BY MIKE FIELDS
As a teenager, B Frye would sneak onto the Jessamine County property where The Champions golf course was being built. He remembers how exciting it was to watch the transformation of farmland to fairways, and how cool it was to be there with his dad Bill, a founding member of the club, when it opened on a sun-splashed spring day in 1988.
So imagine how B Frye feels now, 30 years later.
He and Evan Mossbarger are co-owners of the renamed Champions at Keene Trace, and their course will be the venue for a PGA TOUR event this summer.
“It’s all really surreal,” Frye said.
But it’s all very real.
The course Frye saw evolve from Tom Heilbron’s imagination to Arthur Hills’ design, and that he estimates he’s played a thousand times, will host the Barbasol Championship, with a $3.5 million purse, July 16-22.
No wonder he and Mossbarger, who’ve co-owned Champions and neighboring Keene Run under the Keene Trace Golf Club banner since 2014, are as giddy as a couple kids who’ve broken 80 for the first time.
They recalled their reactions when they each got the phone call from Brooks Downing of bd Global in January 2017, telling them their golf course could land a PGA Tour stop.
“I had several emotions,” Frye said. “I was excited, but part of me was in disbelief. I was like, ‘Is this really going to happen? Is this too good to be true? There’s got to be a catch.’
“It’s amazing how it’s all unfolded.”
Mossbarger couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it at first either, but he considered it “fantastic” news.
“It’s been a wild ride so far,” he said, “and this year is going to be continuation of that. The next few months are going to be crazy – fun crazy.”
Mossbarger and Frye, both golf junkies, are fascinated by how much work goes into staging a PGA TOUR event.
“It’s insane how much goes on in the background,” Mossbarger said. “We knew there’d be changes to the course, and maintenance would be on a higher level. But one thing that blew me away was that we’re going to need 1,500 volunteers.”
Frye was surprised by how much space will be needed to accommodate the tournament’s ancillary services, like where to park semi-trailers for club manufacturers (i.e. Titleist, Callaway and TaylorMade), along with the PGA TOUR’s traveling fitness truck, not to mention the vehicles and equipment required for the Golf Channel to televise the action.
“We’ve got to make an acre-and-a-half lot just for the TV stuff,” Frye said. “And there’ll be a tower on every hole for ShotLink (the PGA TOUR’s platform for collecting and disseminating scoring and statistical data).”
Frye has been impressed by how much help the TOUR has provided in getting the golf course ready for the pros.
“They’ve sent in so many experts to assess the course and teach us and (superintendent Carl Gray) what to do to make it better,” Frye said. “They’ve got a golf course architect doing drawings for us. They’ve got an agronomist that Carl can call and say, ‘How many times should I top dress between now and June?’ All of that is at our disposal.”
Mossbarger can’t believe how much attention is paid to making the course look its best.
“Along the pond banks, if you can see any dirt between the water and grass, they don’t like that. It’s not a playability issue. It’s about aesthetics. They said ‘It’s a great golf hole, but we’ve got to doll it up because it’s going to be on TV all day long.’”
Frye is confident Champions at Keene Trace will hold its own against PGA TOUR players.
“It’s a world-class golf course in my opinion,” he said. “It’s beautiful. The green complexes are great. Every hole is different. And it’s challenging.
“One of the PGA guys who came in was looking for four locations to set pins on every green, and he was walking around muttering, ‘That Arthur Hills . . . that Arthur Hills’ because there’s so much undulation.”
The Barbasol Championship is the same week as the British Open, but Mossbarger thinks the timing is perfect.
“We can watch the British Open on TV in the morning, then come out here and watch live golf,” he said. “It’ll be great.
“And I think it’ll be a huge benefit for the city. It’s a dry time of the year – no UK football or basketball, and it’ll be a great venue to bring kids to. I think it’ll be a big boost to junior golf.”
Champions at Keene Trace has hosted some great golf over the years, including the Men’s NCAA Division I championship, the USGA Men’s Senior Amateur, the Women’s Western Amateur and the men’s Kentucky Open.
But the PGA TOUR is the ultimate show, and Frye can’t wait for the pros to test the course he knows so well. He especially wants to see how they handle the signature hole, No. 17 (which will play as No. 8 during the tournament). It’s a par-4 that requires a difficult approach into a green guarded by water and bunkers.
“I’m hoping we get a day it’s playing downwind and the greens are firm. I want to see if they can hold that green, because I can’t,” Frye said with a laugh.
“I’m hoping we don’t get a bunch of rain and soften things up. I want to see them play this course hard and fast.”
The clock is ticking – in less than 5 months the Golf Channel will be broadcasting the Barbasol Championship to an international TV audience.
“We’re behind the 8-ball time-wise,” Mossbarger said. “But Brooks Downing and his people are handling it, and it’s been awesome how the city – Nicholasville and Lexington are one in the same in my opinion – have jumped in. It’s neat to see everybody coming together to help out.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun and exciting. And in the end, fulfilling.”
Frye isn’t panicking either.
“I can’t get my mind around how we’re going to get it all done by July,” he said. “But we will.”
It’s a scenario B Frye could have never imagined 30 years ago when he stood on The Champions first tee with his dad on opening day.
Surreal to real, indeed.