International Crown already looking ahead to Rich Harvest in 2016

As exciting as this first International Crown figures to be, the second staging in 2016 could well be even more eye-catching. It’ll be played at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, IL., 46 miles west of Chicago.

Rich Harvest is a much different place than Caves Valley. The ultra-private club has only 100 members. The facility is spread over 1,820 acres and includes a private car museum, miles of horseback-riding trails and three lakes stocked for fishing.

At the center of it all, though, is a beautiful golf course that didn’t have all 18 holes open until 17 years ago but is already an established tournament venue. Owner Jerry Rich has wanted it that way. Not only did he design the course and build it over a 10-year period, he was at the forefront in the creation of the International Crown – the showcase event at his very special place.

Simply put, Rich is a visionary with a passion for golf, the women’s version in particular.

“I want to create a legacy,’’ he said. “Bobby Jones created the Masters, so we can create the International Crown. I had long decided that I wanted to stay in women’s golf. It’s the type of product I wanted to be involved in.’’

Rich Harvest continues to be Chicago’s most active tournament venue. This year it hosted the men’s NCAA Central Regional in May and will host the Northern Intercollegiate, nearby Northern Illinois University’s showcase event, in September. In 2015 Rich Harvest will welcome the Western Amateur and Palmer Cup events and in 2017 it’ll be the site of the Western Golf Association’s 100th staging of the Western Junior Championship. Rich is making his biggest impact on the women’s side, however.

His involvement officially began in 2004, when he started a five-year project that resulted in Rich Harvest hosting one of the most successful Solheim Cups ever in 2009. The U.S. team came out the winner, but the staging was even more important. The event drew 120,00 spectators and averaged about 30,000 on days when the matches were in progress.

The success of that Solheim Cup only whetted Rich’s appetite for something even more significant. The International Crown fits that bill. He’s hopeful the event will find a permanent home at Rich Harvest; the 2016 event is just a starter.

“I contacted (LPGA commissioner) Mike Whan after the Solheim Cup,’’ said Rich. “I told him `You’ve got the greatest product in the world,’ but the Solheim Cup didn’t have the greatest players in women’s golf; they’re from Asia. We had to create something new and different, an event that would bring them into the competition.’’

Whan agreed, and a format for the International Crown was developed. Whan, however, wanted to get the Crown going in 2014 and Rich wasn’t ready for that. He needed time to develop related junior programs and organize a promotional effort even more elaborate than his Solheim Cup received.

Rich hired seven staffers two years ago. They began contacting high school and college girls’ teams and built a large database of contacts in 240 communities within 40 miles of Rich Harvest.

More important, though, the staffers alerted the Chicago consulates based in Chicago about the International Crown. All countries competing in this year’s International Crown have consulates based there, and about 30 attended an October luncheon at a Chicago restaurant. They were receptive, and there’ll be more contact with those groups as the second International Crown approaches.

“There will be only four Americans playing, so we’ve got to energize the ethnic bases,’’ said Rich. “We’ve got to get 1,000 or 2,000 out each day from the other countries. When Golf Channel shows it, that’ll making this thing really blossom. We don’t know how many total spectators we’ll get, but we should be able to match or exceed the number we had at the Solheim Cup.’’

Rich isn’t reluctant about declaring Chicago “the greatest city in the world,’’ and an ideal area for the Crown because of the global nature of its large population. There are, for instance, 50,000 Koreans living in the Chicago area. They’re sure to be excited about seeing their golf stars compete, especially after attending this year’s Watch Parties that the Rich Harvest staff has organized at various locations during the inaugural International Crown. The first Crown will be televised in 170 countries, so many more people world-wide will know about it by the time the matches begin at Rich Harvest.

Rich already invited the top Asian players on the LPGA Tour to visit Rich Harvest anytime over the next two years. None have seen the place yet, but they’ll be impressed once they get there.

The course, always among the best conditioned in the country, has consistently been listed in the elite Golf Digest rankings of America’s Top 100 Greatest Courses. It has state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor practice facilities in addition to 29 suites on the property. Rich Harvest is also home to the Kids Golf Foundation of Illinois, which has impacted the lives of over 100,000 youth since its inception in 1998.

Players on both the U.S. and European teams stayed in cottages on the property during Solheim Cup, but that won’t be the case in 2016. The 32 players will be housed at a luxury hotel 10 minutes from the course. The three estate houses on the course, which comprise 50 rooms, will house those with ambassador packages. There will be eight of them, each coming in at the $400,000 level and offering a variety of perks in addition to the on-course lodging.

The bulk of the other golf fans attending will find it easier to get to the course than those attending the Solheim did. Due to the popularity of the event, the Solheim had a 10-mile traffic backup at one point on the first day of the matches, but that problem won’t likely happen again. Roads were widened and a round-about built near the course to facilitate traffic flow. Alternate routes to the course have also been devised.

A diverse gallery is assured for the second International Crown. Chicago’s ethnic communities are expected to turn out in large numbers, but Rich is just as happy to predict “there’ll be a lot of young people here.’’

The youngsters will have more to watch than the competitive matches. A 5,000-square foot Kids Pavilion will include special stations to interest both the youth and adult visitors.

“It’ll be a learning experience. That’s all part of it,’’ said Rich.

Once Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel heard about plans for the International Crown he told Rich that “It’s the Olympics we didn’t get.’’

The city’s bid to host that premier international competition was rejected, but the International Crown promises to be a suitable replacement. And, if Rich has his way, it’ll be a long-lasting one.

“It’ll be huge – the biggest thing to ever hit golf,’’ Rich predicted. That remains to be seen – but no one’s arguing with him about it.