In late May former PGA Tour professional Fred Funk got his first eyeful of Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park.
The view accelerated his heartbeat.
The 61-year-old’s adrenaline flow practically matched a whitewater-rapids rate.
“I got amped up the minute the car I was in entered the grounds,” Funk told a throng of journalists May 30 at the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship Media Day, held at a golf club built in 1896 — the third oldest golf club in Illinois. “Right away you notice and appreciate the history of an old venue like this one, along with the sights, the feel of it.
“I love courses like this one, courses that were built and designed before the existence of bulldozers.”
Funk and 77 other PGA TOUR Champions competitors might very well move the earth at Exmoor from July 12-15 with the shots generated by the blades of their clubs. Great shots plus thunderous applause from a multitude of spectators, after all, sometimes equals a shifting terra firma.
The Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship is one of five PGA TOUR Champions major tournaments each year, and it will be the first professional event hosted by Exmoor and the first major senior championship in the greater Chicago area since 1997. Exmoor’s par-72 tournament track covers 7,149 yards.
PGA TOUR Champions members are 50 and older.
“People who come out to watch us are shocked at our high level of play,” said Funk, who has won nine PGA TOUR Champions events, including three majors (the 2008 and 2010 JELD-WEN Tradition and the 2009 U.S. Senior Open), to go with his eight victories on the PGA Tour. “We have a dominant player in Bernhard Langer [a record 10-time PGA TOUR Champions winner from Germany], who’s doing what Tiger Woods was doing when Tiger was winning all those tournaments in the early 2000s. We have fun guys, colorful characters, with Miguel Angel Jimenez being one of the more entertaining ones. Freddie Couples, he’s our rock star; it’s too bad his injured back continues to be a time bomb.”
Players on the regular PGA TOUR, Funk noted, tend to be dead-serious during their rounds. Too focused. Robotic, even. But players vying for PGA TOUR Champions titles rarely hesitate to interact with their fans near the fairways. There’s nothing wrong with an inside-the-ropes professional golfer showing how human he is — either right after an errant shot or in between super shots. It’s not unusual for a 50- or 60-something man who made major headlines on the PGA TOUR decades ago to approach a cluster of PGA TOUR Champions spectators after a lengthy drive and crack up each of the witnesses with a lighthearted comment or two.
“We’re laid-back guys, engaging guys,” Funk said. “We love it when a lot of people watch us play. We realize how fortunate we are to be able to continue to compete on a tour.
“We look at talking with fans as a way of giving back.”
Constellation — a leading, competitive energy company providing power, natural gas and energy products and services for U.S. homes and businesses — will provide $500,000 in grants to five Chicago-areas charities focused on education, youth development and affordable housing as part of the major event at Exmoor. The five charities: Big Shoulders Fund, which supports inner-city Chicago schools and programs; Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides full-tuition college scholarships for deserving caddies; Girls in the Game, which empowers every girl to find her voice, discover her strength and lead with confidence through fun sports, health and leadership programs; Habitat for Humanity Chicago; and Special Olympics Chicago.
“Giving back to charities is what these Champions Tour events are all about,” Western Golf Association (WGA) Senior Vice President of Tournaments Vince Pellegrino said. “The most rewarding aspect of this event is being able to leave a charitable footprint in the Chicago community.
“We’re thrilled Exmoor was chosen to stage the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship. We’ve had wonderful cooperation and support from the Highland Park and Highwood communities and their leaders.”
Exmoor member Dwight Ekenberg, a WGA director, served Exmoor as its president in 2013-14; his late father, Allan Ekenberg, held the post from 1996-97. Dwight, of Lincolnshire, carded his best round, 76, at his home course in 2002.
“I’m an Exmoor golf course cheerleader; I love it,” a beaming Ekenberg said of the layout, designed by Donald J. Ross in 1915 and restored by golf architect Ron Prichard in 2003. “It’s an old-school course, very fair, with everything in front of you.
The greens are deceiving.
“The membership,” he added, “is excited about this opportunity for the club. People running restaurants and hotels in the area are excited. Everybody is excited.”
Exmoor Country Club is located at 700 Vine Avenue, Highland Park. The Accenture Championship Pro-Am is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on July 11, the eve of the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship. For ticket information about the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship July 12-15, visit pgatour.com/champions/tournaments/constellation-senior-players-championship/tickets.