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Len Ziehm On Golf

WGF leader hopes for big industry boost from this Masters

The 82nd Masters tournament tees off on Thursday, and how it unfolds could have far-reaching effects within the golf industry. At least that’s how Steve Mona, executive director of the World Golf Foundation, sees it.

Mona will release his group’s most recent report on the U.S. Golf Economy at the National Press Club in Washington DC on National Golf Day, which is April 24. The last such report was issued in 2011, and Mona gave a sneak preview of the upcoming report exclusively to The Daily Herald with the Masters closing in.

In 2011, according to Mona, golf provides $68.8 billion to the U.S. economy and creates 2 million jobs. There has been a slow decline in the number of facilities, though. The U.S. peaked at 16,052 courses. Now there are barely 15,000.

Within the Chicago area 22 courses, 17 of them open to the public, closed since 2001 and only one has re-opened. Still, Mona is hopeful.

“There will be a larger amount of economic impact in the next report,’’ he said, adding that the size of the U.S. golf market has remained stable.

“Golf contributes more to the U.S. economy than the spectator sports and the performing arts,’’ said Mona. “People don’t realize how large it is.’’

The rise in Masters ticket prices should give an indication of that. Arguably the most difficult tickets in all of sports, the Masters’ average price of tickets sold this year tops at $1,870 for Thursday’s opening round. That’s the highest average ticket price for any tournament day in Masters history and up nearly $300 from a year ago. The average price of a Sunday ticket this year is $1,554, nearly $200 more than in 2017.

“The Masters is typically the No. 1-rated golf event in terms of TV ratings,’’ said Mona. “It sets the tone for the year in golf, so this could be an epic year for the golf industry if we get a compelling story line. If we get Tiger (Woods) or Phil Mickelson in contention, or Rory McIlroy going for the career Grand Slam or maybe Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, or Justin Thomas challenging, that would be fantastic. Golf at the highest level creates a lot of opportunities to drive interest in the game. We’re very hopeful for what could happen.’’

Streelman, Donald didn’t make it

Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald, the two most prominent PGA Tour players with Illinois backgrounds, have played in several Masters but didn’t make the 87-man field that will tee off at Augusta National on Thursday.

In addition to Doug Ghim, the Arlington Heights resident who qualified as the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur, the starters include former University of Illinois standout Thomas Pieters; Matt Fitzpatrick, who briefly attended Northwestern; and Bryson DeChambeau, winner of both the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields and last year’s John Deere Classic.

Cook returns to Medinah

Medinah Country Club, which has hosted multiple U.S. Opens and PGA Championships as well as the 2012 Ryder Cup, has named a replacement for director of golf course operations Curtis Tyrrell. He’s Steve Cook who spent 20 years as director of agronomy at a course with a similar tournament resume – Oakland Hills in Michigan.

A University of Illinois graduate, Cook started his professional career with a three-year stint as superintendent for Medinah’s Nos. 1 and 3 courses in 1986.

Tyrrell ended a 10-year run at Medinah in January to take a similar position at Bonita Bay, in Naples, Fla. Bonita Bay has five 18-hole courses.

Here and there

More superintendents changes have Stephen Hope leaving well-regarded downstate Illinois course Canyata to take the head job at Crystal Tree in Orland Park and Steve Kuretsky moving up from superintendent to director of agronomy of Cantigny’s four courses in Wheaton. He replaces Scott Witte, who was named director of Cantigny Park Horticulture after spending 23 years in charge of Cantigny’s courses.

Ken Lapp has retired after spending 71 years with Jemsek Golf. Lapp started when he was 12 years old and was named superintendent at Fresh Meadows, in Westchester, when he was 19. He moved to a similar post at Cog Hill in Lemont in 1973 and worked there for the past 45 years. Lapp is moving to North Carolina to be closer to family members.

Northwestern’s Dylan Wu is among five finalists for the Byron Nelson Award as the Wildcats prepare for their next competition, Purdue’s Boilermaker Invitational on April 14-15.

The NU women, runners-up to Arizona in the NCAA finals last year at Rich Harvest Farms, upset No. 1-ranked UCLA in a match play event last month. The Wildcats, ranked 13th nationally, are in the Silvarado Showdown tournament in Napa, Calif., starting on Sunday.

Both the Illinois men’s and women’s teams are coming off tournament wins. The Illini men have won their last two events and the women captured the Mountain View Collegiate in Arizona last week. Both play in Ohio State-organized tournaments before the conference championships start. The women are in the Lady Buckeye Invitational April 14-15 and the men in the Kepler Intercollegiate April 21-22.