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Downing: Barbasol Championship ‘hits the mark” in Bluegrass debut

Despite heavy rains and strong thunderstorms, Champions at Keene Trace held up well during the Barbasol Championship last month. (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Despite a soggy debut at Champions at Keene Trace, the Barbsol Championship was a success and officials expect the PGA TOUR event will improve in the future.

“We controlled everything that we could control,” Barbasol Executive Director Brooks Downing said. “The one thing we couldn’t control was Mother Nature, which obviously played a major role in the tournament.

Typically a four-day event, the tournament was stretched to five days because of heavy rain and thunderstorms that pounced the course, especially on the second day. Although the weather was a hindrance, Downing received positive feedback from all involved.

“The reviews we got back from our patrons, as well as our participants, were all positive,” he said. “I think we hit the mark on what we were trying to establish, including the premium hospitality offering, the fan experience and the level of golf that was played. I think our fans really enjoyed it and they recognized that this was a PGA TOUR-caliber event, just like we told them it would be.”

Downing said Friday and Saturday would have been the two biggest days attendance-wise but instead officials and fans were “dodging lightning bolts.”

“If Saturday and Sunday are sunny and dry and we were able to have a normal schedule, how do things look?” he said. “We still had over 25,000 people on our property for the week but if the weather cooperates, does that become 40 or 50,000 I think it might.”

The course held up well despite the rain and course officials plan to address drainage in the future to help the course improve its integrity during adverse weather conditions. Course superintendent Carl Gray and his grounds crew kept busy the entire weekend. A heavy emphasis on draining improvement will be the driving range and possibly a couple of new tee boxes, bunker renovations and enhancing the edges around the lake surrounding the course.

“That should give the PGA TOUR confidence that they can handle just about anything that comes along down the road,” course founder Tom Heilbron said. “You don’t plan for 5 ½ inches of rain, but they dealt with it. So maybe all the trouble worked in their favor because they showed their inherent capabilities.”

More improvements under consideration will be moving the sponsors and vendors village from the front lawn of the clubhouse to the bus depot and the spectator’s entrance.

The Barbasol Championship will be July 20-23 next year at Champions and Downing hopes more volunteers will take part in the event.

“We had 750 this year, and that proved to be a little light,” Downing said. “To get this right, and to provide all the services, we’ve got to get that number up to 1,000 at a minimum.”

In its debut, the holes were flipped and the No. 18 was a Par-3 over the water finish for each round.

“I think people loved it,” Downing said. “We’re only the second tour event with a par-3 finishing hole. (The Greenbrier is the other). I’m surprised more don’t have it because it really ends things with a bang.”

Troy Merritt, the eventual winner, opened with a course record 62 and finished 23-under-par. The tournament also featured LPGA golfer Brittany Lincicome, along with recent University of Kentucky graduates Chip McDaniel and Cooper Mussellman who each were making their PGA TOUR debut. Josh Teater, a Henry Clay and Morehead State graduate, also competed in the five-day event.

Downing was pleased overall with the tournament’s debut in the Bluegrass and gave it an eight rating out of 10 and added “A common phrase we kept getting was, ‘I had no idea. People were just amazed by what we were able to put on.”

“Operationally, I thought we hit the mark. From a fan experience, we were pretty close,” he said. “All things considered, I thought it was a tremendous success. But we know it can be even bigger and better in the future.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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