Kentucky's first regular-season PGA Tour event in decades is a little more than a month away. Monday's Media Day for the PGA Barbasol Championship offered a chance to evaluate the progress of preparations for the $3.5 million event.
The Barbasol Championship will take place July 19-22 at Champions at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville. It will be the first regular-season PGA tournament contested in Kentucky since the Kentucky Derby Open in 1959 (The PGA Championship was held at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville in 1996, 2000 and 2014).
This is the first of a four-year deal to hold the Barbasol Championship at the club, and Keene Trace staff have been working with local officials and businesses to prepare for the event since it was announced last October.
The hope is that the tournament will have a $20 million impact on the area's economy and help raise a great deal of money for charity through the "Birdies for the Bluegrass" initiative, a pledge drive that will seek donations for every birdie made during the tournament which can be directed toward any of 165 registered state charities.
Brooks Downing, Kentucky native and executive director of the Barbasol Championship, said at Monday's Media Day that he also hopes the tournament will become a "must-see event" for Central Kentuckians.
A look at the field
Though many of the world's most elite golfers will be competing in the British Open, which will be played the same week, the Barbasol Championship field should feature plenty of star power. The British Open is traditionally the most difficult major for which to qualify and last year only 58 PGA Tour members made the cut, leaving plenty of big names to fill out the Barbasol Championship roster. Last year's tournament — held then in Opelika, Ala. — featured seven major winners including Davis Love III, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera.
Downing expects this year's Barbasol Championship to again draw plenty of top-end talent.
"There are a number of guys that we're pursuing including J.B. Holmes . . . who haven't qualified for The British Open yet," Downing said. "If it goes as planned we should be able to get several of those guys. We could have some really good names in this thing.
"It'll be a fun mix. You'll have guys that have never played before and also guys who have won majors. Last year there were a lot of major winners in that field and we're hoping to have an even better field."
Central Kentucky is already well-represented in the tournament field. Henry Clay and Morehead State graduate Josh Teater, who has won more than $5 million as a pro and currently competes on the Web.com Tour, received a sponsor exemption into the tournament.
Teater said it''ll be a thrill to play in a PGA event in his home state.
"To know that some of the best players in the world are gonna be here in a couple of weeks is pretty awesome," he said.
Also playing will be Chip McDaniel and Cooper Musselman, who received sponsor exemptions after wrapping up their senior seasons at the University of Kentucky. They'll have a unique opportunity to begin their professional careers in a PGA event.
There's a multiple major champion already committed to play in the tournament. Eight-time LPGA winner Brittany Lincicome will become just the sixth female to compete in a PGA Tour event and the first since Michelle Wie in 2008. Lincicome's victories include two majors, the ANA Inspiration in 2009 and 2015.
The 32-year-old Florida native, who was also given a sponsor exemption, is currently sixth on the LPGA Tour in driving distance. That could serve her well on a course that typically plays to the strengths of big hitters. Lincicome told The Associated Press she's feeling more nervous about the Barbasol Championship than she would an LPGA major.
"The golf course sounds like it's pretty wide open," she said. "It's going to be obviously pretty far, but that's nothing I don't think I can handle."
Preparing for the PGA
To make the necessary alterations to prepare for hosting a PGA event, Keene Trace has doubled its maintenance staff. Those workers have helped transform the Champions course by removing more than 300 trees, renovating the banks around the water on holes 17 and 18 and expanding or completely recreating several tee boxes to add length to the course. The average course length at the 52 events on the PGA Tour is 7,279 yards, and Champions is expected to play almost 7,300 yards after work is completed.
In addition, a bus depot is being constructed next to the course that will serve as the entry point for ticket-holders. General parking will be at Keeneland with a shuttle service taking fans to and from the venue throughout the day (there will be no on-site parking for spectators). Parking passes are $10 daily and can be purchased at BarbasolChampionshipKY.com.
General admission tickets range between $30 and $40 (plus taxes and fees) and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com. Fans can enjoy a free peek at the pros before the tournament gets started. On Tuesday, July 17, spectators can watch players practice for free. On Wednesday, July 18, admission to the tournament's official Pro-Am is also free. Parking at Keeneland will be free both days as well.
So far, tournament organizers have signed up about half of the 1,200 volunteers needed to help run the Barbasol Championship. For $75, volunteers will receive a Nike polo shirt, Nike hat, a parking pass, four grounds tickets and a free round of golf at Keene Trace Golf Club. Volunteers must work three shifts. Visit BarbasolChampionshipKY.com to sign up.