That horrible pandemic made 2021 a difficult year for everybody, but it was somewhat less so for those in the Chicago area golf industry. The courses were busy, the big events were back on schedule and an extraordinarily large number of facilities took on expansion projects.
The biggest was at Heritage Oaks, the Northbrook Park District’s facility formerly called Sportsman’s. It got a remake of its 27 holes and a new clubhouse, a $12.75 million project with the clubhouse costing $6 million. The facility was closed throughout 2020, but everything was up and running in August of 2021.
Another overhaul, at The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison, was brought to an end with the building of a new $12.6 million clubhouse that opened in early August. The work on its 18-hole course, owned by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and long beset by flooding issues, required a $16 million renovation that was completed three years earlier.
The Preserve had been in operation since 1923 (as Elmhurst Country Club), and Heritage Oaks dated back to 1931 (as Sky Harbor Golf Club ). The revival of these two longstanding facilities were a big deal, but not as impressive cost-wise as a project that Medinah Country Club announced in the waning days of December.
A membership vote approved a $23.5 million renovation of the club’s famous No. 3 course, a layout that opened in 1923 and has hosted three U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships and the 2012 Ryder Cup. Work won’t start on the renovation until the fall of 2022 and the new version won’t re-open until sometime in 2024 but, golf-wise, it’ll be the talk of the town for a few years at least.
The club wants to have the new version in top shape for the 2026 President’s Cup matches. That’ll be the next of Medinah’s high-profile events. The work will be done by OCM, an Australian design firm headed by former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and partners Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead.
While Medinah No. 3 has long been one of the world’s most famous courses, its new version will look much different. It’ll have three new holes, with a five-hole short course and enlarged putting green also part of the renovation plans.
William Kuehn, the Medinah president, said the renovation wasn’t taken on just because the President’s Cup is coming.
“The plan encapsulates a continuing vision to provide compelling tournament play and a world-class golf experience for members, guests and the professional tournament player,’’ said Kuehn.
Michael Scimo, a former club president and the club’s chairman for the President’s Cup, said Medinah “has an option for another tour event.’’ That includes the possibility of a U.S. Open returning to the Chicago area. That event was last held at Medinah in 1990 and the event hasn’t been at a Chicago course since Olympia Fields hosted in 2003.
Medinah had more to celebrate in 2021 than the massive plans for its showcase course. Tee-K Kelly, a Medinah member, won the Illinois Open and also earned conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour, which offers a direct pathway to the PGA Tour for its best players in the 2022 season.
BEFORE 2021 is gone there were some other big memories made within the Chicago golf world:
Northbrook’s Nick Hardy earned his PGA Tour card thanks to his solid play over the last two years on the Korn Ferry circuit, and he immediately proved he can compete on the premier circuit when he made the cut in three of his first four tournaments as a PGA member.
Highwood’s Patrick Flavin had a huge week in the PGA’s Bermuda Open, winning $99,125 for a tie for 17th finish after making the starting field through Monday qualifying.
Batavia-based equipment manufacturer Tour Edge made a huge signing in adding Bernhard Langer to its roster of PGA Tour Champions staffers. Langer went on to win the Charles Schwab Cup, and Tour Edge got a late-season boost when John Daly, with 13 Tour Edge clubs in his bag, teamed up with his son to the win the PNC Championship.
Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol, in her second season as Illinois’ lone LPGA Tour player, made a huge climb on the money list from her rookie campaign. Thanks largely to a third-place finish (worth $198,617) in the Founders Cup, Szokol topped the $500,000 mark for the season.
The Western Golf Association announced it’s bringing the BMW Championship back to Chicago area. It’ll be played at Olympia Fields in 2023. The WGA also landed a new sponsor for its Korn Ferry event. Formerly the Evans Scholars Invitational, it’ll be known as the NV5 Invitational Presented by First Midwest Bank when it is held in May at The Glen Club in Glenview.
While Mistwood’s Andy Mickelson won the Illinois PGA Championship, the section’s players of the year were Skokie’s Garrett Chaussard in the regular division and Blackberry Oaks’ Roy Biancalana in the senior division. Nick Tenuta, of Mount Prospect, and Mark Small, of Frankfort, were the Players of the Year in the Chicago District Golf Association season.
University of Illinois alum Tristyn Nowlin won the Illinois Women’s Open at Mistwood after finishing second in both the IWO and Women’s Western Amateur at the Romeoville Course in 2018.
The Preserve at Oak Meadows and Heritage Oaks aren’t the only places to get new clubhouses in 2021. Fox Run, in Elk Grove, just opened a new one, too, and more are in the planning stages at Glencoe Golf Club, Heritage Bluffs, in Channahon, and Settler’s Hill, in Geneva. The Bridges at Poplar Creek, in Hoffman Estates, also just opened its new indoor-outdoor practice range so the building boom appears to be ongoing.
In summing up 2021 it should be noted world-wide climax came not too far away. After two decades of frustration in the Ryder Cup matches the U.S. team posted a record 19-9 victory when the biennial competition was held at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits in October.