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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Craig Stadler points to the spott of his Encompass Championship-clinching putt on the 18th green at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill. (PHOTO: Jim Owczarski )

Encompass Championship a must visit for golf fans


GLENVIEW, Ill. – Coming off watching the U.S. Open and seeing Martin Kaymer, who won his first major championship an hour north of Milwaukee at Whistling Straits in 2010, the golf fan in the Milwaukee area has to be itching.

It's been a few years since the pros bounced around Brown Deer Park, but I know there are people here who miss it. It's mid-June, after all. Even I'm itchy to watch some live golf.

So, jump in the car and head just an hour or so south down 94 to the leafy, northern suburbs of Chicago. It's where fans of professional golf in and around Milwaukee can get their fix.

It's unfortunate, yes, but a reality of the economics of the game. The PGA Tour isn't coming back to the city anytime soon, and we're a few years away from a likely Champions Tour stop in Madison.

The lone big boy stop anywhere close to Wisconsin is the John Deere Classic down in Silvis, Ill., but that is a better option for those in the southwestern part of the state. So all we can do to satisfy our need to see the best of the best tee it up (between major championships that is) is take the quick jaunt south of the border to see the Encompass Championship.

"I think we will have some interest (from Wisconsinites) and it's a pretty easy shot down from the greater Milwaukee area," tournament director Mike Galeski said. "We're hopeful the golf fans up in Wisconsin will check us out. Good weather, we've got affordable ticket pricing and it can be a real nice day here. There's still a lot do in the Chicago area, so coming down for the day and staying for a nice dinner or make a weekend out of it, it can be really fun."

The event is in its second year, and features the pro-am hook the first two days of the tourney, beginning today.

"The pro-am aspect on Friday and Saturday is a unique blend," Galeski said. "It's meant to be fun, but it's serious for the pros because it's the first two rounds of competition."

Golfers will drive an hour just to get a deal on a public course tee time, so why not head down to see Hall of Famers and major championship like Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Larry Nelson and Nick Price knock it around a classic Midwestern venue like North Shore Country Club?

Even Colin Montgomerie is in the field, not to mention other longtime fan favorites like Mark Calcavecchia, Brad Faxon, Steve Elkington, Peter Jacobsen, Fred Funk, Rocco Mediate and Hal Sutton.

And for those who used to attend the Greater Milwaukee Open (GMO) turned U.S. Bank Championship, you can see former Milwaukee champions like Corey Pavin (1986, 2006), Mark O'Meara (1984), Kenny Perry (2003), Jeff Sluman (1998, 2002), Gary Hallberg (1987), Jim Thorpe (1985), and Loren Roberts (1996).

The great part about this event is that you could actually find those guys walking around the grounds, or off the driving range, and share your memories of their play in Milwaukee.

They'll do the same. You'll get a handshake, a 'thank you' and perhaps an autograph.

Sure, some might argue that Champions Tour isn't the true cream of the crop of golf – but these guys can still really turn it on for three tournament days, especially on shorter, old-school golf courses.

And, don't think for a second that venue doesn't affect a player's mood, and therefore their desire to interact.

"The golf course was phenomenal," said former Masters champion Craig Stadler, who won the inaugural tournament last year with a winding putt on the 18th green, besting the sweet swinging Fred Couples. "The traditional courses like this, the old, 100, 200-year old, tree-lined fairways – we don't get a chance to (play them) very often," Stadler said. "I think that's really why this is such a special week in our tour right now. This place, everybody loves it. It's in awesome shape. It's the best shape course I've played in a long time. Augusta is good and this is right with it, I would say."

The tight quarters of North Shore Country Club will also let the gallery get up close, and see some of the game's best shot-makers work the ball.

While the Champions Tour has some work to do in order to get the true top 50-plus players in its fields (I'm talking to you, Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez), the crop that's in Glenview this weekend is really hard to top.

It's another two-year wait for a major in Wisconsin, so I can't recommend enough the quick ride to see some former major champions this weekend.


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