PGA highlights 2015 area sports

SPORTSBEAT
Greg Ceilley • REVIEW SPORTS EDITOR

The PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the outstanding golf destination along Lake Michigan just north of Sheboygan, was unquestionably the highlight of the area sports scene in 2015.

It was thrilling for me to cover this tournament, held in August, which was the last of the four men’s golf majors last year. Jason Day held off Jordan Spieth in the final round to win his first major. Day shot an incredible 20-under-par score in the 72-hole event on the Straits Course which is a new record for a major.

I’ve had the honor and pleasure of covering all three PGA Championships at Whistling Straits, with the other two in 2004 and 2010. The Kohler Co. (which owns Whistling Straits) and the PGA of America gave me outstanding assistance and cooperation when I covered each of these championships.

As were the previous two PGA Championships at Whistling Straits, the 2015 PGA was a huge success as evidenced by the outstanding attendance, venue, fan experience and golf competition. The fans I talked to during the tourney gave glowing reports about the Straits Course and their experiences at the PGA. They were amazed with the beauty of the course and the stunning views along Lake Michigan.

What made the 97th PGA Championship last year even more special to me is that I work part-time at Whistling Straits as a player assistant, mostly out on the Straits Course, and have played the course several times. Working at Whistling Straits and having played golf there gives me great appreciation of how remarkable this golf venue is and why it has hosted the PGA Championship three times in the last 12 years.

Jason Mengel, the 2015 PGA Championship director, and Michael O’Reilly, head golf professional at Whistling Straits, thought the tournament was a big success.

“Overall, the 2015 PGA Championship was a fantastic success, with outstanding support from golf fans, corporate clients, and our volunteers,” said Mengel.

“The competition inside the ropes was amazing, with Jason Day deservingly taking home the Wanamaker Trophy. With that said, as we do year in and year out, we are constantly reviewing what we can do even better next time.” Mengel said PGA tickets were sold in all 50 states and in over 20 countries.

“We were very pleased with the overall success of the PGA Championship,” said O’Reilly.

“This year’s motto was ‘New, Better, Different,’ and we were certainly able to create an experience for all stake-holders that was new, better and different.

“The infrastructure changes made to improve the corporate hospitality experience was a big hit, the volunteer experience was the best I have ever seen, spectators were able to get closer to that action much more quickly than in past years, and the players loved the golf course,” said O’Reilly who served as the event’s division chair - contestant services.

O’Reilly was responsible for overseeing the operation of the player transportation, player housing, course evacuation, day care, player registration and caddie services committees.

He also had the great opportunity of being a player marker during the third round of the PGA. Tourney competitor Morgan Hoffman didn’t have a playing partner for the third round, so O’Reilly filled the spot.

“I was lucky enough to play as a marker during the event which was pretty special. I had a good friend, Todd Wagner, caddie for me and we just went out and had a lot of fun,” recalled O’Reilly.

“It really meant a lot,” O’Reilly said about being a part of the PGA Championship. “The greatest joy I get from being so involved with the events is seeing the staff from the PGA of America, Whistling Straits and all the volunteers come together to execute the event.

“After all the planning, training, all the preparation, it’s great to see it all come together the week of. The staff at the PGA of America and Whistling Straits did an amazing job prior to, during, and after the event,” O’Reilly pointed out.

Mengel was impressed with how well Whistling Straits and the Kohler Co. hosted the PGA and with the condition of the Straits Course.

“Kohler Co. is a fantastic partner to the PGA of America and the game of golf. The course condition, as just one example, was fantastic. Credit for a job well done goes to Mike Lee, Chris Zugel and their team at Whistling Straits,” said Mengel.

Lee is the manager of golf course maintenance at Whistling Straits and the Kohler Co.-owned Blackwolf Run. Zugel is the head of the Straits Course maintenance.

Mengel greatly appreciated everyone who helped with the PGA Championship.

“We were so fortunate to have a great support system for this PGA Championship,” he noted.

“From our approximately 70 committee chairs and 3,400 volunteers, led by general chair David Kohler and vice chair Michael Belot, to our dedicated staff both on-site at Whistling Straits, and at PGA of America headquarters in Florida, it took a village to put together this event.”

The next main golf event scheduled for Whistling Straits is the Ryder Cup in 2020 and many golf fans I’ve talked to are already excited about this international tournament coming to Wisconsin.

“I can tell you that planning is already under way for the 2020 Ryder Cup. We are already well into the process of taking a long look at what went right during the 2015 PGA Championship and what we can improve upon for 2020,” said Mengel.


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