Golf Fever Infecting the Chicago Area 'Tigermania' Fuels Interest in Local Tournaments

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Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer

It used to be that golf conjured up images of plaid pants, lazy summer afternoons and something you watched on TV after the Cubs were out of the pennant race.

Not anymore. Those days are as distant as a Tiger Woods' drive.

Golf has secured a spot in the world of mainstream sports, and its broad base of Chicago-area fans will have lots of opportunities to see it up close and personal as this year's spectator season swings into high gear.

This weekend, golf lovers can check out tomorrow's stars as the best male college golfers compete in Lake Forest for the NCAA Championship, hosted by Northwestern University.

At nearby Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Long Grove, more seasoned sportsmen will be competing in the Ameritech Senior Open, an event that had to be held earlier than usual this year to avoid competition with other major golf tournaments.

"I can't recall anything like this," said Roger Ulseth, commenting on the slew of high-profile competitions slated for the Chicago area. "We're blessed with two senior tournaments in town, the NCAA championship, the Western Open. It's incredible."

Ulseth serves as executive director of the Illinois Junior Golf Association, a group that's seen some healthy growth of its own, jumping from 1,300 to more than 1,500 members this year alone.

"There are two words that really sum up what's going on: Tiger Woods," Ulseth said.

Golf fever certainly seems to be a symptom of Tigermania, which really heated up when the charismatic 21-year-old turned pro last fall.

The man whose life is shorter than some of his competitors' golf careers is setting a new standard for packing the galleries with fans.

Even Arnie's Army is no match for Tiger's pack.

Sheryl Fitzgerald is willing to bet Tiger Woods is what's driving ticket sales through the roof at this year's Motorola Western Open July 3-6 at Cog Hill in Lemont.

Fitzgerald, director of sales and promotions for the event, said the tournament may have to take the unprecedented step of limiting ticket sales to keep crowds manageable.

Last year's Tigerless tournament featuring Greg Norman drew a peak crowd of 44,408 in one day.

Adding Tiger to the mix is expected to attract a daily crowd of more than 60,000 - nearly the capacity of Soldier Field.

"This is the 13th Western Open I've done and I've never seen anything like it," Fitzgerald said. "Then again, I've never seen a player like him."

Apparently neither have a lot of other people - people who don't want to make that claim much longer. …