As the BMW Championship gets underway on Thursday morning for the third leg of the FedEx Cup Championship at The Conway Farms Golf Course located in Forest Park, Illinois, how much do you know about Conway Farms? For that matter, I’m not sure many of the 70 PGA Tour professionals who will tee it up, know much about this venue in the Chicago suburbs.
Designed and built in 1991 by Tom Fazio, this golf course has never been used to host a PGA event. It has hosted some NCAA Championships, and minor USGA events, but never a regular PGA Tour event. This will be everyone’s first trip to Conway Farms to play a tournament with a Championship on the line.
Some in the field may have seen the course at the 1997 NCAA Championship, the 1998 U.S. Junior Amateur, the 2009 Western Amateur or one of the other prestigious amateur events the course has hosted, but many will be seeing Conway Farms for the first time this week.
Fazio designed Conway Farms in the tradition of Scottish Links type of golf courses. With the constant wind in the area, he also left some holes exposed to the wind where there are no trees to stop the breeze. These holes will play havoc with anyone needing birdies to make it into the top 30 that move on.
“It’s got a lot of variety in the holes,” said Mark Wilson, who lives in Elmhurst, Ill. “There’s some holes (with) not many trees, just some fescue grasses, and then all of a sudden you have a few holes that are through the trees, so it has a good variety.”
There are two par four’s that are short enough, that by moving the tees around, will be drive-able. The more interesting is the 15th. It is 334 yards, and is just on the edge of being accessible from the tee by the tours bigger hitters. Depending on how they set this hole up, and the wind, direction, this could become a place where someone needing an eagle would want to unleash the big stick.
All reports are, the finishing hole can be a tournament maker, or tournament breaker. At 570 yards, again depending on wind direction can be high risk/reward hole. It is reachable, but has a creek that crosses the fairway twice, so we should see some fireworks on Sunday on this hole.
The weather conditions in the area will be hot, and dry until early Thursday morning when they are expecting a cool front to come through dropping the daytime highs from the low 90’s to the low 70’s for most of the weekend. With the cool front come winds and mostly sunshine. There is a chance for isolated thunderstorms on Sunday that could possibly disrupt play.
With some of the top players struggling with their tee shots, such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the wind could be a problem. With the length of the golf course, and the wind, wayward tee shots will not be rewarded with good lies, or generous angles to the pins.
The BMW Championship is a 70 player no-cut tournament with only the top 30 players in points getting an invitation to East Lake next week. The winner will receive 2500 FedEx Points, and a check for $1.4 Million Dollars. Some of the players I see doing well at Conway Farms are people who have spent time in the area, and are familiar with the weather conditions like Luke Donald, who played his collegiate golf at Northwestern University, or Steve Stricker who was raised in Wisconsin and finished with a sole second place in Boston.
One might also keep an eye on the European players who have mastered Links style golf, and know how to play in the wind. Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, and Graeme McDowell. Some of these players are not close enough to the leaders, and could very well win the BMW Championship, and still not be in the top 10 when the points are reset before going to Atlanta.
I think it’s going to be an interesting week at an interesting golf course where we just don’t have much data as to how people have played here in the past. Stay tuned! It could get good.