From Dundee-Crown to Kiawah Island: The journey of Roger Warren
Roger Warren's career in golf started in 1986 when he took on a summer job at Village Links of Glen Ellyn. Now he's the president of the Kiawah Island Resort, host of the 103rd PGA Championship which tees off Thursday.
Warren had college stints at both Northern Illinois and Western Illinois, and was a teacher and basketball and golf coach at both the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora and Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville before his career change into golf.
At Village Links he learned what it was like to work at a 27-hole public facility that drew 95,000 rounds a year and had tee times as early as 5:30 a.m. on weekend mornings to accommodate the demand.
"It was a great training ground for lots of people -- Dave Glod (founder of Batavia club manufacturer Tour Edge), Matt Pekarek, Ed Posh," Warren said. Pekarek was the general manager at The Links and Posh the longtime head professional.
After working there from 1986 to 1991 Warren moved to the then new Seven Bridges in Woodridge from 1991 to 2003 and served a term as president of the Illinois section of the Professional Golfers Association of America. Then it was time for another move, to Kiawah which gained instant fame as host of the 1991 Ryder Cup matches.
"The experiences I had at Village Links and Seven Bridges prepared me for a skillset to understand what it took to provide great service and a great golf experience," Warren said. "When I was promoted to (Kiawah) president in 2005 I had to learn the hotel business, villa rentals and the restaurant business. It was the change that I was looking for, but initially it was like drinking from a fire hose, trying to figure it out."
Warren did figure it out. He became president of the PGA of America in 2006, and this week is Warren's second stint as president of the major tournament's host. Kiawah hosted in 2012, when Rory McIlroy won. Now the resort offers the longest course in history -- 7,876 yards.
"The Ocean Course hasn't changed much in nine years," said Warren. "We've added 20 to 30 yards to a few holes and transplanted some mature oak trees from other parts of the golf course to strategic positions to create challenges.
"The conditions are different in May than they were in 2012 when the tournament was played in August. We've put in some different grasses and the rough will be deeper."
Warren has dealt with other changes at the resort, too -- most recently the pandemic. Kiawah, located on a 10-mile island off Charleston, S.C., has four other courses.
"We closed in April and furloughed 1,000 of our 1,200 employees," said Warren, "but we got them all back in early August."
Then the golf boom kicked in over most of the country, but especially at Kiawah.
"Play has been up 38 percent over the best year we'd ever had," Warren said. "It's been a very good year for us."
And it won't slow down after the exposure the resort will receive during this week's PGA Championship. Ninety-nine of the top 100 players on the Official World Golf Rankings are in the field including 70 international players from 25 countries.
IPGA epic: Last week's final in the Illinois PGA Match Play Championship at Bull Valley in Woodstock brought together Jim Billiter, now at Ivanhoe Club, and Garrett Chaussard, director of instruction at Skokie. Between them they had won four of the previous six titles. This time Billiter claimed his third title since 2015 despite going 4-down after seven holes. He made birdies on six of the next 10 holes and won 2 and 1. Chaussard was a finalist for the fourth straight year.
Here and there: The Chicago District Golf Association concludes the first event its 108th championship season on Wednesday when the CDGA Mid-Amateur wraps up at Lake Shore in Glencoe. ... Northwestern legend Luke Donald didn't qualify for the PGA Championship but his game is improving. He shot 66-67 on the weekend to make his second straight cut and tied for 13th in last week's Byron Nelson Classic. Illinois alum Dylan Meyer made the field through Monday qualifying, shot 66 in the first round and tied for 68th place. A day later Meyer shared medalist honors at the third and last Illinois local qualifier for the U.S. Open, shooting a 3-under-par 68 at Illini Country Club in Springfield.
Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Len Ziehm is on the "Golfers on Golf Radio Show" show at 4 p.m. Saturdays on WCPT 820-AM. He co-hosts the "Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series" on social media. Past columns are at lenziehmongolf.com.