Walters’ `Gambler’ is about a lot more than Mickelson

This, most recent, book that merits your attention had some unusual pre-release promotional literature. “Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk’’ by Billy Walters with Armen Keteyian  (Avid Reader Press) hinted that it was more about golfer Phil Mickelson than it was about Walters, who created his own autobiography.

If that was intention it worked with me. I wanted to know more details about Mickelson’s long reported gambling habits so was quickly on Barnes & Noble’s waiting list for its arrival.  Walters, who had a five-year gambling relationship with Mickelson, provided some insight – mostly in the 20th of 28 chapters in the 356-page book.

Walters claimed that Mickelson once owed him $2.5 million and, during the 2012 Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club, asked him to place a $400,000 bet for him on the U.S. team to win. Walters said he refused the request and Mickelson later denied making such a bet.

According to Walters, Mickelson wagered more than $1 billion during the past three decades and believes the golfer could have helped him avoid a five-year prison sentence for insider trading. Instead Mickelson told Waters that “his (Mickelson’s) lawyers didn’t want him to face questions on the stand.’’

Walters said all he wanted Mickelson to do was to tell “the truth’’ and – after the jail time was over — he said Mickelson apologized.

Anyway, enough about Mickelson.  This book is all about Walters and he has led a very interesting life. He came out of extreme poverty growing up in Kentucky to become successful – and very rich – in the gambling industry. He did well in other ventures, among them golf.

Walters details how his company revived or developed courses across the country, a list of 13 that includes Golf Club of Illinois, Burr Hill, Black Hawk and Eagle Brook in the Chicago area.

He also was successful in building 22 car dealerships and some ventures in residential and commercial real estate.

In his autobiography Walters is especially willing to share his secrets on sports gambling.  I certainly learned a lot about that from reading this book.

Walters did  more learning than that: “I beat my addictions and overcame my worst vices to become a successful gambler, entrepreneur, businessman, investor, philanthropist, father and husband.’’

Walters is a complicated man with a story to tell. In “Gambler’’ he does it well.  His book is interesting, and – more importantly – well worth reading.

Streelman stays in the hunt after Round 1 at the JDC

Nick Hardy greets young fans after opening with a 71 in the John Deere Classic. (Rory Spears Photo)

SILVIS, IL. – Kevin Streelman, Chicago’s most prominent PGA Tour player, isn’t having one of his best years on the circuit, but the veteran from Wheaton wasn’t bothered by his 2-under-par 69 in Thursday’s first round of the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.

“I’m not happy with how I hit it.  My swing wasn’t quite there,’’ said Streelman.  “Still, it was a solid day – though I didn’t have my best stuff.’’

A 2-under-par effort isn’t usually a cause for celebration in the JDC, a tournament known for its particularly low scoring.  This year’s may be different, however.  Though J.T. Poston fired a 9-under-par 62 to claim a two-shot first-round lead, the scoring wasn’t as low as it usually is in Round 1 thanks to some day-long windy conditions that made club selection difficult.’’

Streelman,  an uncharacteristic No. 112 in the FedEx Cup standings with only one top-10 finish this year, is also  disappointed that he didn’t qualify for this week’s Irish Open or the upcoming British Open. He is feeling good about his play in last week’s Travelers Championship in Hartford, CT., however.

That was the last tournament he won on the PGA Tour (2014), finishing with seven straight birdies in that victory, and last week he finished the tournament with three straight rounds of 67 en route to a tie for 25th finish.

While Streelman, 43, is a PGA veteran and seemingly one who might be enticed by the big money offered by the new LIV Tour, he denies any interest in the circuit that is conducting its first tournament on American soil in Portland, Oregon, this week.

“That’s exhibition golf.  There’s no historical benefit to it,’’ said Streelman, who has spent several years as a member of PGA Players Advisory Board  “Shorter fields, shotgun starts, no-cut tournaments – that isn’t real golf.  I would never be interested in playing that tour.’’

Streelman, however, is very interested in the Illinois Junior Golf Associations first Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at Cantigny, the Wheaton course where he played extensively as a youth.  He’ll be one of five inductees and will also give a youth clinic as part of the festivities.

While Streelman didn’t feel in danger of missing the 36-hole cut that follows Friday’s second round, there are local players in danger – most notably Northbook PGA Tour rookie Nick Hardy who has been on a role the last three weeks.

Recovered from a wrist injury, Hardy last a Korn Ferry Tour event in a playoff at The Glen Club, then advanced to the U.S. Open after being the first alternate in a sectional qualifier.  He made his appearance in the finals at The Country Club in Massachusetts, finishing in a tie for 14th, before nabbing his first top-10 on the PGA Tour with a tie for eighth at Hartford.

Stymied by a double bogey on the par-3 sixteenth, Hardy carded a par 71 on Thursday and will likely need a better showing Friday to play on the weekend.

First-round leader Poston was also tied for the first round lead at Hartford last week  and finished in a tie for second behind Xander Schauffele.





No Ryder Cup captaincy for Donald, but his game seems on the upswing

These are trying times for Luke Donald, the Englishman who starred on Northwestern’s teams before eventually enjoying a long run as the world’s No. 1 golfer.

Now 44, Donald’s best days as a player are probably over but he is still a force in the game both in the Chicago area and world-wide.  Though now a Florida resident, his presence in Chicago is still felt through his extraordinary support of the Northwestern and First Tee programs.

More recently he was in the spotlight for something he didn’t do; he was expected to be named the European Ryder Cup captain for the 2023 matches in Italy, but he wasn’t.

Donald had all the credentials for the job.  He made four appearances as a player for Europe and never was on a losing team.  He also served twice as Europe’s vice captain and seemed a shoo-in after Padraig Harrington, Europe’s captain in last year’s matches at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, gave him a resounding endorsement.

“Luke would be great,’’  Harrington told The Daily Mail, a London newspaper.  “Behind the sceneshe does a terrific job.  His managements style, he’s got the experience.  I’d thoroughly recommend him.’’

So did Graeme McDowell, who served with Donald as Harrington’s vice captains in Wisconsin.

Donald was “very humbled’’ when he heard that and gave a 30-minute presentation to the European Ryder Cup selection committee.  It included the captains of the last three European teams – Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Harrington;  Keith Pelley, chief executive officer of the DP World Tour, and David Howell, chairman of the European Tour players committee.

Actually Donald would not have been the first choice.  Lee Westwood appeared the front-runner until he took himself out of consideration. Still, the five-man committee – perhaps stung by Europe’s 19-9 whomping at Whistling Straits – went for Sweden’s Henrik Stenson as captain instead.

Donald was confronted about that selection at last week’s Valspar Championship.

“I thought I had a good chance this year,’’ he told GolfWeek.  “Hopefully, that’s not my chance gone.’’

It could be, though.

Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter – as well as Westwood and McDowell – have been keys to Europe’s previous domination of past Ryder Cups.  They’re still playing, but will be captain’s candidates not far down the road.  Garcia, given his past battles with New York’s boisterous fans, would especially seem an attractive choice when the matches are played at New York’s Bethpage Black in 2025. That would be Donald’s next chance to be a Ryder Cup captain.

While his Ryder Cup future may be in limbo, his playing days might be on the upswing.



Still dealing with back problems, Donald had dropped to No. 547 in the Official World Golf Rankings prior to last week’s Valspar Championship in Florida.  Donald won that tournament in 2012 when it was called the Transitions Championship, and it came at a crucial time in his playing career.  It restored his position as golf’s No. 1 at that time. Donald spent 56 weeks as world No. 1 in 2011 and 2012.

Last week he finished in a tie for 16th in the Valspar Championship – his best showing in the PGA’s 2021-22 wrap-around season that has  included six missed cuts in 10 starts.  In a pro career that began in 2002 Donald has earned $37 million with five PGA Tour wins and eight more on the European circuit.  He was the leading money-winner on both tours in 2011.

His nezt start figures to be the RBC Heritage Classic in South Carolina April 14-17 – the week after the Masters.  Donald has four runner-up finishes and two thirds in the Heritage.





GOLF TRAVEL NOTES: Two long-time favorites are changing course



First of all, HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all of our traveling golfers from our place in Florida’s PGA Village.

We are now in the heart of the holiday season and we hope that all our friends will enjoy these days to the fullest. Golf travel wasn’t so easy in this pandemic year, but we’re sure that better days are ahead. Len Ziehm on Golf wanted to remain on your radar when it came to providing the latest from travel destinations. To do that we have made three driving trips in 2020, visiting seven states after the pandemic clicked in big-time on March 12.  Spending 37 days on the road for those jaunts isn’t much, compared what we’ve done in our previous 10 years driving around the country to report on golf travel. We have one trip, albeit a short one, remaining in 2020.  Next week we’ll be going to Sebring, Florida — a great place for golfers who want to play a lot and still enjoy the many benefits that a small town offers.

IN THE MEANTIME, here’s updates from some of our favorite places that we visited recently.

California’s LaCosta Resort, the scene of lots of big tournaments in the past, has been named the site of the NCAA Championships three years in a row.

DESPITE THE problems caused by the pandemic there were three big stories in the world of golf travel in 2020.  Two involved long-famous destinations, the other a Texas town that is certain to become one.

Back in the day Ohio’s Firestone and California’s LaCosta were among the very best PGA Tour stops.  Firestone, a long-time private club, hosted big tournaments since the 1950s and LaCosta was on the pro tour calendar from 1968 through 2007 before focusing on resort play.

Now things have changed.

Firestone, now open to non-members, is offering stay-and-play packages, and LaCosta, with its 36 holes, is back in the tournament business – or at least it will be soon.  Following a renovation of its Champions Course by Gil Hanse – the game’s hottest architect at the moment, the resort will host the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s championships from 2024 to 2026.

We’ve been to both places, but not in recent years.  I’ve played the Firestone courses and reported on tournaments there.  LaCosta was a key part of a five-week driving trip through western states in 2015 that included stops at prominent destinations in California, Washington and Arizona.

LaCosta was a name from the past even back then.  It had hosted 25 PGA Tour events and two LPGA tournaments in those more high-profile times.

From 1968-98 it was the site of the Mercedes Championship – also known as the Tournament of Champions. Tournament rounds consisted of nine holes on the Champions Course and nine of the Legends Course, and a great list of champions included Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Then that event moved to Hawaii.

LaCosta wasn’t tournament-starved for long. A year later the Accenture Match Play Championship, a World Golf Championship event, moved in and was staged there until 2006 (minus one year when the event was played in Australia in 2001). Then it moved to Arizona.

In came the LPGA with its Kia Classic, in 2011 and 2012, but then it switched to Aviara, another  course in the Carlsbad, Calif., area.

Losing those big ones was a blow to the resort, which had been taken over by the Omni hotel chain. LaCosta celebrated its 50th anniversary while we were there and Champions, originally designed by Dick Wilson, was notable for its steep bunkers (78 had been put in during a redesign for the WGC arrival).  Now Hanse and partner Jim Wagner will begin another upgrading with the NCAA Championships in mind.

As for Firestone, it was the site of such biggies as the World Series of Golf, three PGA Championships, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and – most recently – the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship. Its underdoing a renovation, too, with 18 bunkers being removed from the Fazio (formerly West) Course and the remaining 51 being reshaped and enhanced by the Better Billy Bunker system to improve drainage.

There’s also been a management change. Jay Walkinshaw, who held management positions at –among others – California hotspots Olympic Club and  Pebble Beach, is now the general manager and Tommy Moore is the new director of golf.

A potentially bigger splash  is being made in Frisco, Tex.  The PGA of America announced it was moving much of its headquarters there from its long-time home in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. The PGA is making big plans for the facility in Texas, and the first two of its courses there – the East, designed by Hanse, and the West, designed by Beau Welling — are almost finished.  They won’t be open for a while, however, as the PGA wants to a full year for the courses to grow in  and maintenance practices established.

The projected opening for the courses is June of 2022 and the first tournament scheduled in Frisco is the Senior PGA Championship in 2023.


We’ve hit lots of shots on lots of courses in Myrtle Beach, but this was one time a free drop was mandatory,

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – As always, lots is going on in this golf mecca. The Myrtle Beach Preseason Classic, a two-man 54-hole team event, will tee off on six courses from Feb. 1-3.  The 150-team field is already full…..The March Championship has a new name.  It’s now the World Amateur Q School….Three-time World Long Drive champion Sean Fister is now on the staff of the Dustin Johnson Junior Golf Academy….Mystical Golf, which has three courses (Man-O-War, The Witch and The Wizard), has overseeded its layouts with Ryegrass and that means wall to wall emerald green fairways, rough and putting surfaces as opposed to the usual dormant brown conditions found on most courses during the cold weather months.

STREAMSONG – KemperSports has expanded its role at this three-course central Florida destination. The Chicago-based group has been involved with the Streamsong golf operation since the resort was launched in 2012. Now Kemper will manage all resort operations.

PINEHURST, N.C. – The U.S. Golf Association and Kids Golf Foundation both announced they’re setting up headquarters in this golf hotbed, but there’s more. The Dormie Club is getting a 16,600-foot clubhouse, a stand-alone pro shop and 15 cottages to enhance its Bill Coore-Ben Creshaw designed course. Improvements have been made to the course, too.  All the projects are to be completed by June, 2021.

BANDON DUNES – Oregon’s very special facility has announced its championship events for 2021.  The Bandon Dunes Cup is May 2-5, the Golf Digest Open June 6-9, the Links Championship June 27-30 and the Fall Match Play Oct. 20-23.

BARTON CREEK – This Omni resort and spa in Austin, Tex., will host the PGA Professional Championship – the world’s largest all-professional event – on its Fazio Foothills and Coore-Crenshaw courses in April of 2022.

EAGLE RIDGE – Illinois’ premier resort has won the Stella Award from North Star Meeting Group for the second year in a row.  Its Gold award  in the regional hotel category honors the “Best Golf Resort in the Midwest.’’ Eagle Ridge has four courses, headed by The General.  The resort’s attractions also include the new Highlands Restaurant and Lounge 289.





Palmetto Traverse isn’t your usual putting green

This unique putting green in Santee, S.C., is good for both competition and putting practice.
Putting courses aren’t exactly new. Many golf facilities – even storied St. Andrews in Scotland – are adding them as a extra amenity at their facilities. The one that we played Monday in Santee, S.C., is one of the better ones. It’s called Palmetto Traverse.

Santee is a town of barely 1,000 residents but its golf – three good courses within just a few miles of each other – is big-time. The recently-constructed putting course has 18 holes built over 35,000 square feet near the Lake Marion course. We visited Santee in 2015 and liked the golf atmosphere there then. We like it more with the putting course designed by Kris Spence, an architect base in Greensboro, N.C., with help from Santee marketing director Robbie Wooten.

Rather than call it a “putting course,’’ Palmetto Traverse been labeled as a “putting experience.’’ You putt from black “tee’’ markers and holes are labeled with white flags. A 260-foot putt is possible but the layout offers putts breaking in all directions, some steeply uphill and some sharply downhill. Two bunkers are also included. There isn’t much of a walk between holes, making Palmetto Traverse a nice diversion after a round as well as a challenging pre-round exercise.

John Deere Classic is canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

John Deere Classic canceled; its 50th anniversary is moved to 2021

Illinois won’t have its longest-standing PGA Tour stop this year.  The John Deere Classic was cancelled on Thursday.

The JDC, the only PGA Tour event held annually in the state, was to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a July 6-12 playing of the $6.2 million championship at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.  It was to be the first PGA Tour event to allow spectators since tournament play was stopped on March 12 after the first round of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, FL.

Tournament play will resume on June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth, Tex.

Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic had led to the immediate cancellations of the next six tournaments on the schedule after The Players.  The Charles Schwab Challenge was moved from May 21-24 dates to become the first event after the PGA Tour re-opened its tournament schedule.

“Because of the ongoing health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic the difficult decision was made to cancel,’’ said Clair Peterson, the JDC tournament director.  “While we considered several alternatives, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad City community at large.’’

“We know this announcement will come as a disappointment to the Quad City area and to the broader golf community,’’ said Mara Downing, John Deere’s vice president of global brand and communications.

She said the tourney’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021.

The JDC has proven a successful fundraiser with its Birdies for Charity program that has benefitted a variety of organizations in the area. Last year’s tournament raised $13.8 million for 543 local and regional charities.  That brought the tourney’s all-time total to $120 million since its first playing in 1971.

 Ninety-one percent of the charity money raised has come since John Deere assumed title sponsorship of the event in 1998.  Peterson said the participating organizations will receive a five percent bonus over what they raised for this year’s event.

“Thanks to John Deere’s ongoing support, we are able to promise a bonus, even though we are not having the tournament,’’ Peterson said.

One PGA Tour event in Illinois, the BMW Championship, remains on the schedule.  The FedEx Cup Playoff event will be played at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs from Aug. 27-30.

The JDC cancellation was the first since PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a greatly revised schedule to finish out 2020.

The RBC Heritage Classic, in Hilton Head, S.C., had been scheduled for April 16-19 – the week after the Masters.  Now it’ll be the second tournament after the re-opening.  It’ll be followed by the Travelers tourney in Hartford, Ct., and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.  Those are the tournaments that would have led into the JDC.  All will be played without spectators.

Now the Memorial tournament, on July 16-19 at Ohio’s Muirfield Village course, figures to be the first PGA Tour event to welcome spectators since the pandemic began.  The Memorial also was postponed earlier but it was moved into the July dates after the British Open was cancelled.

The PGA Tour’s alternate circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, will also re-open play on June 11 on the Dye Course in Ponte Vedra, FL.  That tour has two Illinois tournaments – the Lincoln Land Classic, at Panther Creek in Springfield, on Sept. 3-6 and the Evans Scholars Invitational at a Chicago area course still to be determined the following week.

Lincoln Land had been scheduled in July.  The Evans Scholars event, put on by the Western Golf Association, was originally May 21-24 at The Glen Club, in Glenview, before being postponed.  The Glen Club had schedule conflicts with the September dates, forcing the tourney to find a new home course.

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.

Cheers to Caddyshack on the movie’s 40th anniversary

If ever a movie – especially a sports-themed one – merited an anniversary celebration it’d be “Caddyshack.’’ This movie didn’t really have a plot. It was just a series of memorable scenes with actors Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield the lead characters. Still, over the years its fan base grew and the movie became a classic.

Now Caddyshack is getting an anniversary celebration – and a beer to go with it.

Production on the movie started in 1979 and it was released in 1980 – 40 years ago. To commemorate the 40th anniversary the Flying Dog Brewery of Frederick, Md., introduced a beer called Night Putting.

Flying Dog is billing itself as “America’s most disobedient brewery,’’ and that’s in keeping with the raucous nature of the film. The beer, a reinvented pale ale, is being sold in 16-ounce cans and is available in four-packs.

“When conceptualizing this beer we knew we wanted to pay homage to the classic comedy, so we created a beer designed specifically for golfers,’’ said James Maravetz, Flying Dog’s marketing director.

You have to be a Caddyshack devotee to appreciate all the humor, but the colorful beer can matches the shirt that the Judge Elihu Smails character (played by Ted Knight) wore when he met Al Czervik (the character played by Dangerfield). Their meeting started all the fun.

The Night Putting reference was coined by Chase’s Ty Webb character, and Murray played the nutty golf course superintendent Carl Spackler. The “plot’’ for Caddyshack was created by co-writers Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill’s brother) and Harold Ramis. The general story was based on the Murray brothers’ caddie days at Indian Hill Club in Winnetka during their teen-age years.

A book has already been written about the wild life involving the cast and crew that was going on behind the scenes as the movie was being made. A sequel to Caddyshack was also made, but it wasn’t nearly as well received as the original version.

The original was made primarily at an upscale public course called Rolling Hills, in Davie, FL., near Ft. Lauderdale. A lot has changed there over the last 40 years. Wayne Huizenga, who at one time owned football’s Miami Dolphins, baseball’s Miami Marlins and hockey’s Florida Panthers, bought the golf club in 1999 and converted it into a private venue called Grande Oaks. The course was re-designed by PGA Hall of Famer Ray Floyd shortly after Huizenga bought it.

A first? Chicago area has three players in the Honda Classic field

Kevin Streelman (right) posted a 69 and Luke Donald (left) a 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – It’s been quite a while – at least five years — since the Chicago area had three card-carrying members of the PGA Tour and even longer since three played in the same PGA Tour stop.

That made Thursday’s first round of the Honda Classic a milestone event. Kevin Streelman, Luke Donald and Doug Ghim were all in the field at PGA National in the first stop on the four-tournament Florida Swing.

Streelman did the best, posting a 1-under-par 69 to move into a tie for 11th place behind co-leaders Tom Lewis and Harris English. Lewis and English both posted 4-under-par 66s. Donald had a 70 and is tied for 23rd and Ghim shot 74 and is tied for 103rd. The tournament runs through Sunday.

Wheaton’s Streelman came into the Honda off a spectacular showing in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California two weeks ago. He finished second as an individual and paired with football-playing partner Larry Fitzgerald to win the team title for the second time in three years.

Streelman is off to a solid start, standing No. 31 in the FedEx Cup standings with winnings already over $1 million for the 2019-20 season. In addition to challenging for the title at Pebble Beach he also had a tie for fourth in the Sanderson Farms Classic in Mississippi in September, in the second tournament of the PGA’s split season.

Donald, the former Northwestern star and Conway Farms member, is still working to regain the form that made him the world’s No. 1-ranked player. The Honda was a home game for him. Donald has maintained a residence in the Palm Beach area for several years. Though he had made three cuts in four starts in the PGA’s 2019-20 season his best finish has been a tie for 43rd at the RSM Classic in November.

Ghim, in his rookie season on golf’s premier circuit, got into the Honda field as the fifth alternate after a series of withdrawals by qualified players. Like Streelman, he arrived here off his best showing of the season – a tie for 20th at last week’s Puerto Rico Open.

Like Donald, Ghim has some work to do as the meat of the golf season closes in. He has made only three of 10 cuts since earning his PGA Tour card at last fall’s qualifying school.

Iconic Harbour Town is just one reason for golfers to hit Hilton Head

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina – The Harbour Town Links, with its iconic lighthouse behind the No. 18 green, may give Hilton Head Island most of its international exposure, but this golf destination is more than just Harbour Town.

A lot more, in fact.

While Harbour Town — home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament — celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the rest of the island also enhances the area’s reputation of being a golf mecca.

Harbour Town, along with Atlantic Dunes and Heron’s Point, are all part of the Sea Pines Resort. Atlantic Dunes was the National Golf Course Owners Association 2018 Course of the Year.

“We’re the drivers of why people come here,’’ said Cary Corbitt, president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and vice president of Sea Pines, “but not everybody wants to just play Harbour Town and Atlantic Dunes – and we’re fine with that.’’

Fee to play Harbour Town generally tops $300 and at Atlantic Dune’s it’s upwards of $150. Both are extremely well-conditioned courses that draw about 30,000 rounds annually, but there’s also perfectly fine public courses nearby that charge less than $100.

Those numbers are just fine with Corbitt, who came to Hilton Head when he was in college to work as a volunteer at the first Heritage tournament (won by Arnold Palmer), returned when he was done with college in 1974 and started at Sea Pines in 1978.

“Sea Pines is a family destination resort. We’re not bashful about what we charge, but we don’t feel we’re uppity or better than anyone else,’’ said Corbitt. “The other courses help round everything out.’’

Hilton Head has 40,000 full-time residents. They benefit from the island’s beautiful beaches as well as the golf, as both attract tourists. So does the nearly 300 restaurants – many of them solidly upscale – on the property.

Lodging is more than ample with more than 6,000 villas, condos and homes on the rental market and more than 20 hotels and inns also available. Custom-built golf packages are no problem.

The non-golf attractions are also plentiful. They’re highlighted by the tennis academy at Sea Pines that is run by the legendary Stan Smith who won titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Hilton Head got its name because a ship owned by William Hilton first spotted the island over 300 years ago. Charles Fraser, son of one of the families that owned most of the island, started it on its way as a tourist destination when he drew up a master plan for a resort community in 1956. Hilton Head was incorporated as a town in 1983 but golf had arrived in 1962 when the Ocean Course opened.

Golf grew rapidly after that, but not without some major developments along the way. The Ocean Course was totally renovated by Davis Love III is now called Atlantic Dunes. Famed architect Pete Dye, who designed Harbour Town with consulting help from Jack Nicklaus, also is responsible for Sea Pines’ other course, Heron’s Point. That course started under the name of Sea Marsh.

Now the golf landscape is spread around. Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has three courses on its 2,000 acres that are bounded by three miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline on one side and a sheltered Intracoastal Waterway on the other. This resort’s featured course is Palmetto Dunes, which has one hole on the ocean and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1967. The others at the resort were creations of George Fazio (the island’s only par-70) in 1974 and Arthur Hills in 1986.

There’s also the Heritage Collection, seven courses and 81 holes spread over three clubs. Oyster Reef, a Rees Jones design with – at least arguably – the best putting surfaces on the island, is not to be missed. Sixteen courses are on the island and there’s also 13 off-island layouts close at hand.

All the courses are beneficiaries of the recently-expanded Hilton Head Island Airport. Last year it started twice weekly (Saturdays and Sundays) flights directly from O’Hare, so Chicago golfers could step right off the airplane and be on the first tee at many of the courses in a matter of a few minutes.

Even without that luxury transportation getting from Chicago to Hilton Head isn’t a problem. Many more flights are available to the Savannah Hilton International Airport, which is just 45 minutes from the island.

And then there’s the hurricanes. No doubt, they can be a problem but not even one of the strongest – Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – kept golfers off the Hilton Head courses for long.

Atlantic Dunes head professional Bobby Downs has worked in the golf industry on the island for 36 years. After 22 seasons at Palmetto Dunes he was eagerly awaiting the opening of Atlantic Dunes when Matthew struck at a most inopportune time.

“The Ryder Cup had just finished, and we (the U.S. team) had won,’’ recalled Downs. “We had a great Grand Opening and Davis (designer and U.S. captain Davis Love III) was to be here on Sunday with the trophy, but three days prior we got hit by the hurricane and were shut down for three weeks.’’

Tree damage was extensive, but Atlantic Dunes bounced back quickly, just like the Hilton Head courses have done for decades.

“In the end we were better off because a lot of trees that weren’t meant to be there after 50 years were weeded out,’’ said Corbitt.