Terry Friedman dreamed of bringing a professional golf event to his beloved Victoria National Golf Club when he hired famed designer Tom Fazio to transform the former Warrick County strip mine into a diamond for golfers.
Not just any golf event, but a major one. “Indiana has never hosted a men’s U.S. Open,” Friedman told Evansville Living in 2000 regarding the opening of Victoria National. “I said, ‘If we build a venue, they may come. No guarantees, but they may come. I want to build a golf course worthy of hosting the U.S. Open.’”
Nobody ever accused Friedman, who developed Victoria National, of not dreaming big enough.
Friedman died in 2004, and in 2010, Florida groups Landology (a real estate investment company) and Suddath Cos. (Landology’s equity partner) purchased the golf course near Newburgh, Ind. Landology has made several improvements to Victoria National, and the company ultimately helped make Friedman’s dream of hosting a major event a reality. The Nationwide Tour United Leasing Championship at Victoria National comes to Newburgh, Ind., June 25-July 1.
Mike McCann, a partner with Landology, recognized Friedman’s vision during a media day in April at Bonefish Grill. “Two gentlemen that we should look back at are Terry Friedman — and the Friedman family — and Tom Fazio,” he said. “It was Terry’s vision and dream to not only bring the TOUR to Evansville, but to bring a PGA TOUR event.”
The Nationwide Tour helps players transition to and from the PGA TOUR. Its alumni pool got a significant boost in early April when Bubba Watson won the Masters in the sudden death playoff over South African Louis Oosthuizen. Keegan Bradley is another Nationwide alumnus who has done well the last two years, winning the 2011 PGA Championship and earning more than $5 million on the PGA TOUR. Skip Kendall, who has extensive experience on the PGA TOUR and more than $8 million in earnings, is playing on the Nationwide Tour this season, as well.
“The guys you’re seeing on the Nationwide Tour today are the stars of the PGA TOUR tomorrow; that’s the way it has been for the last 10-15 years,” says Steve Munch, general manager at Victoria National. “Some of these players just haven’t had the chance to get to the PGA TOUR yet, and some simply did not finish in the top 125 on the PGA TOUR, lost their card, and are trying to work their way back to the TOUR.” Munch says the skill level will be remarkable for the players in the United Leasing event. Jeff Whiteside of Vectren, who was a point man for the Evansville Sports Corp. in bringing the event here, also gives that endorsement, saying, “The level of golf is indistinguishable from the PGA TOUR itself.”
The golfers at this year’s tournament at Victoria will play for a $555,000 purse, with $99,000 going to the winner. The event will take place at Victoria each of the next three years, and will bring a dose of national publicity and prestige to the course that has been rated one of the best in the United States since it opened in 1998. The 472 acres that Fazio designed were named the Best New Private Course by Golf Digest in 1999, and Victoria has climbed to No. 35 on the Golf Digest list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. Victoria is No. 11 on the Golf Digest index of Top 50 Modern Clubs.
“We (Sports Corp.) had an interest in economic development, making sure our athletic venues were fully utilized,” Whiteside says. “We were interested in bringing national or regional events to the area to shine an appropriate light on the region as a great place to live and work. Bob Jones (CEO of Old National Bank) was chairing the Evansville Sports Corp., and this was really the first event that we undertook.”
The PGA TOUR approached some Evansville business leaders and explained why a Nationwide event was a good match for the city and for Victoria. The business leaders then discussed the proposal with the Sports Corp. Tim Benton, a vice president for tournament business affairs for the PGA TOUR, spoke with both Suddath and various business leaders in Evansville about undertaking the high-level golf event.
“I’m originally from Indiana, so I was generally familiar with Victoria National Golf Club, but when the club was sold to Suddath, a company located near PGA TOUR headquarters here in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., there was a very small mention of the sale in our local paper,” Benton says. “I reached out to the CEO of Suddath, Barry Vaughn, in the fall of 2010, and we began talking about the possibility of a Nationwide Tour event at Victoria National. In June of 2011, I met with a group of CEOs from the Evansville region, and out of that initial discussion, Ron Romain, CEO of United Leasing, expressed interest in partnering with the PGA TOUR to help kick-start the funding to launch the event. It was Romain’s enthusiasm for Nationwide to bring an event to the Evansville and Newburgh area that helped solidify the PGA TOUR’s belief that the tournament could garner the support needed to become a top sporting event in this region.”
A lot of people are working to make it a huge success, including Steve Munch, Ron Romain and his team at United Leasing, and Jeff Whiteside and Becky Kasha from the Evansville Sports Corp.” An announcement was made in mid-September that the tournament would be coming to Evansville, and Kasha has been securing sponsorships and marketing the event, among a myriad of other duties, such as lining up more than 500 volunteers. “When we talk to people, they’ve wanted to come on board,” Kasha says.
GOLF HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF DOING BUSINESS
Romain and United Companies would like to extend their business reach, and see the Nationwide event coming to the Evansville and Newburgh area as a way to showcase their business on a national and international stage. United Leasing operates throughout North America, helping businesses with financial solutions, such as office computers, furniture, and other hard assets.
United Leasing has purchased more than 100 TV advertising spots on the Golf Channel, from two weeks before the Nationwide event, throughout the four days it will be contested at Victoria National. Their target audience includes CEOs, CFOs, entrepreneurs, and other high-level business executives who might not know about the company. The Golf Channel reaches a potential 100 million households worldwide.
The Evansville Sports Corp. and Victoria National also have bought significant TV sponsorship time to show the quality of life in the region, and give more of a global window to Victoria National. “We want to be able to show Victoria National to a worldwide audience, have people fully understand how good the course is,” Munch said, “and show some of the cottages and outdoor opportunities here from a corporate standpoint.”
THEY LOVE THE COURSE, AND WHY NOT
Representatives of the Golf Channel have been to Victoria National to look at potential camera locations and put together the basics of its four-day production. “They love it. The Golf Channel folks were enamored with the property,” Munch says. “They said there were some great viewing angles, and it would show really well on TV.”
The playability of the course always has been considered top notch, and it has been a precise goal of Victoria’s grounds crew to keep the course to its ranking. Jim Duncan, vice president of rules, competition, and administration for the Nationwide Tour, and Cal Roth, senior vice president of agronomy for the PGA TOUR, both visited Victoria in April and were very impressed with the condition of the course.
“They said we were darned near ready to do a tournament when they were here,” Munch says. “We maintain this course to a PGA TOUR level every day of the year. We’re the No. 35 course in the country, and that’s what we do.”
There has been some curiosity over how the course will play for high-level professionals who are close to reaching the PGA TOUR. Munch has been careful not to speculate on where the score ranges will be, and a lot will depend on Mother Nature.
“The setup of the course, what distance they want to play, what green speeds will be, how high the rough is going to be — those are things the Nationwide Tour will decide,” Munch says. “It is a challenging course, and these guys are the best golfers in the world. The questions I keep getting concern ‘Are they going to go low?’ Had the TOUR played with a 25 mile-per-hour wind on Sunday, you would have seen some phenomenally high scores. If we catch a week where wind goes down, a guy could shoot from 10-under to 20-under over the four days of competition.”
THE FIRST YEAR FOR ANY PGA TOUR OR NATIONWIDE EVENT CAN BE A CHALLENGE
“Primarily, it comes down to engaging the community to support the event, marketing it properly to both corporate sponsors and fans, and working closely with our TOUR team on all functional areas,” Benton says. “We also work closely to make sure the international telecast of the tournament properly showcases the Evansville region, Victoria National, and United Leasing.”
There could be as much as $8 million in economic impact for the region. Charities such as Youth First will get a financial benefit through ticket sales, and what the Evansville and Newburgh area does with the Nationwide tournament could help the Evansville Sports Corp. land other large sporting events here.
“We’re very optimistic that this will be a springboard for other big-name events to come here,” says Amy Romain Barron, vice president of United Companies. “The Sports Corp.’s goal is to try and bring these types of events to Evansville. We have so many fantastic facilities here, we’re hopeful this will mean nothing but good things for Evansville.”
The Golf Channel airs all four rounds of the The Nationwide Tour United Leasing Championship at Victoria National, locally, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-noon Friday; 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday; and 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday. Weekly passes are available for $35 at unitedleasingchampionship.com, and you may designate the net proceeds of your purchase to go directly to the local nonprofit of your choice as part of the Golf Gives Back program.