Consider the Chicago golf season in full swing – almost.
Of the area’s primary tournament venues only Conway Farms, the private facility in Lake Forest that will host the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship in September, isn’t taking golfers yet. It’s not expected to open until mid-May
The finishing touches are being put on a major facelift at Conway with the tournament’s return after a year’s absence presenting a cause for caption.
“They’re taking steps every year to make it better for the players as well as the spectators,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, tournament director for the Western Golf Assn.
The practice range has been expanded by 60 percent, all the greens have been re-grassed, and the cart paths widened, the parking lot has been expanded and the pro shop and caddie facilities upgraded as well. A second ticket gate has also been added at the No. 9 tee, all designed to make the site better when the PGA Tour returns.
Apparently the word is out. BMW ticket sales were up significantly even before Jordan Spieth’s dramatic victory in the Masters tournament on Sunday. Early ticket sales for the BMW Championship, which brings together the top 70 players for the third event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, are up 47 percent from the same time in 2013 – the last time the PGA Tour visited Chicago – and the sale of weekly badges to the Trophy Club hospitality tent have more than doubled.
Spieth is expected to compete in both of the PGA Tour’s Illinois stops this season. The other is July’s John Deere Classic in downstate Silvis. Spieth won his first PGA tournament at the JDC in 2013.
The BMW’s previous home base, Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Lemont, welcomed players for the first time last weekend. There’s a new look on the staff side at Cog, as David Impastato is now director of golf, Randy Heinrich is manager of the Learning Center and Jim Hartnett is on board as Master Clubfitter. A new team event, the Dubsdread Spring Classic, has also been scheduled for May 16.
Mistwood, the Romeoville layout that annually hosts the Illinois Women’s Open, had its spiffy Performance Center open last week. The course is to open on Thursday but the new clubhouse, under construction since last August, isn’t expected to be ready for another four months.
Wisconsin’s two major tournament courses, Whistling Straits (this August’s PGA Championship site) and Erin Hills (2017 U.S. Open) aren’t open yet. Whistling opens April 24 and Erin Hills on May 11.
Illini expand facilities
The University of Illinois dedicated its Lauritzen/Wohlers Outdoor Practice Facility, which is adjacent to the J.G. Demirjian Indoor facility in Urbana. The combination of the two provides the men’s and women’s teams at the school with a model for collegiate programs nation-wide.
The outdoor version, inspired by the practice range at Augusta National, was a $6 million project — over $2 million going toward facilities plus a $3.5 million endowment to support the annual operations.
Here and there
Chicago’s longest-standing golf radio show, Golfers on Golf, will make its season debut at 9 a.m. on Sunday (APRIL 19) over WSBC (1240-AM) and WCFJ (1470-AM). The show, featuring Rory Spears, Mike Munro, Ed Stevenson and Bill Berger, is entering its 20th season.
Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson and Chris Ioriatti carded a 7-under-par 65 to win the Illinois PGA’s season opening Pro-Assistant Championship on Monday at Naperville Country Club. The IPGA will hold another team event next Monday, the Pro-Pro Scramble at Chicago’s Harborside International.
Pheasant Run Resort, in St. Charles, will host its Spring Scramble on Saturday and will also host a qualifier for the World Golf Scramble on May 30. Meanwhile, Cog Hill will hold its Tee It Forward Scramble on Course 3 on Sunday.
The Chicago District Golf Assn. will open its tournament season with three April qualifiers for its Mid-Amateur Championship. They’ll be held April 23 at Coyote Creek in Bartonville, April 27 at Village Greens of Woodridge and April 30 at Bridges of Poplar Creek in Hoffman Estates.