An interview with Mike Galeski, tournament director of the Encompass Championship, to be held in June 16-22 at the North Shore Country Club in Glenview.
Q: Last year was the inaugural event for the Encompass Championship. Overall how pleased were you with how did the tournament went in terms of fan support, volunteers, corporate hospitality sales, etc.?
A: Our first year exceeded expectations in many ways, the players loved the layout and conditioning at North Shore County Club, which is always important and despite some wet weather we had a good turnout of fans. The course layout is very fan friendly and it was easy to get up close and see a lot of golf action.
Last year was the first time the Champions Tour had been back in Chicago in over a decade so there were many new, but familiar faces, in our field. Volunteers and sponsors enjoyed the week as well and we are building in both areas heading into this year's tournament.
Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned last year about bringing a new tournament to the Chicago market? What's the difference between the Chicago golf fan and golf fans you've experienced in other parts of the country?
A: The biggest lesson I learned was that once the summer gets here (is that going to happen this year?) there are a lot of great things to do in Chicago, lots of choices every week and you have to start promoting early and letting fans know you are here. Also the Hawks run to the Stanley Cup Championship rolled all the way into late June due to the delayed start to the season, so there was a lot of interest in hockey of course. By the way I became a Hawks fan immediately upon arrival -- what an impressive group of talented players!
Chicago's sports fans are some of the best in the country -- loyal, passionate and committed. It was fantastic to have some of Chicago's great sports names play in our celebrity portion last year like Brian Urlacher, Robbie Gould, coach Marc Trestman, Pat Foley and Toni Kukoc
Q: You were able to get a great field last year that produced a popular champion -- Craig Stadler. How is the field shaping up this year? Anyone in particular we should keep an eye out for? Any 50-year-old "rookies" we can expect to see in Chicago?
A: We expect another great field this year. As I mentioned the players love the course and we fall in a good spot in the schedule. New faces such as Jeff Maggert who just won in his first Champions Tour start, Hall of Famer Colin Montgomerie, Billy Andrade and a few others are certain to be in the field. The rookies are always hungry and North Shore sets up well for Maggert for sure -- you seldom see him out of the fairway.
Q: Craig Stadler compared the turf conditions at North Shore to those at Augusta National. How did the other players like the golf course?
A: Players like Crenshaw, Irwin and Langer, guys that have a few majors under their belt and have played all over the world, raved about playing at North Shore. We also have one of the top superintendents in the country at the club and his passion and expertise produce excellent playing conditions.
Q: Anything new the fans should look for this year when they go out to North Shore to see the tournament? Any new fan amenities?
A: Yes we have a number of new fan features this year. We have created the Encompass Fan Zone along the left side of the 18th hole with interactive areas sponsored by Encompass, Stryker, Celebrity Cruises, Lexus and Astellas. The Fan Zone will also have our main concession area located in it. It will be a great place to take a break from the action and have some fun.
Q: Where do you think some of the best places are to view golf at North Shore?
A: Our 12th hole, 17th hole and 18th holes are where we saw a lot of fans enjoying the action last year. Easy to get to and very good holes. But North Shore is such an easy walking course, not hilly, mostly treelined so you can be in the shade a lot while you are out on course following your favorite players. The farther you get form the clubhouse and 18th hole the fans begin to thin out a bit and you can easily follow and get up close to all the action
Q: As tournament director, how much golf would you say you get to watch during the week of the tournament.
A: I think I saw about 12 shots last year. The best was when Gary Hallberg jarred his second shot for an eagle on 18 late Friday night when we restarted after the rain delay.
Q: What was the most successful aspect of last year's tournament?
A: Maybe a bit hard to explain but it was teamwork -- so many groups of people -- that had never worked together before-working together so well in our first year and faced with a few challenges such as a very wet spring and a full evacuation due to dangerous weather on Friday -- people really pulling together to produce the best possible event. It was impressive.
Q: Are you still in need of volunteers for this year's tournament and where do I sign up?
A: Yes we can use plenty of help and volunteering is a great way to enjoy the week. Just go to encompasschampionship.com and click on the Volunteer tab and it will provide all the information you need.
Q: You have introduced a new Birdies for Charity program this year. How do I support this cause?
A: Birdies for Charity is a great way to get connected to the tournament and make an impact with participating charities. You can pledge a specific amount for each birdie made by the pros in the tournament. Go to encompasschampionship.com and click on the Birdies for Charity icon and you will see the participating charities and you can make your pledge. One hundred percent of the money raised in Birdies for Charity goes back to the charities.
An interview with Mike Galeski, tournament director of the Encompass Championship