When Trevor Immelman stepped onto the 18th green and sank a 20-foot putt to win the Hotel Fitness Championship last year, the world was watching. Viewers in 180 countries tuned in to the Golf Channel’s broadcast of this inaugural event of the Web.com Tour Finals where 132 professional golfers vied for the tournament’s purse. Surprisingly, this high-profile event did not take place in Pebble Beach or Augusta; it happened right here in Fort Wayne at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
The tournament, which returns to Fort Wayne for its second year on August 25-31, did not come to Fort Wayne by accident. The Web.com Tour Finals were born when the PGA Tour, in conjunction with the Western Golf Association (WGA), created a tour series to replace the qualifying school that determined the 50 players who would earn their tour cards for the following season. The new tournaments that make up the series needed courses and local golf enthusiast and Chief Executive Officer of Hotel Fitness Bruce Dye recognized an opportunity.
Long interested in attracting regional and national events in order to promote economic development, Dye thought Fort Wayne would be a great fit. Sycamore Hills, where Dye is part of the new ownership group, had successfully hosted the Junior PGA Championship from 2010-2012, the USGA Girls’ Junior Championship and other national golf tournaments. As a result, Dye believed that both the golf club and the city were ready.
“We had passed muster from a reliability standpoint,” he says. “We have a great product in the club, and we wanted to highlight it.”
Dye worked with the PGA Tour and Sycamore Hills Chief Operating Officer Eric Schneider to put together a plan. On a personal level, Dye pledged significant financial support by taking on the title sponsorship through Hotel Fitness. Dye worked hard to pursue the event, but even after the announcement came in September 2012 that the tournament had been awarded to Fort Wayne, he was reluctant to take personal credit.
“We just put the right people together,” he says.
After the tournament was awarded, the group found itself with less than a year to prepare. The Hotel Fitness Championship was a new event for Fort Wayne, the PGA Tour and the WGA, so event organizers worked quickly to arrange thousands of details, including building local support for a previously unknown tournament.
The result was a resounding success. Dye reports receiving all positive feedback from the players, including the tournament winner.
“I felt comfortable here this week. I loved the golf course,” says Immelman. “We had a good time.”
The weeklong event drew nearly 30,000 spectators and 600 volunteers to Sycamore Hills, many who came from outside the city. With players, spectators and support staff from the PGA Tour, WGA and the Golf Channel filling Fort Wayne’s hotels and restaurants, it has been estimated that the Hotel Fitness Championship brought at least $4-5 million to Fort Wayne. With numbers like that, observes Kevin Feldman, vice president of sales and marketing for Hotel Fitness, “This is much more than just a golf tournament. It’s a community event.”
Perhaps just as important as the tournament’s economic impact is the global exposure it brings to Fort Wayne. Last year’s Hotel Fitness Championship was broadcast internationally for four consecutive days (for a total of eight hours) on the Golf Channel. Interspersed with tournament action were vignettes highlighting Fort Wayne attractions, such as the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and Parkview Field. More than 5.5 million viewers around the world saw not only the championship course at Sycamore Hills, but also the city’s unique venues.
“You can’t put a price tag on that,” says Dye.
The 2014 Hotel Fitness Championship promises to be even better. Following last year’s success, organizers expect more than 40,000 spectators, depending on the weather. Those spectators will find a field composed of the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour money list, as well as the players who finish 126-200 on the PGA Tour FedEx Cup points list. Of course, the Golf Channel will be back to broadcast it all.
Viewers might notice that although the venue is the same, the course at Sycamore Hills looks different. When the Hotel Fitness Championship begins, the first of a two-part renovation at the golf club will have been completed. Renovations to the Jack Nicklaus-designed course include new bunker designs and locations that make the course more striking and more challenging for the pros and members alike. According to Schneider, “The golfers who come back from last year will be amazed at how challenging it’s going to be.”
Tournament week starts with the Mad Anthonys Pro-Am at the Hotel Fitness Championship, which last year began a partnership with the new event. The four rounds of tournament action begin Thursday, with the trophy presented on Sunday, August 31, the last day of play.
“Fort Wayne has always been a great golf town,” says Dye, “We feel a great responsibility to do it the right way. ”
Hotel Fitness Championship
Where: Sycamore Hills Golf Club
When: August 25-31
Tickets to the week’s events may be purchased online at hotelfitnesschampionship.com, locally at Bobick’s Golf Headquarters or at the gate.