Exmoor hosts the next of bunched up Champions Tour major tourneys

While PGA Tour Champions has always been fun to cover, I’ve always felt there was one thing that was strange about it — the circuit’s designated major championships.

Like the LPGA, the Champions circuit has designated five tournaments as major championships, while the PGA Tour has stuck to just four – the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship

I’ve got no problem with the premier circuit having only four – though I believe The Players Championship should be added to the mix eventually. I’ve also got no problem with the LPGA and PGA Tour Champions having five majors — but there is one big difference.

The LPGA spreads its majors throughout the year better than any of the three most prominent tours. Its first major, the ANA Inspiration, teed off on March 29 and the last putt of its last major, The Evian Championship, will drop on Sept. 16. The PGA’s four majors are in April, June, July and August. Good spacing is evident for both tours.

With PGA Tour Champions, however, it’s much different. Its five majors are played over an 11-week span and the first two are played on back-to-back weeks. The Region Traditions, at Greystone in Alabama, is May17-20 and the KitchenaAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., is May 24-27.

There’s not much separation between the last two, either. The Constellation Senior Players Championship comes to Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park from July 12-15 and just two weeks later the last of the circuit’s majors, the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex, comes to the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. The competitive rounds there are July 26-29.

In between the first two and last two is the U.S. Senior Open, at The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs from June 28 through July 1.

PGA Tour Champions has 27 tournaments this year compared to 48 for the PGA Tour in its 2017-18 wrap-around season and 34 for the LPGA. It would seem that scheduling its majors so close together would diminish the excitement of each one. That may not be the case, however.

Greg McLauglin, tournament director for the Western Golf Association from 1992-99, has been president of PGA Tour Champions since 2014. His circuit has thrived thanks in part to offering refreshing alternatives to the other two tours and the unusual scheduling for this year is at least good for Chicago golfers. Two of those majors are within easy driving distance for all the readers of Chicagoland Golf.

The KitchenAid PGA Championship, a two-hour drive from most parts of the Chicago area, provides plenty of familiarity for players and fans alike. It has been played at Harbor Shores three times already.

England’s Roger Chapman was the surprise winner the first time, in 2012 – which was shortly after the Jack Nicklaus-designed course opened. Harbor Shores has hosted every other year since then and that routine will continue through at least 2024.

In 2013 the tourney had another surprise winner at Bellerive in St. Louis, Japan’s Kohki Idoki taking the crown. England’s Colin Montgomerie won his first major on any tour in the 2014 at Harbor Shores and successfully defended his title at French Lick, in Indiana, in 2015.

Then it was back to Harbor Shores, where Rocco Mediate held off Montgomerie to claim the 2016 crown. Bernard Langer won in 2017 at Trump National in the Washington D.C. area. He’ll defend at Harbor Shores.

Seven weeks after the event there the stars of PGA Tour Champions come to the Chicago area for the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor, a private club with a Donald Ross-designed course. It hosted some big events since its founding in 1896, but not lately. The last significant championship played there was the Western Amateur in 2012. That tourney will return to Exmoor in 2022.

While PGA Tour Champions has played many of its regular tour stops at Chicago area courses, the Constellation Senior Players Championship will be the first of the circuit’s majors to make an appearance since Olympia Fields hosted Australian Graham Marsh’s victory in the 1997 U.S. Senior Open.

Last year’s Constellation Senior Players Championship was played at Caves Valley in Baltimore, Md., with Scott McCarron winning the title. That was McCarron’s first major title on any tour and highlighted a great season in which he won two other events and had three runner-up finishes.

While more details of the Exmoor shootout will be forthcoming closer to the event, particulars have already been revealed for the event at Harbor Shores. The Makers Trail is a new feature along the Nos. 16 and 17 holes. It’ll be a private bar serving beers and wines made by the breweries and wineries of West Michigan. There’ll also be a family fun zone at holes 7-9.

The Senior PGA is the oldest of the five annual major events on PGA Tour Champions, having been first played at Georgia’s famed Augusta National in 1937. Mediate’s sizzling 19-under-par 271 performance was the second lowest score in tourney history when he deprived Montgomerie of a three-peat the last time the event was played in Michigan. Only six-time winner Sam Snead’s 20-under in 1973 at Florida’s PGA National bettered Mediate’s performance.

Last year’s tournament was played at Trump National, in Virginia, with Langer winning the title for the first time. Long the dominant player on PGA Tour Champions, Langer has had narrow misses in all three of his chances at Harbor Shores. He tied for fourth in 2012 and tied for third in both 2014 and 2016.

Chicago-based Jeff Sluman, though he has over $30 million in winnings as a tournament golfer, has yet to contend at the Senior PGA Championship. His best in Benton Harbor was a tie for 15th in 2014, but there’s another factor involved this time. Sluman is 60 now and 10-year birthday milestones have triggered good results in the past.

Sluman was 30 when he won the PGA Championship and his win at Tucson just before his 40th birthday triggered a hot streak in which he won seven more events – four of them on the PGA Tour – in the next seven years. After he turned 50 it took Sluman less than a year to win for the first time on PGA Tour Champions.

Now he’s hopeful that 60 will bring similar good fortune, and either Harbor Shores or Exmoor would be a good place for that to happen.