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Illinois Open now open to the world

Writing from Chicago
Thursday, January 12, 2012

The talk had been there off and on for years. The Illinois Open ought to be open to everyone, not just Illinoisans, the proponents said.

Not so, went those against the move. The Illinois Open should be only for Illinoisans.

Not any more. Beginning this year, anyone from Maine to Maui to Madagascar can enter the Illinois Open, it has been learned.

The move, which the Illinois PGA will announce next month, should jump-start a venerable championship that had stagnated to a degree in the last few years. Philip Arouca, last year's champion, is going to find it that much harder to repeat.

The change was subject to considerable debate by the Illinois PGA board, a source close to the board said. Speaking under condition of anonymity, the source said one former board member provided much of the debate, speaking loud and long about the tournament's tradition, and how one tournament should remain open to only Illinois residents. He was reminded that, for professionals, the Illinois PGA Championship, which offered an $85,000 purse last year, can be that tournament. (Similarly, the Illinois Amateur, conducted by the Chicago District Golf Association, is open only to amateurs living in the state.)

Opening the entry to the Illinois Open should see both a jump in entries (and thus a corresponding jump in prize money, which is partly funded by entries), and a boost in quality. There are many players who can post low numbers who aren't on the major world tours, including those who missed winning a Nationwide Tour card.

There are other changes for the tournament. It's being moved back to The Glen Club, where it was played from 2002 through 2007, from Hawthorn Woods Country Club, like the posh Glenview layout a Kemper Sports-controlled property. The in-town siting on a course that has also hosted the Nationwide Tour should make it that much more attractive. The Illinois Open will remain at The Glen Club through at least 2016, it has been learned.

The dates, which will be announced Friday, are July 16-18, a week earlier than the last few years, and on the three days immediately after the John Deere Classic and before the British Open. That may give it more attention than it has received in recent years. And the big move, toward allowing all comers to play, will definitely generate buzz.

– Tim Cronin

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