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Len Ziehm On Golf

Renovated Ridgemoor proves no pushover in first round of the Illinois Open

The Illinois PGA, in an effort to increase entries, instituted a two-course format for the finals of the Illinois Open in 2015. It allowed for a 264-player field for the 54-hole finals instead of the traditional 156 after the entries – usually around 700 — were whittled down through a series of state-wide qualifying rounds.

Carrie Williams, the IPGA executive director, said entries have increased by about 20 percent since the change, and that isn’t all.

A new course was needed for the first two rounds of the finals to accommodate the additional players. The Glen Club, in Glenview, has remained the main course. That’s where the IPGA headquarters is located. Selection of the backup course added intrigued to the championship – and that was certainly the case when the tourney began its 70th anniversary staging on Monday.

The first-round pairings suggested that more proven players were starting at Ridgemoor, but the leader at day’s end was Chris Boyle, an assistant professional at Balmoral Woods in Crete. He posted a 7-under-par 65 at The Glen Club and held a two-stroke lead over David Cooke, the tourney’s champion in 2015 who played his first round at Ridgemoor. The players switch courses for today’s Round 2 and those who survive the 36-hole cut will decide the title at The Glen on Wednesday.

Brad Slocum, the IPGA tournament director, likes the contrasting styles of the two venues.

“One (Ridgemoor) is a more tree-lined classic design that requires more accuracy off the tee,’’ said Slocum. “Glen Club is firmer, faster and longer.’’

The courses played almost equally as difficult in the first round. Of the 19 who bettered par 10 did it at Ridgemoor. Trailing Boyle and Cooke in a three-way tie for third were two-time Illinois State Amateur champion Tee-K Kelly, Chicago’s Justin Regnier and Glen Ellyn’s Dave Pecorella. Kelly shot 69 at Ridgemoor while Regnier and Pecorella did it at The Glen.

Ridgemoor, a Chicago club that’s a 20-minute drive from The Glen, is being used as a tournament site for the first time since 2003, when the IPGA held a stroke play event there. Ridgemoor’s selection comes after Royal Melbourne in Long Grove (2015), Royal Fox in St. Charles (2016), Briarwood in Deerfield (2017) and Ravinia Green in Riverwoods (2018) were used in previous years.

“I went to the board and pushed for this’’ said Nick Pease, Ridgemoor’s head professional. “It was important to showcase our course since the renovation.’’

Libertyville course architect Rick Jacobson supervised the updating of the course in 2015. It’s not the same course that was in the national spotlight in 1942 for what some believe was a U.S. Open but was never recognized as such by the U.S. Golf Association.

The controversial tournament was played during World War II and champion Ben Hogan believed it had enough similarities to warrant its declaration as an official U.S. Open. If that had been the case Hogan would have a record five U.S. Open wins. As it is, he’s tied with Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus with four titles.

Hogan’s low round of that week – a 62 – remains the Ridgemoor course record though it was tied 42 years later by Bob Zender, who came through the Chicago amateur ranks before spending several seasons on the PGA Tour.