BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club: The Changing Face of Golf

BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club: The Changing Face of Golf
Conway Farms Golf Club Club House

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Conway Farms Golf Club (1991), host of this year's BMW Championship is "the new kid on the block" when it comes to most clubs that host majors. Think Augusta (1933), Pine Valley (1918), Oakmont (1903), Merion (1912), Pinehurst (1935), Peachtree (1947), Cherry Hills (1923) and Oak Hill (1925)--if they were people they'd be older than the baby boomers and many would be long gone.

The history of country clubs is loaded with racial, ethnic, and gender exclusion with some of the exclusive clubs gving up major golf championships rather than to embrace inclusion. These clubs are steeped in tradition with golf and old often linked hand and hand...old money, old rules, old clubs, old restrictions and members--sometimes scorned as "The Last Bastions of Bigotry."

Slowly this is changing and the selection of Conway Farms Golf Club bears witness to the new face of golf. Not that Conway is a total slacker in tradition but instead of uptight it is more casual chic. It feels more comfortable.  Instead of old money families, it has more of a celebrity-type pizzaz.  A little more khakis and polo's and a little less searsucker and Lilly Pulitzer.  A little less dark finely carved woods and a little more light. A little less tomato aspic and a little more watermelon and feta...if you get my drift.

Interestingly, the Tom Fazio designed Conway Farm course, that sits on 209 acres in Lake Forest, is in an area known for its old money and wealthy elite.

Lake Forest got into the golf game early when in 1893 Hobart Chatfield Taylor (author and wife of Rose Farwell from the prominent Lake Forest Farwell family) brought golf to the area beginning with a small seven hole course in Lake Park. The following year, in 1894, the Lake Forest Golf Club was formed. The LFGC was then moved to land on Green Bay Road becoming the Onwentsia Club where it hosted the likes of the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden while shunning those without fancy pedigrees.

Of course, that's ancient history but even today many of the exclusive country clubs still have the scent of old money rules and regulations.

One thing that makes Conway different from many of the "old money" country clubs is that it is not a country club. Yes, it is a club and you do have to ante up big bucks to join but Conway is exclusively a golf club.  There is no pool and no tennis courts. There is a clubhouse and dining but the clubhouse is small, discouraging big parties, and the dining is casual. The small membership (under 300) are passionate about golf with a large percentage having low single-figure handicaps. And the course is beautifully maintained with top-notch practice facilities and a good variety of golf holes.

The course itself is designed around the traditions of Scottish links golf.  It is designed as a walking course. The 20-odd carts at the club are generally used only to ferry players to tees for shotgun starts in Monday outings, or to shuttle a player to the back of the driving range.

Still the question remains: Why Conway for the BMW Championship?  Two plausible reasons: Luke Donald and Roger J. Mohr.  Donald, who has been a member of Conway for a dozen years and played the course when he was at Northwestern says, "I certainly talked with the TOUR leading up to this event, and they wanted some opinions on some courses around this, and I tried to steer them towards this course.  Obviously, selfishly, because I know it very well, and I think it's a good place to have a tournament."  Mohr, a Lake Forest resident is heavily involved with the Evans Scholarship (that is Beneficiary of the Championship) as chairman of the Western Golf Association EGF was also able to help with some friendly persuasion.

Another factor is Conway itself. When asked to compare Conway to other courses in the Chicago area, Donald explains, "To my way of thinking, Conway is something of an in-between course.  It's not short and compact like nearby clubs Onwentsia and Old Elm, best served for older gentlemen and ladies. And it's not the brutish 7,500-yard hell of a Medina No. 3 or a Rich Harvest Farms, created for the skills of the scratch player.  The blue tees play at a very comfortable 6,500 yards or so, and the bunkers are pushed far enough out of the way, particularly greenside, that visitors aren't consumed by hazards.  Most of the greens are very accessible, and the putting contours never deviate to goofy golf."

In other words, it's a serious golfer's golf course perfect for the BMW Championship.

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