The biggest tournament of Chicago's golf season is less than a month away, and the pressure is mounting at Cog Hill.
The 72-hole facility in Lemont will host its 20th PGA Tour event when the BMW Championship takes over its Dubsdread course from Sept. 12-18.
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"And we hope we have another 20," said Cog Hill owner Frank Jemsek, but he knows that's not a certainty.
The PGA Tour stars were critical of the course, particularly the greens, at last year's BMW, and that led Jemsek to bring in Scott Pavalko as new superintendent. Pavalko, 31, has been working with veteran Ken Lapp to get the course ready for the big event.
How well they handle that difficult task could affect the future of the tournament in Chicago. A PGA tournament has been held in the Chicago area every year since 1962, with the exception of 2008 when architect Rees Jones supervised a renovation of Dubsdread. His work has had mixed reviews.
"I like the job Rees did," said Jemsek. "He did what he said he was going to do, and he did what we asked."
Jemsek ordered the renovation in hopes of landing a future U.S. Open, but Dubsdread yielded a low score (a record 62 by winner Tiger Woods) in 2009. That's not in keeping with the U.S. Golf Association's intent of having challenging layouts for its biggest tournament.
Then there were those complaints about course condition last year after a hot and humid summer. Several pros complained about the greens being bumpy and slow.
The Western Golf Assn. moved the 2012 BMW to Crooked Stick in Indianapolis to avoid a conflict with the Ryder Cup at Medinah and named Cherry Hills in Denver as the site in 2014. WGA officials have considered a variety of options, including Cog Hill, for the 2013 staging. It all depends on how 2011 goes.
"There's some pressure," admitted Pavalko. "I've worked probably 10-11 PGA tournaments (at Ohio's Muirfield Village, site of Jack Nicklaus' Memorial event). But this is the first time its my course -- mine and Ken's both. There's a lot of weight on my shoulders."
Play is down at all Chicago courses, thanks to the economic climate. Heat and heavy rains in June and July made things difficult for superintendents. Pavalko admitted last week that Dubsdread isn't in perfect shape yet.
"We're in good shape, and we have time to get it in great shape," said Pavalko. "You could get a 100 percent perfect course tee to fairway, but if the greens aren't right that's where the complaints will be. We're trying to peak at the right time."
IWO site is closing
Mistwood, the Romeoville site of the Illinois Women's Open, will close on Monday for a $6 million renovation project. Director of golf Dan Phillips said it will reopen in the spring.
The course renovation, supervised by Michigan architect Ray Hearn, will be highlighted by a new No. 3 hole that will have a lake fronting the green. Hearn will add eight bunkers and stretch the course's length by 300 yards. A 5,000-square-foot learning center will also be constructed.
Owner Jim McWethy has long wanted to replace the clubhouse as well, but Phillips said no date has been set for the start of that project. The IWO will be back in 2012.
"The only change is it will be played on a better golf course, one that's more challenging and more fun to play," said Phillips. "The new course will have the same flavor as the old one, but it'll be more exciting and have better drainage."
Kemper hires Jacobson
Libertyville architect Rick Jacobson's next project will be to oversee a gradual renovation of Kemper Lakes, the Kildeer course that hosted the 1989 PGA Championship and was a regular stop for both the Senior PGA Tour and Illinois PGA Championship before a 2003 ownership change resulted in the course going private.
The 32-year-old layout could be back as a big tournament site once Jacobson completes his work.
"Our priority for the course will be to renovate the bunkers," said general manager Janet Dobson, "but obviously we want that done within the context of a master plan.
"We want to continue to provide a wonderful golf experience for our members while preserving a tour-quality golf course.''
Did you know?
Lake Forest's Brad Hopfinger, who won the Illinois Amateur last week at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn, is now a professional. The University of Iowa graduate plans to play a series of Nationwide Tour qualifiers before entering the PGA Tour qualifying school in the fall. … First Tee of Chicago's third annual wine-tasting fundraiser Wednesday night at Chicago's River East Arts Center will feature world No. 1 Luke Donald again, and Jack Nicklaus will join him. Golf Channel's David Feherty will emcee the event. … Billy Casper Golf, which manages 13 Chicago courses, will hold the "World's Largest Golf Outing" on Thursday to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. More than 80 Casper courses nationwide will participate. … The entrance at Olympia Fields is back to normal now that work on a bridge fronting the No. 17 tee of the North course has been completed. … Briarwood, a private club in Deerfield, will close its course early to accommodate a renovation project.
• Len Ziehm's golf column appears Wednesdays in the Daily Herald. To contact him, visit lenziehmgolf.com.