Len Ziehm On Golf

Housing boom could bolster World Golf Hall of Fame

A sign of the times: housing units are being built around both of the World Golf Village courses.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida – The World Golf Hall of Fame should be a regular stop for serious golfers. For me it’s been an annual one the last five years.

This time there were some notable changes since the winter of 2015. The menu at the delightful Caddie Shack restaurant changed three times (and is about to be changed again) in between my last two visits. The new hot entrée is the fried potato golf balls appetizer. They’re terrific.

The Hall of Fame museum continues to be freshened up, though it was surprising that no mention was made of golf’s return to the Olympic Games, which is just a few months away. The Bob Hope “Shanks for the Memories exhibit – a popular fixture since the Hall opened in America’s Oldest City in 1998 – is still going strong and that won’t change. A few months ago the late comedian’s family sent over three truckloads of more memorabilia. It’s not on display yet, but obviously a few new looks to the mainstay exhibit is in the offing.

Champions of the 2015 major tourneys are already included in the Hall of Fame.

Newest feature in the Hall is the Major Memories exhibit, which features an interactive replica of the Masters scoreboard. The 2015 winners of the four majors – Jordan Spieth (Masters and U.S. Open), Zach Johnson (British Open) and Jason Day (PGA Championship) get their recognition and the latest Hall of Fame inductees – Laura Davies, David Graham, Mark O’Meara and architect A.W. Tillinghast – have their floor space, too.

That foursome, in a departure from tradition, was inducted at St. Andrews instead of in St. Augustine but the next induction ceremony will be staged back in Florida in 2017.

All that is well and good, but most important thing the Hall has going now is in the housing market. There are 200 units under construction within the World Golf Village boundaries and three major housing communities are being created on the Village outskirts. There hasn’t been this much construction going on in the immediate area in at least five years.

The World Golf Hall of Fame stands tall in a majestic setting.

Jim Hahn, in his fourth year as general manager of the Village’s Slammer & Squire and King & The Bear courses, sees the building boom as a trigger point for more good things. He admits that golf memberships and rounds played haven’t shown much improvement yet and the retail shops have basically been converted to office space. All that, though, could change as the homes now under construction are sold and their owners move in.

There’s already been talk of a significant competition – the Web.com Tour Championship — being played on the Village courses. That’s not a done deal yet, but at least it’s under consideration.

This regular visitor felt the World Golf Hall of Fame never looked better. It’s always been a pleasant place to visit, whether you’re a serious golfer or one who has had little exposure to the game. There seems to be something for everyone there, and more will likely discover that in the next few months. March is always the busiest month at World Golf Village and May will be big, too, with the PGA Tour’s Players Championship coming to nearby TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL.

Laura Davies and David Graham were part of the latest class of Hall of Fame inductees.

IT ZIEHMS TO ME: Lehman’s new Florida course is one of a kind

Head professional Brian Woodruff must educate players on how to get around The Trilogy course.

OCALA, Florida – The ingenuity of golf course architects never ceases to amaze me, but Tom Lehman – a player first and designer a distant second – has outdone all his architectural counterparts for the time being.

Lehman — a two-time major championship winner, former Ryder Cup captain and a regular on the Champions Tour – has unveiled a radical new design. Working with Tripp Davis, an architect with roots in Oklahoma, Lehman created a full-fledged 18-hole course on just 50 acres.

And, actually, the course is much more than that. It can be played as a six-hole par-3 layout, a six-hole executive course (one par-3, four par-4s and one par-5), an 18-hole par-54 short course or a full 18-hole par-72 layout that measures over 6,600 yards.

This mind-blowing creation is at the Trilogy Golf Club at Ocala Preserve in Florida, just three miles down the road from Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club – home of the Coates Championship on the LPGA Tour.

According to Brian Woodruff, who left a club job at Vistancia in Arizona to become The Trilogy’s head professional a month before the course’s February 2 grand opening, the highly innovative design was Lehman’s idea and Davis helped him bring it to fruition.

You only get one tee marker per hole at The Trilogy.

Lehman lists Verrado and Encanterra in Arizona as his two main golf architectural efforts and he also is planning an 18-holer at the Prairie Club in Nebraska. The Trilogy, though, is better proof that his creative juices are flowing big-time.

Trilogy is actually four courses. Two are 18-holers. The short Skills is a par-54 with holes ranging from 63 to just over 200 yards and the Players will stretch over 6,600. It’s a par-72 and includes two tee complexes and two hole locations per hole.

Also available are two six-hole loops – the Gallery which is a par-3 layout and the Players, which is a par-24 with one par-3, four par-4s and one par-5. Players with limited time will be accommodated on those holes.

Mixed into all that is the possibility of a Horse Course, one in which players can have a match much like the classic version of a basketball game of the same name. The Horse Course isn’t completely new. The Prairie Club in Valentine, Neb., has a 10-hole version designed by Gil Hanse, architect of the Olympic Games venue in Brazil, and Geoff Shackelford. I’ve played it and found it lots of fun.

Getting players around The Trilogy sounds complicated (and it is, believe me), but Woodruff – sounding only somewhat confident – said “I don’t believe players will get confused.’’

Well, we’ll see. The course won’t be fully open until Feb. 12, when public players get their first crack at it. Then it’ll be a case of deciding what players can play which of the four courses and at what times. One thing that will help is the use of different colored flags. They’ll be blue on the Skills Course and red on the Players Course.

Even the look from the first tee is distinctive at Tom Lehman’s new course.

For starters the courses will be open to members only Sunday to Thursday and the public can play Fridays and Saturdays. Members will pay $7 for use of the course for a whole day. The public rate will be $35 in the current tourist season and $20 out of season.

The Trilogy will be a walking-only course with push carts and a Golf Skate Caddy available for those who don’t want to carry their own bag.

One other unique thing of note: there’ll be only one tee marker per hole. A player can tee off within a yard in front, behind or to either side of the marker. Lehman wanted to create different lies, even from the tees.

There’s a bit of history to this new concept. The land on which The Trilogy was built was once a golf course – an 18-holer called Ashley Farms. Its owners went bankrupt and the land sat idle for six years. Lehman and Davis built their course in nine months and it’ll eventually have a boathouse and clubhouse with all the amenities. The surrounding housing community is targeted for 1,700 homes, about 50 of which are in various stages of construction.

I thought I’d seen everything when I walked over The Loop, a Tom Doak design in Roscommon, Mich., when it was in the early stages of construction. Planned as a second course to complement play at the adjoining Forest Dunes, The Loop layout enables players to go 18 holes in one direction on one day and then play 18 in the other direction the next. And I thought that was radical.

As is the case with The Trilogy, I’ll have to see The Loop in operation before I can judge it. The Loop is expected to open this summer. Woodruff promised me a chance to play The Trilogy once its deemed ready for play. You can bet I’ll take him up on it.

The scorecard at The Trilogy may look strange, but the course offers real golf challenges.

Streelman, Donald, Wilson will miss BMW at Conway Farms

When the BMW Championship returns to Conway Farms next week it’ll certainly be in sharp contrast from the first staging there in 2013. Zach Johnson, the champion two years ago, will be back. So will Jim Furyk, who shot that dazzling 59 in the PGA Tour’s first-ever visit to the Lake Forest private club.

Otherwise, though, the field underwent a major transformation after the Deutsche Bank Classic, the second FedEx Cup Playoff event that ended on Monday in Boston. The top 70 in the standings after that tournament form the BMW field for the next 72-hole test that begins on Sept. 17.

That cast won’t include the three Chicago-connected players who had a chance of making it going into Monday’s final round of the Deutsche Bank Classic. Conway member Luke Donald, Elmhurst resident Mark Wilson and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman all survived the 36-hole cut in Boston but couldn’t deliver in the final two rounds.

Monday’s final 18 was particularly a killer for Streelman. He was above the cut line entering the week – a tie for 65th – but his 77 on Monday, which included a 42 on the back nine dropped Streelman to 75th place in the standings. So, his season is over with just two playoff events remaining. The concluding Tour Championship in Atlanta is the week after the BMW.

Streelman and Wilson tied for 69th place in the Deutsche Bank Classic. Wilson, who started the week down in 95th place in the standings, needed a much higher finish to play in Lake Forest and didn’t get it.

Donald, who has been regaining form in the last few weeks, was slightly outside the cut line entering the Deutsche Bank Championship, in 87th place. He finished a tie for 39th place in the tournament but a 73 in the final round prevented him from cracking the top 70 in the playoff standings. He ended his season at No. 80.

The local trio aren’t the only favorites who won’t be playing at Conway Farms. Such prominent names as Davis Love III, Jason Dufner, Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Martin Kaymer and Ernie Els didn’t make it through the two playoff events, either, and Tiger Woods didn’t even qualify for the postseason competition that he had won twice. Two of the top names who did — world Nos. 1 and 2 Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy – haven’t been sharp in the playoffs. Spieth missed the cuts in the first two events. McIlroy was down in a tie for 29th place in Boston.

Their regular season play, though, assured they’d be competing at Conway Farms, where the field will also feature Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, winners of the first two FedEx Cup Playoff events, and Billy Horschel, the winner of last year’s BMW Championship in Denver. Horschel also went on to also win the final event in Atlanta and take the $10 million bonus for topping the playoff standings.

Along with those top stars the Conway field will be loaded with up-and-coming players like Daniel Summerhays, Jason Bohn, Russell Knox, David Lingmerth, Harris English, Matt Jones, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Brendan Todd, Kevin Chappell, Fabian Gomez and George McNeill.

Unlike the first two playoff events, there’ll be no 36-hole cut in the BMW Championship and only the top 30 in this $8.25 million event will qualify for the final one in Atlanta.

Here and there

The BMW Championship is the major fundraiser for the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars Foundation and the members of Kemper Lakes, in Kildeer, will provide an added boost to the effort. They have pledged $2,500 for every eagle made in the tournament up to 20 (or $50,000). Seventeen eagles were made in the 2013 BMW Championship played at Conway Farms.

A second Top Golf location opened in the Chicago area last weekend. This one is in Naperville, and David Ogrin – the former PGA Tour veteran from Waukegan – was on hand for the festivities.

The Golf Collectors Society will hold its 45th annual meeting and trade show Sept. 17-19 at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles.

The Illinois PGA will hold its Pro-Women’s Club Champion team event on Thursday at Rolling Green in Arlington Heights and the Illinois Senior Open is on tap for Monday and Tuesday at McHenry Country Club.

Onwentsia, in Lake Forest, has been named the site of the Western Golf Assn. Junior Championship in 2020.

Legends’ leaderboard is loaded for shootout in final round

Dame Laura Davies, one of the first-round leaders in The Legends Championship, hits her first tee shot.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Sunday’s final round of The Legends Championship is loaded at the top of the leaderboard with eight players within one shot at the top of the leaderboard.

That select group includes a recently named World Golf Hall of Famer (Dame Laura Davies), a recently-named Legends Hall of Famer (Rosie Jones), the current U.S. Solheim Cup captain (Juli Inkster) and the first winner of The Legends Championship in 2013 (Canadian Lorie Kane).

Defending champion Laurie Rinker is four shots back in a tie for 19th place and needs a great round on Sunday to climb the leaderboard. Last year she produced a 66 under a similar set of circumstances at the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort.

“If someone (among the top seven in the first round) can go out and shoot 66 or 67, that would be hard to beat,’’ said Davies, one of three co-leaders after Saturday’s round. Davies, Inkster and England’s Trish Johnson all shot 1-under-par 71s.

Wendy Doolan, Christa Johnson, and Maggie Will join Jones and Kane at par 72.

Jones, coming off an emotional induction ceremony for The Legends Hall of Fame the night before, will likely be more relaxed for the final 18.

“I was more worried about my speech than my putting before this week,’’ she said. “Now that that’s over I can concentrate on what happens on the golf course.’’

The other 57 in the field should beware of Jones. She said as much to conclude her induction speech on Friday night.

“When you go out of the dinner telling the girls to `Watch their backs,’ I kind of set myself up,’’ said Jones. “but I was able to back that up with a decent round, and I feel I’m right there.’’

So is Inkster, who played well despite having to concentrate on her captaincy duties for next month’s Solheim Cup matches in Germany.

“Every night there’s something I’ve got to do,’’ she said, “but it’s been very fun. I’m enjoying the journey. It’s stressful, but I’m looking forward to getting it going.’’

Though she’s tied for the lead, Inkster called her first round over the rugged Pete Dye Course “very sloppy.’’

“You’ve got to hit the fairway. That’s the key,’’ she said. “The speed on my putting wasn’t very good. I’ve got to clean that up before tomorrow.’’

Lori Kane, the Legends’ 2013 champion at French Lick, while the 2014 winner, Laurie Rinker, looks on.

Trish Johnson, winner of the Scottish Open just a year ago, finished strong Saturday and was the first to post a score under par. She did it by putting a 9-iron from 130 yards to three feet for a birdie at No. 17 and then two-putted the par-5 18th for a concluding bird.

“There were some real tough pins,’’ she said, “though the course played a lot softer than it had before. I hit the ball really well, and you needed to do that.’’

The tournament within a tournament for Super Legends, players 63 and older, isn’t quite as top-heavy on the leaderboard. Jan Stephenson, playing her first event as a Super Legend, shot a solid 73 to take a two-stroke lead over Judy Dickinson. Jane Blalock, last year’s Super Legend winner, is four shots behind Stephenson. The Super Legends played a slightly shorter course that the others in the field.

“I felt since I was a Super Legend I could shoot low because you hit a lot of wedges,’’ said Stephenson, “but there were also a lot of blind shots.’’

Defending Legends champion Laurie Rinker takes aim on an approach shot at No. 5.

Stephenson, who is also introducing her new brand of wine at the tournament, was excited about turning 63 and eligible for the senior division.

“I feel like a rookie. It’s a powerful feeling, and that’s great,’’ she said. “I’m excited about it. Maybe I could make more money the other way (in the regular Legends competition), but I really want a trophy.’’

Blalock, who plays in just three tournaments a year while running the Legends Tour as its executive director, played a solid 10 holes and than ran a 30-foot putt off one of the super undulating greens.

“I had 30 feet coming back. That unnerved me a little,’’ said Blalock. “But I’ll have a refreshment and think about it. I won’t practice. I was nervous most of the day, but I’m just as competitive and feisty as ever.’’

Sunday’s schedule calls for play beginning off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees at 8 a.m.

Rinker is ready to defend her Legends title at French Lick

FRENCH LICK, Ind. — The Legends Championship tees off at the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort this week, and the defending champion is ready. Laurie Rinker arrived at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, in time for a Thursday practice round.

She may be a bit on the tired side after enduring a weather delay in Orlando, Fla., but there’s no question her game is in shape. Rinker posted a four-stroke victory in the LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals National Championship on Wednesday on the Palmer Course at Reunion Resort in Florida.

“The green speed at Reunion was about seven, so I’ve got to get my touch back here for these faster greens,’’ said Rinker.

Rinker posted a 9-under-par 207 over 54 holes for her win at Reunion. It was highlighted by a final round 65.

“I started making some putts,’’ she said. “I was in the second-to-last group the last day and shot 5-under (31) on the back nine with birdies at 16 and 18 from three feet.’’

Golf doesn’t get much better than that. Rinker had a similarly hot round en route to her title at The Legends Championship last year. Runner-up to Canadian Lorie Kane in the tourney’s first staging in 2013, Rinker backed up an opening round 71 with a 66 last year to take the lead.

Sherri Steinhauer, posted a second round 63 – the course record, man or woman – to move into contention but steady rain and thick fog forced the cancellation of the final round and Rinker was declared the winner.

“I had played well both days,’’ said Rinker. “My score on Saturday was good, but it didn’t look as good as Sherri’s 63. But that happens in tournaments. It wasn’t necessarily the way I wanted to win, but I was happy to win. I felt good about playing on Sunday. I felt my game was in good shape.’’

She won’t have to beat Steinhauer to retain her title, Steinhauer being sidelined with a broken ankle, but Rinker will have to battle the likes of Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster, recently named World Golf Hall of Famer Dame Laura Davies, Michelle McGann and Jane Geddes. Inkster and Geddes are making their French Lick debuts and McGann is in her first season on The Legends Tour.

Banners are everywhere in this little southern Indiana town in support of the LPGA Legends Tour.

That’s all good news for Jane Blalock, the tour’s executive director who had her own special memories from last year’s tournament. Not only did Blalock win the Super Legends Division for the circuit’s older stars, she was also inducted into the Legends Hall of Fame, which housed at the West Baden Springs Hotel here. That was a career highlight for the woman who got the circuit started in 2000 and has enjoyed its steady growth.

“Our tour is doing great, but we need to do better – and we will,’’ said Blalock. “The field at French Lick is a who’s who, and that’s in contrast to some other tours. Even the LPGA doesn’t have the names that are as recognizable as those who will be walking the fairways here this week.’’

While pleased with The Legends’ growth, Blalock expects even greater things now that the U.S. Golf Assn. has agreed to add a U.S. Women’s Senior Open to its championship schedule in 2018. French Lick officials are hoping to host the first championship, and the USGA will have representatives on the premises to check out the possibilities during The Legends Championship.

“We’d been working on getting that tournament for about 15 years and it had fallen on deaf ears,’’ said Blalock. “Some of those seeds for it were sewn here at French Lick. The idea had been ignored for a long time, but now that’s over and having a U.S. Women’s Senior Open will totally put us on the map.’’

The Legends Championship’s 58-player field was completed on Thursday when Karen Davies, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Joan Pitcock, of Fresno, Calif., were the survivors of a qualifying round. Davies posted a 71 and Pitcock, who needd two playoff holes to earn her spot in the field, shot 73.

Others used the day to practice in beautiful weather on the Dye Course. Friday’s schedule calls for pro-ams with shotgun starts at 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and the tournament Gala and Hall of Fame inductions will be held in the evening at a new location, the French Lick Springs Hotel. Rosie Jones and JoAnne Carner will be this year’s inductees.

Sand Valley is taking shape — and it’ll be good. You can count on that!

Once a dense forest, Sand Valley is looking more and more like a beautiful golf course.

ROME, Wis. – Given the popularity of Bandon Dunes, Mike Keiser’s venture into Oregon, it was inevitable that golfers would be closely watching the progress at Sand Valley in this somewhat remote corner of Wisconsin. I know. I was one of them.

Now I’ve visited the place, a much-anticipated stop before the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Golf won’t be played here until probably late next summer, and then it’ll basically be done by the Founders – those who stepped forward early to help in the financing of the first of what could eventually be five courses on the 1,700-acre property.

Michael Keiser Jr. project manager at Sand Valley and Mike’s son, is targeting a grand opening of the first course the day after Wisconsin’s first-ever U.S. Open is played at Erin Hills – a course not far away – in June of 2017. And then, look out!

The Keiser involvement understandably created immediate excitement in the project, but now you can see the first course taking shape. It was designed by the well-respected architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Seven holes have been grassed and at lest six more will be before the fall is over.

Michael Keiser Jr. (center) and Jacki Koll, Sand Valley’s first employe, gave me a tour of the first nine holes.

In the early days it might have been difficult to envision what the place would look like, but that’s not the case now. A walk of the first nine holes – much of it still through the sand that dominates the property – is enticing. This course will be good.

No. 4 is going to be a never-ending par-5. No. 8 looks like the best hole at this point – a tricky uphill par-3 with a big, big green. Beyond that you have to use your imagination, just as Coore and Crenshaw already have.

Keiser’s initial purchase was for 1,500 acres, and he had the option to acquire 800 more. Even before the first course design was completed Keiser acquired 200 more acres because the Coore-Crenshaw team felt a certain chunk of the property was needed to create the course that team wanted.

It took some time to uncover this property, and the Keisers weren’t even looking for it.

“We didn’t seek a project in Wisconsin,’’ said Michael Keiser Jr. “The search for this took eight years.’’

The challenge that this hole will present is obvious.

Craig Haltom did the searching and called it to the Keisers’ attention. Josh Lesnik, of Chicago-based KemperSports, checked it out on Keiser’s behalf. The project took off from there.

“Then our search took about five minutes,’’ said Keiser. “We’re here for the terrain and the landscapes. They’re as good as anything we’ve seen. It’s really a heathland in the heartland of America. It makes our project different. And we have all the space in the world.’’

Haltom, who works for Oliphant Golf – the managing firm for eight Wisconsin courses, had been looking for awhile. He explained how he found what is now Sand Valley.

“It came at the end of a dozen sites,’’ he said. “You could tell right away that it might work with its 100-foot tall dunes. Then it was all covered in trees. You couldn’t see very far. We cleared 750 acres of trees (for the Coore-Crenshaw course). There were trees every four-five feet.’’

The tree clearing started in late February of 2014. Then Coore-Crenshaw got creative.

Haltom took over management of Lawsonia, a long-established course in Green Lake while still spending considerable time managing the construction effort at San Valley. Chicago’s Jens Jensen is the landscape architect for the project and Chicago’s Field Museum is also involved in it. Rob Duhm moved from Michigan’s Kingsley Club to become the course superintendent. They have already shown how nicely grass can grow on sand. The tees and fairways have varieties of fescue and the greens a bentgrass.

A couple things to note: there is no natural water on the property – there is a four-acre man-made lake beside the No. 9 green – and there won’t be any cart paths. No need for them, because – like Bandon Dunes – Sand Valley will have only walking-only courses. There’ll be caddies and pull carts.

There’s no signage at Sand Valley yet, but his road will eventually lead golfers to a memorable round.

That’s the same policy that’s in effect at both Whistling Straits and Erin Hills. Keiser doesn’t think the hike will be a brutal one. It figures to be less taxing that Erin Hills, for sure, and probably less demanding than Whistling Straits as well.

“From tee to green it’s tight,’’ said Keiser. “The distance is four and a half miles. It’s a 6,800-yard walk with undulations. We think it’ll be a very pleasant walk.’’

There’s zero chance the walking-only policy will be changed. Keiser is adamant about that.

“Golf was meant, as a sport, to be walking with your friends,’’ he said. `We love speed-walking, going around in two and a half hours. That’s how we’re supposed to enjoy golf, and we have the luxury of not having to design around cart paths. You’d have to factor them into the design and that can handcuff architects somewhat.’’

Sand Valley won’t be a one-course wonder. That was assured when David Kidd began work on a second course. It isn’t expected to open until a year after the Coore-Crenshaw layout is completed.

“What Erin Hills and Kohler have done for the state of Wisconsin is just amazing,’’ said Keiser. “We’re thrilled just to be part of that.’’

This four-acre man-made lake near the No. 9 green won’t be much of a water hazard.

America’s Golf Capital in Michigan? Why not?

THOMPSONVILLE, Mich. – Crystal Mountain Resort started as a community ski area in 1956. Golf didn’t come until 1977 when one of the owners, Bob Meyer, designed the first nine holes of what is now the Benzie Valley course.

That course became an 18-holer a year later, and Bill Newcomb, a well-established Midwest course designer from Indiana, started work on the Mountain Ridge course 15 years later . It was also built nine holes at a time, and the 18-hole layout opened in 1994.

It’s understandable that skiing would come first at such Michigan locations. Even now, golf staffers at Crystal Mountain point out that the resort can get 4,000 skiers through in one day compared to only 400 golfers. The numbers speak for themselves.

There’s no snow on the ski slopes, but Crystal Mountain’s golf operation is in full swing.

Still, while Crystal Mountain has maintained its status as one of Michigan’s top ski areas, its golf has not been neglected by any means. That was underscored when owners Jim and Chris MacInnes were among the leaders in forming America’s Golf Capital – a conglomeration of the top golf destinations in the state.

Twelve Michigan resorts are involved in America’s Golf Capital, and some of the others have ski facilities, too. Their golf courses, though, are outstanding. That’s what’s important now.

In addition to Crystal Mountain, the other resorts in America’s Golf Capital are Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls, Forest Dunes in Roscommon, Grand Traverse in Acme, the Inn at Bay Harbor, LochenHeath in Williamsburg, Manistee National, Otsego Club in Gaylord, Shanty Creek in Bellaire, Treetops in Gaylord, and Tullymore in Stanwood. Their properties include 33 top-notch courses. They are among the best of the over 800 public courses in Michigan. All have lodging on site except for LochenHeath, which has many such options nearby.

AGC is a marketing association that is working in collaboration with Fairways Golf to promote the facilities to international golf tour operators through a wide range of marketing efforts and technology initiatives. A new website, www.AmericasGolfCapital.com, has been launched with online booking tools and a global marketing campaign.

The concept of marketing this array of golf facilities beyond their traditional markets has been tried twice before, but never with this vigor, and there’s bound to be some controversy involved. In declaring itself America’s Golf Capital the Michigan golf destinations are challenging the warm weather destinations in Florida, California and Arizona.

I take the stance that longer seasons don’t necessarily translate into better golf experiences. Michigan certainly belongs in the conversation when it comes to choosing a golf destination, and I haven’t found a better one yet when it comes to seeking a variety of quality courses within close proximity of each other.

Each of the AGC courses presents their own unique golf experiences. Take the two at Crystal Mountain, for instance.

Benzie Valley doesn’t have a famous designer but it does have the toughest opening hole I’ve ever played – a double dogleg par-5 with water and woods left and right – and fronting the green as well. It may be the only opening hole in the country that is also that course’s No. 1 handicap hole.

Brad Dean, who has been director of golf at Crystal Mountain for 21 years, says there had been thought given to switching the nines in an effort to ease golfers into the round but No. 10 is no piece of cake, either. It’s a long par-4 with a demanding uphill tee shot.

This is the shot you face into the No. 1 green on Crystal Mountain’s Benzie Valley course — only a part of the reason it’s the layout’s No. 1 handicap hole.

Don’t get the idea that Benzie Valley is one of those brutal tests, though. It’s a fun layout kept in great condition (especially the greens) by superintendent Jason Farah, whose work resume includes a stint at Oakland Hills – Michigan’s most famous tournament venue.

Crystal Mountain’s other course, Mountain Ridge, is its preferred tournament course. It’s been the long-time home of the Michigan Women’s Open, one of the very best events in the country of that type for top level pros and amateurs.

An especially nice feature of Crystal Mountain is the proximity of the lodging to the golf. Our stay at Kinlochen was in the same building that housed the pro shop servicing both courses.

Another plus in going after the golf options that a ski facility offers is the availability of more dining and other entertainment or recreational options on site. Thistle Pub & Grill, also located at Kinlochen, provides a unique — and very tasty — menu while Wild Tomato is a breakfast hotspot.

Crystal Mountain. In addition to the usual golf amenities, offers packages for fishermen and the Michigan Legacy Art Park is worth – at the very least – a casual walk for the sightseeing. There’s also a strong family atmosphere with such activities as mountain biking, Paintball, Disc Golf, basketball, a climbing wall, zip line, alpine slide and water sports available.

Not only that, but Crystal Mountain is moving ahead with a $10 million expansion project that includes a 27,000 square foot addition to the Inn at the Mountain.

IT ZIEHMS TO ME: Flower Hole is still golf’s most beautiful

When you visit the SentryWorld course in Stevens Point, WI., there’s always the temptation to get overwhelmed by its world-renowned Flower Hole. I’ve seen lots of beautiful golf holes, but No. 16 at SentryWorld remains my choice as the most beautiful.

The course opened in 1982 and was recently renovated by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in collaboration with Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi. I’d planned to make the unveiling of the renovated layout, but it was rained out.

An aerial view shows just how extensive the flowering of SentryWorld’s No. 16 is.

Still, I can report that the Flower Hole hasn’t lost a thing in the changes. Never the most difficult hole in golf with tee placements ranging from 97 to 176 yards, it now is adorned with over 50,000 flowers. The hole had about 42,000 before the renovation.

Long respected for his architectural work, Robert Trent Jones Jr. has created a mini-controversy with his assessment of new No. 5 hole, a par-5. He calls that hole “one of the most beautiful holes at SentryWorld and, for that matter, in all of golf.’’

IT ZIEHMS TO ME: WWGA honors two of its long-time leaders

Long before there was a Ladies Professional Golf Assn. there was the Women’s Western Golf Assn. This organization has spearheaded golf for girls and women since 1901.

Susan Wagner has represented the WWGA on the public relations and media side.

This week the WWGA honored two of its longstanding leaders. Susan Wagner and Audrey Peterson were presented with Woman of Distinction Awards at the WWGA’s annual meeting at Sunset Ridge Country Club in Northfield, IL.

Both are extremely deserving of this recognition. Between the two of them they’ve spent over 70 years volunteering their time, energy and talent to both the WWGA and its Foundation, which has awarded academic scholarships for the past 43 years.

Over the years the program has distributed over $3.35 million to 600 scholars from 45 states.

Wagner, formerly of Flossmoor and now living in Florida, has been a WWGA director since 1977, when the Western Amateur tournament was held at her home club. In recent years she has served as the WWGA’s national public relations and media director. She was the organization’s president in 1997-98.

Peterson, a director since 1980, was the WWGA president in 1991-92. She has also worked in a variety of other areas and has chaired the organization’s Amateur, Junior and Senior championships. Her home club is Blackhawk, in Madison, WI.

Audrey Peterson, a frequent competitor in WWGA competitions, was a past president and tournament chairman for the organization.

The Woman of Distinction awards are a big deal for this organization, which doesn’t get the attention it once did when it conducted the Women’s Western Open – for years the biggest event available for women professional players. Its champions included Helen Hicks, Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg, Betsy Rawls, Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright, Carol Mann, Susie Maxwell and Kathy Whitworth.

Chicago golf historian Tim Cronin outlined the WWGA’s rich history in its latest annual meeting, and that spotlight the Women’s Western Open. That event ran from 1930 to 1967 and its revival has been a subject of discussion in Chicago golf circles for years – especially since the WWGA’s more recent merger with the Western Golf Assn.

Past winners of the Woman of Distinction awards were Suggs, Nancy Lopez, Peggy Kirk Bell, Betty James, Wiffi Smith, Mann, Whitworth and Wright on the professional level and Carol Semple Thompson, June Beebe Atwood, Alice Dye, Judy Bell, Ann Upchurch and Co McArthur on the amateur side.

Ownership change

Mike Munro, who created one of the nation’s first indoor golf practice facilities in the country, revealed that he’s sold his White Pines Golf Dome in Bensenville, IL., to KemperSports, the widely-respected Northbrook-based golf management firm.

Munro operated the Dome for 23 years and will still be involved in the operation of the facility – a hotspot for Chicago golfers during the chilly winter months.

Not so good

The first event of the PGA Tour’s 2014-15 season wasn’t a good one for Illinois’ players. Kevin Streelman, D.A. Points and Mark Wilson all missed the cut at the Frys.com Open in California.

Old Waverly return makes this Handa Cup special

WEST POINT, MS. – The ninth playing of the Handa Cup begins Saturday at a most appropriate location. Old Waverly Golf Club is the first site used for the LPGA Legends Tour’s premier team event that had previously hosted a U.S. Women’s Open.

Captain Nancy Lopez gathers her U.S. team at the Handa Cup’s opening ceremonies.

Old Waverly hosted the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open 11 years after opening its course, and owner George Bryan admitted at Thursday night’s opening ceremonies that “We feel we have an ongoing partnership with the LPGA. These players provide us inspiration.’’

The club’s enthusiasm for the Handa Cup showed in the nine months leading up to the big event. The club’s chairman, Rick Milburn, said that 111 sponsors, advertisers and contributors stepped forward and over 250 volunteers were projected to contribute over 7,000 hours to the staging of the event.

“Pretty impressive for West Point, Mississippi,’’ said Bryan, who was born in West Point.

Nancy Lopez, the U.S. captain, was in the foursome that played the ceremonial first round at Old Waverly in 1988. Her partners included Jerry Pate, the former U.S. Open champion who joined with Bob Cupp in the course design effort, and the late LPGA player Heather Farr.

The World (in blue) and U.S. (in red) get ready for battle.

“It was so exciting to know that we were coming back to Old Waverly for this event,’’ said Lopez. “Everyone has worked so hard to make this event one of the best Handa Cups ever. Old Waverly is a great place, and our players come from all over the world. This is the kind of competition you really want to watch.’’

Lopez and World team captain Sally Little introduced their 12-player teams during the well-attended opening ceremonies, which were held in the club’s English Garden prior to the dinner for participants in Friday’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Pro-Am.

Two of Lopez’ Handa Cup players finished one-two in the U.S. Women’s Open played at Old Waverly. That was an historic event on several fronts. Champion Juli Inkster posted a 16-under-par 272 score for 72 holes, which was six shots better than the previous tournament record for under-par scoring. The 272 also matched the stroke total record set by Annika Sorenstam three years earlier on a par-71 course. Old Waverly was a par-72 that played a 6,421 yards for its U.S. Women’s Open.

The word is out that the Handa Cup matches are a big deal.

Inkster’s closest challenger was Sherri Turner, who was five strokes back. During that tournament Inkster was 38 and Turner 42, so it was a battle of veterans. Inkster was also the first American to win since Patty Sheehan five years earlier.

That was Inkster’s first of two U.S. Women’s Open wins – she also was the 2002 champion – and the fourth of her seven titles in major tournaments. She would also win the LPGA Championship three weeks later.

Lopez was delighted that Inkster consented to be part of her team in her debut on the Legends circuit, which welcomes players who reach their 45th birthday. Lopez expected that Inkster would have good vibes about returning to the course where she posted such a big victory.

This unusual fountain is the centerpiece for Old Waverly’s English Garden.

“I love Juli Inkster, and I know she’ll have good feelings about that golf course,’’ said Lopez. “She killed us that year. She kicked our fannies all over the place.’’

Inkster and Turner weren’t the only Handa Cup participants who did well in that U.S. Women’s Open. Canadian Lorie Kane, a member of the World team, should have some good vibes coming into this Handa Cap as well. She was tied with Inkster after 36 holes in 1999 and remained a contender on the weekend, though Inkster’s lead never dropped to less than three strokes.

The U.S. takes a 6-1-1 edge into the ninth playing of the Handa Cup, but the World team won last year at Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn. Saturday’s schedule calls for best ball matches over nine holes in the morning and alternate shot matches over nine holes in the afternoon. The concluding 12 singles matches will be played on Sunday.