Ziehm: BMW Championship returning to Olympia Fields in 2023
The PGA Tour's 2021 season concluded Sunday, but the circuit -- along with the Western Golf Association -- made an announcement Monday that will have a huge effect on the Chicago golf community for years to come.
After a two-year absence the PGA Tour will be back in the Chicago area in 2023 with Olympia Fields named as the site for another playing of the BMW Championship.
And that's not all. The announcement also included a five-year extension of the BMW Championship as the second event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs through 2027. That waylays any fears that the tour's season-ending playoff series might be headed to a major revampment.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs were launched in 2007 and Chicago was part of it after the WGA agreed to discontinue the Western Open, a tournament first played in 1899 and a Chicago fixture since 1962. BMW took over sponsorship of the event then.
While the WGA considers the BMW Championship an extension of the tradition-rich Western, there are major differences in format and venue choice. The Western was a full-field event, the BMW is limited to the top 70 players on the FedEx Cup point standings. While the Western was a Chicago fixture, the WGA has taken the tournament out of town frequently. It was played at Cave's Valley in Maryland this year and will be played in 2022 at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware. The sites after 2023 have not been announced.
Those changes have been very beneficial to the WGA, which uses proceeds to benefit its Evans Scholars Foundation. The Foundation has provided college scholarships for caddies since 1930. Over the past 15 years the BMW Championship has raised more than $40 million on behalf of the Evans Scholars and that has helped send more than 3,000 students to college. This academic year a record 1,070 caddies are attending 21 schools on Evans Scholarships.
The North Course at Olympia Fields was the last Chicago site for the tournament in 2020. That staging produced one of the most memorable playings of the BMW Championship, though it went on without fans due to pandemic concerns. It ended with a one-hole playoff that was decided when Jon Rahm beat Dustin Johnson by sinking a 66-foot putt.
Olympia had a rich tournament history long before Rahm's putt dropped. Professional champions crowned there in one big tournament or another were Jock Hutchison (1920), Walter Hagen (1927), Macdonald Smith (1933), Jack Nicklaus (1968), Bruce Crampton (1971) and Jim Furyk (2003). Current star Bryson DeChambeau also won the 2015 U.S. Amateur there and Danielle Kang captured the 2017 Women's PGA Championship at the South suburban layout.
The BMW has also been an organizational success. It has been named the PGA Tour's Tournament of the Year in 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
"BMW has been our valued partner and a steadfast supporter of both our championships and the Evans Scholars Foundation," said John Kaczkowski, the WGA president and chief executive officer. "As title sponsor BMW has fully embraced our mission, helping us transform the Evans Scholars Foundation into a truly national program. We're excited and grateful for the opportunity to continue working together to change the lives of you caddies nationwide."
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan also credited BMW for its role in the FedEx Cup Playoff series.
"BMW's commitment to presenting a best-in-class event each year continues to elevate the Playoffs," said Monahan.
• Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Len Ziehm co-hosts the "Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series" on social media. Past columns are at lenziehmongolf.com.