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.



Glover bucks the trend in winning the John Deere Classic

SILVIS, IL. – Lucas Glover isn’t supposed to be the type of guy who wins the John Deere Classic. That event has been one for young players – like Payne Stewart, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau — to kick-start their careers.  They were among the 23 first-time PGA Tour winners among the JDC’s 50 champions.

Glover certainly doesn’t fit that mold. Usually players win the JDC first, then might go on to bigger things.  For Glover it was just the opposite. He won the JDC 12 years after he won the U.S. Open.

Even before he was a PGA Tour member Glover had played in the JDC.  He made his tournament debut here in 2002.

“I loved it,’’ said Glover.  “Virtually everywhere else we go there’s always something else going on at the same time, whether it be another sport or a concert or something.  In this area it’s the Classic, and you’re going.  It was rotten (weather) today and we still had people crawling all over the place supporting us.  It was great.’’

Glover, 41, has been on the PGA Tour since 2004. He won the 2009 U.S. Open at New York’s Bethpage Black on a day similar to Sunday at TPC Deere Run – a day-long drizzle on the heels of heavy overnight rain. Despite that U.S. Open accomplishment Glover hadn’t won on the PGA Tour in 10 years, his last victory coming at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2011.

“It turned into a long week with the weather, but I seem to do all right in the mud,’’ said Glover. “I always thought I could do this again.  I just needed to figure out the best way to go about it.’’

Before Glover the JDC had three champions in a row – Bryson DeChambeau, Michael Kim and Dylan Frittelli – who won their first PGA Tour event at TPC Deere Run. Glover’s playing partner in the final round was Adam Schenk, and he best  represented this year’s “first-time’’ candidates.

In his three previous seasons on the PGA Tour Schenk had failed to finish in the top three at any tournament. The former Purdue golfer was tied for second, but three strokes behind Glover, when they finished their round but he wound up in a tie for fourth.  Kevin Na and Ryan Moore shared runner-up honors, two strokes behind Glover’s winning 19-under-par 265.

Glover, who shot 64 in the final round, and Schenk started six groups in front of the last twosome of third-round leader Sebastian Munoz and Brandon Hagy, who was also a potential first-time winner but wound up tied for 18th.

Munoz was out of it early, with two bogeys in the first three holes, but he rallied to finish a tie for fourth with Schenk, Luke List, Scott Brown.

Glover had his own game plan.

“The focus starting out was aggressive, make as many birdies as possible then see where we are coming to the middle of the back nine if it’s going well,’’ said Glover.

It wasn’t going well – Glover was just 2-under-par for the day after making a bogey at No. 11 – but then everything got better in a hurry.  He strung four straight birdies and had five birds in his last seven holes. That put him in control the rest of the way and sent him off Sunday’s flight to the British a good mood.

Glover has been to the British 10 times and missed the cut in five of those.  His best finish was a tie for 12th in 2011. The John Deere Classic had four other champions in its 50-year history who also won the U.S. Open — DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth, Steve Jones and Payne Stewart.  Four of its other winners won major championships –  Johnson, Vijay Singh, David Toms and Dave Stockton.

Doug Ghim, the PGA Tour rookie from Arlington Heights, finished the tournament strong, shooting a 68 that landed him in a tie for 18th place. Steve Stricker who, at age 54, had hoped to become the oldest winner of a PGA Tour event, finished in a tie for 41st place.







Did Stricker make a mistake in returning to the JDC?

SILVIS, IL. – Did Steve Stricker make a bad decision in helping the John Deere Classic celebrate its 50th anniversary, albeit a year late?

Stricker is a legend in the PGA Tour stop played three hours from his Wisconsin home.  He won the John Deere Classic three straight times, from 2009 to 2011. He’s won more money in the tournament than anyone else, and he was 186 strokes under par in his first 17 appearances in the tournament.

In this his 18th visit, though, he is 54 years old. Nobody else in the field has reached his 50th birthday. The oldest previous winner on the PGA Tour was Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open, and that was three years before Stricker was born.

If Stricker is to make a run at another win at TPC Deere Run he’ll have to shake off a lackluster first round. Stricker didn’t come ready to play Thursday, making two bogeys in the first four holes before notching his first birdie.  He made three more of those on his second nine, but a 1-under-par 70 is not a good score in any round at the John Deere Classic, an event noted for low scoring. He’s seven shots behind co-leaders Sebastian Munoz and Chesson Hadley after Round 1.

“It was an early wakeup call,’’ said Stricker.  “I’m not used to getting up at 5 in the morning anymore to play.  I played like I was still asleep for awhile. Hopefully I have to come back tomorrow and put up a good number.’’

In addition to being the U.S. Ryder Cup captain Stricker is a PGA Champions Tour mainstay now – and he’s been a good one.

Last year he won the U.S. Senior Open, perhaps the most significant major for the 50-and-over circuit.  He won another Champions’ major in his last start, taking the Bridgestone Senior Players at rugged Firestone two weeks ago by a whopping six strokes. After that he was looking at a return to the John Deere Classic, even though it conflicted with what would have been his title defense in the U.S. Senior Open.

“I wish they weren’t the exact same week, but I’m glad I’m here,’’ said Stricker. “It’s a special place for me and my family.’’

It’d be even more special if he won here for a record fourth time and became the oldest PGA Tour winner in the process. Phil Mickelson’s victory in the PGA Championship in May at age 50 was an incentive for Stricker to make a return to the PGA Tour. Mickelson was the oldest player to win a major and the sixth oldest to win a PGA Tour event. If Stricker came back to become the first four-time JDC champion that would be a similarly big deal.

“I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think I could do something similar,’’ he said. “Obviously winning the John Deere is going to be a tall order, but I still think there’s some good play inside of me. Hopefully  I can get that out here this week.’’


JDC celebrates its 50th after coming through the pandemic just fine

SILVIS, IL. – What a difference a year makes.

The John Deere Classic had been announced as the first PGA Tour event in 2020 to welcome spectators after play was shut down by pandemic concerns on March 12.  The JDC had July 6-12 dates for what was to be its 50th anniversary staging.

Unfortunately, the announcement was short-lived.  After studying the facilities at TPC Deere Run and giving consideration to PGA Tour and local government policies in place, the tourney was canceled.

“While we considered several alternatives, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad Cities community at large,’’ said JDC tournament director Clair Peterson. “The only alternative was to have the event without fans, and no one felt that matched up with what people here wanted to happen.’’

The clubhouse, small by PGA Tour standards, made social distancing difficult.  So did available parking.  Not much was available on the club grounds. The cancelation was a downer, but it’s in the past with the 50th anniversary staging, delayed a year, coming up next week (TOURNAMENT ROUNDS ARE JULY 8-11).

Over the years the PGA Tour stop in the area around Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, has fought for survival.  The pandemic was just the latest challenge.  Few tour events in small markets have survived as well as the JDC has.

Created in 1971, its first two tournaments were won by Deane Beman who later served a long term as PGA Tour commissioner. Very few of the next 47 were won by players of that high a profile. First-time PGA Tour winners were in abundance, but the tourney’s pork chop sandwiches became a tasty trademark for the event.

The tournament was played under a variety of titles, mostly at Oakwood Country Club on the Illinois side, until Moline-based John Deere hooked up with the PGA Tour as its Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier and took charge of the tournament in 1998.

By 2000 the tourney had a new home at TPC Deere Run, an open-to-the-public course designed by Illinois native D.A. Weibring who won the tournament three times before focusing on course architecture. TPC Deere Run,  well-received by PGA Tour players, is a source of pride for the community’s golfers and it’s also hosted the Advocate Professional Golf Association, a feeder circuit for minority golfers to get on the Korn Ferry Tour, and the National Assocation of lntercollegiate Athletics national championship.

The par-71 course that Weibring designed hasn’t changed much over the last two decades.  The tee box on the fifth hole was extended to give the course more length.  That was about it.  The routing and greens never changed and the bunkers were simply updated to improve drainage. Paul Goydos holds the course record of 59, set in 2010, and Michael Kim has the tournament scoring record with his 27-under-par 257 that produced an eight-stroke victory in 2018.

Peterson made a successful strategic move to improve the quality of the fields when – rather than raise the purse – he hired a jet to take players from the Quad Cities Airport on the night after the final round directly to the British Open site.  Such a travel benefit made players less reluctant to make the expensive trip  across the pond early.

This year, because of the pandemic, a report surfaced that the JDC wouldn’t be offering a British Open exemption to its champion.  That was later dismissed so the tourney will go on as usual  with Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson its top stars. Johnson has long been on the tourney’s board of directors. Ryder Cup captain Stricker had the only three-peat in tourney history, winning in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Defending champion this year is South African-born Dylan Frittelli, who starred on an NCAA champion University of Texas team that also included Jordan Spieth.  Spieth and Frittelli are among 23 players who earned their first PGA Tour victory in the Quad Cities. Spieth won in 2013 and 2015 and hasn’t been back since.

The big winner at the John Deere Classic, though, has been the area charities. Since 1971 the tourney has raised over $120 million for charities, and over 90 percent of that came since John Deere became the title sponsor. Even with the tourney not held in 2020 the event’s Birdies for Charity program made a $12.2 million donation to 465 charities.


Staples turns PGA National’s Squire course into 27 unique new holes

Architect Andy Staples is turning the 18-hole Squire course in a unique par-3 and a short 18-holer.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – PGA National, long one of the world’s top golf resorts, is about to undergo a major change – one that will broaden the golf options for visitors to the long-time home of this week’s. Honda Classic.

That PGA Tour stop has been a fixture on The Champion course since 2007. Jack Nicklaus designed the layout, noted for its fearsome three-hole stretch on the back nine known as The Bear Trap. PGA Tour players generally feel it’s the toughest course they play on their annual Florida Swing, and they’ll take another competitive look at it beginning on Thursday (MARCH 18).

Some attention will also be paid this week to what’s happening a few yards away from The Champion. Andy Staples, an Arizona-based architect who grew up in Wisconsin, is putting the finishing touches on two courses that are being built over what was The Squire, a design by George and Tom Fazio that opened in 1983.  One will be a nine-hole par-3 course that is being built over what had been the Nos. 1 and 18 holes of The Squire.  The other 16 holes of the Squire are being transformed into a shorter 18-holer. Staples calls the project a “re-imagination’’ rather than a renovation.

“These courses will have new names and the complex will be completely re-branded,’’ said Staples, who hopes the new courses will give PGA National something that has been missing at The Champion and its other three 18-holers – The Palmer, The Fazio and The Estates.

The nine-holer is scheduled to open in April, the new 18-holer in August or September.  Their new names have not been announced. The Squire, closed for over a year, was a 6,750-yard layout.  The new 18-holer will play at 5,744 yards.  Staples was hired to do the project without a face-to-face meeting with any representatives of Brookfield Asset Management, the resort’s owner. Those preliminaries were all handled on line.

“I had said, `You’ve got the difficult golf.  You can get your brains beat out in playing The Champion, then come out here (to the nearby new courses) and actually like golf,’’ said Staples. “The greens (on the new courses) will be challenging, but they’ll be a completely different offering than the tough golf you get on the other courses.’’

The par-3 course will have no set tee markers.  One hole is designed to be played with a putter or with a rescue club chip. The real eye-catcher, though, will be the designated No. 5 hole.  Players will be encouraged to tee off out of a bunker, and their 50-yard shot to the green is partially over water.

Greens will be regulation size with lots of pin positions available. Some of the pin locations will have a funnel effect.

“I don’t want to call them hole-in-one holes, but….’’ said Staples. We’ll leave it at that, but he promised that each green will have a difficult pin location as well.

There’ll be no rough on either course and the 18-holer will have 25 bunkers, whereas a typical Florida course has at least 60 or 70. Carts will be available on the new 18-holer, but the shorter course is walking-only.

Not only is Staples in a bunker, it’ll also be a tee on his new par-3 layout.

“I don’t care if they don’t wear shoes there,’’ said Staples.  “It’s meant to be a casual round.’’

The Squire was known as “the wettest, slowest course’’ on the property.

“They’d put the members out there when all the other courses were filled,’’ said Staples, “but it was always a popular course because it was short, and more friendly to the average golfer.’’

So why the change?

“Our No. 1 goal was to make the owners successful and to help players find a golf course that they’ll want to play over and over again, and bring a friend.’’ said Staples.

Brookfield ownership was all for the concept. Staples was introduced to the project in 2019 and hired in October of that year.  Construction began in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was starting. The ensuing lack of play then made construction easier.

“That was an incredible blessing,’’ said Staples, “but it was also an indication that the people who own the place wouldn’t let something like that get in the way.  They said it was a good time to do it, even though – at that point – we didn’t know what would happen to the golf market, if anyone would play golf at all much less the 30-40 percent more than are now playing.’’

Rock walls are a trademark of the first par-3 layout at PGA National.







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,

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.