Champions Tour is finally returning to Chicago

Jeff Sluman showed up at Chicago’s East Bank Club on Monday for the announcement of the return of golf’s Champions Tour to Chicago. The 50-and-over circuit will compete in the $1.8 million Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club in Glenview next June 17-23.

But, first things first. Long before the circuit’s return to Chicago for the first time since 2002, Sluman will play a prominent role in next month’s Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club. A long-time Hinsdale resident, he was chosen as a vice captain of the U.S. squad by head man Davis Love III.

Because of his proximity to Medinah, Love put Sluman to work early. He sent Sluman to Medinah last week to have a look at the No. 3 course that has suffered in this summer’s weather. The famed layout had plenty of rough spots during a media viewing on Aug. 6 and several fairways were stripped after that.

Not to worry, Sluman said. He rode the course in a cart when Love’s European counterpart, Jose Maria Olazabal, played a practice round with record world No. 1 Luke Donald.

“Then I called Davis,’’ said Sluman. “Mother Nature has not been kind to golf courses in the Chicago area the last two years. They had too much rain and too much heat last year, and too much heat this year. I was away, but when I called home I was told the weather was brutal. But the (Medinah No. 3) golf course will be fine. It’ll be very, very good. The Ryder Cup isn’t for awhile (Sept. 25-30), and I expect it’ll be perfect.’’

Sluman expects the new short par-5 15th hole to be set up at 305 to 310 yards, making it driveable for the players on both teams. Sluman expects it to be “a great place for momentum swings.’’ Otherwise, Sluman defers course matters to his captain.

“Davis will know exactly what to do,’’ said Sluman. “When he gets here in a couple weeks he’s will go around with Curtis (Medinah superintendent Curtis Tyrrell) and determine what (areas) should be grown out, where they should pinch in. It’ll be the same for both teams, but Davis doesn’t want to have much rough. That’s great. Birdies and recovery shots are very exciting for crowds to watch. Hacking out of rough probably isn’t so exciting.’’

The new event, though still 10 months away, should be plenty exciting. It’ll have a different format than Chicago’s previous stops for Champions Tour players. They had tour stops at Stonebridge, in Aurora; Kemper Lakes, in Long Grove; and Harborside International, in Chicago, through 2002 and U.S. Senior Opens were played at Medinah in 1988 and Olympia Fields in 1997.

Hale Irwin won three of those Champions Tour stops as well as the 1974 Western Open at Butler National and the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah. He joined fellow tour players Sluman, Fuzzy Zoeller and Chip Beck at Monday’s announcement and Irwin, Sluman and Beck were also part of Encompass’ presentation to North Shore members during the negotiating process.

Northbrook-based Encompass took over the Champions Tour event in Tampa, Fla., last year and plans an event heavily-loaded with pro-ams at North Shore. Traditional pro-ams will be held on Wednesday and Thursday of tournament week and celebrity pro-ams will be included in the first day of the championship proper. Only tour players will compete on the final day.