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Conway Farms Transformation Starts with Mid-Am

LAKE FOREST | September is going to be different at Conway Farms for the next few years.

Usually, the month features one last chance for members to play golf in summer-like conditions. The changing colors of the trees only serves to enhance Conway Farms’ many charms. Inside the locker room, football (college on Saturday, Bears on Sunday) commands everyone’s attention.

The vibe, though, will be different this September. It will mark the first of three big tournaments in four years at Conway Farms.

The run begins with the U.S. Mid-Amateur, an event for top amateur players 25 and older. It starts Saturday with stroke-play competition at Conway and the nearby Knollwood Club to see who advances to the match play rounds. Much is at stake: The winner of the final on Sept. 13 will receive an invitation to play in The Masters next April.

Then in 2013, Conway Farms will host club member Luke Donald and his friends on the PGA Tour in the BMW Championship. While it isn’t official yet, it is expected Conway Farms also will stage the 2015 BMW.

Conway hardly is a stranger to holding big tournaments. The NCAA Championship and Western Amateur are among the events on its resume.

Yet staging United States Golf Association and PGA Tour tournaments in consecutive years represents a significant commitment for Conway Farms.

“It’s a major statement,” said Bill Shiner, Conway’s chairman for the Mid-Am. “It’s a chance for us to promote golf and to give back to the game. It’s part of the culture of who we are as a club.”

The U.S. Mid-Am will feature a huge field of 264 players; thus the need for two courses. They will play two rounds of stroke play Saturday and Sunday with the low 64 advancing to match play, which begins Monday. It all concludes with a scheduled 36-hole final on Thursday, Sept. 13.

The event was created in 1981 mainly because the U.S. Amateur had become dominated by college players. The younger players had an advantage on older amateurs who didn’t have as much time to work on their games due to full-time careers, family duties, etc.

Last year’s winner, Randal Lewis, fits the profile. The 55-year-old financial advisor from Alma, Mich., tries to squeeze in golf when he can.

“It’s not easy,” Lewis said. “I definitely play on Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll try to go out after work a couple days during the week. (The Mid-Am) gives a guy like me who does other things in life a chance to compete.”

The Mid-Am also gave Lewis the memory of a lifetime. His 2011 victory at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Richmond, Tex., earned him an invitation this year to The Masters. It’s part of the tradition started by the ultimate amateur, Bobby Jones, of inviting the USGA amateurs champions to the tournament.

Lewis described his trip to Augusta National as being “surreal.” It started with an 8 a.m. Monday practice round with Tom Watson.

The nerves really set in during the Wednesday Par-3 contest. It’s a fun competition for Masters regulars. But for Lewis, it was his first experience playing in front of a large crowd.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I might kill somebody,’ ” Lewis said. “I told (playing partner Bubba Watson), ‘I’m struggling.’ He’s a cool guy. He just told me to relax and have fun.”

As for the tournament, Lewis didn’t have much of a chance, as wet conditions had the course playing long. He shot 81-78.

“I think I was hitting hybrids into almost every par 4,” Lewis said. “I was trying to figure out where I could play it to have the best chance of getting up-and-down for par.”

Lewis obviously hoped for better results, but the overall experience is something he’ll never forget. He would like nothing more than to defend his title, ensuring himself a return trip in 2013.

Lewis and the other players will encounter an interesting test at Conway Farms. The course will play at par-71, 7,078 yards.

The Tom Fazio design is on a sprawling piece of one-time farm land. It has holes framed by natural vegetation, trees and open spaces.

Conway Farms features a terrific variety of long and short holes. And the best part: It is one of those courses that can provide a test to the elite players and still allows the high handicapper to get through without too much damage to the ego.

Jeff Mory, Conway’s director of golf, sees plenty of swing possibilities in some of the shorter par 4s, and he thinks the last five holes will tell the tale in many matches. Conway closes with a difficult par 4 in 16, a very hard par 3 in 17, and a par 5 in 18 that presents many possibilities.

“You’ll see a lot of momentum shifts in those last five holes,” Mory said.

Mory and the Conway Farm members and staff are looking forward to several busy Septembers at the club. It’s a chance to showcase their course to top players and to golf fans in Chicago.

Football can wait.

“Everyone really is excited about it here,” Mory said. “It’s going to be a special time for Conway Farms.”


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