Web.com Tour returns — with tourney at Ivanhoe

After eight years the Web.com Tour is back. This is going to be fun.

The PGA Tour’s developmental circuit was just that when it held tournaments at Kemper Lakes in 2002 and The Glen Club from 2003 to 2008. The return event has very little to do with those. In fact, the only link is Scott Cassin, the tournament director for the LaSalle Bank Open from 2004 to 2007 and the Bank of America Open in 2008. He will also direct the Rust-Oleum Championship, which takes over Ivanhoe Club for a 72-hole run from June 9-12.

Cassin, though, is quick to point out that the return of the Web.com Tour isn’t about him. For one thing, the circuit was called the Nationwide Tour when the tournaments were played at Kemper Lakes and The Glen Club. The new event for this season – plus two more in 2017 and 2018 – is due to the efforts of Tom Reed, an Ivanhoe member and president and chief executive officer of Rust-Oleum. The company’s headquarters are in Vernon Hills but it held its big tournament at Lakewood Country Club in Cleveland last year.

Reed wanted it staged in his hometown – and at his club, to boot. A good number of his 400 employees at Vernon Hills were quick to volunteer their efforts for the tournament at Ivanhoe. It’ll be a $600,000 event with the champion receiving $108,000. The field will consist of 156 professionals with only the low 65 and ties playing in the final two rounds.

The Web.com Tour was popular with Chicago’s diehard golfers in its days at Kemper Lakes and The Glen. They liked getting up close and personal with the PGA Tour stars of the future and seeing how they compared with a few of the older players gearing up for the Champions Tour. Those events produced some memorable champions, too.

Most notable of the bunch, of course, was Jason Dufner. He won the LaSalle Bank Open in 2006 then became a solid PGA Tour player, winning four times including the PGA Championship in 2013 and making the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

He wasn’t the only champion to make his mark later on, though. Australians Andre Stolz and Brendan Jones won in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Both arrived at The Glen Club with world rankings in the top 100, signifying plenty of promise. Stolz won at Las Vegas on the PGA Tour the year after his win at The Glen. Jones spent most of his time after his win in Japan where he won 13 tournaments.

Chris Couch, the LBO winner in 2005, won on the PGA Tour at New Orleans the following year and eventually accumulated five wins on the developmental circuit. John Riegger, the 2007 LBO winner, went on to win on the Champions Tour as well and Kris Blanks, winner of the last event at The Glen, had some near misses on the big circuit. He finished second in the 2010 Puerto Rico Open and lost the 2011 Canadian Open title in a playoff.

The Rust-Oleum Championship couldn’t be coming to the Chicago area at a better time. With the BMW Championship being played at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis in September, the Rust-Oleum Championship will be the only PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament in the Chicago area this year. It’ll include a celebrity pro-am on the Monday of tournament week, a Drive, Chip & Putt qualifying competition on Tuesday and a regular pro-am on Wednesday. The Golf Channel will provide TV coverage of the four tournament rounds.

Though Ivanhoe director of golf Jim Sobb has long been among the top players in the Illinois PGA ranks, Ivanhoe will be making its debut as a tournament venue when the Web.com Tour visits. The club has roots back to 1949 when members of the Sky Crest Country Club of Chicago found themselves without a home and relocated to Thorngate Country Club in Deerfield. They opted to find a new location in 1987 and Ivanhoe opened in 1991 with an 18-hole course designed by local architect Dick Nugent.

The club was transformed into a 27-hole facility in 1995 by architect Arthur Hills, who created three nines – named Forest, Prairie and Marsh. The original 18 holes, measuring 7,059 yards and playing to a par of 71, will be used for the tournament. Ivanhoe is one of the few clubs to earn Certified Signature Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status in America and underwent a major renovation of its 10,000-square foot clubhouse in 2006.

Ivanhoe will have a similar caliber field to those at The Glen and there’ll be at least one hometown favorite. The first sponsor’s exemption went to Michael Schachner. He developed his game at Ivanhoe before moving on to Duke University where he posted a 60 in a collegiate round. Now a veteran of golf’s mini-tours, Schachner has been a perennial contender in the Illinois Open.

Schachner figures to have some company from the local ranks. The Illinois PGA will conduct Monday qualifying sessions at sites to be determined and they’re expected to draw a hefty number of local amateurs and professionals.

The 2015 winner of the Rust-Oleum Championship in Cleveland was Shane Bertsch, who has since returned to the PGA Tour.

As was the case in previous Web.com Tour visits, the Rust-Oleum Championship will be spectator friendly and tickets are affordable. Youngsters 17 and under will be admitted free and tickets for four days of tournament play for all others are $20. A ticket upgrade, to $30 for the four tournaments days, is also available. It’ll provide a seat at the 18th hole pavilion area.

And one other thing. The Rust-Oleum Championship won’t be the only Web.com Tour event in Illinois this year. Springfield will host one, too. The $550,000 Lincoln Land Charity Championship will be played at Panther Creek from July 14-17.

Panther Creek is no stranger to tournament golf. It hosted the LPGA’s State Farm Classic from 2007 to 2011. Its course, designed by Hale Irwin in 1992, also hosted last year’s Illinois State Amateur. Tee-K Kelly, a Medinah member from Wheaton, won that event for the second time but there were more fireworks from the 2014 winner. Ray Knoll, of Naperville, couldn’t defend his title but he posted what’s believed to be the lowest score in the tournament’s 85-year history with an 8-under-par 63 that included an albatross on Panther Creek’s tenth hole.