Q-and-A: Paul Albanese

Paul Albanese is a Michigan golf course architect who burst into prominence when one of his designs, Tatanka in Niobrara, Neb., was named Golf Magazine’s Best New Resort Course of 2015.

In July a similar Albanese creation, Sage Run, opened in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Both projects were done while working with Indian tribes and were designed to upgrade casinos in small communities.

Now in partnership with Chris Lutzke, a long-time Pete Dye associate, Albanese has put the spotlight on a relatively new term in golf course design with his unveiling of Sage Run. It’s built on a drumlin.

Never heard of a drumlin? Neither had most every golf writer making early visits to Sage Run. Let Albanese explain what it’s all about.

QUESTION: OK, what is a drumlin?

ALBANESE: It a geological formation created by glaciers.

Q: Is it something new in the world of golf?

ALBANESE: By no means is it unknown in the golf architecture world. A large ridge is a drumlin.

Q: Does a golf course have one drumlin, or a bunch of them?

ALBANESE: Sage run doesn’t have a series of drumlins. It’s one big long ridge.

Q: How unusual is that?

ALBANESE: I used one when I designed Mill Creek in New York. It opened about 10 years ago. Drumlins aren’t everywhere, though. There’s not a lot in the south. There are some in Michigan and some, like the one at Mill Creek, in Upstate New York.

Q: Are drumlins a good thing?

ALBANESE: They create a great land form for golf. A drumlin gives you elevation change and it adds a lot of character. It looks like an upside down spoon, and they’re usually above flatter land.

Q: How did you find this one, for Sage Run?

ALBANESE: The tribe (Potawatomi) handed me a typographical map, and then we decided on where to build this golf course. The acreage covered was in the thousands, and we wound up building Sage Run on about 300 acres.

Q: Your very well received Tatanka course didn’t have a drumlin. Is it in any way similar to Sage Run?

ALBANESE: Both have a more rough and ragged flavor. That comes through on both courses. Conceptually we used the natural ruggedness of the terrain. And, we created teeing areas – not tee boxes – on both courses.

Q: What’s the difference between a teeing area and a tee box?

ALBANESE: Tees are usually shaped to be flat. We wanted to shape our teeing areas like we shape greens. We wanted to give the teeing areas the same flavor of a green complex.

Q: In the case of Sage Run, it’s the second course at Island Resort Casino. You also designed the first course, Sweetgrass, and it was well received – especially within Michigan. Any similarities?

ALBANESE: We didn’t want to force that. They’re built on completely different properties. They’re like red wine and white wine. They’re two different styles.

Q: You have worked with Indian tribes before, and not just in Nebraska and Michigan. What’s that like?

ALBANESE: The tribal leadership wants us to utilize their people to build both courses. We wanted them to have a stake in building the golf course and to take pride in it. That’s been amazingly successful.


Location: Hollister, Mo.

Course architect: Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw.

Opened: Nov. 1, 2018.

Par 71

Tee – Yard/rating/slope

Men: Tips 7,036/73.9/131; Gold 6,510/71.3/126; White 5,903/68.6/118; Red 5,025/64.6/112.
Women: Gold 6,510;77.4/132; White 5,903/74.0/128; Red 5,025/69.2/117.

Green fee: Preview play in November is $150 with a replay rate of $100. In December the prices drop to $125 for preview play and $85 for a replay.

Caddie service: Limited for now.

Walker friendly: Yes.

Fairways: Zoysia.

Greens: Bentgrass.

Rough: Buffalo grass is dominant, and getting in it can mean big trouble.


Starter: Golf-wise big things have been happening in the Missouri Ozarks and the opening of Ozarks National is the most recent. Payne’s Valley, a Tiger Woods design, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019 next to Ozarks National. Coore/Crenshaw, though, is one of the most respected architectural teams in the world and any of their creations merits attention. This one opens to public preview play on Nov. 1, and it’ll continue through Dec. 15 before the course is closed for the winter months.

Play because: Though it’s not official yet Ozarks National is expected to be one of the courses used in the Legends of Golf event on PGA Tour Champions next April, replacing neighbor Buffalo Ridge Springs. Grand Opening festivities at Ozarks National are planned to coincide with the Legends of Golf event. It’ll be one of the most talked about courses of 2019.

Takeaway: The course is in a gorgeous setting with beautiful vistas and not much water. It has an unusually diverse collection of holes, and they’ll keep your attention throughout. Though the course is ready for play many more things are still to be done. A spacious clubhouse is expected to be ready sometime next spring and a 15-acre practice range, a putting course and two additional practice greens will also be added eventually.

Ratings (1 to 10 scale, 10 being highest)

Food/beverage: 8

Pro shop: 8.

Clubhouse: 9 (This is on the clubhouse at Mountain Top, the Gary Player-designed 13-hole par-3 course that is being used for Ozarks National guests until a new clubhouse is completed in the spring).

Course difficulty: 8, but choice of tees is critical. From the tips it’s definitely a championship-style course.

Pace of play: 10 (But, then, our group of two foursomes had the course all to ourselves).

Overall score: 9.2


Best Par 3: No. 12, 254/213/175/133.
Rarely will a par-3 be the No. 2 handicap hole on any course, but this one merits it. It’ll takes its place among the best long par-3s in the country. The small, uphill green is protected by a ravine on the left and trees on the right. There’s very little room for error here.

Best Par 4: No. 5, 352/306/248/161.
I love this hole. It is a true short par-4, one that’s reachable for all levels of players if they use the proper tee. There are tougher par-4s on the layout but this one perfectly fits what this course is all about – a fun but still meaningful challenge that you’ll remember once the round is over.

Best Par 5: No. 9, 597/549/516/453.
The course’s No. 1 handicap hole comes right after somewhat of a breather at the par-3 eighth in the rotation. That dramatic transition may accentuate the difficulty of the longer hole. Still, this winding hole is the longest on the course – definitely a three-shotter.


Website: www.golfbigcedar.com

Phone:. 417-339-5420.

Facebook: facebook.com/BigCedarLodgeGolf

Instagram: instagram.com/ExploreBranson

Twitter: @GolfBigCedar

Rated by: Len Ziehm

Tapping into Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – This is no secret. Michigan has been a golf hot spot for, well – almost forever. The state has over 850 public courses, more than any other state in the nation.

Grand Rapids is part of the state’s golf mix. The city in the western part of the state has a population of just under 200,000. It has its share of golf courses well worth playing, but there’s much more in Grand Rapids.

Beer, for instance.

There are about 40 breweries in the immediate area of Grand Rapids and over 80 show up on the well-mapped Beer City Ale Trail. That’s why Grand Rapids has earned the designation of Beer City USA in a nation-wide poll and USA Today’s readers have also honored Grand Rapids as Best Beer Town as well as for having the Best Beer Scene.

You could go there for the golf and stay or the beer – or vice versa. Either way you’d come out all right.

Let’s hold off for a while on the golf part. After all, October is the month for Octoberfests. Most every community in and around Grand Rapids honors that tradition in one way or another. Golf can wait.

An Englishman opened the first brewery in Grand Rapids in 1836, and the Grand Rapids Brewing Company – the oldest of those still in existence – dates back to 1893.

Brewery Vivant has the most interesting location. It’s housed in a refurbished funeral home.

Founders is the most prominent brewery in Grand Rapids now. It puts on a most informative in-house tour for those interested in more than just how a beer tastes, and Founders for the last six years has run ArtPrize – an art competition that results in the winners getting their designs on the beer cans that Founders produces.

Golf packages play in important promotional role for golf communities and resorts. Well, some of the hotels in Grand Rapids have a takeoff on that. They offer Beer Tour packages. Pub crawls are regular attractions and beer trolleys run most every day. That’s a good thing for those who opt to sample more than than they should.

Beer-drinkers’ hot spots are numerous and varied, but two of the best are The Knickerbocker, known for its pinwheel appetizers as well as its beer offerings, and City Built Brewing Company, which has a unique selection of beers to go with its Puerto Rico-inspired food menu.

As for the golf, the courses aren’t nearly as well-seasoned as the breweries, but they have their charm, too.

One of the best is Pilgrim’s Run, located in the outlying town of Pierson. It has an interesting history. The Chicago-based Van Kampen family bought land for the course and had family members and friends design the holes. That was a start before Mike DeVries, a well-respected architect from Traverse City, Mich., stepped in.

DeVries worked with more nationally-known designers Tom Doak and Tom Fazio before tackling Pilgrim’s Run. Teaming with superintendent Kris Schumacker, DeVries routed the course and constructed in the greens. Since its opening as an 18-holer in 1998 Pilgrim’s Run has been one of Michigan’s most popular public courses.

Most notable hole is the short par-4 18th – one of the best finishing holes in the state. A great risk-reward hole with water protecting the green, No. 18 can play anywhere from 221 to 358 yards. It’s a thought-provoking, fun way to finish a round on a course that can play as long as 7,093 yards.

DeVries’ design credits also include The Mines, Greywalls and the Kingsley Club in Michigan. The Mines is also in the Grand Rapids area with a history worth noting. Sweeping elevation changes and undulating greens are major characteristics of The Mines and location-wise the course is near the downtown area, where the bulk of the beer-drinking hangouts are located.

The Mines was built about 150 feet above gypsum mines that had been utilized as early as the 1860s and throughout the 1900s. Some features of The Mines were incorporated into the construction of the course. The No. 8 hole is located where a natural sand pit was used for the mining operation. Directional signs were also made with wooden timbers from the mining process.

Another unusual feature of The Mines was that it has back-to-back par-3 holes at Nos. 7 and 8. The course is a par-70 with two tough par-5s, the longest being the 607-yard fifth. The only problem with this layout is its blind shots. There’s a few too many of them.

The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe isn’t bad, either. Clearly the locals like this Bill Newcomb design that opened in 1997. It’s located along the Thornapple River on Interstate 96 near the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Newcomb’s stature in Michigan golf course architecture started earlier than DeVries.’ Newcomb, who attended the University of Michigan, was a nationally-ranked amateur golfer with wins in both the Michigan Amateur and Indiana Open and a competitive appearance in the Masters.

If a 30-mile drive from downtown Grand Rapids isn’t too taxing, there’s another good track — the Arnold Palmer-designed Ravines in Saugatuck. Ravines has only three sets of tees but lots of forced carries. The most eye-catching features are the tall pines that dramatize the longest hole – the 626-yard 14th – and the Orchestra Pit at the par-3 17th. There’s a deep dropoff in front of the green at No.17, which accentuates the putting surface as a stage and gives the hole its name.

Playing those courses might give you a thirst to try more of the area golf layouts, but in Grand Rapids it might be more enticing to find more beer drinkers’ hot spots instead – and there’s plenty of them around.

Blalock drops CEO title, changes her role with LPGA’s Legends Tour

After years of campaigning the former stars of the LPGA finally had two major championships to play in this year. The USGA staged its inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in July and the Senior LPGA Championship was played for the second time at Indiana’s French Lick Resort in October.

All is not rosy for those former female stars who have reached their 45th birthday, however. The Legends Tour, which was virtually their only source for tournaments and other golf-related business opportunities, is in a state of flux following Jane Blalock’s decision to step away as the circuit’s chief executive officer.

While the PGA Tour long ago embraced its older players with the creation of what is now PGA Tour Champions, the LPGA – other than declaring The Legends its “official’’ senior tour — didn’t do the same for its older stars. That was left up to Blalock.

She rounded up 25 charter members to form the Women’s Senior Golf Association. It grew into The Legends Tour, which has 120 members. This year the circuit had an eight-tournament schedule, which included the two majors.

Blalock, 73, was one of the LPGA’s top stars prior to her retirement as a player in 1987. She made a record 299 consecutive cuts and notched 34 professional wins, 27 of them on the LPGA circuit. She was named to The Legends Hall of Fame in 2014, continued to play in its Honors Division events and downplayed her decision to drop the CEO title.

“We moved things around a little bit,’’ she said. “I made the decision that, as opposed to remaining as CEO, my company (JBC Golf) would continue to do the marketing and all the business parts of the tour. The only thing that has changed is my title.’’

There’s a little more to it than that, however. President Gail Graham and vice president Allison Finney also resigned their board positions. Christa Johnson will serve as interim president until an election is held in the next two months.

Blalock conceded that she was not altogether happy with her board members or the LPGA.

“I got frustrated. Outside of the title, the board doesn’t do much,’’ said Blalock. “The board focused on minutiae rather than growing the tour. Now I can focus on getting more events rather than the politics.’’

While the 2019 schedule has not been announced Blalock said a tournament in Minneapolis has been added, the existing tournaments will continue and a pro-am has been added to the ANA Inspiration event.

Legends players will also participate in another event with the Symetra Tour — a new tournament in Janesville, Wis. Some of the tour’s top players urged the creation of more tournaments during the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick.

`We don’t want to play every week, but if we had six tournaments and four pro-ams that would be perfect,’’ said Juli Inkster.

England’s Trish Johnson has campaigned overseas for the creation of a British Senior Women’s Open.

“If we could get one, that would be great,’’ she said, “but who knows when? I’m sure it will happen eventually.’’

Blalock believes that 12 events – be they three-day tournaments combined with some smaller ones and pro-ams – would be ideal. The 36-hole Legends events with up to 40 players typically have purses between $200,000 and $250,000 with the winner’s take being $25,000 or $30,000. Blalock would like an increase to $350,000 with 50 players competing. The winner would receive $40,000 and all the players would have a payday, as there are no cuts on The Legends Tour.

`We’d like to give the players the opportunity to make enough (money) so they don’t need to have other jobs,’’ said Blalock. “We also need others (notably the players using their own contacts) to get us tournaments. I’ve been the only one who has done that.’’

She’s hopeful the enthusiasm created by this year’s two majors will build momentum for the creation of more tournaments. As for The Legends’ relationship with the LPGA, though, Blalock said the creation of a senior championship hasn’t created much of a change.

“And it should have,’’ she said. The LPGA, though, didn’t take that stance. The circuit declined to have any of its personnel quoted in this piece. Speaking for the LPGA, a high-ranking LPGA official said the second Senior LPGA Championship was an indication that the older players were not being ignored. He also pointed out that the events in which Legends players are part of Symetra Tour stops have been beneficial to both circuits.

The bottom line apparently is that women’s sports continue to be challenged to find the financial support that their male counterparts enjoy. The LPGA doesn’t have the resources that the PGA Tour does, and that’s why PGA Tour Champions is thriving while The Legends are hopeful of building off this year’s successes.

Two majors aren’t enough for players on the Legends Tour

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – This was a big year for the older women golfers who labored on the LPGA tour. After years of campaigning they had two major championships to compete in during the 2018 season and there was no doubt who the best player was.

England’s Laura Davies dominated. On Wednesday she was a wire to wire winner in the second Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind. In July she won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club by a whopping 10 strokes. That’s a Grand Slam, as far as that age group and gender is concerned.

The question now is, where does golf for these women’s stars of the past go from here. They finally have their long-coveted major championships, but not much else.

“If we could get a British Senior Open, that’d be great,’’ said Trish Johnson, the champion in the first of those senior majors at French Lick in 2017. “Who knows when that’ll be, but I’m sure it will happen eventually.’’

At least the two existing majors appear in good shape. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open, a big hit at Chicago Golf Club, has another quality venue for 2019 in Pine Needles in North Carolina. The Senior LPGA Championship is set at French Lick for three more years.

French Lick chairman Steve Ferguson and director of golf Dave Harner have shown their commitment to the senior women professionals, even taking the step of creating a Legends Hall of Fame in the West Baden Springs Hotel near the Pete Dye Course – a spectacular venue no matter who is playing on it.

For the momentum to grow, though, The Legends Tour will have to step up. The circuit created by Jane Blalock and 25 of her former LPGA colleagues in 2000 hasn’t had it easy. While the men’s PGA Tour was quick to embrace its aging stars, the LPGA has not.

While PGA Tour Champions continues to thrive for the men 50 and over, the LPGA – other than scheduling its one senior major championship – has steered clear of the players on The Legends circuit, which is open to former tour players who have reached their 45th birthday. Blalock played in the Honors Division of the second Senior LPGA at French Lick and then went home. None of her staff was utilized in the tournament’s operation, and their presence could have been helpful.

If progress is to continue for the senior women professionals it’ll apparently be up to The Legends Tour to carry the load. This segment of players needs more than two major tournaments to play in.

“I think we’ve got a good thing going,’’ said Juli Inkster, who won The Legends Championship in her first start in the circuit in 2015. “If we had six tournaments and four pro-ams that would be perfect. We don’t want to play every week.’’

The Legends had eight events on its 2018 schedule but two were pro-ams and two others were team events. Only the majors could be considered full-fledged tournaments. That’s not enough.

The greatest woman star of the recent past, Annika Sorenstam, hasn’t played a tournament since 2008 and Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon, Amy Alcott and Betsy King have rarely ventured into Legends events. The shortage of tournaments is certainly a factor. Why work hard to get your game ready for just a couple tournaments?

Some appearances by the best of the stars of the best – most notably Sorenstam — would help The Legends cause.

“A lot of our players have taken 20 years off. They just want a chance to compete,’’ said Inkster. “It was impressive at Chicago Golf Club, having the people come out to watch. Stuff like that is really special.’’

There’s enough who can still play competitively, though, and they’re a global bunch. In the final round of the Senior LPGA only three of the nine players in the last three groups were Americans and the three majors were all won by Europeans. Unlike previous years, they now have a couple of showcase events to demonstrate their talents, but that isn’t enough.

Senior LPGA at French Lick shows progress in women’s golf

FRENCH LICK, Indiana – This is progress, no doubt about it.

Barely a year ago there was one glaring void in the golf tournament schedule. Senior women professionals were being ignored, by both the LPGA and USGA. Now, thankfully, that’s no longer the case. That group of players, most of whom contributed so much to the growth on the LPGA, now have two full-fledged major championships to put the spotlight on their game.

The first was the Senior LPGA Championship, played here on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort last July. The second was the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, played from July 12-15 of this year at America’s first 18-hole course – Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, IL.

Now the Senior LPGA Championship is poised for its second staging, from Oct. 15-17, with England’s Trish Johnson defending her title. She won wire-to-wire last year, finishing at 4-under-par to claim a three-shot victory over Michele Redman and a $90,000 first prize.

Dame Laura Davies, also from England, won the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open by a whopping 10 strokes over runner-up Juli Inkster three months ago and pocketed $180,000 from a $1 million purse.

Both of these championships were a long time coming. After finally committing to hold a U.S. Senior Women’s Open the USGA needed three years before finally putting on the event.

“I was just hoping I’d still be alive to play in it,’’ said JoAnne Carner, who – at 79 – was given the honor of hitting the first tee shot.

Unlike the men’s PGA Tour, the LPGA didn’t provide a circuit for its older players. That was left to former star Jane Blalock, who created The Legends Tour in 2001. Other than designating it as its “official’’ senior tour, the LPGA wasn’t involved in its operation until last year.

The Senior LPGA Championship grew out of the four-year old Legends Championship, basically a creation by Blalock, French Lick chairman Steve Ferguson and director of golf Dave Harner. They did it up right the first year, putting the tournament together with a Symetra Tour event that celebrated the centennial of the nearby Donald Ross Course – site of LPGA Championships in 1959 and 1960.

This year the Symetra and Senior LPGA events were separated, the main reason being that TV coverage was deemed a must for the Senior LPGA. Weekday dates made it attractive for The Golf Channel and October has always been a good month to showcase the bright fall colors of southern Indiana. The Symetra event remained in July.

The Senior LPGA is for players who have reached their 45th birthday but the tournament will also include an Honors Division for its older stars on Sunday, the day before the main event starts. Those 50-and-over were eligible for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

The Senior LPGA Championship will have an 81-player field and a $600,000 purse for another 54-hole competition, and players can ride at French Lick – the tourney site for at least four more years.

By comparison, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open started with 10 nation-wide qualifying rounds to whittle the 462 entries to the 120 who started the 72-hole competition at Chicago Golf Club. The Open is a walking only event that will be played at Pine Needles in North Carolina in 2019.


Fun Meter score: 8.5

Location: Galena, Ill.

Course architect: Roger B. Packard with Andy North

Opened: 1997.

Par: 72

Yardage/Rating/Slope: Black 6,726/72.8/141; Gold 6,280/70.7/136; White 5,917/69.1/132; Jade 5,240/66.0/125.

Saturday morning green fee: $$135 May though September, $115 October to winter closing.

Caddie service: No.

Walker friendly: No.

Fairways: Pennlinks Bentgrass.

Greens: Pennlinks Bentgrass.


Starter: The General is the premier course at the Eagle Ridge Resort, which has 63 holes and is the only full-service golf resort in Illinois. In its 40th season, Eagle Ridge also has North, South and East courses, all of them designed by the late Roger B. Packard. While The General is clearly the showcase layout, it has rarely been tested in tournament competition. Usually the North is used for that, just because the extreme elevation changes make The General a difficult course to walk.

Play because….: There’s no course like The General in Illinois and very few in the Midwest. It’s all about dealing with elevation changes and the greens have interesting undulations as well. There’s a 250-foot elevation change throughout the layout and the views offered are stunning.

Takeaway: In its early years The General was considered too challenging for all but the best players. That’s not the case anymore, as the course has matured, its conditioning has improved and its maximum length (under 6,800 yards) isn’t intimidating. Playing from the correct set of tees, though, is still a must. The General is on the tight side, so players who get caught up in the scenery will be in for trouble.

RATINGS (1 to 10, 10 being the highest)

Food|beverage: 8.0

Pro shop: 7.5

Clubhouse: 8.5

Course difficulty: 9.5

Pace of play: 9.0

THE COURSE scorecard

Best Par 3: No. 11, 163 yards from the tips. You must carry a huge, deep ravine that runs from just in front of the tee box to the very front of the green. The ultimate in a forced carry.

Best Par 4: No. 13, 357 yards from the tips. Not really a difficult hole, but there’s a 180-foot elevation from the tee to the fairway, making for a dramatic, most memorable tee shot. You can see three states – Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin – from the tee.

Best Par 5: No. 18, 520 yards from the tips. Tight finishing hole from tee to green with subtle elevation changes mixed in. View of the elevated clubhouse throughout your path to the green brings a picturesque finish to your round.

Website: www.eagleridge.com


Facebook: @EagleRidgeResort

Instagram: @Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

Twitter: @EagleRidge63

Rated by: Len Ziehm


Location: Niles, Illinois.

Architect: Charles Wagstaff, 1925.

Restoration: Bob Lohman, Doug Myslinski and Todd Quitno, 2018.

Par: 33

Yardage| Rating/Slope: 2,475 (for nine holes) |63.2/110 (when played as 18-holes).

Saturday morning green fee: $21.

Caddie service: No. (Gas carts and pull carts available).

Walker friendly: Absolutely.

Fairways: bentgrass.

Greens: bentgrass.

Phone: 847-965-2344


Facebook: @Tam O Shanter Golf Course & Learning Center

Instagram: N/A.

Twitter: N/A.


STARTER: The history of this place is like no other. While the course opened in 1925 it came into prominence after George S. May purchased it in 1937. May was a super promoter and, as far as golf goes, was way ahead of his time. The prize money he put up for tournaments – both men’s and women’s – far exceeded that of any other event on the pro tours.

His first event was the Chicago Open of 1940. It was deemed a success, so May went a step further with the creation of the All-American Open (with divisions for both men and women) in 1941. Its success led to the creation of the World Championship in 1946. In 1953 the World Championship became the first tournament with live television coverage, and Lou Worsham gave it a dramatic ending by holing out from 104 yards for eagle to beat Chandler Harper by a shot.

These were exciting times in the development of golf’s popularity, but May had issues with the PGA and discontinued his tournaments in 1957. The course was last a big tournament venue as the Western Open site in 1964 and 1965.

May eventually sold the club to developers who built an industrial park on roughly two-thirds of the property and the original clubhouse was lost in a fire.

PLAY BECAUSE: More than anything, it’s a fun layout. It doesn’t hurt that the course is very affordable, allows for walking and provides a look-back in history, as well. Most of the holes still have a resemblance to Tam O’Shanter’s golden years. No. 1, a 404-yard par-4, is identical to the original starting hole and is the longest hole on the present course. The par-3 sixth was No. 16 in the May days and is still a toughie from 215 yards. The others are a mixture of short, sporty par-3s and par-4s.

TAKEAWAY: It’d be a shame if all of this historic property was ever completely lost as a golf course. What’s left, as far as golf is concerned, is a great use of available space. The course re-opened after a renovation in June with the tees expanded, the bunkering and drainage upgraded and the greens and collars re-designed to make for an easier day for higher handicap players. What was once a failed practice range is now an indoor/outdoor golf school that focuses on youth play. There’s also a museum that offers lots of memorabilia from the May years and the Howard Street Inn, which operates in conjunction with the course and adjoins the pro shop, is a most popular sports bar/restaurant year-around.

THE RATINGS (1 to 10 with 10 being the highest)

Food 8.0
Pro shop 7.0
Clubhouse 7.5
Course difficulty 6.0
Pace of play 4.0

Overall rating: 7.0

Rated by Len Ziehm

Chicago schedule nightmare ends with Singh’s victory at Exmoor

HIGHLAND PARK, IL. – PGA Tour Champions is a funny circuit, especially when it comes to scheduling its major championships. While the other pro tours spread their majors throughout the schedule, the 50-and over men bunch theirs up.

That’s not all bad, just weird compared to the other pro tours. There are five majors for PGA Tour Champions players, and the fourth of this year was a dandy, Vijay Singh beating Jeff Maggert on the second hole of a playoff after both covered the regulation 72 holes in 20-under-par at Exmoor Country Club in the Constellation Senior Players Championship.

The five Champions majors fall in a stretch of seven tournaments. The first teed off on May 17 and the last putt drops on the final one, the British Senior Open at St. Andrews, on July 29. There were two bye weeks in that stretch of big events.

Scott McCarron, a perennial contender in them all, calls it “our Majors Season.’’ He professes to like the schedule the way it is, but not all the players feel that way.

“We’d like to see them spaced out more, and we’ve been trying to do it,’’ said Fred Funk. But so far that hasn’t been possible.

The tournament scheduling in Illinois hasn’t been all that great this year, either.

When one of the LPGA majors, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, came to Chicago two weeks ago. It was scheduled opposite the 118th playing of the prestigious Women’s Western Amateur, but that was a minor conflict compared to last week’s when the Senior Players – which has the strongest field among the PGA Tour Champions majors — went head-to-head with Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, the John Deere Classic, as well as the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

Those three tournaments had the same July 12-15 dates. If each had been held on weeks away from the other that event would have been a highlight of the Chicago golf season. Put on the same dates, all suffered to some extent.

The Senior Players and Women’s Senior Open both struggled to find volunteers. The John Deere Classic had major weather problems but it did land Steve Stricker, the only player in the Champions Tour’s top 70 money winners that didn’t go to the Senior Players. (The Exmoor field was also without two of the circuit’s most popular players — Davis Love III, who played with his son Dru at the John Deere, and Fred Couples).

At least the Senior Players produced by far the most final-round excitement. Laura Davies won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open by 10 shots and Michael Kim took the John Deere Classic by eight. At Exmoor it was a two-man duel between playing partners Singh and Maggert in the final round.

Attendance-wise the Senior Players struggled on Thursday and Friday, when the Senior Women’s Open was making its dramatic debut at Chicago Golf Club an hour’s drive to the west away. The John Deere was another two hours from Chicago Golf Club. The real action in the end, though, came at Exmoor – a private club that dates back to 1896.

One message from this event was that PGA Tour Champions has shed its image as a showcase for Bernhard Langer. He isn’t as dominant as he used to be. Langer had won the Senior Players three straight years before finishing second in 2017. At Exmoor he was eight strokes back in a tie for 17th.

Singh became the seventh different champion in the last seven Champions majors. Langer has won only one of those seven – the 2017 U.S. Senior Open. The other winners in that stretch were Miguel Angel Jimenez, Scott McCarron, Kenny Perry, Paul Broadhurst and David Toms.

In his younger days Singh won both the Masters and PGA Championship among his 34 titles on the PGA Tour and he also won 22 times internationally. The Senior Players marked his third win and first major on PGA Tour Champions.

“It was a little different (than his earlier majors),’’ said Singh, “but any time you win it’s an accomplishment. The Champions Tour is a little more relaxed, but a win is a win.’’

U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club is a real feel-good story

WHEATON, IL. –The inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which teed off on Thursday in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, has been a celebration of women’s golf. It resembled a high school reunion, too, with the best pros and amateurs of the past re-connecting during three days of practice rounds and pre-tournament activities.

More than anything, though, this tournament for women who have reached their 50th birthday was overdue. In fact, it was long, long overdue.

JoAnne Carner – the only woman owning titles in the U.S. Girls Junior, the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Open — said she had been waiting for the Senior event for 29 years; she’s now 79.

“I was just hoping I’d still be alive to play in it,’’ Carner said.

Jane Blalock first presented the concept of a senior tournament for women to the U.S. Golf Association after a captivating 1998 U.S. Women’s Open ended in a playoff victory by Korean Si Re Pak at Wisconsin’s Blackwolf Run. That tournament triggered a big change in the women’s game, giving it a more global appeal, but it didn’t change the USGA’s view on senior women playing with money on the line.

Blalock formed her own Legends Tour, which provided some competition for players after they turned 45 but had little support even from the LPGA. Last year – in an effort to beat the USGA to the punch – the LPGA conducted its first Senior LPGA Championship at Indiana’s French Lick Resort.

That only accentuated a glaring absence in the USGA tournament schedule. The organization already had a U.S. Junior, a U.S. Amateur, a U.S. Mid-Amateur, a U.S. Senior Amateur and a U.S. Senior Open for men and similar national championship for women with that one exception.

Despite years of pressure from fading stars on the Ladies PGA Tour (and some of the top amateurs as well), the USGA was reluctant to find a place for a U.S. Senior Women’s Open and — once a commitment was made — it took three years in the planning stages to launch the tournament.

Finally, on Thursday at historic Chicago Golf Club, Carner smacked the first tee shot and the event became a reality. USGA executive director Mike Davis made some opening remarks at 6:45 a.m., then came a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by Grammy winner Heather Headley and player introductions by the legendary Nancy Lopez, who can’t play because of her knee problems and the walking-only requirement for the tournament.

After Carner’s 7 a.m. tee shot, made in front of a gallery standing four deep, there were even a few tears mixed in with the enthusiastic applause. Chunks of the gallery from the opening ceremonies followed each threesome, walking with the players down the fairway. It was a real feel-good thing all day long and will likely remain so until the first champion is crowned on Sunday.

The tourney’s reception in the Chicago area was a warm up, though it didn’t hurt one bit that it was held on America’s first 18-hole course. Chicago Golf Club is hosting its 12th USGA championship but the bulk of them were in the first two decades after the course opened in 1893. Prior to this week the last time the club opened its gates to the public was in 2005, for the Walker Cup matches.

Clearly there is a mystique about Chicago Golf Club, and Juli Inkster called it “a perfect place to hold this first one.’’

Lopez wasn’t the only former LPGA great missing from the field.

“We’re missing a few of the legends – the Beth Daniels, the Meg Mallons, the Kathy Whitworths and the Patty Sheehans,’’ said Inkster, “but we’ve got a lot of good ones.’’

The tournament drew 462 entries, and the starting field of 120 included 29 amateurs and 62 survivors of the nation-wide qualifying rounds. The finalists included players from 12 countries, with 95 from the U.S. They took on a course set up at 6,082 yards with a par of 73. Green speeds were around 12 on the Stimpmeter.

And there was decent crowd support despite some miserable planning by t being played on exactly the same dates as two other Illinois events — the Constellation Senior Players Championship, one of the five majors on PGA Tour Champions, and the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.

The Senior Players event is at Exmoor Country Club, about an hour’s drive northeast of Chicago Golf Club, and the John Deere Classic is a two-hour drive to the west. Next year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open will have the stage to itself, at Pine Needles in North Carolina.