Olympia Fields to host 2020 BMW, whoever the sponsor is

Writing from Chicago

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Olympia Fields Country Club has found the Western Golf Association’s 2020 playoff tournament under its Christmas tree.

It may or not be called the BMW Championship, but it will be played on Olympia’s famed North Course in August of 2020, the club announced to members on Saturday.

Olympia’s board of governors unanimously approved hosting the penultimate tournament in the PGA Tour’s playoffs on Thursday night, new club president Joe Tapajna announced to the membership.

The sixth hosting of the WGA’s premier championship will mark the 100th anniversary of Olympia’s first hosting of the Western Open, when the 1920 edition was won by Jock Hutchison.

The deal had been in the works for over 18 months, Tapajna said.

“We love to host championship golf,” Tapajna said. “We think it energizes our members. It gives us the opportunity to give us a little extra push to do the things we should do in terms of improving ourselves.”

BMW’s current deal with the WGA, which began in 2007 and prompted the renaming of the Western Open, concludes with the 2019 BMW at Medinah Country Club. So far, neither a renewal of the sponsorship, the end of the sponsorship, or a new sponsor has been announced. The lack of a renewal announcement at this year’s BMW at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia has led many to believe the German automaker, whose sponsorship has included funding Evans Scholarships when a player would make a home-in-one during the tournament, will not be back.

BMW of North America, now headed by Bernhard Kuhnt, is said to be less interested in using golf sponsorship to drive sales as previous chief Ludwig Willisch.

Olympia Fields’ announcement said the club was hosting the tournament for both the financial benefit it will bring to the club and the “ability to showcase our facilities on national television and keep OFCC in the focus of the U.S. and international golf community.”

Olympia Fields jumped back into hosting tournaments with the 1997 U.S. Senior Open. Since then, it’s hosted the 2003 U.S. Open, 2011 U.S. Girls Junior, 2015 U.S. Amateur and 2017 Women’s PGA.

This will be the sixth Western Open / BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. Aside from 1920, the club also hosted in 1927 (Walter Hagen), 1933 (MacDonald Smith), 1968 (Jack Nicklaus) and 1971 (Bruce Crampton).

Olympia also has a long-standing connection with the WGA through the Evans Scholars caddies-to-college program. Only Beverly Country Club has had more caddies gain the Evans scholarship.

Cog Hill was in a long run as the host of the Western Open when BMW came in as the sponsor and the tournament was moved from July to September. Aside from moving the tournament out of Chicago every other year to boost sales, the automaker’s North American’s management quickly became dissatisfied with Cog Hill’s location, which prompted a move to the north shore for a three-tournament run at Conway Farms in 2013, 2015 and 2017. The 2019 tournament at Medinah will be the first WGA championship there since the 1966 Western Open.

In related news, Olympia is effectively adopting a wait-and-see policy with consulting golf course architect Keith Foster, whose guilty plea for smuggling endangered species into the country to sell through his Virginia antiques store will result in a sentencing in March. Foster, who could be imprisoned for up to five years, has already forfeited $275,000 and turned over the unsold illegal merchandise.

Foster has already submitted a detailed plan for upgrading both courses at Olympia Fields that would have to be approved by the membership. No work would be performed on either course until after the 2020 season.

Tim Cronin

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