Sunset Ridge is back in the tournament spotlight for first time since 1972

It’s been quite a while since Sunset Ridge had had a moment in the sun tournament-wise.

The private club in Northfield hosted the Western Open in 1972. While Sunset Ridge hosted Illinois PGA stroke play events, U.S. Golf Association qualifiers and high school tournaments in subsequent years, it has been without such a high-profile event for 46 years. The dry spell ends when the 116th Western Amateur takes over the course from July 30 to August 4.

This is an interesting time for both Sunset Ridge and the prestigious tournament it will be hosting.

When Sunset Ridge hosted its Western Open the club had just finished a massive expansion and renovation project. With the club’s 50th anniversary approaching, it was awarded the tournament as a gift from both the Western Golf Association and PGA Tour. Long one of the circuit’s most popular stops, the Western had not been played on Chicago’s North Shore for 44 years until Sunset Ridge landed it.

After that tournament it’d be another 41 years before another North Shore club would host a Western Open. (Actually, the return came when the WGA brought its BMW Championship – the successor to the Western – to Conway Farms in Lake Forest in 2013).

As far as the Western Amateur goes, the Sunset Ridge visit will bring a brief halt to the tournament’s stagings in Chicago. The WGA held the event at Point O’Woods, in Benton Harbor, Mich., for 28 years until deciding on a rotation of Chicago clubs beginning in 2009.

With one exception (2013, when the Alotian Club in Louisiana hosted) the tournament has bounced around some of the best Chicago private venues for eight of the last nine years. Skokie hosted twice with North Shore, Exmoor, Beverly, Rich Harvest Farms and Knollwood all getting a shot before Sunset Ridge gets its turn.

The tourney will take a two-year hiatus from Chicago after Sunset Ridge plays host. The Western Am returns to Point O’Woods in 2019 and then goes to Crooked Stick, in Indianapolis, in 2020. A return to the North Shore is assured, though, with Glen View the site in 2021 and Exmoor in 2022. Glen View was the site of the very first Western Amateur in 1899.

Sunset Ridge will be hosting for the first time and – based on what happened in its lone Western Open – the world’s best amateurs will be facing a tough challenge. In the 1972 Western Open only 14 players finished under par and just one clearly mastered the course. Jim Jamieson led wire to wire, posting rounds of 67, 69, 68 and 67 to win by six strokes over Labron Harris.

Jamieson’s 13-under-par 271 total triggered his only win on the PGA Tour but it was part of a brief hot streak for the golfer from downstate Moline, Ill. He had tied for sixth in the 1971 Masters, tied for second in that tournament a few months before his Western win and then tied for third in the 1973 PGA Championship.

Western Amateur contestants will find Sunset Ridge on the short side; it’s only 6,752 yards from the back tees. Bill Diddel, a prolific Indiana architect, designed the original course. He has 160 courses on his resume, and Sunset Ridge was one of his first. In addition to the ’72 Western the Women’s Western Open was played there in 1936 and the Western Junior the following year.

The layout used for this year’s Western Am was created during a renovation by Libertyville architect Rick Jacobson in 2004-05. The course record of 62 was posted by Eric Meierdierks, the 2010 Illinois Open champion who played briefly on the PGA Tour.

As usual, the Western Am will offer one of the most physically challenging events in golf. It starts with 72 holes of stroke play to determine 16 qualifiers for the match play climax to the event. Those who go at it at Sunset Ridge will be hard-pressed to match the drama created last year at Skokie when Norman Xiong, a sophomore at Oregon, needed 22 holes to overcome Doc Redman, then a freshman at Clemson, in the title match.

They played the longest final in tournament history, and it was only the 13th time that the championship match went extra holes. Xiong was also the medalist, and he was the 25th player to lead the stroke play and go on to win the title.

Redman bounced back from the loss to win the U.S. Amateur later in the summer, beating Arlington Heights resident Doug Ghim in the final. Xiong, Redman and Ghim all wound up as members of last year’s winning U.S. team in the Walker Cup matches.