaries as former President Warren G. Harding, golfing greats Harry Vardon and Chick Evans, industrial giant John D. Rockefeller and film star Charlie Chaplin. O’Neil named the lakes on the course after some of the top Chicago clubs – Beverly, Flossmoor and Skokie.

At first the course was called Chain O’Lakes. It measured 6,300 yards, and there was no grass on the greens from its opening in 1917 until 1938. The putting surfaces consisted of well-oiled sand. Visitors stayed at the Bougainvillea Hotel until it burned down in 1920.

The Bougainvillea was replaced by the new Hotel Floridian, and the course visitors included Ben Hogan Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias before Nick Beucher, Bud’s father, took over the place and transformed it into a Spanish colonial-themed resort. El Campeon got its name after Nick Beucher took over and a Scottish architect, Charles Clarke, refurbished the course.

Now it measures 7,001 yards. Following several re-routing and renovation efforts, the layout has 85 feet of elevation changes. Bowery believes the low round on it was a 64 by Dustin Johnson.

Most famous (or infamous) hole on the course in No. 17. Called Devil’s Delight, it may be the toughest par-5 in Florida. A double dogleg that measures 556 yards from the back tee, its green is fronted by a live oak tree in the center of the fairway and a pond. More than a few Mission Inn golfers wish that the tree would have been hit by one of the hurricanes that occasionally visit the area, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Water comes into play on 14 holes, most notably No. 16. It’s a par-4 that finishes on an island green. Another hole is called “Island Green.’’ It’s No. 8, a 190-yard par-3. It’s the only hole on the course that plays in the same spot in the rotation as it did when O’Neil completed his design.

Good island vibes set Hilton Head apart as a golf destination

Hilton Head bills itself as “The Golf Island,’’ and – given all the great golf that can be played there — it’s hard to argue with that. There are some areas for concern, however.

Barry Fleming, executive director of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association, believes Hilton Head still has one troublesome issue.

“One of the biggest misperceptions is where it is, because so many people haven’t been there,’’ said Fleming. “It’s at the bottom tip of South Carolina, two hours from the Florida line. It’s much warmer than Myrtle Beach and Pinehurst.’’

Two other well-known golf meccas — Myrtle Beach, also in South Carolina, and Pinehurst, in North Carolina — are both several hours to the north of Hilton Head. The winter weather in those destinations figures to be notably colder than it would be at Hilton Head.

The Hilton Head area is just much different place. Though it has some beautiful beaches, it’s more than an island. There are no neon signs and no street lights, and there’s an abundance of upscale restaurants. That’s the island aspect to the Hilton Head area.

Fleming’s organization encompasses not only the island, but also the towns of Bluffton and Beaufort. There’s almost as much golf played there as there is on the island. The South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association has 15 member courses on the island and 14 off the island, but it’s only a 45-minute drive from end to end.

That can create some difficult decisions for Hilton Head’s golfing visitors. If money’s not a concern the must-stay location is the island’s Sea Pines Resort, home to Harbour Town (the site of the PGA Tour’s annual RBC Heritage Classic) and a couple other high-end layouts in Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point.

Not taking anything away from those courses, Fleming admits “it can’t always be Sea Pines.’’

And that couldn’t be any more true than this year. Based on some recent developments the must-play course in the Hilton Head area should be the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course at the Palmetto Dunes Resort. It was deemed South Carolina’s Course-of-the-Year by a vote of its peers in 2018 and the SCLGCOA Course-of-the-Year for 2019.

Those are lofty accolades, given all the quality courses in South Carolina.

The Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course opened in 1969, seven years after golf made its debut on Hilton Head. The first 18-holer there was called the Ocean Course and now – after a fullscale renovation – is called Atlantic Dunes. The Ocean Course started the golf boom in the Hilton Head area.

Palmetto Dunes’ first layout also has the ocean reference and has always been among the most popular at Hilton Head, despite the fact that its name is a bit misleading. The ocean aspect is a major factor on only one hole, the signature par-5 tenth.

The course, though, is a true out-and-back links layout noted for having back-to-back par-5s (Nos. 9 and 10) that touch the island’s 12 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches. An 11-mile lagoon also provides water views on the back nine.

Like Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes has three courses and the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course isn’t the resort’s most difficult. Its George Fazio Course is the only par-70 layout on the island and has the area’s most testing four-hole finishing stretch.

By no means, though, should the golf focus be limited to the two big resorts, Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes. The Heritage Golf Collection of courses has one that I particularly like, Oyster Reef. It was designed by Rees Jones, son of the original designer of Palmetto Dunes’ Oceanfront layout. It’s got some breath-taking views, too, and its No. 6 hole is one of the best par-3s in the Hilton Head area.

The Sea Pines, Palmetto and Heritage courses are all on the island. The off-island layouts provide some good options as well, with Hilton Head National and Old South Golf Links – both located in Bluffton — at the top of that list.

Playoff loss to Lopez doesn’t cool Inbee Park’s enthusiasm for the Olympics

Not even these lights could keep the playoff for the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions going.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. — Already the youngest player to earn her place in the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, Korea’s Inbee Park – now 31 — hasn’t been anxious to get her seasons started. That changed this year, and for a good reason.

“I always started a little bit late, probably the end of February or early March,’’ said Park. “I’m starting early because it’s an important year, with the Olympics in the summer. There’s a lot of tournaments before the Olympics, and I just wanted to play courses I haven’t played before.’’

The Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club was the first, and Park played it well – except for one hole in Sunday’s playoff for the title in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. That’s the first event on the LPGA’s schedule.

Park, who has 19 PGA Tour victories, was in position for No. 20 to start 2020. She took a two-stroke lead into the final round, lost it briefly but wound up in a playoff with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez. Only the 211-yard par-3 eighteenth was used in the playoff.

On the third time around Park put her tee shot in the water, and her tournament was over. Hataoka and Lopez struggled through two more playoff holes before darkness halted play at 6:04 a.m. The playoff will resume at 8 a.m. on Monday.

“It’s a different experience,’’ said Lopez, “but I’m just happy to be able to have a chance for tomorrow.’’

She made it pay off, winning the title with a birdie putt on the seventh extra hole.

Hataoka, whose country will host the 2020 Olympics, had no problem with the stoppage in play on Sunday. “It was really tough to read the greens,’’ she said.

For Park is was a tough loss, but she wasn’t deflated.

“I played good golf this week, just not great today,’’ said Park. “I feel a lot of confidence after playing this week.’’

Japan’s Nassa Hataoka putts in the playoff with Gaby Lopez and Inbee Park looking on.

Park won the gold medal in 2016 in Brazil, when the sport returned to the Olympic Games. The other medalists – Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Shanshan Feng of China – bypassed the Tournament of Champions, an event that also included a celebrity division.

John Smoltz, one of the legendary pitchers in baseball history, defended his celebrity title without much of a problem, but the LPGA players were a much more competitive bunch. Park, Lopez and Hataoka were 13-under-par for the regulation 72 holes. Korean Mi Jung Hur charged in with an 8-under-par 63 and finished one stroke out of the playoffs, in a tie for fourth with Canadian Brooke Henderson. America’s best, Annie Park, finished with a 64 and wound up solo sixth.

Though Park was a five-shot winner in Brazil four years ago there’s no guarantee she will mount a title defense. She has to make the Korean team first, and last year she didn’t even win a tournament. Her Korean rivals, though, won 15 times in 2019. The U.S. was second in wins last year with just six.

“The U.S. men’s team is pretty tough but, in women’s golf, Korea has to be definitely the toughest team to make,’’ said Park. Sei Young Kim, paired with Park in the last group on Sunday, tied for seventh with American Lexi Thompson. Kim gave Korea three players in the top eight on Sunday.

Only four players per country can compete in the Olympics, which run July 24-Aug. 9 in Tokyo. The golf will be played at Kasumigaseki Country Club, which has hosted the Japan Open four times and most recently was the site of the Asian Amateur in 2010.

Only 26 LPGA players competed in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. The first full field event starts Thursday in Boca Raton, FL. It’s new $2 million event, called the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.

A most memorable year of golf travel — from A to Ziehm

The iconic lighthouse on the 18th hole at Harbour Town was a great way to cap off a great year.

Golf travel has been our way of life for the last 10 years, a slow transition for me from being a newspaper beat writer for over 40 years to becoming a golfer in retirement. Turns out that – for better or worse — I’m a lousy retiree.

Consider our life from last June 8 until Oct. 23. It was virtually all spent on the road visiting golf destinations. Also, please note, all this travel was done by car. No more plane rides. Too much time was spent on those things when I was reporting on hockey, soccer and college sports in addition to golf in what was then my day job.

My “ace photographer,’’ Joy Sarver, and I had found that driving was the way to go after making a captivating month-long tour of Route 66 ten years ago. That journey included only minimal golf. Golf wasn’t minimal this time.

We started with a three-week swing through the eastern states, one that included stops at Grandover Resort in North Carolina; Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia; Valley Forge, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; Poland, Me.; and – on the way home – a tour of Newport, R.I. Thirteen courses played, three others visited, touchdowns in 14 states and slightly over 3,000 miles put on our 2011 Nissan Murano.

Royal New Kent, in Virginia, was one of golf’s best comeback stories in 2019.

So, why did we do it? An encouraging number of newspapers, magazines and golf websites were interested in where we were going. That was vital.

Among other things we checked out a links course, Royal New Kent in Virginia designed by the late Mike Strantz. Closed for several months after a series of ownership changes Royal New Kent made for a great golf comeback story.

We also learned about Arthur Fenn, who was likely the first American-born golf professional and course designer. A top player in the early 1900s, he competed against the likes of Harry Vardon and Willie Anderson but has gotten little historical recognition because he rarely left Maine. Fenn had to take care of Poland Springs Resort, which dates back to 1896 and purports to be America’s oldest golf resort.

Arcadia’s South course (above) and Bluffs’ layout couldn’t be more different — and that’s a good thing.

Valley Forge offered lots of history, too, but we couldn’t help but wonder what our colleagues at the International Network of Golf will think of the strange-looking remnants of a brick house in the first fairway when they tee off at the Raven’s Claw course in their 30th annual Spring Conference outings there this May.

On the long drive back to our Florida home we stopped to see Newport Country Club, site of the first U.S. Open in 1895. The course and clubhouse were closed, but impressive nonetheless.

After just a few days home we were off again, our first target being Texas. Two family weddings were the main focus of this trip but we did try to find the land where the new PGA of America headquarters will be built in Frisco, TX. Our GPS took us to the Dallas Cowboys elaborate training facilities instead.

This old house is centuries old, and that’s a good reason to have it on Raven’s Claw’s course.

From Texas we made a brief stay at Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort before the “hard work’’ began. We had the men’s and women’s versions of the Illinois Open and the state’s two PGA Tour stops, the John Deere Classic and BMW Championship – to cover.

Before we got back to Florida we spent a few days in golf-rich Michigan playing that state’s famous Arcadia Bluffs and its new partner layout, the South course, and made a return to one of our favorite events, the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Still, we weren’t done with this segment of our summer travels. Before we got back to Florida we had a delightful few days in Hilton Head. We learned a lot more about this special South Carolina destination than we had in several previous visits thanks to some quality time with, among others, Cary Corbitt – president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Assn. and vice president of Sea Pines Resort.

Eventually we did get back to our Florida place – but not for long. One last journey was on our itinerary. The journey back to Chicago included a stop at Indiana’s French Lick Resort to report on the Senior LPGA Championship, but that wasn’t the main reason for hitting the road again. I was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame on Oct. 18. Induction night turned out to be a very humbling experience, one that I’ll never forget.

The three-day ride back to Florida was memorable, too. With 30 miles to go the engine light on the super reliable Nissan went on. We made it back, but were advised a few days later that Old Betsy – after carry us 248,000 miles — had enough of our crazy travels. So, we traded her in for a new model.

It’s probably asking too much to have another summer as exciting and fulfilling as this one was – but, then again, you never know.

The 2019 Illinois Golf Hall of Fame Inductions on Oct. 18 at The Glen Club in Glenview, IL., were a big night for me, Palmer Moody of the Illinois PGA and fellow inductee Emil Esposito.

Alfredsson’s win was just part of an interesting wrap-up to Senior LPGA

Helen Alfredsson takes Senior LPGA trophy from Cppk Company chairman Steve Ferguson.
FRENCH LICK, Indiana – The third playing of the Senior LPGA Championship was a weird one, and that was even before eventual champion Helen Alfredsson teed off in Wednesday’s final round.

Alfreddson eventually won the senior Grand Slam, which amounts to winning just two tournaments – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and Senior LPGA Championship. Laura Davies accomplished the feat last year, and Alfredsson completed her Slam on Wednesday with a three-stroke victory over Juli Inkster.

The temperature dipped more than 20 degrees and the wind picked up significantly on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, but Alfredsson finished the 54-hhole test as the only player under par. Her concluding 70 gave her a three-round total of 2-under-par 214 and earned her the $100,000 first prize from a $650,000 prize fund.

Other significant developments were unfolding as Alfredsson was working her way to the victory.

Even before the second round was history Dave Harner, the director of golf at French Lick Resort, confirmed that the tournament won’t be played on its unusual fall dates in 2020 – and won’t have live television coverage because of it.

Then, a few hours before the second round was over, Lee Anne Walker was alerted that she would be assessed a big number of penalty strokes because her caddie had been lining her up on her putts on the putting surface, and she did not step away before making her stroke. The infraction, repeated frequently over Walker’s first 23 holes, wound up as a 58-stroke penalty.

After a discussion the rules officials and Walker’s penalty numbers were added up her scores were 127 for the first round and 90 for the second.

Under new rules a player cannot receive a cash payment without posting a score. In finishing last among the 78 players in the Senior LPGA field Walker received $1,390.

Walker, even without the penalty strokes, was only a minor factor in the tournament standings but the change in scheduling for next season will have long-range effects.

“We just couldn’t take the weather any more,’’ said Harner.

Next year’s fourth playing of the Senior LPGA will be July 27 to Aug. 1. Instead of the Monday through Wednesday scheduling of the last three years the 54-hole event will run Thursday through Saturday after a practice round and two pro-ams kick off the festivities.

The tourney has had weather problems. Temperatures neared the freezing level during tournament rounds in 2018 and Wednesday’s final round of this year’s event began in 47-degree temperatures and never got more than five degrees warmer than that.

There was, of course, much more involved in the schedule change than just cold temperatures. The Senior LPGA went to October because that was the only way The Golf Channel would provide live coverage. That coverage was expensive — $860,000 for this year’s playing – and the viewership (estimated at 100,000 per day) didn’t meet expectations. The cost of the telecasts cut into the charity money that long-time beneficiary Riley Children’s Hospital could receive.

So, the tournament did what few events have done in the past – proceed without TV support – and that move was not met with much reluctance by the players.

“I’m excited about it,’’ said Jane Geddes, now into her fourth month as executive director of The Legends Tour. “(The new dates) will give us a nice stretch of tournaments, which we don’t have now and the weather will be better. Kids will also be out of school. It would be nice to have TV coverage, but we also know that it’s expensive.’’

Harner plans to line up streaming for coverage of next year’s final round.

“As the tournament grows and the tour goes into more market places maybe being on TV would make more sense,’’ said Geddes. “Everyone always wants to be on TV, but is it really worth all that money to have eyeballs on that event? It’s almost $1 million. That’s the reality. We’ve been living with that on the LPGA for a long time.‘’

This year it was the last major championship for any of the pro tours. Next year the Senior LPGA won’t event be the last event of the year for The Legends. Geddes said a new event in Minneapolis will be played the following week, though she withheld details of next year’s sites.

The new dates put the Senior LPGA closer to the only other major for senior women. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open is scheduled for July 9-12 in 2020, at Brooklawn in Fairfield, Ct.. The next Senior LPGA will also come two weeks after French Lick’s other tour stop. The Symetra Tour’s annual tournament here is played on the resort’s Donald Ross Course.

As for Sunday Senior LPGA wrapup, Inkster started the day with a two-stroke lead but slumped to a 76. Most of her problems surfaced on the back nine, and they enabled Alfredsson to take control. It was a two-player duel most of the way.

Defending champion Davies tied for 19th and only Michelle McGann (69) shot a lower final round than Alfreddson.

“`I was a great feeling to win the U.S. Open (at Pine Needles in May) and get a USGA trophy,’’ she said. “but I was most pleased with being able to do it in the end, that I was the strongest then.’’

The Senior LPGA was the last of pro golf’s major championships of 2019 on any of the pro tours.

Last major of 2019 tees off today on French Lick’s Pete Dye Course.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – This may surprise you. One of America’s professional tours still has one of its major championships remaining in 2019.

The climax to The Legends Tour season is the third annual Senior LPGA Championship, to be played on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort from Oct. 14-16. It tends to get lost in the shuffle, and not just because it’s so late in the season. The Monday through Wednesday scheduling isn’t the norm, either, but it has enabled the circuit for women 45 and over to gain live TV coverage on The Golf Channel.

LPGA stars of the past had trouble finding tournaments until Jane Blalock created The Legends Tour in 2000. It grew slowly, but in the last few years these senior women received some long overdue signs of respect.

The Legends Championship became their premier event when French Lick’s hierarchy created it – along with a Legends Hall of Fame – in 2014. That championship is no longer held, having been replaced with a bigger and better version when the LPGA finally got involved directly with its senior circuit.

England’s Trish Johnson became the first champion of a senior women’s major when she won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2017.

The U.S. Golf Association, after three years of deliberation following an initial announcement, staged its first major tournament for senior women last year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, IL. England’s Laura Davies won that one by a whopping 10-stroke margin to conclude an emotional week that was more important for the creation of the event than it was for who won.

Since then things have been quiet on the senior women’s front. The most notable development was Blalock’s departure as executive director of The Legends Tour and the hiring of Jane Geddes as the circuit’s chief executive officer. This could be significant down the road, but Geddes has been on the job only three months and hasn’t put her plans into effect yet. In fact, she hasn’t announced even announced any of them but says she has some significant things in the works for 2020 and beyond.

The big difference is that Blalock was both the head of The Legends Tour as well as its tournament promoter.

“Janie wore two hats,’’ said Geddes, who was asked by LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to take the job. “There was no governing body. I am the governing body, with no conflicts.’’

Blalock may still create tournaments for The Legends, but Geddes takes a broader approach for the circuit.

“I look on it as the Legends experience more than the Legends Tour,’’ she said. “We’ll have camps, travel trips. We don’t play (tournaments) week in and week out, but we can have pro-ams or challenge events, excursions or clinics. We’re a great group of women who bring great value. It’s fun to watch us play, and we have the ability to interact. That’s what my era does best.’’

Like Blalock, Geddes was a top LPGA player who has competed in both the Senior LPGA Championship and U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She took a different path after her full-time playing career wound down. Geddes spent time working for the LPGA, then – armed with a law degree — she left to become chief of staff in professional wrestling.

“It was very fun,’’ she said. “The wrestlers are sports actors. I was there four years, and it was a 24-hour job. I wanted to get back into golf.’’

So now she’s back, and how she transforms The Legends Tour next year will largely determine the circuit’s future.

For now, though, the show is all about the estimable Laura Davies and her supporting cast in the third Senior LPGA. The purse will be $650,000 with the champion receiving $100,000.

Davies won the second Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick last October and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson took the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open, played at Pine Needles in North Carolina in May, by beating Juli Inkster and Johnson by two strokes.

The Senior Women’s Open drew a crowd at Pine Needles that was comparable to the one it enjoyed at Chicago Golf Club, and a similar event is expected for a third run at French Lick. Hollis Stacy will be added to the Legends Hall of Fame before the tournament tees off and the field will undergo only minor changes from a year ago. Karen Stupples and Laura Baugh will compete for the first time with Stupples preferring to compete rather than stay in The Golf Channel broadcast booth.

Dave Harner, director of golf at French Lick, has added two special exemptions — Lori Atsedes and Clarissa Child — after the scrapping of the on-site qualifying round. The starting field will be 78 players as opposed to the 81 scheduled to play last year. Only 80 eventually teed off.