Illini golfers await new tourney, assistant coach’s departure

The Masters, as always, hogged the golf spotlight as spring kicked in, but now that’s changing – especially at the University of Illinois.

Mike Small’s Illini men’s team is ranked No. 5 in the nation with two regular-season tournaments remaining – this week’s Tiger Collegiate Invitational in Columbia, Mo., and then the Fighting Illini Collegiate April 22-23 – the first tournament Small’s team has hosted in the Champaign-Urbana area since the 2011-12 season. That event will be played at the newly-renovated Atkins Golf Club.

After that comes the Big Ten and NCAA championships.  The Illini will be strong contenders in both but the climax to the season will lead into the departure of Justin Bardgett, Small’s assistant coach the last four years. He has accepted a position as director of collegiate relations with the PGA Tour and will depart after the Illini season is over.

“The decision to leave Illinois was very difficult, but ultimately this opportunity couldn’t be passed on for my family and me,’’ said Bardgett.  “But first I’m excited to close out our strong season by chasing championship with our guys.’’

“His talents will surely be missed,’’ said Small,  “but I know Justin will continue to do great things in his new career path with PGA Tour University.’’

COURSE OPENINGS: Many area courses, impacted by changing weather conditions, make last-minute decisions on their spring openings.  A handful, though, have announced their openings already and Nickol Knoll, Arlington Heights’ fun nine-hole par-3, will open on Saturday (APRIL 15).

Facilities that have already announced their openings are Mistwood, in Romeoville; Arlington Lakes, Mount Prospect, Heritage Oaks, Settler’s Hill (Batavia), and Ravisoe (Homewood).

PGA HOPE: KemperSports and the Illinois PGA Foundation have partnered on a series of free six-week clinics that will begin in May and conclude in October. Instructors will be trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency.  The title for the nation-wide program stands for “Helping Our Patriots Everywhere.’’

The Kemper/IPGA series starts May 24 at Harborside International, Chicago.  Other starting dats are May 25 at Winnetka Golf Club, June 7 at Bolingbrook, June 20 at Cantigny in Wheaton and Aug. 31 at Deerpath in Lake Forest.

In addition to announcing the opening of registration for PGA Hope, the IPGA is ready to open its tournament season.  First event is on Monday, the Pro-Pro-Pro Scramble at Mistwood.

HERE AND THERE: Dave Lockhart’s Golf 360 TV show, hosted by Katie Kearney and featuring former Bears’ long snapper Patrick Mannelly, is scheduled to begin on June 4. It’ll be carried on NBC Sports Chicago with first one coming from Klein Creek in Winfield.  Each monthly episode with aire eight-10 times over a 30-day period.

The Masters’ conclusion triggers the return of Chicago-connect players to the PGA Tour.  Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy and Kevin Streelman are in the field for this week’s RBC Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, S.C.  Donald, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, needed a sponsor’s exemption to get in the field this time but Donald has had great success over the years in the event, finishing as the runner-up four times and in third place twice.

The Chicago District Golf Association opens its tournament season on Monday, April 24 with a U.S. Open local qualifier at Cantigny and at CDGA Mid-Amateur qualifier at Maple Meadows in Wood Dale. The social calendar tees off on May 2 with the CDGA/Kemper Two-Person Scramble at The Glen Club, in Glenview.

Tickets have just gone on sale for the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop.  It’ll be played July 5-9 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis.

A new PGA Superstore location has just opened in Orland Park.