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Last updated: Sat. Jul. 19, 2014 - 12:57 pm EDT

Hotel Fitness Championship returns to Fort Wayne event to boost local economy

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It's been 25 years since Jack Nicklaus played the inaugural round at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne. Sycamore Hills general manager Erik Schneider said the course planned by Nicklaus' design team was beautiful at the time of its creation.

Even last year when Sycamore Hills hosted the inaugural Hotel Fitness Championship, it got the job done. Despite successfully hosting nearly 27,000 spectators at the tour event, management at the club decided it was time for a change.

Golf clubs were made with wooden heads 25 years ago. Golfers weren't able to hit the ball quite as far, or nearly as straight as they do today. And so was the reasoning behind the plan to rework some bunkers at Sycamore Hills, the course needed to be more challenging.

“We began a redesign that started as a bunker project, and it just grew,” Sycamore Hills general manager Erik Schneider said. “Essentially, if you're here three years in a row, you might think you're at three different clubs.”

Now that the redesign, which impacted fifteen holes in all, is complete, some parts of the course look completely different. Making the 18th and final hole more challenging was a big part of the redesign. This change will help ensure that fans seated in sky boxes put up for the Hotel Fitness Championship get a good show.

And the clubhouse, which overlooks the 18th green will be markedly different before next year's event as well.

The course's finale now features a narrower fairway and new bunker positioning. The water hazard curves around the side of the green more than it has in the past. For golfers, the 18th hole is always critical no matter how well the first 17 go.

Chris Smith, a Peru resident, who previously golfed on the PGA Tour, is a member of four years knows the back half of the course as well as anyone.

“Even before they redid 18, I think it was a pretty difficult finishing hole,” Smith said. “It will be exciting. It will force the guys who are playing well in the tournament to put up good shots on the last hole or they won't have a chance at making the numbers.”

Smith hopes to crack the top 200 in the PGA Tour standings prior to the Hotel Fitness Championship, so he can qualify. He believes he'd have a great shot at winning a chunk of the $1 million in prize money -- $180,000 of which goes to the champion.

Beyond the big purse, though, the event will also raise money for charities. The Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides full tuition scholarships for more than 800 caddies attending colleges across the country, is the main partner for the Hotel Fitness Championship.

Bruce Dye, CEO of Hotel Fitness, said he anticipates a multi-million dollar impact on the Fort Wayne economy as golfers, spectators and sponsors make their way into the city for the event. The top 75 players from the tour, as well as players ranked 126 through 200 on the PGA tour will be invited to the Hotel Fitness Championship.

The event tees off on Thursday, Aug. 28, and will be televised on The Golf Channel.

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