Patrick Nichol fondly recalls his time as a Web.com Tour advance official, visiting golf tournament sites in Wichita, Springfield, Mo., and Boise, Idaho, among others.
Nichol’s children were particularly fond of Wichita’s Crestview Country Club, site of this week’s Air Capital Classic, “because its pool had a high diving board,” he said.
Over the years, Nichol also saw what excited golfers, sponsors and spectators during his tour travels, and he took note. Now, as the tournament director for two of the tour’s 25 events, Nichol doesn’t hesitate to borrow a good idea.
“ A lot of principles that we apply in Evansville (Ind.) and Knoxville (Tenn.) are based on things I saw in those markets,” said Nichol, who oversees the United Leasing Championship and News Sentinel Open. “Being exposed to those markets taught me a lot of things.”
As a caretaker of Knoxville’s annual event since 2010, Nichol shares a common bond with the Air Capital Classic’s Roy Turner, and tournament directors in Springfield and Boise. Their four cities are celebrating 25th anniversaries this summer as tournament sites for the entire history of professional golf’s premier developmental tour.
In 1990, the Web.com Tour was known as the Ben Hogan Tour, a vision of former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman. Beman designed the tour as a proving ground for aspiring pros and a place for tour veterans to prepare themselves for the Champions Tour.
Tournaments were identified by location rather than title or presenting sponsors in the Web.com Tour’s early days. The lone survivors of the original 30-tournament schedule were the Reflection Ridge Open, Boise Open, Knoxville Open and Greater Ozarks Open.
The Air Capital Classic – first played at Reflection Ridge Golf Club – will be the first to observe its silver anniversary when the $600,000 tournament begins Thursday on Crestview’s North course. Financially buoyed by more than 20 contributors to a newly created Ambassador program and a three-year presenting sponsorship deal with Aetna, tournament officials announced in October the event will continue through at least 2016.
“Roy has just done a wonderful job with that tournament,” said Jerald Andrews, director of Springfield’s Price Cutter Charity Championship for the last 19 years. “Wichita is really fortunate to have the passion he brings to that event.”
Longevity hasn’t been guaranteed for the 25-year Web.com tournament sites. Turner, the Air Capital Classic’s tournament director since 1999, spent much of 2013 pitching his community-based Ambassador program to prospective sponsors after the end of a 10-year association with title sponsor Preferred Health Systems.
The tournament’s future wasn’t secured until four months after last year’s event, when more than $300,000 in annual Ambassador pledges and the Aetna deal were in place.
The Knoxville tournament faced its own uncertain future when the PGA Tour installed Nichol as director four years ago. Web.com Tour president Bill Calfee made the tournament’s survival a priority.
“Bill decided Knoxville was not a market we needed to lose,” said Nichol, who now runs the tournament through his Jacksonville, Fla.-based Tour Vision Promotions. “There were definitely some dark times. But it was a huge asset to the community, and it continues to be.”
With the Knoxville News Sentinel as title sponsor, the tournament will observe its silver anniversary Aug. 14-17 with a museum-type golf exhibit at Fox Den Country Club.
“I’m very proud of it,” said Nichol, who makes weekly trips between Jacksonville and the tournament sites he oversees. “For one week out of the year, we’re bigger than Tennessee football in Knoxville, and that’s a pretty big statement.”
In Boise and Springfield, common threads to those tournaments’ long existence are relationships with primary sponsors and a strong focus on charitable contributions. With Boise-based Albertsons grocer as a partner, the Boise Open has raised more than $15 million for charities since 1990 -- more than any other Web.com Tour event.
At the Price Cutter Charity Championship’s media day last week, Andrews reaffirmed a 2014 fundraising goal of $1 million for Springfield-area charities.
“We’re asking our sponsors to increase their donations by 10 percent this year,” Andrews said. “We’re calling it our 25th anniversary surcharge. We’re also looking at adding some new sponsors and we’re going to have a couple activities that we haven’t had that might be a one-time thing.”
In that respect, the tournament directors are kindred spirits. They constantly look for ways to improve their events.
For Nichol, the Air Capital Classic’s Monday night shootout event was a model for one of the News Sentinel Open’s tournament week activities. For Turner, Crestview’s par-3 17th has evolved into one of the tour’s best atmospheres.
“No. 1, we want it to be a celebration,” Andrews said. “For communities like Wichita and Springfield, 25 years is really a long time for something like this, and we want them to be celebrations. Let’s celebrate the past and lay the road for the future.”