The Scott family that owns Peek'n Peak Resort thought last summer's inaugural LECOM Health Challenge was a big success.
The Web.com Tour agreed, naming the tournament its Rookie of the Year event during a year-end awards banquet over the winter.
From a golf standpoint, it will be hard to top the Cinderella story authored last summer by Monday qualifier Rick Lamb, who shot a course-record 9-under-par 63 on Sunday to get into a four-man playoff, which he won on the second sudden-death hole with a birdie at the par-5 18th.
But the Scotts aren't standing idle as they prepare for Year 2.
A number of changes will greet players and fans at this year's event, scheduled for July 6-9.
Among the changes will be the expansion of the Woods'n Wedges pro shop, new video scoreboards that will show highlights during rounds, added bleachers around the 18th hole, a series of post-round events and activities and the addition of a Junior Pro-Am on Monday.
Also changed from last year is the site of the tournament's Monday qualifier, which will be held at Shorewood Country Club in Dunkirk as a result of the closing of Peek'n Peak's Lower Course last fall.
Lamb, who began the 2016 season with no status, is now playing on the PGA Tour, along with local favorite Dominic Bozzelli, a Rochester native who was part of the playoff.
How high was the caliber of players who competed at the Peak? Consider this: Mackenzie Hughes, who placed fifth in the LECOM Health Challenge, and Wesley Bryan, who missed the cut, have won PGA Tour events since last summer. Hughes won the RSM Classic in November, and Bryan won the RBC Heritage tournament in mid-April.
Golf fans flocked to the Peak to watch that talent last year. The LECOM Health Challenge drew 20,000 spectators, including a Web.com record 1,800 on Thursday.
"It was pretty exciting," said Chris Scott, vice president of Scott Enterprises, which bought Peek'n Peak in 2011 and resurrected pro golf at the resort. "We were happy with the attendance, but of course we want to grow it."
Still, Scott said Peek'n Peak and Scott Enterprises officials outlined a list of changes and improvements after last year's tournament.
A 500-square-foot addition to the clubhouse's Woods'n Wedges pro shop that will enable Peek'n Peak to stock more merchandise.
High-definition video scoreboards at strategic points around the course to provide in-round highlights and leaderboard updates. They will replace the mechanical boards used previously.
Additional spectator seating, particularly around the 18th green, where fans massed at the end of Sunday's final round. Many sat on the grass or perched on nearby hills to watch four straight playoff holes.
Several pre- and post-round events, including acoustic music performances, a non-denominational sunrise worship service on the course on Sunday morning, and a Saturday post-round panel discussion by players' wives and girlfriends describing life on tour at the resort's main lodge.
"Overall we thought it went great," said Nick Scott Jr., also a vice president of Scott Enterprises. "But you're always going to look back at it and quickly try to pick up on what could be tweaked or added and what we could do better. We were very fortunate to get very good guidance from the PGA, and also to have a lot of our staff at the resort who were there when we hosted the (Nationwide Tour) events previously and knew what to expect."
Chris Scott said Peek'n Peak also hopes to schedule what he calls "back of the house tours" of the production and video areas used by The Golf Channel for its live telecast, along with what the Web.com calls "the truck," a combination of archived memorabilia from past tour events and operations staff.
Also different this year is a ticket option that will enable fans who purchase single-day passes to use them to watch any round of the tournament. Previously, single-day passes were tied to specific rounds.
And Scott said the resort will transport spectators from the parking lots near the main lodge to the top of the hill using chair lifts. Fans were shuttled from those lots to the course by bus last year.
Area welcomed tour's return
Kevin Sanvidge, the tournament's executive director, said the 2016 attendance reflected strong interest after an eight-year hiatus from the last Nationwide Tour event in 2007.
"I think the first takeaway was the greater Erie, Pennsylvania, area and western New York were ready for professional golf to come back," Sanvidge said. "There's not a lot we needed to change, but we could have done a better job getting the message out in the Erie market, so we've hired someone this year to do penetration in that market just to build the awareness."
Sanvidge said one of most well-received moves tournament officials made was asking World War II veteran man the flagsticks on the 18th hole on Sunday, something they plan to do again this year.
"That was very moving," Sanvidge said.
As for the course itself, head professional Dwayne Randall said Peek'n Peak will make some changes to the way it prepares for the tournament in the wake of severe weather leading up to last year's opening round.
A six-week drought defanged the rough, contributing to low scores. The four co-leaders at the end of Sunday's round went into the playoff tied at 19-under. A total of 31 players shot 10-under or better.
Randall said plans call for additional applications of fertilizer this spring to create denser rough and effectively lengthen the course, which played 7,088 yards last year.
The fact that players brought the course to its knees at times last year should come as no surprise, Randall said.
"I thought one thing we saw was the caliber of golfer out there on the Web.com Tour is every bit as good as it is in the PGA Tour," Randall said. "I think people definitely saw that last year."
John Dudley can be reached at 870-1677 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNdudley.
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