LinksVideo partnership gives LZOG a new dimension

The website is proud to announce a sixth partnership agreement – and this one is much different than the other five.

Dave “Links’’ Lockhart (left), who has worked for over 20 years in the golf media business and created three award-winning golf TV shows, is bringing his to a golf promotional effort that includes Rory Spears’ Golfers on Golf, Tim Cronin’s Illinois Golfer, Cheryl Justak’s Golf Now! Chicago, Brian Weis’ GolfTrips and Bruce Stasch’s Hackers Central.

Spears and Cronin provide regular reports on developments in the sport. Golf Now! Chicago and Golf Trips focus on travel destinations and Hackers Central functions as a course rating service with features mixed in.

While Spears also hosts a golf radio program, Lockhart is the only partner operating on the broadcast side in television. He currently produces Chicago District Golfer TV for the Chicago District Golf Assn. on Comcast SportsNet. Also a well-versed writer, Lockhart has done video work around the world and also has served as on-camera talent.

Golf on Florida’s Treasure Coast isn’t just for the touring pros

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL. – Florida’s Treasure Coast embraces three counties – Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie. Add the surrounding areas and the golf options in this east coast area are numerous, diverse and competitively priced.

That’s why so many tour players make this their offseason home. Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Ricky Fowler and Nick Price are among 16 present or past tour players who are members at Medalist in Hobe Sound. Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Camilo Villegas play at The Bears Club in Jupiter and Greg Norman, Russ Cochran and Scott Langley are at The Dye Preserve – another Jupiter club. Old Palm, in Palm Beach Gardens, includes Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke and Raymond Floyd. Even President Barack Obama has visited the area’s links; he made a weekend vacation trip to The Floridian in Palm City.

The tour players go to private clubs, but the public course options in this area are also quite good. And, you don’t have to go to resorts like PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens or PGA Village in Port St. Lucie to find good golf on the Treasure Coast. In fact, you can find courses that are arguably as good as those for half the price at a number of public courses.

You could say golf on the Treasure Coast was for the birds — but that’s a good thing.

During a 10-week stay we played 18 courses, almost all located between Vero Beach on the north to Jupiter on the south. Fourteen in the general Treasure Coast area were public, the lone exception being the Santa Lucia River Club – a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design in Port St. Lucie where pro Doug Main (below) could enjoy a view of the St. Lucie River from the club’s 18th green.

Lost Lake, in Hobe Sound; Hammock Creek, in Palm City, and two Stuart layouts — Champions Club at Summerfield and The Florida Club – all measured up well with the layouts at the two PGA facilities, most of which we had visited a year ago. Hammock Creek had the highest greens fee – an in-season rate of $69, which was still far below and tab at either of the PGA resorts.

Most of the other Treasure Coast publics were priced in the $40-50 range. In short, mixing course quality with cost, this area was far superior to Sarasota-Bradenton, our winter destination in 2012, and Naples, the base for 2013.

This stay was topped off by the round at upscale Santa Lucia River Club, designed by Nicklaus in 1982 and redone in 2007. It wasn’t the only Nicklaus course in the area. Hammock Creek is also a Nicklaus project, the co-designers being Jack and Jack II back in 1993.

Many Nicklaus courses have been criticized for being too penal. These weren’t. The Golden Bear has lived in Lost Tree Village in nearby North Palm Beach since 1965. The River Club and Hammock both had generous fairways and were highly playable. The Nicklaus influence was most evident on the greens. Their surfaces were huge with plenty of undulations, providing challenges we didn’t find anywhere else.

Hammock’s greens were new – just seven months old – and needed more time to blossom. But, course operators were quick to point that out and the Hammock experience also included use of an excellent practice facility and free range balls.

Lost Lake and Champions Club at Summerfield are Tom Fazio designs. His courses are always good, with Stonebridge, Conway Farms and The Glen Club providing ample evidence for players coming south from the Chicago area. Lost Lake had a practice facility option similar to Lost Lake.

Champions Club has been honored by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine in their various rankings. The only problem we had with Champions – one of only four courses we played twice – came in our second visit. There weren’t enough carts available, resulting in our tee time being pushed back enough to make finishing the round difficult.

Finding a Fazio course here was easy. Jim Fazio and Tom Fazio II did the design work on Lost Lake and Fairwinds, in Ft. Pierce. Tommy Fazio was the designer of Eagle Marsh in Jensen Beach and Dom Fazio was the architect of record for Heritage Ridge of Hobe Sound. A big believer in checking the architect before playing a course, I’ll always look forward to visiting a Fazio layout.

In general, Treasure Coast golf offers a greater array of bird life than we experienced anywhere else in the U.S. and there were other welcome distractions. We’ve shared courses with deer lots of times and seen sheep, horses and cows either on courses or adjoining property. Here there was more than that.

At Pine Lakes, a Stuart course, there was a big family of unusual ducks in charge of the No. 8 tee. A bobcat crossed the 18th fairway at Lost Lake as we finished a round in the dusk. A diamondback snake, said to be at least six feet long, has been spotted around the courses in Port St. Lucie. We saw a picture but, fortunately, didn’t see that on-course visitor and we also missed alligators. They were regular features at courses on Florida’s west coast in previous years.

On Treasure Coast area courses the non-human companions were on the more memorable side.

Brooks, Patty and Indy formed an unusual threesome at Fairwinds.

At Fairwinds, we were paired with a couple from Ohio. Brooks and Patty were nice people, but they came as a threesome. Indy, a Maltese puppy, came with Patty. We had doubts at first, but Indy was extremely well-behaved and created no problems. In fact, that little dog respected course etiquette more than some playing partners we’ve had over the years.

Indy wasn’t the only extra attraction at Fairwinds. Driving my cart beside the No. 4 green, I was greeted by four wild hogs.

“They’ve been an issue since the course opened,’’ said head professional Matt Baum. “Nobody’s been physically injured, but they destroyed parts of three-four fairways one winter.’’

Removing the hogs has been difficult. The St. Lucie International Airport adjoins the course, and the use of firearms nearby that facility is prohibited. Instead hunting dogs have occasionally been used to trap the hogs so that they can be tied up and hauled away. Still, they’re part of the golfing experience.

These sandhill cranes don’t always like golfers.

Just as memorable as our hog-sighting was our encounter with red-headed sand cranes at Lost Lake. Two big ones settled near the 14th green and my approach landed in their midst. So did that of Jim, one of my playing partners from Pennsylvania. The cranes didn’t like that one bit but wouldn’t leave when we arrived to hit our chip shots. Those birds could have done us some damage, and we were reluctant to approach them. We eventually did, though, and that sent the birds into a series of belligerent dance moves that I’ll never forget. We were happy to get out of there.

Two of our rounds didn’t go the full 18 holes. Rain stopped us after eight holes at Fairwinds and after 13 holes at Pine Lakes. It was great being detached from the extraordinarily brutal winter that hampered the rest of the U.S., but we did find that when it rains in Florida it really rains. In just a matter of minutes both courses had much too much water on the greens to anticipate an imminent resumption of play. We gave up and splashed our way in.

As always, variety and economics were the cornerstones in determining our golf destinations. On the economy side, the lowest-priced course was Pine Lakes — at $28. We felt lucky to find it on a day in early February. We had called 10 other courses before finding one that could provide a tee time early enough to allow for the completion of 18 holes.

We didn’t expect a whole lot when we checked the scorecard. The course played just 4,766 yards from the tips with no par-5s and six par-3s. Still, it was golf on a day we were particularly anxious to play. We even considered walking – something rarely available at Florida courses in the heart of their season. Pull carts were provided free of charge, but we discarded the idea when we found only one of about 10 had two wheels that would turn. It may sound crazy, but golf needs more places like Pine Lakes – no frills, low rates, friendly atmosphere and a walking option. Not surprisingly, it was packed when we were there.

It was interesting to check out the golf promotional publications available for the area. They – as is usually the case – gave the best reviews to the courses that were the best advertisers. Understandable, I guess, but not in the best interests of the snowbird golfers.

So, here’s a more objective rating of the Treasure Coast public courses played in the winter of 2014:

1, Lost Lake, Hobe Sound — Excellent course and practice facility. Nice clubhouse. Friendly people. One of the very best places we’ve played over the last five years coming to Florida.

2, Hammock Creek, Palm City – Course and practice facilities were comparable, but Lost Lake was about $15 cheaper and Hammock’s new greens didn’t measure up to Lost Lake’s.

3, Champions Club at Summerfield, Stuart – Like Lost Lake, we played this one twice. A good course, and a good golfing buy.

4, Florida Club, Stuart – A fun layout marked by lots of waste bunkers, but conditioning didn’t match the top two.

5, Indian Hills, Ft. Pierce – A similarly fun layout, but a step below in conditioning and clubhouse options. (This one may admittedly be getting a higher ranking because our best scores were shot there).

6, Heritage Ridge, Hobe Sound – This one got the best reviews in the local publications, and its putting surfaces were among the best. It was also among the best for post-round relaxation but there was one big negative: the practice range was unusually far from the course.

7, Eagle Marsh, Jensen Beach – This Tommy Fazio design billed itself as “The Most Challenging Course on the Treasure Coast.’’ That’s debatable, but hot dogs came with your greens fees.

8, Fairwinds, Ft. Pierce – Wish we could have gotten in all 18 holes here. This one had the most interesting history of the ones we visited. In addition to the wild hogs and the nearby airport, Fairwinds had the distinction of being perhaps the first course in Florida built on a landfill. Baum also points out that back in the early 2000s Fairwinds ranked second to Pebble Beach in a readership survey that involved a variety of ranking categories. “We all scratched our heads over that,’’ said Baum (so did I) “but the course has experienced a lot of success. People seem to like it.’’

9, The Saints, Port St. Lucie – This one was once part of St. Lucie Country Club (its partner course in those days was called The Sinners). The Saints is now city-owned and a hub for social activity. The Sinners was taken over by Club Med and is now called Sandpiper Bay.

10, St. James, Port St. Lucie – Located very close to PGA Village, this was a decent course at a very good price. Built in 2000, it was probably the newest of the courses we visited.

11, Pine Lakes, Stuart – You can’t beat the price. If only the pull carts were working. Hardly any courses in this area offered the option of walking. This one did.

12, Sandpiper Bay – User friendly and decently priced, but the conditioning was lacking. Club Med’s other offerings (tennis academy, in particularly) relegated golf to being just another option rather than the focal point.

13, Sandridge, Vero Beach – We played the Lakes layout at the 36-hole facility owned and operated by Indian River County. Fairly priced, it was one busy place throughout Florida’s tourist season.

14, Palm Cove, Palm City – You either love or hate this one. It’s billed as a Chi Chi Rodriguez course, and the super popular golfing legend is a part-time resident of the area. The conditioning is better than many of the higher-ranked courses but the holes were squeezed in between homes, making the course extremely tight. That put it in sharp contrast with every other course we played, and lost balls were inevitable.

New putters highlighted this PGA Merchandise Show

ORLANDO, FL. – The 61st PGA Merchandise Show was just all the previous 60 such stagings. All the latest and greatest products for golfers were on display at the Orange County Convention Center.

This year, though, there seemed to be an abundance of unusual new putters.

The one that got the most attention was Veritas Golf’s Cure RX2, and that was due largely to one member of its design team. Deane Beman, the long-time commissioner of the PGA Tour (the man in charge prior to Tim Finchem) joined forces with designer Steve Davis on this one.

This is what you see when you line up a putt with the new Veritas putters.

Veritas, based in Flagler Beach, FL., isn’t a new putter manufacturer. Beman, in fact, says the company produces “the most technologically advanced putters ever made.’’

This new one, though, is billed by the company as “completely customizable to every golfer.’’ The putter, coupled with Beman’s publicized involvement, led to a big turnout at the Veritas booth. Those showing up even included Donald Trump.

Beman and The Donald were by no means the whole show in the putting department.

A French company, Argolf, made its first appearance at the big show after its clubs were well-received overseas. Argolf is run by brothers Sebastian and Oliver Colas and its models are named after the Celtic legend of Arthur – Merlin, Morgane and Lancelot.

RadiusRoll, from Lockport, IL., put its blades on display. They employ what the manufactures calls “PureStrike Instant Roll Technology – No Hop, No Skid, No Excuses.’’

Tru-Roll, out of the Canadian city of Calgary, showed off a round face putter also designed to “eliminate skidding’’ with the added benefit of “dramatically improved distance control.’’

Another Canadian company, Innovations Golf from Vancouver, introduced its ClearBlade and ClearBall putters. Both included clubhead features to help in alignment and the best-known endorser of the product was one who missed a big putt.

“If I was playing with the ClearBall putter I would have made that putt on the last hole of the British Open in 1970 to win,’’ stated Doug Sanders.

Another foreign-produced putter, Stonesplendor, was created in South Korea. It’s hand-made out of black stone. Whether it makes for a better putter or not, I don’t know, but the company reports that “the iron content therein is much higher than other kinds of gemstone.

What’s in a name? Well, Triple `P’ Putters claim the three Ps are for “Perfect Putter Performance.’’ The New Jersey manufacturer claims its blades offer “the widest range of weighting options on the market today.’’ There are 12 different weight options, five putter head styles, 16 shaft positions and 14 different putter head finishes.

The company says it produces “the right putter for every condition, which will suit every players needs.’’ Getting all those options right in the same putter, though, doesn’t seem easy, does it?

I got the biggest kick out of the L2 Traditional Putter (pictured above). It’s the heaviest putter I’ve ever tested and comes with a disclaimer: “This putter is not for everyone, only those players who wish to improve their overall putting skills.’’

An average putter measures less than five inches from toe to heel and weighs less than 380 grams, according to John Ambrose, the Ohio-based designer of the L2 Traditional. His putter measures 6 ¼ inches and weighs 620 grams. It’ll stand by itself and its heft reduces the wristiness that plagues many golfers. And, the putter comes with the most understandable slogan: “It’s worth the weight.”

“This big putter gives golfers the smooth steady stability of anchor putting without the need to anchor,’’ said Ambrose. “It’s doing for putting what big headed drivers did for driving.’’

Obviously, the best putter is the one that makes the most putts for you. I hope you find it.

PGA MERCHANDISE SHOW: Tour Edge is quick to unveil its latest Exotics

ORLANDO, FL. – It’s become a tradition now. For the ninth straight year David Glod, president of Batavia-based Tour Edge, has gotten a jump on his club manufacturing rivals at the massive 61st annual PGA Merchandise Show.

The biggest show in golf begins a three-day run at the Orange County Convention Center on Wednesday with over 1,000 golf companies and brands and over 40,000 industry professionals from around the world displaying their wares. Over 20 Chicago area companies will have a big presence.

Tour Edge president David Glod unveils his new Exotics prior to the PGA Merchandise Show.

Glod introduced Tour Edge’s latest Exotics line of clubs to a select media contingent a day ahead of the show. Glod, who came out of the club pro ranks to found Tour Edge in 1987, considers his well-respected company as “the little clubmaker that could’’ and it’s become especially well-known for its fairway woods.

“We start with a manufacturing base, which is different than the bigger companies. We’re using better, more expensive materials that are harder to get,’’ said Glod. “That clearly puts us in a different category. We’re ahead of the game.’’

Fairway woods are again a highlight of the Exotics line, headed by the $500 CD Pro model.

“It’s a crazy, crazy fairway wood,’’ said Glod. “It’s so exciting. The first time we brought it on tour we won. Chris Kirk (at last fall’s McGladrey Championship on the PGA Tour) won with it.’’

Tour Edge doesn’t use tour players to endorse its equipment, but Wilson Sporting Goods, based in River Grove and celebrating its centennial in 2014, does. Wilson is using the show to make endorsement news in addition to launching modern renditions of three of its lines.

Wilson added German Marcel Siem, who has three victories on the European PGA Tour, to its staff and re-signed American PGA tourist Ricky Barnes. Wilson already had major tour winners Padraig Harrington and Paul Lawrie and up-and-coming Kevin Streelman of Wheaton as endorsees of its clubs.

Angelo Papadourakis, president and chief executive officer of North Barrington-based NewSpin Golf, is also expected to make an impact with his SwingSmart – an innovative golf swing analyzer. It recently won Golf magazine/s Techy Award in the training aid category.

KemperSports, the Northbrook-based golf management company, opened a new 216-room centerpiece lodge at the nearby Streamsong Resort as a prelude to the big show. Streamsong’s Red and Blue courses opened last year to rave reviews. The lodge includes three restaurants.

Streamsong, built on a natural 16,000 acres, has world-class bass fishing, a sporting clays facility and spa in addition to the courses, one of which was designed by Tom Doak and the other by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

Colorful tee boxes are a feature at the renovated Winter Haven course.
Country Club of Winter Haven, on the outskirts of Orlando, also unveiled its renovated course prior to showtime. The renovation was a combined effort by architects Rees Jones and Bill Bergin. Jones completed two major Chicago renovations in the last few years – at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Lemont and Medinah’s No. 3 layout.

Winter Haven’s is an even more massive renovation. The private course, formerly known as the Lake Region Yacht & Country Club, was taken over by a group of members. It was lengthened by 500 yards in the renovation and the clubhouse, driving range and cart barn will also be replaced soon.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL.: Kemper alum Hahn is part of World Golf Village’s rebranding

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. – Jim Hahn spent nearly 30 years with Northbrook-based KemperSports, leading the management efforts of all the Chicago Park District golf courses as well as suburban layouts Waters Edge, in Worth, and Rob Roy, in Prospect Heights. He worked with Kemper facilities in other parts of the country as well.

Now the former Libertyville resident remains in golf, but with a far different facility than those he guided for Kemper.

Hahn (pictured below) took over general manager duties at the two courses at World Golf Village, an iconic links destination that also includes the World Golf Hall of Fame. He’s been at World Golf Village for a year, since leaving his last Kemper post at Cape Fear National in Wilmington, N.C.

World Golf Village, which opened in 1998, has undergone some changes and is gradually rebranding itself as a place offering more than golf. Now it’s going by the name Renaissance World Golf Village Resort and Convention Center. The resort and accompanying residential community is spread over 6,300 acres.

“It’s a true resort, though it hadn’t been talked about that way,’’ said Hahn. “It’s not just two golf courses you can play. We’re trying to create the atmosphere of a resort. That means you can stay and do a variety of things as opposed to just golf.’’

In addition to the King & Bear and Slammer & Squire golf courses and the elaborate Hall of Fame, World Golf Village includes a recently renovated Renaissance Hotel, one of the largest (300 seats) IMAX theaters in Florida, PGA Tour Golf Academy and a state-of-the-art spa all just a few miles from the heart of historic St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S.

The resort concept was initiated by Jeffrey Oliasami after he took over as general manager of the Renaissance shortly before Hahn ‘s arrival.

All the components of a resort are there, but they have private owners. Honours Golf, based in Birmingham, Ala., owns the two courses. Marriott owns the hotel. The Hall of Fame is owned by its own association. BlueGreen has time shares available. The Murray brothers’ Caddie Shack bar-restaurant and the convention center are also part of the package.

“Having separate owners has been a little challenging in the past, but the last couple years we’ve tried to promote ourselves as one resort,’’ said Hahn. “The Rennaisance has been great about this. Jeffrey Oliasami lives and breathes the belief that we’ve got to be part of the same resort to be successful, He believed strongly in the resort visions, and everybody has embraced it. If the resort can be successful, we’ll all be successful.’’

There is one reminder of the tough times World Golf Village went through prior to the rebranding. A series of retail shops are vacant, probably because they’re too far off I-95 to attract shoppers who aren’t staying on the property.

Otherwise, though, things are on the upswing – especially at the two very unique courses. Both opened about 10 years ago and had interesting creative concepts.

The Slammer & Squire honors legendary players Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen. Bobby Weed designed the sporty course, which is on the short side compared to The King & The Bear. The only course co-designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, it’s the more challenging layout.

The finishing hole at the Slammer and Squire course sets the tone for World Golf Village.

Honours Golf took over both layouts long before the economic downturn of the last few years. Honours owns about half of the 15 courses it operates in the southeastern United. States. Primary owners are Bob Barrett and Rob Schultz. Barrett had been an assistant professional at Augusta National and head pro at Quail Hollow – both sites of PGA Tour events. He was also involved in the start of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.

Both the World Golf Village courses are well-conditioned, and improvements were recently made at the Slammer & Squire clubhouse. They’ve been vying for golfers with a variety of nearby courses while resort business picks up.

“They’re not where they used to be five years ago, but nobody is,’’ said Hahn. “But these courses are doing fine. They took a dip, but they’re still very profitable properties, both of them.’’

A goal for the golf operation is to bring back more resort play – a challenge with the famed Pete Dye-designed TPC Sawgrass just a few miles away. Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship, has one of golf’s most famous holes. Its par-3 17th has an island green that alone is an enticement for visitors. Sawgrass recently boosted its fees over $400 per round.

“ From a resort perspective, that’s our competition,’’ said Hahn, “but we’re not in that price range. We’re a $150 golf course.’’

During the economic downturn both resorts saw play from business golfers decline. World Golf Village (viewed by night below) sought to make up for that by supplementing resort play with local players, but the locals couldn’t afford such a high greens fee. Now, with the economy looking up again, Hahn admits “We want to build up resort play; that’s how we’ll really be successful.’’

No other resort can offer the spectacular World Golf Hall of Fame, a facility rich in historical memorabilia that also includes a unique putting course and hole-in-one challenge for its visitors. You don’t have to be deep into golf to appreciate what the World Golf Hall of Fame has to offer. Just the long-running Bob Hope exhibit is worth the price of admission.

This year the Hall will carry on without its main annual event. There won’t be an induction ceremony during the PGA Tour’s Players Championship in May. Officials wanted to skip a year to allow for the revamping of the selection process.

While looking forward to the return of the Hall inductions, Hahn doesn’t feel its absence with have much of an effect this year.

“They’ve made a lot of improvements here,’’ he said. “Our owners feel confident in these properties, and they’re investing back in them.’’

VALDOSTA, Ga.: Bob Spence wants to take Kinderlou Forest to a new level

VALDOSTA, Ga. – Bob Spence is about to hit the 60-year mark as a golf professional. Now his focus is on Kinderlou Forest, a stunning 18-holer just 16 miles from the Florida state line, but Chicago golfers should remember him well.

Spence, who turned pro in 1954 – a few months after graduating from high school, was the first director of golf at Kemper Lakes. The late Jim Kemper hired him in 1978 to direct the opening of the Long Grove course designed by Dick Nugent and Ken Killian. Kemper Lakes was an instant hit. It was the first public course to host a PGA Championship in 1989, a year in which Payne Stewart was crowned the champion.

Kemper also hosted a tournament on the Champions Tour for several years and was the site of a U.S. Women’s Amateur, the Grand Slam of Golf and 24 straight Illinois PGA Championships before an ownership change led to the facility going private.

Spence moved on, too. Prior to the Kemper experience he spent six years as an off-and-on PGA Tour player. Afterwards he established himself as a teacher, working with –among others — the famed Bob Toski, and an expert on course operations.

He enjoyed all those things, but found out that he loved course architecture more than anything else. Spence hooked up with Davis Love III to create Love Golf Designs in 1994. Kinderlou Forest, now celebrating its 10th anniversary under owner John Langdale (pictured below on right with Spence), was one of the first of the 20 courses that Spence built on Love’s behalf. It is most likely the best.

“We continued until the economy went bad,’’ said Spence. “Now (Love Golf Designs) is on hold, but Davis had a major desire to get into golf course architecture later in his career. I wouldn’t be surprised if the company started up again.’’

Love, of course, was the 1997 PGA champion and the losing U.S. captain in the dramatic Ryder Cup matches played at Medinah last September. He’s resumed his playing career and is also the host for the McGladrey Classic, a PGA Tour event played on his home course in Sea Island, Ga.

Kinderlou Forest has had a great first 10 seasons. Spence has declared it “better than Kemper Lakes’’ and isn’t so sure it isn’t the best course in Georgia – even though that state is home to legendary Augusta National, where the Masters tournament is played every April.

“There’s a lot of similarities between here and Kemper Lakes,’’ said Spence. “Both are great golf courses. Kemper Lakes has a lot of water and length. Kinderlou Forest doesn’t have as much water, but has variety in length and look on every hole.’’

Spence won’t designate a signature hole at Kinderlou, believing all 18 are special. The most striking visually, though, is the par-5 fourth, which features a large, deep cavern. You can play over it or around it. Either way, you don’t forget it.

The cavern, created when soil was needed to build a highway fronting the course, also extends in front of the tee at the par-3 fifth hole (see photo above).

The lack of houses on the property is another similarity between Kemper Lakes and Kinderlou. So is the personality of the owners. Langdale and his family have long been prominent in various business and political endeavors in south Georgia, just as Jim Kemper was prominent in the insurance world in Chicago.

“Jim Kemper was one of the most special people I’ve ever known,’’ said Spence. “He became a fatherly figure to me, helping my life in any way he could. John Langdale is the same way. He wanted a showplace for Lowndes County. He wanted to give back, just like Jim Kemper did at Kemper Lakes. I’ve been very fortunate to work with special people.’’

As was the case at Kemper Lakes, Spence moved on to other projects after Kinderlou Forest was up and running. Langdale brought him back six months ago to take Kinderlou Forest to a new level.

The first 10 years certainly weren’t bad. About 200 homes were built on the 4,000-acre property and the course, built on 600 of those acres, has already hosted a pro tour event (the Web. com Tour’s South Georgia Classic will be played there for the eighth time in April).

Kinderlou Forest, though, stands somewhat alone on the outskirts of Valdosta, a city of 54,000 and home to Valdosta State University and its 13,000 students. The weather makes golf an option year-around and overall living is affordable.

Kinderlou’s No. 13 has the feel of the famous courses at Pinehurst in North Carolina.

“We’re in the process of building it into a community, possibly a retirement community,’’ said Spence. “We’re trying to get people to come in here, and if they do they’ll want to stay.’’

Two Chicago area club professionals, Phil Benson and J. Anderson, have already brought groups from Chicago to check out what Kinderlou Forest has to offer.

As good as it is, Kinderlou Forest — at 7,474 yards from the tips –is no course for retirees, so a second — much shorter layout — will be needed. A lodge is also a consideration, though Kinderlou has townhome villas available for golfing guests and plenty of hotels are nearby. But space for more homes is abundant.

“If Kinderlou goes as planned we will have a lot of people coming from out of state, and a lot coming to retire,’’ said Spence. “It’s a great place to live. We’re building an atmosphere that you’d rather be here than anywhere else.’’

IT ZIEHMS TO ME: Rich sees long run for International Crown — and at his course

Jerry Rich’s dream took its first big step towards reality immediately after the 2013 LPGA season concluded Sunday with Shanshan Feng’s victory in the CME Group Titleholders tourney at Tiburon in Naples, FL.

That was the last event in which countries could earn points for participation in next year’s inaugural International Crown event. Rich (pictured below) was a primary force behind the International Crown’s creation, and his Rich Harvest Farms facility in Sugar Grove, IL., will host the second staging of the innovative biannual team competition in 2016.

Rich hopes the International Crown will be played at Rich Harvest many times after that, but first things first.

The first International Crown will be at Caves Valley near Baltimore next July 24-27, and the eight countries that have earned berths there are South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Chinese Taipei and Australia. That news shared the spotlight with Shanshan Feng’s winning of the $700,000 first prize at Tiburon – a prize twice that given the champion of the U.S. Women’s Open.

Rich was there to both see the Titleholders drama unfold and participate in the International Crown press conference with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and top players from five of the countries who earned berths at Caves Valley. He described the announcement staged there as “magnificent.’’

“All the girls were so excited, but especially the Korean and Asian girls,’’ he said. “When you look at the top players in the world, 60 percent of them are from Asia. They’re so excited because they couldn’t get into the Solheim Cup.’’

The Solheim, staged successfully at Rich Harvest in 2009, matches players from only the U.S. and Europe. The International Crown will have eight four-player teams. The players will be decided on point standings after the Kraft Nabisco Championship ends on March 31.

Rich’s work on the International Crown started long before Whan announced its creation at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, FL., last January. Even before the event was made official Rich paid a visit to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, a non-golfer who had been on the job only eight months, to alert him about what was coming.

“It was important that I met with him then because he hadn’t made a decision on the Sport Festival that had been held at McCormick Place for 10 years under Mayor (Richard) Daley,’’ said Rich. “When Mayor Daley retired the event wasn’t done for a couple years, and we tried to bring it back for our kids.’’

Emanuel was all for that, Rich said, but he told Rich “it was all about money….He said `You raise half, and I’ll raise the other half.’’

Then the conversation quickly shifted to the International Crown. Rich gave Emmanuel a sneak preview well ahead of the formal announcement.

“He was excited, because Chicago has one of the largest ethnic populations in the world.’’ said Rich. “He said `This is the Olympics we never got.’ I hadn’t thought of it like that. We talked about how we could work with the city to energize its ethnic base, and we’ve done that.’’

Rich has done much more on the International Crown since then, breaking mainly for trips to watch his alma mater – Northern Illinois – battle for more football glory. He wants the International Crown to be a fixture at Rich Harvest, and doesn’t think that’s out of the question.

“The last four-five months that’s really all I’ve been involved in,’’ he said. “We’ve had countless meetings with various corporations. Three or four have expressed major interest, and I’d like to have one title sponsor for the whole thing. I can’t say too much right now but there’s a Chicago company that really wants to hit the Asian market. We’ll have more meetings the second week of December.’’

Whan knows of Rich’s plans and has been non-committal. And Rich, while sticking to his desire for a long run at Rich Harvest, could see a departure at some point as well.

“If we keep it in Chicago we might run four tournaments there, then bring it to Asia for one year and then bring it back here (to Chicago),’’ said Rich. “We need this in Chicago, because Chicago doesn’t have anything right now. The people there stood behind us for our Solheim Cup and, if we play our cards right in 2016, we’ll knock everybody’s socks off.’’

Getting to Texas was a tough ride for Ghim

The top high school golfers from across the country made their college commitments this week in the NCAA’s early signing period. One of them earned his scholarship the hard way.

Doug Ghim, an Arlington Heights resident and senior at Buffalo Grove, landed a scholarship to traditional collegiate powerhouse Texas even though he didn’t play a round of high school golf the last three years.

“I don’t know if it’s unprecedented or not,’’ said Ghim moments before a ceremonial signing ceremony with his mother Susan and father Jeff (pictured above) at the Golf Nation indoor facility in Palatine. “I came out of nowhere. I had one great season and showed up at this level.’’

Ghim’s success came through American Junior Golf Assn. events rather than playing for Buffalo Grove. He played one season for the Bison, finishing third in the state meet as a freshman, then decided to go in a different direction.

As a sophomore he received a coveted invitation to one of the AJGA’s premier events – the Ping Invitational on Oklahoma State’s course in Stillwater.

“It was a difficult decision,’’ said Ghim. “In my freshman year I got invited to another invitational in Florida and gave it up. The Ping is one of the hardest to get in to. Everyone raves about it, but it overlapped with sectional qualifying for state.’’

Ghim thought it would be “insulting’’ to his high school teammates to leave the team at such a critical point in the season, so he spent the last three years competing solely in the big junior events across the country. It paid off when Texas, a school that produced such stars over the years as Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Justin Leonard and – most recently – Jordan Spieth, noticed him.

So did other strong golf schools, and Ghim visited Northwestern, Illinois and Duke before choosing the Longhorns.

“The big reason was the weather,’’ said Ghim, coached only by his father since he was 5 years old. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could work on my game year-around.’’

Ghim’s Korean-born father Jeff teaches mainly junior players at Golf Nation and a variety of other Chicago area locations. Taking the national, rather than local, route in his son’s development wasn’t easy.

“We’re not very rich,’’ admitted Doug. “I’m very proud of our story. I never had the nicest golf clubs or best outfits. The only golf balls I had were the ones my dad and I fished out of the water. It was intimidating going into tournaments. I had to work twice as hard as the other kids.’’

The Ghims don’t have a home course. They looked for the best deals and played lots of twilight golf at the area’s public courses. Sometimes they’d get invitations to play at private clubs, but most of Doug’s development came via travel that included frequent trips during the school year.

“I hope my story will show to other kids that aren’t as fortunate that – as long as you have the will – you can make it to one of these big universities,’’ said Ghim. “They’ll call you, and you won’t have to call them all the time.’’

While Ghim opted to leave the state, both Illinois and Northwestern went largely outside Illinois with their early recruits. The Illini signed Glenbrook North’s Nick Hardy along with two Indiana players – Dylan Meyer of Evansville and Colin Proctor of Anderson. NU landed Charles Wang, of Sarasota, FL., and Dylan Wu, of Medford, Ore.

IT ZIEHMS TO ME: Streelman will be part of U.S. effort in World Cup

The team of Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland gave the U.S. its first victory in 11 years in the last staging of the World Cup of Golf. Now Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman will be part of the U.S. title defense.

The World Cup, first played in 1953, is a two-man team competition with players chosen off the World Rankings. Kuchar got his spot on the defending champion team with a No. 8 ranking after No. 1 Tiger Woods, No. 3 Phil Mickelson and No. 7 Steve Stricker turned it down.

Jack Nicklaus was the featured guest at the Western Golf Association’s third annual Green Coat Gala at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel. The sold-out black tie event raised over $900,00 for the Evans Scholars Foundation.

Kuchar got Streelman as his partner after higher-ranked Americans Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Kevin Bradley, Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Bill Haas and Rickie Fowler didn’t want to play. Woodland’s ranking has slipped to 81st, so he wasn’t a viable partner this time.

For Streelman, ranked 37th, the opportunity could be both prestigious and profitable. A format change has the biennial competition being played at 72 holes of stroke play with a $7 million purse.

Despite the flock of U.S. rejections, the World Cup will have a star-studded field for its Nov. 21-24 staging at Royal Melbourne in Australia. In the last World Cup, in 2011 in China, the Kuchar-Woodland team held off England’s Ian Poulter and Justin Rose and Germany’s Martin Kaymer and Alex Cejka for the title.

Still undecided

Not all of Chicago’s player-of-the-year races are over. The Illinois PGA Senior Player-of-the-Year is still up for grabs since the final event offering points, the Senior PGA Professionals National Championship in Virginia, had to be postponed because of weather issues.

Biltmore’s Doug Bauman has a comfortable lead over Glencoe’s Bill Sakas and Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb going into the last tournament.

The Don Drasler Assistants Player-of-the-Year went to Glen Oak’s Matt Slowinski, and he beat out the section’s overall player-of-the-year for the honor. St. Charles assistant Curtis Malm repeated as the winner of the top award, but ranked only fifth in the assistants standings. Crestwicke’s Kyle English, Midlothian’s Frank Hohenadel and Twin Lakes’ Michael Smith ranked 2-3-4 behind Slowinski.

Did you know?

The biggest money tournaments of 2014 will be the PGA Championship and The Players Championship. Both will have purses of $10 million. The PGA was boosted by $2 million and The Players by $500,000 over 2013 in recent announcements.

Andy Pope, of Glen Ellyn, and Michael Schachner, of Libertyville, survived the first stage of the new qualifying school for the PGA’s Tour. Pope was low man at Grasslands in Lakeland, FL., and Schachner tied for 18th at The Woodlands in Texas. The first of six second stage eliminations begins Nov. 12 and the finals are Dec. 12-17 in LaQuinta, Calif.

The John Deere Classic raised over $6 million for charity for the second straight year. The 2013 numbers for July’s PGA Tour stop at TPC Deere Run near the Quad Cities showed $6.32 million raised for 464 local and regional charities.

The Chicago District Golf Assn. will celebrate its centennial in 2014. Details for the celebration will come soon, probably around Nov. 19 when the season’s full schedule. will be announced. In the meantime the CDGA is offering membership incentives, with 16 prize drawings scheduled for members during the offseason.

Chicago Open is revived again, this time at Cantigny

There’s just one major tournament left in the Chicago area golf season, and it’s both an old and new one.

The Chicago Open, which tees off at Cantigny in Wheaton on Monday, has been played 23 times but the stagings have been spread out with a variety of competition levels. The first was in 1914 and the last in 2001. The Chicago District Golf Assn. conducted the first one at another Wheaton course – Chicago Golf Club — as a highlight in its first season in operation.

Bob Gardner, a Hinsdale Golf Club member who won the U.S. Amateur twice, captured the first Chicago Open. It was a 72-hole event then. The tournament was revived several times after that but the format and locations changed. The champions are noteworthy, though. They included such prominent players as Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Bobby Locke, Ken Venturi and Luke Donald.

Donald was an amateur playing on Northwestern’s golf team when he won at Chicago’s Beverly Country Club in the only sports event played in the immediate aftermath of he 911 tragedy.

The upcoming Chicago Open is being conducted by the Illinois Junior Golf Assn. to raise funds for its programs. There were seven qualifying rounds. Three were played out of state – in Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. The others were at Chicago courses to whittle the approximately 300 entrants to the starting field of 120. They’ll compete over 54 holes for a guaranteed $50,000 purse, and many of the competitors will use it as a tuneup for the Tour Qualifying Tournament Dec. 12-17 at LaQuinta, Calif.

“That was the intent. We scheduled it when there was a down time between professional events and when our staff was available,’’ said Carrie Williams, the IJGA executive director. “We have eight tournament directors on staff. We can administer the event with our existing staff.’’

The field was geared towards mini-tour players, but exemptions were extended to the PGA sections in Illinois and four neighboring states. The Illinois PGA got five of them, and they went to Mike Small, Steve Orrick, Rich Dukelow, Matt Slowinski and Danny Mulhearn.

The Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana sections were given three exemptions each. The field will be cut to the low 50 and ties for the final round. The tourney was last discontinued because the PGA’s satellite Tour established a competing Chicago event, then known as the LaSalle Bank Open. It’s no longer held.

Williams believes the caliber of player will be similar or better to what it was then. Two players who won previous Chicago Opens – Scott Hebert (1998) and Bob Ackerman (1999) – will be in the field. Both are long-time Michigan club professionals

In addition to the club pros the IJGA has given exemptions to Toni Kukoc, the former Chicago Bull; Jake Scott, winner of the last PGA National Assistants Championship; and Joe Kinney, the reigning Illinois Open champion.

Malm repeats as IPGA Player of the Year

Curtis Malm, assistant professional at St. Charles Country Club, finished in a tie for 25th place in the Illinois PGA’s final major event of the season on Tuesday but it was good enough to retain his IPGA Player of the Year title.

Malm needed to hold off Matt Slowinski, assistant pro at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn, in the IPGA Players Championship at Metamora Fields near Peoria to keep his lead in the season-long point race. Slowinski tied for 36th.

Eric Ilic, of Links and Tees in Addison, won the tournament with a 4-under-par 138 for the tourney’s 36 holes. He was one stroke better than Cantigny assistant Dukelow and David Paeglow of Kishwaukee, in DeKalb.