Illinois Open gets a major facelift

The Illinois PGA, in an effort to stimulate more entries in its biggest annual tournament, announced major changes in the Illinois Open on Friday.

For the first time the finals in the 65-year old tournament will be played at two sites – Royal Melbourne in Long Grove and Hawthorn Woods Country Club. The field will also be expanded, from 156 to 258 players and the qualifiers for the final round of the 54-hole event will grow from 50 plus ties to 70 plus ties.

IPGA executive director Michael Miller used the opening day of the 32nd annual Chicago Golf Show at Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont to make the long-anticipated announcement.

The tourney will remain a Monday-Wednesday event, with both courses being used for the first two rounds, on July 20 and 21. The final round will be at Royal Melbourne on July 22.

Qualifying sessions for non-exempt players have been scheduled at seven locations, but only one outside of the Chicago area. That one is June 17 at Bloomington Country Club. Other qualifiers are June 4 at Royal Hawk in St. Charles, June 8 at Glencoe, June 11 at Turnberry in Lakewood, June 17 at Balmoral Woods in Crete, June 25 at Willow Crest in Oak Brook and June 29 at Elgin Country Club.

As was the case with last year’s championship site, The Glen Club in Glenview, both Hawthorn Woods and Royal Melbourne are managed by Northbrook-based KemperSports, one of the nation’s most prominent golf management companies. The Glen Club had hosted the event a record nine times, the first coming in 1991.

Unlike The Glen Club, both Hawthorn Woods and Royal Melbourne are private facilities. Hawthorn Woods, an Arnold Palmer design that opened in 2006, hosted the Illinois Open from 2008-11. Royal Melbourne, a Greg Norman design that made its debut in 1992, hosted the Illinois PGA Championship in 2003 and 2004.