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.

Kemper’s Gauntlet is no problem for champion Sung Hyun Park

Sung Hyun Park has won two majors in her first two years on the LPGA Tour.
Where do you start to explain this one?

The climax to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes had it all on Sunday – a sparkling 18-hole score, a miracle shot from the edge of a pond, clutch birdie putts at dramatic moments, a lightning delay that interrupted a two-hole playoff. And it ended with a clear indication of the differences between the men’s and women’s pro tours.

The women’s tour is a more global circuit than the men’s PGA Tour, and it has more up-and-coming young stars. This tournament was a testament to that. The last two players in contention were Koreans, with 24-year old Sung Hyun Park beating So Yeon Ryu, 28, thanks to birdie putts on both extra holes.

Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, 19, also made the playoff after shooting the low score of the tournament, an 8-under-par 64. Two of the three in the playoff needed translators to tell how they got there, but all are willing to let their clubs do their talking.

Despite their youth Park and Ryu have already won two of the women’s major titles and Hataoka took her first LPGA tournament with a six-shot victory a week ago. Last year Park and Ryu shared Player-of-the-Year honors. Park, also the U.S. Women’s Open champion, became the first player since Nancy Lopez in 1976 to win both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Obviously they can all really play.

Tying for fourth were two young Americans, Jessica Korda, 25, and Angel Yin, 19. They were three strokes behind the lead trio in the first-ever three-way playoff in the tournament’s 64-year history.

All of it provided a great showcase for The Gauntlet, the name the Kildeer club’s membership gave to their last three holes last fall without knowing that TPC Sawgrass, the Florida course that hosts one of the biggest tournaments on the PGA Tour, already used the same name for its trio of finishing holes.

Kemper’s is the toughest finishing stretch in Chicago golf, and it stands up quite well with Sawgrass on the national level. On Sunday it created loads of drama.

Ryu started the day with a three-stroke lead but took an emotional jolt when her putts for both par and bogey at No. 2 lipped out.

“I had to let it go,’’ she said. “If I keep looking back that’s really a bad thing to do, especially when you are in contention.’’

Park eventually pulled even with birdies at Nos. 3 and 4 but Ryu went back in front by two with birds at Nos. 6 and 7. Hataoka, meanwhile, was tearing up the course playing well in front of the leaders. She had two eagles in her round, and heated up on the back nine by going 5-under in a six-hole stretch. She finished at 10-under-par 278 when Ryu was 12-under after 11.

“When I finished I didn’t think I’d be in the playoff, but before the tournament I thought that double digits (under par) was a good score to reach for – so I am pleased about that,’’ said Hataoka. “I did feel nerves going into the playoff, but I haven’t won a major yet so I felt like I had nothing to lose.’’

Park, playing with Ryu, stayed alive with a miracle chip shot from a water hazard fronting the No. 16 green – the start of The Gauntlet – that resulted in her saving par. Ryu answered her chip with a 30-foot downhill birdie putt that gave her a two-stroke lead, but it didn’t last long.

One the par-3 seventeenth she pulled her tee shot, missing the green to the left with the ball going into the water. She took a double bogey on the hole, and her lead was gone.

Hataoka watched all that drama from the clubhouse and then headed for the practice range to prepare for a playoff. It was a certainty when Ryu and Park two-putted for pars at No. 18. All three players went back to that tee for the first extra hole, and Ryu made a statement immediately by holing a birdie putt from the fringe of the green.

After Hataoka missed her birdie attempt Park rolled in hers to send the playoff to a second playoff hole, this one at the No. 16 tee. Both Ryu and Park put their approaches on the green of that par-4 when play was suspended because of lightning in the area. The playoff resumed after a 20-minute suspension in play and Park connected from 10 feet after Ryu had missed from 16.

Park, stoic throughout the round, broke down in tears after her putt dropped.

“This has been a tough year for me,’’ said Park. “Five times I’ve missed cuts, but all the work I’ve done paid off. That ‘s what really made me cry. It was my first time feeling that kind of emotion. I was really happy. I couldn’t help that.’’

Chicago Golf Show’s arrival also reveals The Glen’s return as an Illinois Open site

SOMETHING NEW FOR THE JDC: PGA Tour players will have a tougher approach shot when they visit the par-5 second hole at TPC Deere Run in July. The pond on the left side of the fairway is being expanded, meaning the second shot at the green will be more demanding. Tournament director Clair Peterson said the work is being done to improve aesthetics on the hole. Last year the JDC was selected as the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year. (John Deere Classic Photo)

The Chicago Golf Show is always a tantalizing event, in that a mid-winter walk through the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont is an early forerunner to golf courses opening in the spring.

This year that’s not quite the case, as many courses have taken advantage of unusually warm winter weather to already announce their openings for the season. Still, the 33rd annual show, which opens its three-day run on Friday, will still provide a preview to what’s coming on the courses, in the pro shops and at the resorts when golf is in full swing here.

The arrival of Chicago’s biggest of three golf shows is also a good time to catch up on winter developments on the local scene. Biggest of those was the Illinois PGA’s decision to bring the Illinois Open back to The Glen Club in Glenview.

Though The Glen hosted the tourney finals a record nine times since 1991, it wasn’t used after the IPGA went to an expanded field and two-site format for the finals in 2015. The 54-hole finals were played at Royal Melbourne, in Long Grove, and Hawthorn Woods in 2015 – the first time 258 finalists were welcomed instead of the previous 156 — and St. Charles neighbors Royal Fox and Royal Hawk hosted last year.

With the IPGA headquartered at The Glen, the use of the Tom Fazio-designed course as the main site for the finals made sense. Finalists will play 36 of their 54 holes at The Glen. The alternate site for the other 18 holes hasn’t been determined.

Here’s some other tidbits created after the last putt dropped in the last Chicago tournament of 2016:

The par-4 16th is typical of the new Preserve at Oak Meadows layout. (DuPage Forest Preserve Photo).

NAME CHANGE: The massive renovation project engineered by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District and Batavia architect Greg Martin in Addison will be completed in the spring and the course – known in the past as both Elmhurst Country Club and Oak Meadows – will be called The Preserve at Oak Meadows. While the 288-acre Preserve’s opening will be a Chicago season highlight, the adjoining Maple Meadows course will host the most unique event of the year – a One Club Tournament on April 15.

Welcome to the course chosen as the best of 2016
A TIME TO CELEBRATE: French Lick, the Indiana resort that is the presenting sponsor for the Chicago Golf Show, is celebrating more than the centennial of its Donald Ross Course. The resort just learned that its Pete Dye Course has been named Golf Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association. In July the LPGA’s Symetra Tour will hold a tournament on the Donald Ross Course and the next day the first LPGA Senior Championship will tee off on the Dye.

MOVING ON: Madasyn Pettersen created a sensation when she won the 2015 Illinois Women’s Open by a five-stroke margin at Mistwood in Romeoville as a 15-year old. She recently left her hometown of Rockford, moved to Arizona verbally committed to play collegiately at Grand Canyon University.

LEGENDS ARE COMING: The Legends Tour, the official senior circuit for the Ladies PGA, has relocated its Walgreens Charity Championship from Delray Beach, Fla., to Geneva National Resort in Lake Geneva. The event, featuring 60 of the top women players who have passed their 45th birthday, will compete in the $300,000 Red Nose Day Walgreens Charity Championship from May 20-21 after two days of preliminary festivities.

KPMG QUALIFIERS: The 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which comes to Olympia Fields beginning June 29, has its first four qualifiers. Karen Paolozzi, of Atlanta; Alison Curdt, of Woodlands, Calif.; Jessica Carafiello, of Stamford, Ct., and Amanda McCurdy, of Arlington, Tex.; earned berths in Florida qualifying events this month.

SHOW TIME: The Chicago Golf Show opens at noon on Friday. Doors close at 7 p.m. that day and the hours will be from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The last two days have been dubbed Hall of Fame Weekend with Tim Raines featured on Saturday and Ryne Sandberg on Sunday.

No private golf club in Florida matches up with The Legacy

Bob Foisie’s The Legacy offers many activities that other Florida golf clubs don’t.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida – The Legacy may be the most intriguing course in golf-rich Florida.

Located in a community that has five 18-holers in close proximity to each other, The Legacy – the only private course among the five — has been around for 32 years and has hosted local qualifiers for many U.S. Opens and other national tournaments. Its designers carry a highly respected name in course architecture circles and its most progressive 82-year old owner has made upgrades that make his club both special and unique.

Still, The Legacy has maintained a lower profile than the four resort courses that comprise the PGA Golf Club. Many of the club professionals from around the U.S. who have come to this community to play the four layouts at PGA Golf Club don’t know much about The Legacy. There’s an aura of mystery about it for those not living in the immediate area.

Thirty-two years ago the course was called The Reserve and its owner was George Fazio. He holds a unique place in golf history, being the first of many touring pros who have dabbled in course architecture. Fazio did much more than dabble after a playing career that included victories in the 1946 Canadian Open and the 1947 Bing Crosby Pro-Am and a playoff loss to Ben Hogan in the 1950 U.S. Open.

Fazio’s list of course designs includes such well-known American layouts as PGA National, East Lake, Butler National and Jupiter Hills. His financial partners on such golf ventures included legendary comedian/golfer Bob Hope, one of Fazio’s frequent pro-am partners. Fazio paved the way for his nephews, Jim and Tom, to enter the golf architectural business and Fazio Design now spans three generations, since the sons of Tom and Jim have also gotten involved.

Owner Bob Foisie and architect Jim Fazio have teamed to make The Legacy something special.

The Legacy holds a unique place in golf history, it being the last course designed by George and the first designed by Jim, who has since created about 30 courses in the United States and a similar number overseas.

“George was a pretty good tour pro. He had a nice playing record,’’ said Chuck Knebels, a well-known club professional in the area, “but he was the first player of that generation to get into architecture. Before him course designers were more engineers, guys who were more visionary about the land rather being a player. George – then Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw – were the first players to take a shot at it. At the end of the day people really needed to get a player’s perspective. It’s hard doing well without being there.’’

Knebels knew George Fazio long before either settled in Florida. They both had roots in Philadelphia, and Fazio helped Knebels – then just 22 years old – land the head professional’s job at Mariner Sands, another Fazio design in the nearby town of Stuart.

“I was just lucky to be associated with someone like that as a kid, because it opened doors,’’ said Knebels, who spent 24 years at Mariner Sands before finishing a successful professional career with a 15-year stint at Hawks Ridge — a highly upscale private club in Atlanta. Now he’s back in Stuart, still involved with Mariner Sands and giving perspective on The Legacy as well.

“The Faz” is a statue that pays tribute to the work of George Fazio.

Jim Fazio, though a nephew of George, didn’t really get to know his uncle until he was in his teens.

“I didn’t meet him until I was 15, because he lived in California and was a pro on the tour,’’ said Jim. “I went to work for him when I was 17 at a nine-hole golf course he had in Pennsylvania.’’

As George’s career was winding down due in part to health problems Jim’s was on the upswing. They wound up together working on a property called The Reserve in the early 1980s. The owner had donated a portion of a 2,500-acre property called The Reserve in what was then Fort Pierce, Florida, for the creation of a golf course. The Reserve was the first course built in what is now PGA Village, a part of Port St. Lucie. The first of the resort courses weren’t built there until 1996.

George Fazio lived on the premises for about four years, built the clubhouse, tennis courts and swimming pool, then developed prostate cancer. Jim recalls the course being built for less than $1.5 million and estimates that today its construction would be a $6 million project. After clearing 100 acres of trees, the finished project was much like today’s layout – a challenging 7,023 yards from the back tees.

Building started in March of 1983 and finished in November. An 11-inch rain on the day of the scheduled opening pushed the course’s debut to January 1, 1984, and it wasn’t exactly a smash hit then largely because of its somewhat remote location.

“It was a fun thing to do, but we were ahead of our time,’’ Jim Fazio says now.

Miniature golf is just one of the many activities offered to members and guests at The Legacy.

George moved back to a cottage he owned at Jupiter Hills shortly after The Legacy opened and his wife Barbara sold the course to Jack Piatt, of Pittsburgh, after her husband’s death in 1986 at the age of 73.

“With Piatt the course lost some of its pizzazz,’’ said Knebels. “George would attract the higher end amateur golfer and guys of a higher economic stature.’’

Bob Foisie, a successful entrepreneur from Connecticut, was one of the club members when Piatt was the owner. Foisie already owned a course in New Hampshire, saw possibilities with The Reserve and – most important — recognized that the golf industry was changing. He bought the club and one of his first moves was to change its name.

“The Reserve didn’t mean much to me,’’ said Foisie. “A reserve could have been almost anything.’’

Members and their guests are in for a treat at The Legacy.

He decided on The Legacy as a tribute to George Fazio and a statue, called The Faz, honors his memory in front of the pro shop.

Over the years the Fazio name became much more well known in golf architecture thanks to the efforts of Jim and Tom and their sons, Tom and Logan.
Jim Fazio has had a hand in every change made to The Legacy but — with Foisie’s guidance — he’s done much more than that at the club. Foisie, who has owned the club for 20 years, also called upon him to create an upscale practice range, a par-3 course that accommodates both walkers and riders and a lighted miniature course.

That’s all in keeping with Foisie’s realization that golf clubs need much more than a good 18-hole course to attract members these days.

“You have to have a golf course, and other things,’’ he said. “When you add ours all up, we have a good 14 different activities.’’

In addition to various dining options, The Legacy’s non-golf attractions include six tennis courts, a swimming pool, facilities for bocce ball and pickle ball, a dog park and dog agility course.

In addition to golf, bocce ball is just one of 14 activities offered at The Legacy.

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 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.