CDGA’s date changes will streamline Chicago golf calendar

There are two major changes coming to amateur golf in the Chicago area for 2013. Both involve scheduling, and both represent improvements from the way things were.

For starters, the Chicago District Golf Assn. made one major schedule change, as well as a few others. The big one has the men’s 83rd Illinois State Amateur leaving its longstanding August spot on the calendar and moving to July 16-18. It’ll be contested at Aldeen, in Rockford.

The Illinois Mid-Amateur and Illinois Public Links are also moving back in the schedule, and that’s good, too.

Secondly, on the women’s side, the 80th staging of the Illinois Women’s Amateur is getting a slightly later date and a rare appearance in the Chicago Area. It’ll be played at Cantigny, in Wheaton, from June 25-28. That puts it closer to the only other big event in women’s golf for Illinois players. The 18th Illinois Women’s Open, which will get a July 31 start at Mistwood in Romeoville, is expected to have an amateur-dominated field again.

These changes have been generally – but not universally – well-received. Let’s have a look at them both.

In moving back the State Amateur the CDGA staff felt it was easing the burden on its top players. The U.S. Amateur was in August, too, and that put two of their primary events close together. In fact, they were held on back-to-back weeks in 2012.

Now the U.S. Am is Aug. 12-18, in Brookline, Mass. – roughly a month after the Illinois Amateur champion is determined.

“It’s a good thing,’’ said Dave Ryan, the Taylorville veteran who was the CDGA’s Player-of-the-Year in 2012. “For a lot of kids (the State Am) was up against the U.S. Amateur, and it was hard for them to get to both.’’

From a non-contestant standpoint, the schedule changes are good because they create a month of golf excitement in Illinois rather than spacing out the events, as has been the case in the past. The PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic is the week before the Illinois Amateur and the Illinois Open is the week after.

Quinn Prchal, the surprise winner of last year’s State Am, isn’t quite as convinced.

“It does appear that in 2013 most of the Illinois and Amateur tournaments are concentrated within a fewer number of weeks,’’ he said. “I imagine that scheduling golf tournaments is challenging.’’

He plans on defending his Illinois Amateur title “unless I qualify for the USGA Public Links.’’ That national championship is July 14-20 at Laurel Valley, in Pennsylvania.

Prchal became one of youngest State Am champions in history when he took the title at Kokopelli, in Marion, at 18 — just a few months after his high school graduation. He’s now a freshman at Princeton. The engineering student earned a starting spot on the Princeton team and had one individual top-10 finish (the Brickyard Collegiate in Macon, Ga.) and one team win (the Ivy League Match Play Championship, held on Princeton’s course) as his collegiate golf career got off to a promising start.

Ryan, conversely, may be the oldest-ever CDGA Player-of-the-Year, having won the honor at age 58. Now a year older, he spent much of the winter playing recreational golf in Scottsdale, Ariz. The lone exception was his participation in an April two-man team event at Whisper Rock, the prestigious club that includes such pro stars as Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples (as well as Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman) among its members.

Though he will continue his busy tournament schedule within Illinois, Ryan isn’t predicting another Player-of-the-Year season.

“I’m starting to feel aches and pains I’ve never felt before,’’ said Ryan, “and last year will be a tough act to follow. I got lucky last year. It was unusual for someone my age to do that.’’

Ryan expects to play in virtually the same events he played in during the 2012 season with one exception. He’ll skip the 94th CDGA Amateur (June 24-27 at Edgewood Valley, in LaGrange) to play in a qualifying round for the U.S. Senior Open on June 24 at Ruth Lake, in Hinsdale.

But he likes the other, less-high profile schedule adjustments made by the CDGA, those involving the Illinois Mid-Amateur (now Aug. 27-28 at Flossmoor) and the Illinois Public Links (now July 8-9 at Bowes Creek in Elgin). The Mid-Am was in April and the Public Links in May in 2012.

“Those were good moves because (they avoided) the spring weather,’’ said Ryan. “We had snow one time at the Public Links.’’

Last year was an unusual one, and not just because Ryan was the CDGA Player-of-the-Year. Though he won that award, he wasn’t Player-of-the-Year in the Senior ranks. That honor went to Lake Bluff’s Curtis Skinner, who accumulated enough points with his runner-up finish in the U.S. Senior Amateur.

That extraordinary tournament showing won’t lead to Skinner playing more locally, so the schedule changes “won’t affect me at all.’’

“If I had more time I would play in more of the state stuff,’’ said Skinner, “but Match Play events take up significant time, and amateur golf can be very expensive.’’

Especially if you have to travel to do it. By virtue of his showing at U.S. Senior Am, Skinner, now 55, earned spots in the U.S. Senior Open in July in Nebraska and U.S. Amateur as well as a return to U.S. Senior Amateur, in North Carolina.

His biggest focus will be on the U.S. Senior Open, where he missed the cut by one shot in 2011 when he made bogey on the last hole of the second round.

On the women’s front, the Illinois Women’s Golf Assn. could get another Northwestern vs. Illinois final again at Cantigny, assuming the college stars from both schools enter again. Elizabeth Szokol, now an NU freshman, won the 2012 title match over Michelle Mayer, now an Illini sophomore, at Ravisloe, in Homewood.

With IWGA leadership largely coming from Downstate, the Illinois Women’s Amateur was generally played away from the Chicago area. Last year was a rare exception, and in moving to Cantigny for this year the women will decide their champion on a course that has already hosted the men’s State Amateur three times.

Getting the chance to play Cantigny was a big reason for the date change, according to IWGA president Karen Tillett of Springfield. Cantigny was booked earlier in June.

“We’ve never had it this late before,’’ she said. “We were fortunate to get into Cantigny.’’

The IWGA will host its 34th Junior tournament July 30-31 at the University of Illinois’ course in Savoy and its 44th Senior tournament Sept. 17-19 at The Den at
Fox Creek in Bloomington. The Senior event will also include a Hall of Fame induction for the IWGA. Renee Sloan, the University of Illinois coach, will become on the fourth inductee into that Hall, which was created in 2008.