Professional golfers haven’t played a tournament at North Shore Country Club in 80 years, when the US Open was conducted and amateur Johnny Goodman upstaged the likes of Tommy Armour and Walter Hagen.
That’s too far back for someone like Bernhard Langer to recall, but the second-ranked player on the Champions Tour understands why North Shore was selected as the site of the new Encompass Championship.
”I could see why they would have had the US Open here years ago,” Langer said. ”This course will punish you if you hit the ball offline, and if you don’t hit it close on the greens you’re going to have some crazy putts with these mounds.”
Langer is one of seven World Golf Hall of Fame members playing in the 54-hole tournament, which includes a celebrity pro-am for the first two days. He also leads the tour’s money list and is second in the point standings behind David Frost, who won the Tradition, the most recent tournament on the tour, two weeks ago.
Frost, from South Africa, feels right at home at North Shore.
”It’s the kind of course where I grew up on where you’ve got to hit the fairways,” Frost said. ”If the shot calls from left to right off the tee, you’ve got to do it, or right to left, you’ve got to hit it right to left. It’s very demanding off the tees.”
Langer and Frost will be chased by a field that includes Nick Price for the first time since last August. The long layoff included five months of recovery time from surgery to eliminate tennis elbow in his left arm.
”After all the exercise and rehab I’ve been doing, the best thing to do is play golf,” Price said. ”That’s what’s going to strengthen it up. I’ve never had this length of time off in my game at any time in my career. At 56, it makes it doubly hard to get back into it. It took a really long time before I felt good.
”I don’t really want to get into the TV work of anything like that. I don’t want to be cooped up in some tower.”
Crowd favorite Fred Couples, runner-up to Frost at the Tradition, may get the biggest galleries, but the man considered by some the definition of a cool golfer couldn’t pinpoint his definition of cool.
”I never really thought about it,” Couples said. ”I played for a long time, but I don’t know if that’s a cool thing. I think I’ve played pretty well for a long time. I think that’s why people want to come out and watch.”
The winner earns $270,000 of the $1.8 million purse.
Nine of the tour’s top-10 points standing leaders are on hand for the tournament on a course that dates to 1924. Aside from US Open sectionals, only amateur tournaments, including the 1983 U.S. Amateur, have been played at North Shore since.
That makes the course a mystery even to the senior set. Of this week’s field, only Stan Utley and Andrew Magee played in that Amateur, and neither has strong memories of the course.
The celebrity contingent includes new Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman, Bears kicker Robbie Gould, former Bull Toni Kukoc and Jack O’Callahan, member of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team.
The Encompass Championship is the successor to a similar tournament in Tampa, Fla., sponsored by Encompass last year, but Michael Allen, the winner, isn’t considered the defending champion at North Shore.