Arvia: Tourney changes, but Jemseks soldier on
PHIL ARVIA firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5949 February 9, 2012 7:32PM
2008 BMW Championship winner Camilo Villegas drives a BMW through a ribbon in May of 2009, christening the Dubsdread renovation by Rees Jones that may have cost the Lemont course its PGA Tour stop. | File photo.
Updated: March 11, 2012 8:47AM
The timing of the report may have caught Katherine Jemsek by surprise. But the content surely didn’t.
After two decades as the Western Open’s gracious hosts, the Jemsek family long has sensed the party was over at their Cog Hill as of the 2011 BMW Championship, the Western’s corporatized progeny. Yet as of Thursday she’d not gotten a call from the WGA informing her that a move from that Lemont facility to Lake Forest’s Conway Farms was a “done deal,” as the Chicago Tribune reported late Wednesday.
Perhaps because, technically at least, done the deal is not.
“There’s no contract signed,” Todd Marsh, Conway Farms’ general manager, said Thursday afternoon. “We’re still working out some of the details.”
An announcement of a 2013 site, WGA vice president of tournaments Vince Pellegrino said, should come “within the next three or four weeks.” In that time, and through and beyond the BMW’s 2012 visit to Crooked Stick near Indianapolis, expect no sour grapes from the Jemseks.
Presuming the details get worked out, Jemsek said, “I wish Conway Farms and the Western Golf Association the best of luck. I’m sure they’ll have a successful event.”
That is a higher road traveled than chosen by many of the PGA Tour pros who visited and vilified Dubsdread over the past three BMWs.
Rees Jones renovated Cog Hill’s signature layout in 2008. The course has been panned, to one degree or another, by a variety of pros since.
Phil Mickelson told reporters, “A great golf course is a course that’s challenging for the good player but playable for the average player. This is the exact opposite. ... the average guy just can’t play it.”
“From an architectural standpoint, I’m not a huge fan of Rees Jones,” offered Luke Donald.
Even renowned nice guy and Illinois alum Steve Stricker piled on, saying the Jemseks “need to get their money back. ... It’s too bad what happened here.”
And it is too bad. Not for Donald, the No. 1 player in the world and a member at Conway Farms. Too bad for the Jemseks, who, starting with Katherine’s grandfather, the late Joe, have given much to golf.
“I’m emotionally attached to Cog Hill, so yes, I’m disappointed,” Jemsek said. “But, the Western Open has been here for 20 years. Maybe they do need to try something else.”
Hopefully, the WGA’s grand experiment will work out better than Cog Hill’s.
The Jemseks dropped $5 million on Jones’ revamping in an effort to snare a U.S. Open. They’re paying for it still.
Just last month, Golf World published a survey of 81 touring pros asked to evaluate 52 PGA Tour courses. Cog Hill ranked 46th.
“Just horrible what they did here,” read one of the anonymous player comments, “Was a 5, now a 1.”
Respectfully, Jemsek disagreed, though she conceded the Jones backlash likely contributed to the apparent decision to move to Conway Farms.
“It’s probably a combination of the (negative player) comments and the fact that we’ve had the longest run of hosting the Western Open of any course,” Jemsek said.
For a tournament first played in 1899, that’s saying something.
As for her family’s decision to hire Jones, Jemsek said this:
“We don’t question our decision or doubt who we chose. We like the renovation.
“We think Rees Jones performed the restoration in a manner (original architects) Dick Wilson and Joe Lee would have approved of.”
And the Jemseks will soldier on in a manner that no doubt would have pleased Katherine’s grandfather.
“We’ll always strive to host a U.S. Open,” she said. “That’s the ultimate goal — but I think it will be a while before they return to the Midwest after Erin Hills in 2017.”
Erin Hills, northwest of Milwaukee, will be the first U.S. Open in the Midwest since the 2003 Open at Olympia Fields Country Club.
“It will be a minimum of five years before they come back,” Jemsek said. “Hopefully, it won’t be 14 years, like it was after Olympia Fields.”
Whether the Open ever comes to Dubsdread, or the BMW comes back, doesn’t really matter. Since it opened in 1964, the course’s primary purpose has been to give the public player a chance to experience private club conditions. That mission is validated each time Cog Hill collects a greens fee.
The departure of an event that has moved 72 times before changes that not at all.