The PGA Tour, professional golf’s top series, will be making a regular stop in Central Kentucky when the Barbasol Championship begins play next year at Keene Trace Golf Club’s Champions Trace course in Nicholasville.
Gov. Matt Bevin joined a host of current and former golf professionals from the commonwealth and local officials in announcing the event Wednesday at the club.
“The fact that it’s expected to have an economic impact in this community of $20-25 million is outstanding,” Bevin said as he made the announcement. “I’m not sure they actually factored in the amount of bourbon consumption, which could make that number go up quite a bit more.”
The first Barbasol Championship in Kentucky will take place July 16-22, 2018. The tournament, one of 49 PGA Tour events next year, will be televised on The Golf Channel.
Coming into its fourth year, the Barbasol’s purse has been one of the smallest on tour ($3.5 million). And its placement on the calendar opposite the Open Championship in Great Britain means some of golf’s top stars will be across the ocean.
But the event will offer a chance for other big names to obtain valuable valuable FedEx Cup points that can help qualify them for the tour’s playoffs. This year’s event featured seven major tournament winners, including Jim Furyk, Angel Cabrera and Davis Love III.
“I will say this, when this occurs in July of next year, we were joking about the fact there will be an opening act that day,” Bevin said. “The Brits are putting on a little event on the other side that will be on earlier in the day. For those who truly love golf, this will be the afternoon main event.”
From 1983 to 1997, Lexington was home to the Bank One Classic, a Senior (now Champions) PGA Tour tournament held at Griffin Gate Golf Club and then Kearney Hill Golf Links.
“We’re back and we’re really excited,” said PGA Tour executive Andy Pazder. “Kentucky’s had a rich legacy of producing talented PGA Tour golfers … Kenny Perry, Russ Cochran, Bobby Nichols, and a couple of today’s stars, J.B. Holmes and, of course Justin Thomas. Justin is our current FedEx Cup champion.”
Coordinating the event will be the Bluegrass Sports Commission and BD Global, a company founded by that commission’s chairman, Brooks Downing. The commission evolved from an entity created during Lexington Mayor Pam Miller’s administration as a response to the loss of the Bank One Classic. Its mission: to attract major sporting events.
Downing had developed a relationship with the PGA in winning the rights for BD Global to coordinate two events in the Bahamas on the smaller Web.com Tour.
“For the past two years, we’ve hunted, fished, poked, prodded, trying to bring the Champions Tour back to Central Kentucky,” Downing said of his talks with PGA marketing executive Ric Clarson. “This past winter ... he gave me a call and said we’ve got a shot at a regular Tour event. And I’m like, ‘heck, are you kidding me?”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Downing said the event was secured for three to five years, with intentions of making Nicholasville a permanent stop on the Tour.
Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville has long been the site of some of men’s golf’s biggest events, including the Ryder Cup and three PGA Championships, one of the four “major” tournaments, but Kentucky has not hosted a regular PGA Tour event since the Kentucky Derby Open in the late 1950s at Louisville’s Seneca Golf Course. Gary Player, one of golf’s legends with nine major titles, won the first of his 24 PGA tour events there in 1958. Next year marks the 60th anniversary of that win.
Since 2015, the Barbasol Championship has been played at the Robert Trent Jones Trail Grand National Course in Opelika, Ala. As recently as July, RTJ’s management company expressed confidence the event would return for the final year of its contract in 2018 and would soon be renewed for several years beyond. But when the PGA Tour schedule for 2018 was published a few weeks ago, the Barbasol event was listed without a venue.
“It was an opportunity when we look at what Lexington has to offer, with business, with, obviously, the university being here and (being in) a great part of the state and you look at ... we don’t have a professional golf in the state of Kentucky,” Pazder said. “We occasionally host a PGA Tour event (at Valhalla), but this was a tremendous opportunity for us to come into a great community and have a long-lasting impact,” Pazder said.
Kentucky Children’s Hospital was announced as the primary beneficiary of the event’s charitable activities.
Keene Trace, purchased out of bankruptcy three years ago by Evan Mossbarger and B Frye, features two 18-hole golf courses. The Barbasol will be played on its Champions Trace course designed by golf architect Arthur Hill and built in 1987 by former club president and member Tom Heilbron. It has hosted the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship, the USGA Senior Amateur Championship, and the men’s and women’s SEC Championships among several other tournaments.
Preceding Wednesday’s announcement, three pro golfers from Kentucky, including four-time PGA Tour winner Steve Flesch, played a nine-hole skins game for a $10,000 purse. The game also included Josh Teater, a Henry Clay and Morehead State grad who is currently on the Web.com Tour, and Hunter Stewart, a Keene Trace member who spent last season on the PGA MacKenzie Tour in Canada.
“It’s awesome to have an event in my home town,” said Stewart, Kentucky’s Mr. Golf in 2010 at Lexington Christian Academy. “I grew up playing this golf course. It’s kind of like a dream come true.”