The City of the Big Shoulders has given us big-time sports icons like Wrigley Field, the Monsters of the Midway, Michaels Jordan and Ditka and now, Conway Farms, about an hour up the Skokie Highway from downtown in the cozy enclave of Lake Forest.
If that sounds a bit harsh know that the dig isn’t directed at either the Tom Fazio design or the North Side faithful. By all accounts, the site of this week’s BMW Championship is a fine country club course.
“It’s great in the fact it’s a golf club,” said Luke Donald, a member at Conway Farms and the de facto host of this week’s BMW. “There’s no carts, no tennis courts. It’s all walking. It’s a great membership, a lot of low single-figure handicaps. People are very passionate about their golf here.”
Good for Donald, a transplanted Chicagoan via Hemel Hempstead, England, for taking an active role in his community and with the PGA Tour, whom he lobbied to bring the penultimate playoff stop to Conway Farms. But with apologies to the former world No. 1, his statement sounded more like a membership drive campaign than a Tour endorsement.
While “no carts” and “great membership” may work in some towns, in Chicago – arguably the nation’s best golf city – it leaves one feeling as if something has been left on the table.
Following a largely successful two-decade run at Cog Hill, the BMW went on the road in 2008 (Bellerive in St. Louis, Mo.) and again in 2011(Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind.). Since those road shows, it seems the Second City has become second class when it comes to Tour golf.
Next year’s BMW Championship heads west to Cherry Hills in Denver – which, as a logistical aside, will be quite a haul for players coming from the Monday finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship – furthering a disturbing trend.
How is it possible that the nation’s third-largest market has become a part-time Tour player? Steve Stricker plays more than that.
If the Tour and the Western Golf Association, which runs the BMW, are married to the event’s vagabond existence, may we suggest the circuit not stray too far away from the 312 area code.
A town that enjoys an embarrassment of classic golf riches – from Chicago GC to Medinah to Olympia Fields – seems to have become mired in a mediocre lineup of “fine” golf courses and misplaced motivations.
Like The Barclays, the playoff opener, the BMW should rotate, but only within the confines of Chicago-land, nothing else makes sense.
And just to show that Chicago’s relative irrelevance when it comes to high-profile golf is not limited to the Tour’s short-sightedness, consider that the U.S. Open bolted Olympia Fields in 2003 and has never looked back. And no, Wisconsin’s Erin Hills – site of the 2017 Open – is not greater Chicago.
Only the PGA of America, which held last year’s Ryder Cup at Medinah, seems inclined to keep Chicago in the major championship rotation.
Maybe Olympia Fields isn’t the U.S. Golf Association’s cup of coffee and Butler National’s membership policies are too archaic for the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but considering the scope and scale how does that leave the Windy City persona non grata on the golf calendar?
Rees Jones’ redesign of Cog Hill 2009 dropped the Dubsdread layout out of favor with many a Tour frat brother.
“I thought I was pretty done here. It worked out. I get rewarded with a trip to Cog Hill,” Geoff Ogilvy dryly opined at the 2011 Deutsche Bank Championship after earning a trip to the BMW.
But that’s no reason to settle for something safe (Conway Farms) or to relegate Chicago to a supporting role on the Tour landscape. There are too many classic golf courses, too many passionate fans – these are, after all, the same folks who flock to Wrigley more than a century removed from the Cubs’ last World Series victory – to over react in such a way.
Every Tour stop has a charitable story to tell, but the BMW’s beneficiary is particularly rooted in golf. The WGA supports the Evans Scholars Foundation, which currently includes 840 caddie scholars and 14 scholarship houses at universities across the Midwest.
What the WGA does, primarily through the BMW, is a true feel-good story, which is why the event deserves better. The Evans Foundation deserves better. Chicago deserves better.