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Conway Farms plays host to star golfers this September when the BMW Championship comes to Lake Forest.

 Local talent Luke Donald is on tee to play at this year’s BMW Championship.

Tiger Woods at the 2012 BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, N.Y.

Phil Mickelson is coming to Lake Forest.

The 16th hole at Conway Farms Golf Club.

Golf enthusiasts are making plans to infiltrate Lake Forest this fall when one of the PGA Tour’s most prestigious events, the 2013 BMW Championship (formerly the Western Open), comes to Conway Farms Golf Club, Sept. 9-15. Coordinated by the Western Golf Association (which is headquartered not far away in the tiny hamlet of Golf) the BMW Championship welcomes the top 70 players in the world as part of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. The top 30 finishers at Conway will then move on to the Tour Championship where the FedEx Cup winner earns $10 million in prize money. No little contest.

As expected, tickets to see top tees like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, local golf hero Luke Donald and current world champ Rory McIlroy are a hot commodity. It’s been more than 40 years since this competition was held on the North Shore at Northfield’s Sunset Ridge Country Club in 1972; no doubt the enthusiasm for the game has evolved since then. More than 125,000 spectators are expected to converge upon Lake Forest for the week in September.

“The corporate community has really embraced this tournament,” says Vince Pellegrino, WGA’s vice president of tournaments, “and we’ve had to expand our hospitality options.” Pellegrino expects this year’s BMW Championship to have a $35 million impact on the local economy while also raising more than $2 million for the Evans Scholars Foundation, the organization’s charitable arm that helps send deserving caddies with financial need to college. 

This is also the first time that Conway Farms Golf Club welcomes a contest of such magnitude. A jewel of a course on Chicago’s North Shore, this private club offers its members golf in the old-fashioned tradition—no carts, no tipping, no cellphones, no tee times and caddies to carry your bag as you walk the open, rolling course. To prepare for the championship, the gorgeous prairie-style course (designed by Tom Fazio and maintained under the expert direction of Conway’s Chad Ball) is scrutinized for conditions such as firmness of ground, grass height and green speed by a bevy of agronomists sent in by the PGA to inspect as early as two years before the event. An agronomist actually studies the grass and a stimpmeter measures ball speed on the green.

“Our goal is to make conditions as great as we can,” explains Ball, who will enlist more than 30 volunteers per day along with tournament directors to keep things running smoothly—this added to the 18 maintenance specialists the club normally employs to keep the greens perfect and the Scottish-style sod bunkers in shape. “The competitors will find the course challenging. Not tricked up, but challenging,” says Ball.

If all goes well, Conway Farms and the Lake Forest authorities will be adding Tiger sightings to its report file of big cats seen lurking in the area. Tickets for the BMW Championship are available online at or by phone at 847.724.4600. Daily tournament round tickets start at $35 with weekly badges priced at $95.