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Len Ziehm On Golf

No BMW here, but this summer will be extraordinary

Maybe — MAYBE — this will be a quiet summer for golf in Chicago. At least there won’t be a PGA Tour stop. The BMW Championship will be played at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis this year, but the absence might not be long.
While nothing’s official as of this printing, the Western Golf Association is expected to announce that the 2013 BMW will by played at Conway Farms in Lake Forest. That’s the home course for world No. 1 Luke Donald when he’s in Chicago.
Vince Pellegrino, tournament director for the BMW, had hoped to name the 2013 site for the tourney a few weeks after last year’s event ended in mid-September. Complications arose, however, and the site paperwork still hasn’t been completed. It seems a foregone conclusion, though, that Conway will get the nod, and that will bring an end to Cog Hill’s reign as host of the tourney. The tourney, then known as the Western Open, moved from Butler National in Oak Brook to Cog Hill in 1991.
That’s next year, though. There’ll be plenty going on this year, though 2012 seems to be perceived in many quarters as a done one for local golf — largely because there’s no PGA Tour event, a rarity in these parts, and the Ryder Cup doesn’t take the spotlight until well into the fall. This sentiment disturbs me, so I thought I should set the record straight.
This Chicago golf season will be extraordinary — as in extraordinarily good!
Pro tour events are one thing. They’re nice, and we’ll get to them later.
For starters, though, consider that two of our golf facilities are undergoing complete renovations. Mistwood owner Jim McWethy closed his Romeoville course early last season to allow architect Ray Hearn to get at the business of updating it. Hearn did his job, a new learning center was also constructed and a new clubhouse could in the works soon.
Before long Oak Meadows, once the private Elmhurst Country Club and now part of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, will get its facelift — and the work there will eventually include a new clubhouse as well. The process of choosing the course architect is well underway, so getting a new course is much more than a pipe dream now.
Given the recently difficult economic times, it’s encouraging to see the ownership of two long-respected public facilities taking such aggressive measures to make their places better.
As for the local tournament scene, I see postive develops there as well. Mistwood, expected to re-open in June, will be a better site for the Illinois Women’s Open after the renovation and the men’s Illinois Open will have a new site as well. The Illinois PGA is moving its biggest event back to The Glen Club in Glenview. I had no problems with Hawthorn Woods Country Club, and its membership’s support of the tournament the last four years was exemplary, but The Glen is better on several fronts and has been away from the tournament calendar for too long.
Now for the big tours. Chicago’s been spoiled in years past. It’s had stops from all the circuits, and it’s both puzzling and disappointing that the area has been increasingly excluded from their calendars the last few years.
Consider this, though. The Western Golf Assn. will put on its prestigious Western Amateur at Exmoor in Highland Park in July, and the U.S. Golf Assn. is bringing another of its championships here, the U.S. Mid-Amateur being scheduled for Conway Farms in Lake Forest in September. And two weeks after that the Ryder Cup comes to Medinah.
Those events are hardly small potatoes, and you don’t have to go far to watch some other biggies this year. One of the Champions Tour’s major championships will be played a two-hour’s drive from Chicago, in Michigan, and the U.S. Women’s Open — the biggest major on the Ladies PGA circuit — will be about as far away, in Wisconsin. Andl a PGA Tour event that promises to be one of the most historically significant of the season, will be within the Illinois borders and the BMW Championship, seemingly in limbo site-wise the next few years, will only require a four-hour drive to Indianapolis this time around.
While the events held in the immediate Chicago area may not be as numerous as they have been in some past years, I can’t remember any year in which four very big events have been scheduled so close to home and they’re nicely spaced throughout the season, too. Here’s a closer look at them:

SENIOR PGA CHAMPIONSHIP, May 24-27, Benton Harbor, Mich — It’ll be coming to the spiffy new Harbor Shores course, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus. This event, presented by KitchenAid, will be played for the 73rd time with a field highlighted by defending champion Tom Watson. Harbor Shores will also host the tournament in 2014. For ticket information and other details on the Senior PGA Championship check out www.pga.com.

U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN, July 5-8, Kohler, Wis. — The 67th staging of one of the majors for the Ladies PGA Tour will be played at Blackwolf Run, just a few miles from Whistling Straits, already the site of two PGA Championships.
Blackwolf Run, one of the most celebrated works of architect Pete Dye, hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 2001 and that championship was one of the most memorable in the history of women’s golf. It came down to a playoff between Korean professional Se Ri Pak and amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn that Pak won on the second extra hole.
All the players found that Blackwolf Run layout extremely difficult, as Pak and Chuasiriporn both played the regulation 72 holes in 6-over-par. Blackwolf has changed a bit since then, as two more nines were added to provide 36 holes for the resort’s guests. Those courses, known as the River and Meadows Valleys, underwent renovations over the last three years and 2012 will mark the first year since 2008 that all 36 holes are available.
While the nines were divided when the additional holes were added, the U.S. Women’s Open layout of 2001 will be restored for 2012 tournament week as the Original Championship Course.
The Women’s Open, conducted by the U.S. Golf Assn., has a long history of exciting tournaments and last year’s was no exception. It came down to a battle of Koreans with 21-year old So Yeon Ryu winning a three-hole playoff from Hee Kyung Seo.
For ticket information and other details on the U.S. Women’s Open check www.usga.org.

JOHN DEERE CLASSIC, July 12-15, Silvis, IL. — This PGA Tour event will again be played the week before the British Open at TPC at John Deere Run, one the outskirts of Moline. While the JDC has become a rare small-market fixture on the PGA Tour, this event will be one for the history books as Steve Stricker tries to win the title for the fourth straight time.
Last year Stricker’s birdie on the 18th hole, set up by a spectacular second shot from a fairway bunker, was a feature on the PGA Tour’s season highlight reel. For details check www.pgatour.com.

BMW CHAMPIONSHIP, Sept. 6-9, Carmel, Ind. — The WGA moved the BMW tourney after Medinah landed the Ryder Cup, the reasoning being that there’d be too much competition for spectator attention and corporate hospitality dollars.
The BMW is the third of four tournaments in the PGA Tour’s Fed Ex Cup season-ending playoff series. It’ll involve the top 70 on a season-long point list, with the top 30 at Crooked Stick moving on to the Tour Championship two weeks later in Atlanta, Ga., so extremely big money will be on the line.
England’s Justin Rose is the defending BMW champion, but he won his title at Cog Hill.
Crooked Stick is no stranger to big tournament golf. Another Pete Dye design, it hosted the a milestone PGA Championship for the men in 1991, when then-unknown John Daly burst onto the golf landscape with a stunning victory after getting into the field as the ninth alternate. The U.S Women’s Open was also played at Crooked Stick in 1993 with Lauri Merten winning the title and Fred Funk won the U.S. Senior Open there in 2009. In addition, Crooked Stick was the site of a U.S. victory in the 2005 Solheim Cup matches.
For ticket information and other details on the BMW Championship, check out www.wgaesf.com.

RYDER CUP, Sept. 25-30, Medinah — The matches between the top professionals from the U.S. and Europe were first played in 1927. While the U.S. team dominated in the early years, the event has been invigorated by a European emergence in more recent years and that has led to one of the most emotional, exciting competitions in all of sports.
This 39th Ryder Cup will be the biggest event ever played at Medinah, and that’s saying something since the venerable club hosted three U.S. Opens and one U.S. Senior Open prior to being the site of PGA Championships in both 1999 and 2006. Tiger Woods won both.
While tickets are no longer available, more information on the Ryder Cup is available through www.pga.com.