NOVAK: Two surprises to start off my day

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Not much takes me by surprise these days.

But as I went through my morning ritual of checking the emails in my inbox, I got the first of two surprises on this chilly Tuesday.

The first was that the Four Winds Invitational, which has spent its first nine years being hosted by the Blackthorn Golf Club, was moving to the South Bend Country Club for 2021. I was shocked by the news. It came out of left field. I am sure behind the scenes that this transition to a new course for the LPGA Symetra Tour event has been some time in the making.

Still, I am trying to wrap my head around the move. Blackthorn has been a great course and host of the Four Winds Invitational since its inception. While this year’s event was a challenge due to COVID, I never imagined it would be the last time I walked into the clubhouse and then watched the start of the tournament.

The South Bend Country Club is another superb golf course. In fact, it is ranked as one of the top courses in Indiana. It has been the home of numerous prestigious tournaments. It is also about 10 minutes for the Four Winds Casino, South Bend, which I am sure is also a plus for the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi, which sponsors of the event.

Among its rich history, the South Bend Country Club annually hosts a U.S. Open qualifier. It has also hosted the Indiana State Amateur, Indiana Senior Open, Women’s Western Amateur, and the Western Open.

Mike Nichols, chief business officer of the Symetra Tour, thanked Blackthorn for its nine years of hosting the Four Winds Invitational, which has helped raise $734,720 for Beacon Health System. He also was pleased to be turning the page and moving on to the next phase of the tournament.

Usually hosted at the start of the summer, although this year it was postponed until Labor Day weekend thanks to COVID, the Four Winds Invitational will be contested in August.

I look forward to seeing the South Bend Country Club for the first time and seeing how it embraces the Symetra Tour.

The second surprise was one that made me a bit sad.

It was announced Tuesday morning that the Lakeshore football team would withdraw from the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs. Talk about a bombshell. After all the things that these players have gone through in 2020 just to get to play football and then have it all end three steps away from a state title, it had to be a bitter pill to swallow.

A pair of former Dowagiac standouts were a part of the decision process and former Chieftain football coach Denny Dock. Lancer Athletic Director Greg Younger, Lakeshore Principal Jeff Yauchstetter, and Superintendent Phil Freeman sent a letter to the parents explaining their decision.

Part of that decision came following a meeting with the players, in which it was discovered that 12 of the 22 starters would more than likely not be able to play in the game due to a variety of reasons. The last-minute decision by the MHSAA, and just a two-week window to prepare to resume play, did not seem to be enough time for the players get ready and play the games safely.

Another sticking point was the pilot testing program. The MHSAA’s Representative Council was scheduled to meet today. After that meeting, an announcement was expected as to how the testing would be conducted and when schools would receive the testing kits.

My heart goes out to those Lakeshore players and the coaching staff who worked so hard to maintain their focus throughout the rollercoaster ride it was just to have a season. The Lancers had a great season, going 7-2 and winning a district championship. To have it all end just when things were set to resume is not much of a Christmas present.

On the flip side, I completely understand the decision made to Lakeshore. To be honest, I am a bit surprised I have not heard about more schools adopting the same policy. I have had some question if two weeks after a month layoff would be enough to prepare the players for full contact adequately.

I guess we will all get those answers on Jan. 2 when the playoffs resume. I will be praying that all the athletes get through those final three weeks without injuries and without having to pause the season again. I would guess if that happens, the state would not be able to conclude the fall sports year.


Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at