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Len Ziehm On Golf

Coaching change triggers excitement for NIU men’s golf team

I hate writing season-ending columns, mainly because – for me – the golf season never ends. One season just blends into another.

This time, though, there are some subjects that need to be addressed – one big one in particular. Northern Illinois University has a new men’s golf coach, and this hiring could reverberate throughout the college golf world.

John Carlson was hired after the Huskies’ season ended. Tom Porten had been the NIU coach the last 10 seasons and Carlson will retain Porten’s assistant, Andrew Frame, as the “associate head coach.’’

Carlson has been at Minnesota since 2010. He was head coach through 2017 and director of golf the last two seasons. The Gophers’ shining moment under Carlson came at the Big Ten Championships in 2014 when they took the title and became the only school other than Illinois to rule the Big Ten since 2009.

The NIU teams will continue to use Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, as their home course and RHF owner and NIU alum Jerry Rich, who was involved in the interviewing process for the new coach, gave his blessing to Carlson. Rich called him “ideal’’ for the job.

Carlson in turn voiced his appreciation for “the opportunity to develop champion student athletes using the world class facility at Rich Harvest Farms.’’

The Huskies will open the 2019-20 season at the Badger Invitational and that’ll be a homecoming of sorts for Carlson. He was a four-year letterman on the Wisconsin golf team.

Carlson has two returnees who are coming off successful summer seasons. Senior-to-be Jordan Less won the 100th playing of the Chicago District Amateur and sophomore-to-be Tommy Dunsire teamed up with his brother Scott to win the Chicago District Amateur Four-Ball title.

A FEW OTHER things need to be addressed before we close the curtain on 2019.

First, Medinah Country Club needs a defender for the way its No. 3 course was treated by the PGA Tour stars at last month’s BMW Championship. They found the course easy pickings, and no club member anywhere likes to have his course viewed that way. In Medinah’s case, the weather conditions were ideal for scoring and – let’s face it – the players are that good.

I like the comment from champion Justin Thomas on that subject: “It doesn’t matter what course it is. You give us soft, good greens and soft fairways and we’re going to tear it apart. It’s just how it is.’’ I like his bluntness.

Second, a longstanding appraisal of courses in golf-rich Michigan has Arcadia Bluffs and Forest Dunes generally standing head and shoulders above the others. Now that I’ve played them both I can weigh in on that matter. Arcadia has beautiful views on the water and eye-catching mounding throughout, but I’m not so sure it’s the best course in Michigan. I’m not sure Forest Dunes is, either. There’s just too many good courses in that state to concede anything to those two.

Third, it’s good that the Western Golf Association and BMW came to a last-minute agreement on a contract extension to host the FedEx Cup Playoff event. Still, a lot of questions still need answers. Where will the event be held after Olympia Fields hosts in 2020? Will the rotation of sites in and out of the Chicago area be reinstated? (For the record, I hope not).

Fourth, the Illinois PGA is going to have a tough time finding an alternate course for the Illinois Open that stands up to Ridgemoor, this year’s choice. The Chicago layout, which is rich in history, was the best-received alternate layout for the finals since the IPGA expanded the field and went to the two-course format for the finals.

Fifth, scheduling-scheduling-scheduling. Just once I’d like to see a season schedule without any notable tournament conflicts in 2020. This year there was just one – the Illinois Women’s Open and Women’s Western Amateur were played at virtually the same time. It can’t be that hard to put them on different dates.

Sixth, I’m reluctant to delve too deeply into the Oct. 18 Illinois Golf Hall of Fame inductions, since I’m blessed to be involved in them. However, I must express my regret that one of my fellow inductees, the late, great Carol Mann, won’t be with us. Carol was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame years ago but still wanted to be similarly honored in her home state. I know, because she told me in one of her last visits. Carol announced the players during the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship when it was played at her former home club, Olympia Fields, in 2017.

Seventh, there’s another big event that’s close to my heart coming up the week before the Hall of Fame inductions. It’s the Senior LPGA Championship, which will be played at not-so-far-away French Lick Resort in Indiana. There were no big championships for senior women until this classy resort stepped forward. First came The Legends Championship, a major that grew into the Senior LPGA Championship. Along with both came the establishment of the Legends Hall of Fame, which is housed at the West Baden Springs Hotel on the outskirts of French Lick. Then came television coverage of the big tournament, albeit on weekdays in the fall. The U.S. Golf Association eventually created a U.S. Senior Women’s Open, but these women who did so much for the growth of the game deserve much more.

Eighth, and I’m promoting this – I admit it. The International Network of Golf is a unique group in that it brings the media together with the golf industry. It’s different than the other industry groups and has a very special event coming up from May 31-June 3, 2020. It’ll be the 30th anniversary of the ING Spring Conference, and it’ll be held in Valley Forge, Pa. My friends in all phases of the golf industry could benefit by attending and should put it on their calendars.

And finally, to bear out my contention that the golf season is long from being over, check out the tournament schedules of the Illinois PGA and Chicago District on their websites. The IPGA is busy with tournaments through Oct. 21 and the CDGA will go strong until Oct. 7. Also note that the Illinois Women’s Golf Association will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Senior Championship Sept. 10-12 and it’ll be in the Chicago area this time — at Bolingbrook Golf club.