A year after the BMW Championship at Conway Farms stole the thunder, and two years after the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club was all the buzz, the only show in town this summer will be the Champions Tour's Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club.
The Encompass made its Chicago debut last year to rave reviews by players and fans alike, as Craig Stadler found his groove early and then held off Fred Couples down the stretch to win the inaugural event at the beautiful layout in Glenview.
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Champions Tour president Mike Stevens liked what he saw in Year 1 of the event in Chicago and is sensing bigger and better things ahead in Year 2 … and beyond.
Q. Is it good or bad that you guys are the only game in town in 2014?
A. It's good for us (laughs). Chicago's a great golf town and hosted a number of fantastic events, but I don't think you can read anything into it because it's still a great golf town -- it's just the manner of which things work out from a scheduling perspective relative to the BMW Championship. We just happen to be the only game in town currently. Chicago will always have the PGA Tour coming through.
Q. Were you happy with the inaugural Encompass Championship last year?
A. I was happy. We hadn't been there in a while and you never know what to expect when you return to a market. You hope that you have the same kind of following that you had when you left, but you never know for sure.
But it was fantastic. We had great crowds. The current Champions Tour players are the players that played in the Western Opens for all those years at Butler National and then at Cog Hill. The people that came out remembered when those players were on the PGA Tour.
North Shore Country Club is a fabulous golf course and proved to be just the perfect venue for us. We could do all kinds of fun things with setup, and we could play the entire golf course."
It might have exceeded my original expectations, but I always go (cautious) into these types of rejuvenation-type of events.
Q. Do you see it becoming a yearly staple?
A. Absolutely. We have a long-term agreement with Encompass, and I know they're very happy with the event. Every indication I got was that it met all of their needs and all their goals and objectives.
It had a charitable impact. Obviously you always want to have more money available for charity, and that comes over time. As we continue to establish ourselves a little bit more in the marketplace and people start to plan around when the event will be there, then it will keep getting bigger and better.
Q. What's the deal with Bernhard Langer? How does he keep doing it year after year?
A. He's probably a little frustrated that he has so many second-place finishes, but he has an awful lot of wins. He's in great shape, keeps himself very physically fit. He eats right, works out -- all the things you're supposed to do when you're over 50 that I don't do (laughs). I think it comes down to the fact that it's hard to win. It's hard to win when you're in your 20s, and it's equally as hard to win when you're in 50s.
These guys will tell you -- they get butterflies. Even though they've been doing it for 30 years they still get them when it comes down to having to hit all the shots down the stretch. It's kind of nice that they still have that competitive spirit.
Q. And they're still playing good golf …
A That's it. That's right. It's the stigma that we try to overcome every day. People think that it's just a bunch of old guys that can't play anymore, and even though we changed the name to Champions Tour from the Senior Tour, we still fight the stigma of "senior."
It's not until people come out and see firsthand how truly good these guys play, and how well they hit the ball, once they see it they tend to come back.
Q. If you had to describe what makes going to one of these events special, what would you say?
A. The easy answer is great golf. But the really fun answer is that you literally get to see and meet these players close-up -- something you didn't have the opportunity to do when they were playing on the PGA Tour. We pride ourselves on being fan friendly.
On the Champions Tour, these guys have already made a name for themselves, many are in the Hall of Fame, and obviously they're all great golfing stars. But they get it, they understand that in order for the Champions Tour to be successful, they need to be accessible. And they are.
The Pro-Am experience is probably one of the best in sports as far as a professional athlete with an amateur nonathlete. And the spectator experience is equally as fun because you'll see guys entertaining and talking to the crowd during a competitive round.
I'm amazed at what I see out there every week. I'm very lucky that they understand that and do what they do. You're going to see great golf, but you're going to meet great golfers.
Q. What's it like to be the president of this tour?
A It's fun. It's exciting, it's challenging.
I'm on the road quite a bit, usually over 200 days a year. I try to go to every event.
It's challenging, too, because we have to sell sponsorships just like the PGA Tour does, and entertain our title sponsors and our corporate base. I'm always out there selling. I'm a schmoozer, a politician, a salesman … all of it rolled into one. If I had to grade myself I'd say I've done a good job of raising the bar of this tour. And when I'm long gone, I'm sure the next president of this tour will come in and do the same thing.
But it's the players who make it -- it's not what I do, it's what they do. And all the volunteers and tournament staffs. Everybody works together and that's why it works so well.