It’s a quiet Tuesday at Conway Farms Golf Club. A few golfers sit with drinks on the bluestone patio before their rounds. A waiter delivers salads to an elegant room featuring a list of the club’s presidents on the wall.
The calm setting belies what’s coming; a major PGA Tour event featuring more than 145,000 spectators roaming the private club’s 200 acres.
“The first truck arrived yesterday,” says Robin Martin, membership services coordinator at Conway. Scores more will be traversing the gates this summer, carrying materials to build corporate skyboxes, spectator seating, and more.
For the second time in three years, Conway Farms is hosting the BMW Championship, welcoming the 70 best golfers in the world to Luke Donald’s club in Lake Forest. The FedEx Cup tournament will be played September 17 to September 20 with practice rounds and pro-ams taking place in the days before it begins.
Back in 2013, its first big-time pro tournament after hosting a number of important amateur events, Conway had much to prove. Capturing the PGA Tour Event of the Year signified its achievement. What is the measure of success this year?
“That the players, the members, and the community have a great week and that we’ve improved upon 2013,” says Todd Marsh, the club’s general manager.
Jim Furyk’s 59 on the Tom Fazio-designed course was the big surprise of the last tournament (watched by Lake Forest’s Chip Beck, who had previously notched that rarest of golf scores). Seeing big names such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson up close excited North Shore fans. Like this year, the Evans Scholars Foundation—which provides college tuition for caddies—will receive significant money from the tournament’s proceeds.
Of course, the inaugural event had its pitfalls. Torrential rains on Sunday meant the BMW Championship was forced to end on Monday, a day later than expected.
“It was like you’re running a marathon and then having to go an extra two miles. The challenge is you’re trying to get that extra day of volunteers,” recalls Marsh.
Even before that, a problem emerged that no one anticipated.
“We were not ready for the level of phone calls. When I say it was ringing every 30 seconds, I kid you not,” Martin says.
So a few changes will be implemented this year. A volunteer staff of members will help answer phones (the signup sheet was filled in three days). Better signage and seating (including bucket chairs) will greet spectators. More parking will be available, and additional Metra trains will be added for drop-off at Lake Forest’s two train stations. Military members will enjoy their own outpost at the 8th green. The driving range has been expanded.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of having hosted the tournament before.
“We had no playbook for an event that size,” Marsh says. Adds Martin, “There’s so much more we’re comfortable with this time.”
Both know they and their dedicated staff face 14-hour days that week in September, but they can’t wait. The adrenaline carries them through. And for Marsh, the knowledge that he can avoid being a TV personality is a blessing.
Last time, he faced a live interview at 5:30 a.m. The questions were not in the order he had been told.
“I froze. I stumbled through it. They cut me off, thank God,” he says. “They’re not asking me this time.”
To learn more about the BMW Championship, visit bmwchampionshipusa.com.
– By David Sweet // Photography provided by Conway Farms Golf Club