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How the Web.com Tour made it back to Peek’n Peak

From the moment his company purchased Peek’n Peak out of bankruptcy in 2011, Nick Scott Sr. had a goal to bring professional golf back to Western New York.

That goal will become a reality in July, when the Web.com Tour’s LECOM Health Challenge will be held at the Clymer resort’s Upper Course from July 7-10.

“We had a lot of work to do to bring the resort up to new, higher standards,” Scott said. “We’ve accomplished our goals with the golf course and the facilities on site and are now ready to showcase the ‘new’ Peek’n Peak.”

The Upper Course previously hosted a professional event from 2002-07. The economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, however, hit the resort especially hard.

The previous owner, Kiebler Recreation LLC, was forced into bankruptcy in 2010.

Enter Scott Enterprises, the family-owned hospitality development company based in Erie, Pa. It submitted a winning auction bid of $11.3 million in 2011 to acquire the property, which features 27 ski trails, two 18-hole golf courses, a spa, indoor and outdoor pools, restaurants and a 108-room hotel (plus condominium rental options) among its various offerings. The company has made an estimated $10 million in improvements.

“The current owners have been working very hard to rebuild the resort to where it was in the past,” said Kevin Sanvidge, the chief executive officer of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency. “They’ve been very successful.”

Sanvidge serves as the tournament’s executive director and played a role in convincing the Scott family that pursuing professional golf for the resort was a worthwhile endeavor.

According to Web.com Tour president Bill Calfee, the tour was eager to once again stop in Western New York.

“It’s a beautiful place and a great golf course,” he said. “It’s fun. Our players, when they played here, they loved the course. They loved the challenge of it and the great condition, but they also liked the atmosphere of the whole area. Their families could come and do other things, so it was really fun for them. It’s a great spot.”

Of course, mutual interest between the Web.com Tour and the resort isn’t enough to make a tournament happen. Sponsorship is required.

Enter LECOM, otherwise known as the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. The largest medical college in the country signed on as the tournament’s major sponsor for four years.

“We’re an organization all about fitness, wellness, health,” said Thomas Wedzik, the chairman of LECOM’s board of trustees. “The story of a PGA Tour player that starts on this tour to try to make his way to the top, it’s kind of the adventure of our students − they study to become a doctor. So you tie all that in, the wellness, and the exposure that we’re going to get from this.”

That exposure will come via the Golf Channel, which will broadcast all four rounds of the tournament and, according to organizers, reaches 93 million homes.

LECOM committed $3 million to serve as the major sponsor for four years.

“This is huge for Chautauqua County,” Sanvidge said.

The Holiday Inn Express near Findley Lake, for example, has all 75 rooms rented out by the Golf Channel alone. The direct economic impact is projected as between $5 and $6 million.

Two-thirds of the proceeds from the tournament, which organizers hope will reach $250,000, will benefit the LECOM Student Scholarship Fund, with the remaining amount split among charities in Chautauqua County and the Erie, Pa. area.

Tournament organizers are banking on the resort’s location − in the vicinity of the Buffalo, Rochester, Erie, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Southern Ontario markets − making the tournament a success.

“All those areas have supported professional golf in the past,” Sanvidge said.

Tickets, volunteer opportunities and pro-am openings are still available, with more information at the tournament’s website, lecomhealthchallenge.com.

“It’s a work in motion, and it still will be until the first ball goes up in the air,” Sanvidge said.

On the course, a field of an expected 156 golfers will compete for a purse of $600,000, with a winner’s share of $108,000.

During the recent six-year run at Peek’n Peak, future PGA Tour stars such as Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas and Jason Dufner were among those to compete.

Day, currently the world’s No. 1 player, finished tied for 15th in the 2007 Peek’n Peak Classic on what was then the Nationwide Tour.

“First and foremost, it was a great golf course,” Day said in a video that played at the introductory press conference announcing this year’s event. “They treated us great up there.”

Day recalled playing the Upper Course shortly after taking a trip to Japan with a friend. He came into the event refreshed, and during the video pointed to his performance at Peek’n Peak as a turning point in his season.

“From that moment on, that week, gave me the confidence to go on and play better,” he said. “Not too long after that, I won.”

Fans just might get to see the next Jason Day in July. With recent changes to how players can qualify for the PGA Tour, all 50 cards are awarded through the Web.com Tour, making it the path to the big leagues.

“A lot of people think this is minor leagues. This is far from minor leagues,” Calfee said. “These guys have the game. They’re ready to go. ... If you want to get to the PGA Tour, you come through here.”

A countdown clock on the tournament’s website tracks the time remaining until the start of the tournament. Sanvidge keeps that on the TV in his office, as a reminder that every second matters for preparation.

“We’re really excited to be able to have this opportunity,” he said. “Fourth of July, we couldn’t have asked for a better week to have it here. We hope we can have it here for the next 24 years.”

email: jskurski@buffnews.com