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.



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.

John Deere Classic is a throw-back to the PGA Tour from decades ago

Golf-wise, this little community on the outskirts of the Mississippi River towns of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa is a phenomenon. A PGA Tour event has been played here every year since 2000, and the entire area known as the Quad Cities has commanded a tournament for 47 consecutive years.

The PGA Tour doesn’t seek out markets the size of the Quad Cities. It’s just too small, but the circuit is lucky to have it on its annual schedule. No community has been more supportive of the pro golf tour than the Quad Cities. As proof , note that the John Deere Classic – which tees off next week at TPC Deere Run – was the circuit’s Tournament of the Year in 2016, is a six-time winner of the Most Engaged Community award and has won the Best Social Media Activation award the last three years.

Yes, the John Deere Classic does a lot of things right. That’s what two-time winner Jordan Spieth has said. Three-time champion Steve Stricker considers the JDC a throwback to the days early in his career when community involvement was a bigger thing than it is now. That’s in part why Stricker is skipping a major on PGA Tour Champions – the Constellation Senior Players Championship, being played just two hours away in the Chicago area – to compete at TPC Deere Run.

In its early years the tournament was known as the Quad Cities Open, and eventual PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman won the first two tournaments in 1971 and 1972 at Crow Valley, which is on the Iowa side of the Mississippi.

Crow Valley remained the site for two more years and Quad Cities was in the title until 1986, when fast-food chain Hardee’s started a nine-year run as tournament sponsor. Then it was back to the Quad City Classic for four years until Moline-based John Deere & Company, the agriculture equipment manufacturer, took over.

The tournament is expected to top $100 million in its charity giving this year, and more than 99 percent of it has come since John Deere became the sponsor. The company put its name on the tournament in 1999 — the last of the 24 years the tournament had been played at Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley, Ill.

Oakwood was a short par-70 layout. It never played longer than 6,762 yards, the purse was but $2 million for the last playing there and the best feature was those delicious pork chop sandwiches that are still a tournament tradition.

In 2000 – the event’s 30th anniversary –the tournament was moved to 7,183-yard par-71 TPC Deere Run, a course designed by Illinois native and three-time tournament winner D.A. Weibring.

The tournament has endured some tough times, but the arrival of John Deere eventually solved most of them. The event was upgraded in a variety of ways – signage, seating, fan experiences and hospitality options — while somehow maintaining its “down home’’ feeling.

Date problems – the tournament has been played a week before the British Open — made it difficult to land some of the top players, but Clair Peterson – the tournament director since 2003 – appealed to their sense of loyalty. He made a point of using his sponsor exemptions on up-and-coming young players in hopes that they would enjoy the tournament enough to want to return when they became top stars.

In addition to Spieth among those getting those invites included Tiger Woods, Bill Haas, Jason Day, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm. Some didn’t been back, but many did.

In 2004 the R&A gave the JDC the last British Open exemption. That helped the tourney’s credibility and Peterson took it a step further with what now seems a stroke of genius. In 2008 he began providing a charter jet to the British Open site. It’d fly directly from the Quad Cities Airport, and players and their caddies could depart a few hours after the last putt dropped at TPC Deere Run. Reduced travel expenses to the British proved a much better enticement for players to come to the JDC than any increase in prize money could.

This year the JDC may have its best field ever. Bryson DeChambeau is the defending champion. Long-time favorites Stricker and Zach Johnson (an Iowa native who is on the JDC board of directors and a tournament ambassador) are fixtures. Brandt Snedeker is returning for the first time since 2009, when he was the tourney runner-up. There’s also a nice foreign touch with Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who won the Quicken Loans National last week, and Joaquin Niemann, the 19-year old Chilean sensation.

Those sponsor exemptions will also bear watching again. All were collegiate stars with Illinois ties. Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy played at the University of Illinois. Ben Hogan Award winner Doug Ghim grew up in the Chicago suburbs and Norman Xiong won a Western Amateur in the Chicago area.