Len Ziehm On Golf

Here’s what’s good — and bad — about the Chicago tournament schedule in 2018

I don’t know that Chicago has ever had a golf season like the one coming up in 2018. It’ll be a good one – any links season in Chicago is a good one – but this one will be different.

Last year’s tournament schedule was the busiest in 20 years and featured the national collegiate championships, a U.S. Open and an LPGA major championship. This year’s schedule will be attractive, too, and every bit as busy — but it might not seem that way. Here’s why:

One week in June and another in July will be overloaded with big tournaments. Call it unfortunate scheduling if you will, but that’s just the way it is. Chicago golf fans have always supported big tournaments, and I have no doubt that they will again. This time, though, it will be a challenge.

The first week with a scheduling dilemma comes at the end of June, and it’s all about the women. Their biggest amateur tournament of the year and the biggest professional tournament of the Chicago season will be held on virtually the same dates. The 118th playing of the Women’s Western Amateur starts on Monday, June 25, and concludes with a championship match on Saturday, June 30. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship returns for another 72-hole run, with competition starting on Thursday, June 28, and concluding on Sunday, July 1.

My advice? Find a way to attend them both. Mistwood, the Romeoville course that will host the Amateur, and Kemper Lakes, the Kildeer layout that hosts the KPMG tourney, are not exactly strangers to big events but these will be breakthroughs at both locations.

The Amateur will be the biggest event ever held at Mistwood, the annual site of the Illinois Women’s Open. It’ll also be the first time the Western Golf Association manages a women’s event and one of the few times it conducts a championship on a public course.

Kemper Lakes was a tournament hotbed shortly after it opened as a public course in 1979. Big events weren’t on the club’s calendar after it began its transformation to a private in 2003, but the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – held last year at Olympia Fields – will bring a welcome end to that drought.

Mistwood will feature the best players of the future, Kemper the best in the world. It would seem a no-brainer to catch the two stroke-play qualifying rounds that kick off the Women’s Western Am, then shift your attention to Kemper Lakes while also catching a key match in the Amateur event before the week is out.

In its tournament heyday Kemper hosted the 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur, which concluded with the legendary Annika Sorenstam in the championship match – and that was one of the few she didn’t win. Her loss to Vicki Goetze lives on as one of the great moments in Kemper history.

A solution to the scheduling dilemma coming up two weeks after the big women’s week isn’t so easy to solve. The week beginning on Monday, July 9, features three big tournament offerings including the only PGA Tour stop in Illinois in 2018. (The BMW Championship completed its three-year run at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, last September and the BMW won’t return until 2019 at Medinah).

Unlike the two-tournament women’s week, the competition days of the three July events are directly opposite each other. The John Deere Classic runs July 12-15 at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis. Those are also the tournament dates for the Constellation Senior Players Championship – one of five majors on PGA Tour Champions – at Exmoor, in Highland Park, and the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open, a national championship that led to a rare opening of the gates to historic Chicago Golf Club. The nation’s first 18-hole course hasn’t hosted an open-to-the-public event since the Walker Cup matches of 2005.

How does a golf spectator solve this overload of riches? I have no idea. Entering my 50th year reporting on Chicago golf tournaments, I’ve never had a challenge like this one. I don’t even know where I’ll be each day of that week — but I will be at each of the three events for at least a day, I promise.

As for the rest of the year, the events that bear watching are fortunately spread out a bit.

The first that will draw some spectators is the 67th Illinois PGA Match Play Championship, which is also at Kemper Lakes. A fixture at that club in recent years, the tournament runs May 7-10, concluding on the day that the PGA’s high-profile Players Championship tees off at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass.

If you want a Champions Tour warmup for the Exmoor visit, the Senior PGA Championship returns to Michigan’s Harbor Shores from May 24-27. The Web.com Tour is back for a third straight year, with the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club June 7-10 – a week before the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York.

Then, on successive weeks, comes the Illinois State Women’s Amateur at Aldeen, in Rockford, and the CDGA Amateur at Briarwood, in Deerfield.

The big three-tournament week in July will be immediately followed by the Illinois State Amateur at Bloomington Country Club and the Western Amateur at Sunset Ridge, in Northfield, tees off 10 days after that.

In August the 69th Illinois Open, — Aug. 6-8 at The Glen Club, in Glenview and a second course still to be announced — leads directly into the 100th playing of the PGA Championship at Bellerive, the premier club in the St. Louis area.

August wraps up with the 96th playing of the Illinois PGA Championship at the only public facility in the event’s three-tourney rotation — Stonewall Orchard, in Grayslake. That pretty much will bring an end to the Chicago tournament season and it’ll be a bit earlier finish than most years.

Had enough already? By the time all those events are over it’ll be time to squeeze in as many rounds as possible before cold weather returns. One thing to note, though. This year’s condensed schedule should be expected again in 2019 when the PGA Tour makes radical shifts in its schedule in order to finish the bulk of it by Labor Day. Anything the PGA Tour does generally has an impact on Chicago play in one way or another.