Tee for Three

On June 23, the Web.com arm of the PGA Tour returns to the Tri-State with the United Leasing Championship. This year marks the last year of a three-year contract for the tour to come to Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind.

Hopes are high for a successful year, despite the weather debacles of the previous two tournaments. The first year is remembered not so much by Peter Tomasulo’s sudden death victory, but by the extreme heat that kept the medical staff busy with both the players and fans. Then last year, it was a world of difference as rain and thunderstorms with beautiful sunshine followed with more rain and thunderstorms. The result, after a lot of stopping and re-starting, was a Monday four-man sudden death playoff with a victory by Ben Martin on the first extra hole.

Martin returned to the Tri-State for this year’s tournament media day. He winged in from Hilton Head, S.C., after finishing third in the RBC Heritage on the big tour, the PGA Tour, which is the goal for players on the Web.com circuit. By winning last year’s ULC, he received one of those big checks with a big number on it — $108,000 big to be exact. But that weekend in South Carolina, third place was good enough for Martin to take home three times what he bagged after winning the ULC last year. It’s easy to see why these guys grind it out for a chance to do “the hardest way to make an easy living,” says Martin, with just a tad of irony.

Last year when the Web.com came to Victoria National Golf Club, as the producer of Eyewitness News’ local coverage of the tournament, my favorite moment was when after a downpour, an army of a few dozen literally squeegeed the fairway to get the 18th hole dry enough for Ben Martin to claim his title. Watching that spectacle of very committed volunteers, tour personnel, and Victoria grounds crew pull together to make sure the tournament could finish was amazing.However, Martin remembers the last day differently. He was standing on a cliff staring at a chance for his first tour win.

“I went to sleep knowing I’d finished 18 with a 3-4-5 and 6; that hole is so tough if you go right, you are in the water, and you go left, you are chipping out,” says Martin. “I just tried to go to sleep picturing a 3 wood right down the middle of the fairway and that’s what I did.”

During this year’s media day, Susan Hardwick, the chair of Old National Bank Golf Gives Back, says, “It takes 450 volunteers to put this tournament on. We don’t take a slice for running this tournament. There is no reason for us not to absolutely knock this out of the park in terms of sales.”

Tickets are an amazing deal. Spectators can get in for just $10 for a single day and all four days is an even better deal at $35. Hardwick, a senior vice president at Vectren in her day job, is a passionate leader and earns everyone’s attention and a hearty applause with, “Over the last two years, just with the ONB Golf Gives Back program we’ve given over $130,000 to the charities, the challenge is to double that this year alone.” That, along with the tournament’s other charitable activities has raised nearly $200,000 for more than 100 Tri-State Charities.

Ken Schreiber, local advertising and former television executive, is in charge of marketing and advertising for the event this year.

“About three or four years ago, Ron Romain and I were talking and he said, ‘What do you think about bringing a professional golf tournament here?’” says Schreiber. “He brought it to the Evansville Sports Corp. and put his money where his mouth was. He’s the guy who put this thing together. He’s done a heck of a job.”

Jason Sands, Evansville Sports Corp. executive director, explains, “We’re showing groups like the NCAA and the PGA that the corporate and volunteer support are there and we have the people who know how to execute events like this. Successfully.”

Chris Schindler, Victoria’s head pro, had just started the job on media day last year. Trial by fire? Not for this guy. Schindler had worked for the PGA Tour in Dallas and Las Vegas prior to this assignment.

“Once people get out on this course and experience a tour event firsthand they realize it’s phenomenal,” says Schindler. “Talking to players last year, almost to a t’ they say it is their favorite course they play. We’re in tournament condition every day of the year.” After all, this is one of the top 50 courses in the country. Yes, it is rarefied air, and this is your annual chance to check it out.”

Schreiber, a former Evansville City Golf Champion, took over the reigns of marketing and advertising the tournament this year after leading The Golf Channel Committee.

“I’d like to see the awareness ramped up and sell more tickets,” says Schreiber. “All the local media are on board. I compare this to the old Thunder on the Ohio, where for one week, Evansville is put on the map. For $10, you can see wonderful golf and all your money goes to a local charity. How can you miss? This is a chance for Evansville to put its best foot forward.”

National coverage on The Golf Channel shows off one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country and it is right here is Southern Indiana.

Drew Amman, Eyewitness News sports director, loves the event as well.

“Stories are everywhere at Victoria,” he says. “You get out on the course and you just get lost in what’s going on. That’s the draw. The wonderment. Everyone picks up on the buzz floating around the course.”

It is easy to get a glimpse of major champions John Daly (who played last year), Lee Janzen (who played in 2012), or some other “name” player. But pick any player out and follow him for a few holes. You’ll see the glory and grind in what he’s doing as well. He may have slept at a volunteer’s house the night before, or perhaps living out of his car. You can see his caddie hoping he makes the cut and there’s a payday on Sunday.

There’s drama and little wins all day long. This is big time people watching. Just hanging out at the practice range is quite a treat as you watch the players try to shake their demons. Then there’s the 9-mile walk around Victoria — like a trip through half a dozen regions. You forget where you are.

Last year, John Daly was the big draw. This year’s field is still to be determined. But there’s no doubt the golf will be top notch. What’s the future hold after the final year of this contract?

Schreiber thinks there’s a positive road ahead.

“I hope that Ron Romain wants to bring it back and be bigger and better and people will want to be involved,” says Schreiber.

For more information about the United Leasing Championship, call 812-430-6737 or visit ulcgolf.com.

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