Conway Farms proved more than worthy as a BMW Championship host
The three-year run by Conway Farms as the site of Chicago's PGA Tour event comes to an end this week when the last putt drops at the BMW Championship on Sunday.
The previous two local PGA Tour sites had longer tenures as hosts. Butler National in Oak Brook hosted the Western Open from 1974 to 1990. Cog Hill in Lemont took over in 1991 through 2011. Neither has hosted a big event since, but that likely won't be the case with Conway Farms.
The Western Golf Association pulled the Western out of Butler after its exclusionary membership policies (it remains an all-male club) made it unacceptable to the PGA Tour. The WGA shifted its biggest tournament -- it was the Western Open through 2006 before becoming the BMW Championship -- from the south suburbs to the north to freshen the event.
Conway Farms has been a good host in an era much different from when Butler and Cog Hill were involved. The WGA opted for a rotation in and out of Chicago in alternate years, a measure that produced more financial benefits for the Evans Scholars program. Conway hosted every other year, starting in 2013.
The shift to Conway created a big change in spectator viewing for Chicago golfers. Cog Hill was a premier public venue with loads of room for parking and other tournament operations. Conway, which opened in 1991, was a younger venue by two decades. While it didn't have the space (parking is relegated to free shuttle service from Great America), that Cog Hill did, Conway offered a glamorous side, with Luke Donald as one of its members.
Donald at one time was the world's No. 1-ranked golfer, and he wasn't the only Conway member with a familiar sports name. The club's members have also included former Bears lineman Olin Kreutz, ex-Blackhawks player and general manager Dale Tallon, and Scott Sanderson, a former Cubs pitcher.
Designed by the highly respected golf architect Tom Fazio, Conway has proved to be a worthy tournament site. Before the PGA Tour arrived the club hosted many events, incuding the U.S. Junior Amateur, Women's Western Junior, NCAA Division I men's championship, a U.S. Open sectional, the Western Amateur and a U.S. Mid-Amateur.
The PGA Tour players found it a decent challenge but not overly tough. Zach Johnson won the first BMW here in 2013 with a 16-under-par performance, but he wasn't the sole star of the show. Jim Furyk shot a 59 in the second round before Johnson overhauled him with a final round 65 to beat Nick Watney by two strokes. Furyk finished third, another shot back. That tourney required a rare Monday finish, as steady rain allowed for only 12 of 60 players to complete their 72 holes on Sunday.
The second Conway BMW in 2015 was the Jason Day show. He tied the PGA Tour 36-hole record, opening 61-63 before winning by six shots over Daniel Berger with a 22-under-par performance for the 72 holes.
More low scoring is expected when the 11th BMW Championship tees off Thursday. No matter the results, the relationship with the WGA has been a satisfying one for the Conway Farms membership.
"We're thrilled to have the tournament back in Chicago," said Conway president Bob Terwall. "We like the idea of a less-than-full field. I'm not sure we would want a 156-player field in the middle of the summer."
He also liked the idea of the tournament coming only every other year.
"Three times in five years was fine, a little less taxing for all staff members," he said. "Leaving Chicago every other year is great for golf. If we had it every four years or six years, that would be great. We'd very much like to remain part of the rotation."
The "rotation" is uncertain now. Aronimink, in Pennsylvania, will host in 2018, and the famed No. 3 course at Medinah will host in 2019 when it returns to the Chicago area. Future BMW tourney locations have not been announced.
Vince Pellegrino, the WGA's vice president for tournaments, called Conway "a wonderful club" and didn't rule out a return in future years. In the meantime, Conway won't be idle as a tournament site.
"We're supportive of championship golf, amateur or professional," said Terwall. "There's been a lot of dialogue involved. We've talked to the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Assn.) and USGA (U.S. Golf Assn.). We want to continue to be on the radar."
He wouldn't rule out Conway as being the alternate site for the Illinois Open, either. The Illinois PGA needs two courses for its biggest annual event, with The Glen Club a fixture and the other chosen on a rotating basis.
"We did the U.S. Mid-Amateur (2012) with Knollwood, and that worked out fine, so we're open to those sorts of things," said Terwall. "That's the way to really support the game, rather than just talk about it."
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What: Top 70 players advance to the third of four of tournament in the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup.
When: Today- Sunday
Course: Conway Farms Golf Club, Lake Forest
Yardage: 7,208 Par: 71
TV: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. Golf Channel. Saturday, noon-2 p.m. GC, 2-5 p.m. NBC. Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. GC, 1-5 p.m. NBC.
Transportation, parking: Spectators can be dropped off at 911 Telegraph Road, Lake Forest, and will be shuttled to the entrance less than half a mile away.
Public parking: Free shuttle service from Six Flags Great America, 1 Great America Parkway in Gurnee. Use north entrance on Grand Avenue.
Metra: Complimentary shuttles from Lake Forest Metra stations.
Purse: $8.75 million total, with $1.575 million to the winner
Defending champion: Dustin Johnson
FedEx Cup leader: Jordan Spieth
Schedule:Wednesday: Gates open at 6:30 a.m.; Pro-Am event
Thursday: Gates open at 8 a.m. for Round 1
Friday: Gates open at 8 a.m. for Round 2
Saturday: Gates open at 6:30 a.m. for Round 3
Sunday: Gates open at 6:30 a.m. for Final Round
Next week: Tour Championship