CDGA Amateur makes rare appearance out of Illinois

The Chicago District Golf Association has been staging competitions since 1914 and it’s the regional governing body for amateur golf in Illinois and parts of three other states. It services nearly 400 clubs and 800 individual golfers in a variety of ways.

Most know the CDGA for its computerized handicaps. All members get a U.S. Golf Association Handicap Index from the CDGA twice a month. Some are aware that the CDGA is authorized by the USGA to assign course ratings. Some are aware of its turfgrass research program or the efforts of its Foundation to help those with physical and mental challenges.

The CDGA’s board of directors, known as the “Blue Coats,’’ donate their services and time – more than 15,000 man-hours a year – to the organization’s projects and the month of June offers two of the most high-profile ones. Both are competitions.

On June 7 Oak Park Country Club will host the Radix Cup matches for the 56th time, and from June 27-30 the 98th playing of the Chicago District Amateur will be conducted at Briar Ridge in Schererville, Ind. These two annual attractions, coupled with the Illinois State Amateur, form the nucleus of Chicago’s rich golf tournament history.

The Illinois State Amateur will be played for the 87th time at Calumet Country Club in Homewood from July 18-20.

This year’s CDGA Amateur, though, might be more special than the others. The tourney has been played outside of Illinois only four times, and this will be the fifth. Briar Ridge will be the first non-Illinois course to host the event since The Dunes Club in Michigan was the site in 1998. Prior to that the only non-Illinois tourneys were at Gary Country Club in Indiana in 1952, North Hills in Wisconsin in 1954 and Southmoor in Pennsylvania in 1955.

It’s not that those three big tournaments form the heart of the CDGA season. In May, for instance, the CDGA Senior Amateur brought together 90 players – the survivors of four qualifying rounds – to Chicago’s Ridge Country Club. They battled it out until Terry Werner, of Briar Ridge, beat John Finnin of Olympia Fields 3 and 2 in the title match.

That was the first big one of the season among the more than 50 championships conducted by the CDGA for amateur golfers, be they high or low handicappers, juniors, seniors, men or women. The CDGA also conducts regional qualifying rounds for USGA championships. During May, for instance, three local eliminations were held for this month’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills and in June the CDGA holds a qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open on June 5 at Aurora Country Club and another for the U.S. Women’s Open on June 12 at Prestwick in Frankfort.

June’s schedule also includes 10 state-wide qualifiers for the Illinois State Amateur sandwiched around the demands of the Radix Cup and CDGA Amateur. Yes, executive director Robert Markionni and his staff of 19 at Midwest Golf House in Lemont will by busy – and that’s putting it mildly.

The Radix Cup matches pit the top amateurs from the CDGA against the top professionals from the Illinois PGA. The 12 players on both teams are determined largely by point systems devised by each organization and the competition to get on either of the teams can be intense. The IPGA leads the series 35-18-2 but it’s always interesting to see how the amateurs stand up in the better ball matchups.

And then there’s the CDGA Amateur – one of the oldest such tournaments in the country. For some reason it doesn’t get the attention that the Illinois State Amateur does, but the CDGA Amateur’s list of champions offers a walk through history.

No less a celebrity than Chick Evans won the first CDGA Amateur, played at Ravisloe in Homewood in 1914 – the year the CDGA was founded. Two years later Evans became the first player to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in the same year, and Bobby Jones is the only other golfer to accomplish that feat.

Robert Gardner won the first of his three CDGA Amateurs in 1916. By then he was already a two-time U.S. Amateur champion (1909 and 1915). The tourney wasn’t held for six years, when the U.S. was involved in wars, but the tourney was always revived after peace was restored.

In 1935 invitations were issued nationally and in 1941 the event became known as the Great Lakes Amateur Championship. That lasted until 1955 when the CDGA board of directors opted to limit the field to players who were CDGA members. That remains the case today but it didn’t keep tournament winners like Jim Jamieson, Sherman Finger, Lance Ten Broeck, David Ogrin, Joe Affrunti, Eric Meierdierks and Carlos Sainz from using the CDGA Amateur as a partial springboard to playing status on the PGA Tour.

As the game evolved, so did its CDGA champions. Frank Stranahan, who played the PGA Tour successfully while remaining an amateur, was the CDGA champion in 1946 and 1947. Skee Riegel, another tour player, won in 1949 and Tam O’Shanter’s colorful Martin Stanovich took the tiitle in 1959 and 1960.

Some of the other CDGA Amateur winners – notably Joel Hirsch, Bill Hoffer, Mike Milligan and Rick Ten Broeck — didn’t turn pro but went on to bigger things in the amateur ranks.

Hirsch won both the CDGA and Illinois State Amateur twice, was a two-time winner of the British Senior Amateur and a qualifier for 34 U.S. Golf Association championships. At 58 he qualified for his fourth Western Open.

Hoffer won the U.S. Mid Amateur in 1982 (a title which earned him a berth in the Masters) and the Illinois Open in 1983. Milligan ruled the CDGA Amateur three times from 1973 to 1977 and Ten Broeck had a game that lasted, too. He won the CDGA Amateur in 1981 and 1994 and the Illinois Open in 1973 and 1981.

The CDGA Amateur format has changed slightly over the years. This year’s calls for four 18-hole qualifying eliminations, two of which were held during the last two days of May. The last two are June 5 at Ravinia Green, in Riverwoods, and June 7 at the University of Illinois’ Orange course in Savoy.

Starting in 2003, the tourney finals called for 60 finalists playing 36 holes in one day to determine 16 match play qualifiers. Matches will be at 18 holes with the exception of the finals. It’ll be played over 36 holes.

Andrew Price, who plays out of Conway Farms is Lake Forest, is the defending champion and one of only 17 players awarded a sponsor’s exemption off previous tournament accomplishments.