FORT WAYNE – In the inaugural Hotel Fitness Championship last year, almost 27,000 spectators attended and saw Trevor Immelman, a former Masters champion, win by shooting 20-under par over four days.
We really couldn’t have written a better script if we’d tried, said Duke Butler IV, the tournament director, which is stage 1 of 4 in the Web.com Tour’s Finals.
Immelman will be among the players back this year – the full field won’t be known until Monday – and he will be among those who may be in for a surprise when they see all the changes that have been made to the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that has also played host to five national championships for the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America.
Participants will begin playing practice rounds Monday and Tuesday before the Pro-Am on Wednesday, which will benefit the Evans Scholars and the Mad Anthonys Children’s Hope House.
The championship itself will run Thursday to Sunday.
The players who return this year are going to be blown away, said Eric Schneider, the general manager at Sycamore Hills. They may not be in the best humor because, after playing here last year, they’re going back to school basically (and having to earn their PGA Tour card). But they’ll be blown away by what they see.
Players eligible to participate in the Hotel Fitness Championship include those ranked 126 to 200 in the PGA Tour’s FedExCup standings and the top 75 players on the Web.com Tour, which is one tier below the PGA Tour.
The PGA Tour players who have committed to participating are highlighted by Chad Campbell, Sean O’Hair, J.J. Henry, Heath Slocum and Ben Curtis.
(Last year), the membership was extremely gracious and accommodating all week, Immelman said. I know the players appreciated it, and I certainly appreciated it.
Since then, though, the first of three stages of a redesign to Sycamore Hills took place – ultimately, the course and clubhouse will be renovated – and Jack Nicklaus Designs was brought in to make the changes to the track.
This event certainly is the cornerstone of what the vision is for the owners and the members. We feel a tremendous amount of pride, Schneider said.
Sycamore Hills eliminated 10 acres of fairway, taking landing areas that were more than 40 feet wide down to 22 to 28 feet wide, and put hazards where pros will have to contend with them more. A state-of-the-art drainage system was also put into the bunkers, under the guidance of course superintendent John Thompson.
We have very high standards here at Sycamore Hills. (Nicklaus Designs has) exceeded our expectations, Schneider said. For the people who will come out to experience the event, they’re going to go, Wow, this is Fort Wayne, Indiana.’ This is absolutely beautiful for the eye, challenging for the best players in the world and will produce a great championship.
Last year, Sycamore Hills had the added rigors of hosting the Hotel Fitness Championship just five weeks after the USGA’s Girls Junior.
This year, because there has been less play on Sycamore Hills, the turf will be close to immaculate for the arriving tour players in the club’s 25th anniversary year.
These are really, really exciting times, not just for the club and Sycamore, but when you think about this event and being able to start a new tour event and then see where we are with this, everyone is going to be absolutely blown away with how this comes off, Schneider said.