Key organizer at BMW Championship has a charity mission, too
When you're standing on the 18th green of Medinah Country Club with the tournament director of the BMW Championship, the question practically asks itself: Who will win here come August?
But on this day, Vince Pellegrino is more interested in the ultimate mission of the championship. So he's not making predictions, at least publicly, about who will top the stellar field of the best 70 players in the world converging Aug. 13-18 at Medinah for the PGA Tour playoff chase.
Running a tournament of this magnitude takes three years of planning. And Pellegrino, other organizers at the Western Golf Association and Medinah members are facing an accelerated schedule this summer to pull it all off because the tournament is being held a month earlier than in the past.
But on that 18th green on a recent morning, Pellegrino is talking about what won't get lost in all the preparations and star power: reviving a tournament tradition for young caddies.
And then Pellegrino, who has risen through the leadership ranks of the Western Golf Association from an intern to senior vice president, comes full circle.
About a decade before the Western Open gave way to the BMW Championship, Pellegrino was on the bag for Davis Love III, who, of course, went on to captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team defeated by a miraculous European comeback at Medinah in 2012.
Tournament proceeds have long supported the Evans Scholars Foundation. As an Evans Scholar himself, Pellegrino had a scholarship to attend Indiana University and got paired with Love at the 1997 Western Open pro-am.
At the time, Love was at the top of his game. He also was a gracious listener: He would donate a big-screen TV for Indiana's Evans Scholars chapter after his looper told him about a fire that destroyed the school's scholarship house.
"So it was really kind of a unique moment where I got to caddie for one of the best players in the world, but then afterward, he thought enough to donate something back to the kids and the scholarship house," Pellegrino recalled.
While he may not be able to re-create that moment at this year's BMW, Pellegrino will help bring back the custom of having Evans Scholars caddie for the pros on Wednesday of tournament week.
A few scholars have caddied for the amateurs in the pro-am each year since BMW became the title sponsor, but it will mark the first time since 2006 that current scholars will get to caddie for their golfing idols Aug. 14.
"That's really the best day for people to come out," said Pellegrino, who lives in Glen Ellyn. "The pros are in a relaxed atmosphere and they sign autographs. They're very engaged in taking pictures and signing autographs."
With Medinah's lore and an earlier start that won't conflict with football in September, organizers expect a larger turnout for the tournament. They also hope to raise close to $3 million for the WGA's Evans Scholars Foundation.
"It's certainly about the competition and people watching the best players in the game, but for us at the WGA, it's about the Evans Scholars Foundation and making sure we can raise significant dollars to be able to fund a scholarship that we hope gives 1,000 kids in school this fall full tuition and housing scholarships."
Medinah's footprint will comfortably accommodate the 125,000 spectators expected for the week and required infrastructure. Grandstand seating already has popped up around some of the greens.
Still to come is the NBC studio that will look across the first tee back at Medinah's iconic clubhouse.
The club has a desert motif, as seen in old photos of a camel-shaped bunker and "Miss Medinah," a real-life camel mascot once escorted by Depression-era Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Just beyond the 60-foot-high rotunda -- look at that glistening mosaic ceiling! -- there's a replica of the trophy won by Billy Casper the last time Medinah hosted the Western Open in 1966.
In homage to that history, the desert theme will appear on specialty merchandise created for club members, hospitality patrons and other VIP's inside a pop-up shop where they can watch live interviews of golfers from behind a window in a lounge.
"It's getting the fans closer to the players, closer to behind the scenes and giving them a special look into the championship," Pellegrino said.
The BMW will stay in the Chicago region when Olympia Fields plays host in 2020. After that, will Medinah stay in the rotation?
"They're a great partner of the Western Golf Association and the Evans Scholars Foundation, the charity of the event," Pellegrino said. "And we would enjoy any future relationship with them going forward with our tournaments."
2019 BMW ChampionshipWhen: Aug. 13-18
Where: Medinah Country Club
Parking: To access general parking at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale, spectators must purchase separate $20 parking passes, which include shuttle transportation, in advance.
TV: Golf Channel and NBC will broadcast tournament play
Purse: $9.25 million in prize money