Jerry Rich, owner of Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, has done wonders for amateur golf by making his ultra-private course available for big tournaments like the Western Amateur, NCAA Championship and Palmer Cup. His biggest venture into the professional ranks came in 2009, when Rich Harvest hosted a very well-received Solheim Cup, a team event between the top women from the U.S. and Europe.
That’s why Wednesday’s announcement that Rich Harvest would be a host site in the first season of a controversial golf tour organized by Greg Norman and backed by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund came as a surprise. The eight-eight-tournament team competition is called the LIV Golf Invitational Series and Norman, one of the greatest players in golf history, is chief executive officer of LIV Golf Investments.
Mention of the Saudi Arabia connection wasn’t included in the group’s schedule announcement, in which Rich Harvest was assigned Sept. 16-18 dates. It was the fifth event of the series and last of four planned in the United States. Total prize money for the eight events is $255 million, with all the events played at 54 holes.
Perceived competition from the Saudi circuit has led to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to ban any players from his circuit if they join the newly-announced tour. The popular Phil Mickelson, an outspoken critic of PGA Tour policies, played an active role in getting the Saudi circuit started.
Criticized by many of the PGA’s top stars Mickelson has taken a leave of absence from tournament play, and Monahan — while refusing to say Mickelson has been suspended — said they’ll have to meet before Mickelson can play in another PGA tournament.
So, why did Rich Harvest get involved in the controversy?
Rich didn’t comment when the circuit was initially announced, but his staff put out a statement on behalf of Rich Harvest Farms. It citied “benefits’’ the tournament would have on the Kids Golf Foundation of Illinois, the caddies at Rich Harvest, Ukrainian refugees, educational institutions (most notably Rich’s alma mater Northern Illinois and Aurora University, both of whom play and practice at the Sugar Grove club), businesses in the greater Chicago area and “the Illinois golf community.’’
Rich, as well as Sugar Grove village president Jennifer Konen, made it clear they’re all in for tournament in the aftermath of Norman’s announcement..
“I’m thrilled to announce (his support of Norman’s release),’’ Rich said in his regular “Jerry’s Drive’’ message to friends of Rich Harvest on Thursday. “I hope to see a big turnout from all you golf fans! This will be huge for Illinois and the Chicago area.’’
“The Village is thrilled to welcome the LIV Golf Invitational Series to Sugar Grove,’’ echoed Konen. “Rich Harvest Farms is a valued member of our community and it is exciting that it will be showcased in this new tournament. Sugar Grove looks forward to hosting golf fans from around the world.’’
Players who will compete in the Saudi events haven’t been announced, but the schedule shows there will be some conflicts. The first event, June 9-11 in London, is opposite the Canadian. Open and just a week before the U.S. Open in Massachusetts. The second, at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon July 1-3, is opposite the John Deere Classic – Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop. The other Saudi events all come after the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Trump National, in New Jersey (July 29-31) and The International in Boston (Sept. 2-4) are the other U.S. events on the Saudi circuit. The season wraps up with events in Bangkok, Thailand; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and the season-ending team championship Oct. 28-30 at a site to determined.
This is a long way from being over. Norman is considering legal action against the PGA Tour if it bans players from playing on his tour, and the PGA is considering the creation of a rival Premier Golf League that would offer massive paydays and ownership stakes for tour members. It’d probably play in the fall, after the FedEx Cup events.
As far as Chicago golf is concerned, the event at Rich Harvest fills a growing void of big tournaments coming to the area. The PGA Tour won’t be here for the second straight year and the U.S. Golf Association, Ladies PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions haven’t had an event at a Chicago area course since the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was played at Kemper Lakes in 2018. None of those organizations have one scheduled in the future, either.