Sunset Valley’s re-opening had some special touches

Joel HIrsch (left) and Patrick Flavin lauded the renovation of the course they grew up on.

Not all new golf courses have the kind of re-opening celebration that Sunset Valley had this week.

Joel Hirsch, a legendary amateur in the Chicago golf ranks, and Patrick Flavin, winner of both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open just a year ago, were the featured attractions. Both started playing golf at Sunset Valley at age 11 and were happy that the Park District in Highland Park chose to upgrade Sunset and close its Highland Park Country Club instead of the other way around.

“I started as a caddie at Sunset Valley, and it’s always had a fond place in my heart,’’ said Hirsch, who led Highland Park High School to two state championships in the 1950s, won the Senior British Amateur and Illinois State Amateur titles twice and qualified for four Western Opens, the last when he was 58 years old.

Now 77, Hirsch lauded the work of Libertyville architect Rick Jacobson who supervised the 16-month renovation of a course designed by Indiana architect Bill Diddel in the 1920s.

“It’s absolutely sensation, as good if not better than a lot of private country clubs in this area,’’ said Hirsch.

Flavin, 22, turned pro two weeks ago and begins his bid for a Tour card next week in a qualifying event in Nebraska. He became the first official course record-holder on Sunset’s renovated course when he shot a 5-under-par 67 from the back tees.

There’s no question what Sunset Valley’s signature hole is. It’s the par-3 fourth.

Jacobson’s re-design touched all 18 holes and the finished product bears little resemblance to the original course, though the same routing is still in place. The overall renovation of both the clubhouse and course was a $7 million project.

Sunset Valley, in effect, is now Illinois’ newest golf course. Another park district facility, 27-hole Schaumburg Golf Club, is doing its renovation nine holes at a time and work on the first nine has been completed.

NEXT UP: The third of the Illinois PGA’s four major events, the 97th IPGA Championship, tees off on Monday (AUG 27) at Stonewall Orchard, in Grayslake. Illinois men’s coach Mike Small will seek his 13th title in the tournament before returning to his coaching duties with the Illini.

The battle for IPGA Player of the Year will heat up in the three-day 54-hole battle at Stonewall. Medinah director of instruction Travis Johns currently leads the Bernardi point standings, followed by Brian Carroll of Royal Hawk in St. Charles, Garrett Chaussard of Skokie in Glencoe, Dakun Chang of Twin Orchard in Long Grove and Chris Green of Glen View Club. The defending IPGA Championship winner, Adam Schumacher of Indian Hill in Winnetka, is seventh

Johns, the Player of the Year in 2010, 2014 and 2016, took the lead after a strong showing in the second major – the Illinois Open. Johns and Chang tied for ninth in that event, won by Tour player Vince India, but they shared low club pro honors and gained the most Bernardi points.

Chaussard won the IPGA Match Play Championship, the first major of the season in May, but missed the cut in the Illinois Open. Last year’s Player of the Year, Jim Billiter of Kemper Lakes in Kildeer, is 15th in the standings.

This year’s Player of the Year will be determined after the last major, the IPGA Players Championship on the North Course at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena. It’ll be held Sept. 24-25.

Being charitable

Johns has a big month coming up after the IPGA Championship. He’s co-chairman of the IPGA’s Birdies for Charity event that will be held Sept. 4 at River Forest Country Club in Elmhurst.

The event, which raised $1.18 million for several charities in its first seven years, has been expanded for this year with 43 club professionals from 38 clubs participating, and the Central Illinois Section of the PGA is holding its own competition for the first time on the same day at Country Club of Decatur.

Last year’s Birdies for Charity at River Forest raised a record $280,000 and Johns and his co-chair, River Forest head pro Chris Gumbach, are expecting to hit $300,000 this time. Participants have donors making contributions for each birdie made, and the event has been expanded from 72 to 90 holes this year.

Also on the charity front, Luke Donald’s Taste of the First Tee fundraiser has been scheduled for Oct. 22 at Medinah.