SPECIAL TO BARBASOLCHAMPIONSHIPKY.COM | BY MIKE FIELDS
After Brooks Downing founded bd Global in late summer 2012, the company’s three-man staff operated out of the basement of his house for almost three years.
“Our global headquarters,” he said with a laugh.
Downing didn’t have a desk. He shared a small table with Jon Albaugh, while Glenn Pfister worked from a couch.
Downing joked that Daisy, his golden retriever, was their secretary.
“No overhead,” Downing said. “We were lean and mean.”
That first winter bd Global’s business amounted to putting on about two dozen college basketball games, handling everything from securing teams and arenas to selling sponsorships and tickets.
“We were like, ‘Whoa! We’re killing it!’” Downing recalled.
Pfister, the company’s Director of Basketball, wondered how they could ever manage to do more.
Flash ahead to today and bd Global has not only expanded its involvement in college basketball six-fold (it coordinates more than 120 games in November and December), the company also puts on two early season Web.com golf tournaments in the Bahamas and even manages a college hockey tournament in Las Vegas.
And and now, partnered with the Bluegrass Sports Commission, bd Global is getting ready to stage a PGA TOUR event. The $3.2 million Barbasol Championship will be played July 16-22 at Champions at Keene Trace in Jessamine County.
Perhaps it was kismet that bd Global relocated its offices from Downing’s basement to the second floor of the clubhouse at Champions at Keene Trace three years ago.
At the time, Downing imagined someday bringing a professional golf tournament here, but nothing the size and scope of the Barbasol Championship.
“We were really after a Champions Tour (50-and-over golfers) event,” he said. “Now, to be working on a PGA TOUR event, I don’t know how we could be operating any other way than being right here.
“It’s almost like it was destiny.”
Destiny and a lot of networking.
Downing’s background includes a stint as the sports information director at the University of Kentucky, and sports marketing positions with three different firms. So when he launched bd Global, he had a ready-made list of connections in the sports world.
It was a personal connection, however, that was the genesis of the Barbasol Championship coming to Central Kentucky.
After Evan Mossbarger and B Frye purchased Champions (and neighboring Keene Run) in 2014, Mossbarger called his friend Downing and asked if he would serve as the club’s ambassador and help market the combined 36-hole country club.
One idea was to bring back the Bank One Classic, a Senior Tour event that Lexington hosted from 1983 to 1997.
Over the next two years, bd Global, along with the Bluegrass Sports Commission, tried but failed to raise the necessary $2 million to get a Champions (Senior) Tour tournament. “We got close twice, but never could quite get the commitment from sponsors to push it across the finish line,” Downing said.
Then came the phone call, in January 2017, that changed everything.
The Barbasol Championship wasn’t doing well in Opelika, Ala., and the PGA TOUR was looking for a more receptive venue. The PGA TOUR was familiar with Downing and his company because of their Web.com tournaments in the Bahamas.
“They were needing a market where the Barbasol Championship would be successful, so BAM!, we were their first call,” Downing said.
He was told the budget for a PGA TOUR event like the Barbasol Championship would be about the same as for a Champions Tour event.
“We said yes, and by the time I hung up the phone I was ready to do a backflip,” Downing said. “I was hoping when we went to the streets to try to sell it, it would resonate a little more. To say it did would be an understatement. The reception has just been incredible.”
While bd Global has taken on big projects before, none can compare to the enormity of the Barbasol Championship.
That’s why the first person bd Global contacted was Vince Gabbert, who as vice president of Keeneland coordinated the 2015 Breeders’ Cup at the historic race course.
“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Downing said. “Since Vince and his team had put on a huge event just a few years ago, they were the biggest resource we had.”
Albaugh said Gabbert “teed us up with everything, from tenting to parking to security. Probably 50% of the logistics with our event has some crossover to what they used for the Breeders’ Cup.”
Downing also credited Brian Miller, president and CEO of the Bluegrass Sports Commission, for getting a jump on seeking out sponsors.
“That’s the beauty of our partnership and having them as our sales team in this marketplace,” Downing said. “We will look back at that being a key piece to this event being successful.”
It’s hard to fathom all that goes into hosting a PGA TOUR event, as Downing and his staff will attest.
The golf course itself has undergone some changes. Not a full-fledged facelift, but rather a few tucks here and there that were made more difficult because of the long winter.
Also come tournament time, there will be more than two dozen corporate tents dotting a few fairways and semi-circling the 18th green.
The Golf Channel will bring in a small army of people and a fleet of semi-trailers packed with equipment needed to televise four rounds of competition to a world-wide audience.
Vanessa Taylor, the volunteer coordinator, probably has the most challenging task. She’s looking for about 1,200 volunteers to staff the week-long event in a myriad of jobs, everything from transportation to scoring to working the driving range to hospitality to helping out at the daycare center for the players’ children.
Josh Franklin, who along with Albaugh and Catherine Clifton is a Senior Director for the tournament, is in charge of ticketing and operations.
Fans will be shuttled in from Keeneland to a bus depot being built on the grounds. (There will be no spectator parking at the course.)
The 132 players in the tournament will drive courtesy cars, provided by Lexus of Lexington, to and from Champions at Keene Trace. They’ll also be provided help finding lodging, whether it’s hotels or private housing.
There are dozens of other items, big and small, on the checklist that will keep bd Global’s staff busy for the next seven weeks.
Downing is confident the product they’re selling will be a hit with the fans. The Barbasol Championship will feature some of the best golfers on the planet, even though the British Open will be contested the same week.
Downing hopes this PGA TOUR event, which has a four-year commitment here, will evolve into a can’t-miss sports and social happening.
“If we get this right, this will become a I-gotta-be-there event,” Downing said. “What I love is that it shapes up to be a great party scene for Central Kentucky.”
Downing envisions fans sticking around after the last putt drops every day to enjoy the long summer evenings at a beautiful setting, eating, drinking and socializing.
“It’s going to be a scene people will want to be part of because it’s something special,” Downing said. “And we do think we’re creating something special.”