News & Opinion

Chicago deserves revival of Western Open

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Bring back the Western Open.

After another successful BMW Championship, the modern substitute for the Western Open, golf observers may wonder why it would be necessary to create a second event for the Western Golf Association.

It’s quite simple: the Western Open never should have been shelved.

From 1899 to 2006, the Western Open was one of the most important events in golf. It was considered one of the four major championships until the ascension of the Masters in the 1950s.

The winners’ list, starting with Willie Smith at Glen View Golf Club, grew to become a who’s-who in golf: Laurie Auchterlonie, Willie Anderson, Alex Smith, Chick Evans, Macdonald Smith, John McDermott, Jim Barnes, Walter Hagen, Jock Hutchison, Tommy Armour, Gene Sarazen, Harry Cooper, Ralph Guldahl, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Lloyd Mangrum, Doug Ford, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Larry Nelson, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Price and Tiger Woods, among others.

So, how is it possible that a tournament with more history than any regular PGA Tour event lost its place?

The biggest reason: the business community never embraced the tournament. Starting in 1987, when the event added a company name to its title, seven companies came and went. The last sponsor, for three years, was the erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis, which should tell you how desperate the Western was in trying to find corporate support.

Since 2007, German automaker BMW has assumed sponsorship, dropping the Western Open name and moving the event to late summer as part of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

I am not advocating dropping the slot in the FedEx Cup playoffs or ousting BMW, which has been a big supporter of the Evans Scholars Foundation, the only charity of the Western Golf Association. Instead, I suggest restoring the historic Western Open to the PGA Tour’s summer schedule.

A date should be open, with the Greenbrier and Quicken Loans events reportedly struggling to survive after this year. 

Chicago, which is a tremendous golf town, deserves an annual PGA Tour event. Since BMW has come to town, the event has moved in and out of the Windy City.

Although the WGA struggled to find sponsorship for the Western Open, the golf world has changed greatly in the decade since the event folded. Since the PGA of America has decided to move its championship from August to May, the Midwest and Northeast are open for a BMW Championship or Western Open.

John Kaczkowski, the WGA’s president and chief executive, said that such historic courses as Oak Hill, Baltusrol and Oakland Hills, all previous PGA Championship sites, should be open to the WGA.

So, if the WGA moves the BMW out of Chicago every other year, which has been the recent pattern – Aronimink Golf Club (2018) and Medinah Golf Club (2019) are the upcoming hosts – why couldn’t the Western Open come to Chicago in 2018 and then move to Detroit or Rochester, two terrific golf towns that would be hugely supportive of a PGA Tour event, in 2019?

It’s bold and certainly not as easy as outlined here, but with such a worthy charity as the Evans Scholars and the history of the Western Open, the WGA should at least explore the possibility of restoring the former major championship to the PGA Tour rotation.

The WGA might be surprised to see how supportive the public, players and corporations would be to help high-schoolers attend college and advance their early careers.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli