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Golf: Pro-am showcases lakes area's ability to host PGA Tour event

Pierz graduate Robert Bell tees off Wednesday during the Dondelinger Brainerd Lakes Area Tour Showcase at Cragun’s Legacy Courses. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

EAST GULL LAKE—Printed on the Dondelinger Brainerd Lakes Area Tour Showcase program were the words, "The Path to the PGA Tour Starts Here."

If the Showcase, played at Cragun's Legacy Courses Wednesday, Aug. 22, is any indicator, a PGA Tour event will be played in the Brainerd lakes area in the not too distant future.

The pro-am event, which featured future tour players, attracted 23 pros and more than 110 total golfers on a Top 10 weather day. Plans are already under way to expand the event to three days in 2019 in roughly the same timeframe with the hope of getting on the schedule.

Event founder Ron Sanders, a St. Cloud businessman, called the event "outstanding."

"I said to my team some time ago that if we want to have (the PGA) interested in us they have to think we're capable of doing it," Sanders added. "Today was all about getting attention.

"In my world, there's five steps to selling—Attention, interest, conviction, desire and close. We did everything ... today specifically to make us look very attractive to the PGA Tour. There's an old saying that perception is reality. We just knocked the covers off the ball. We had a team of volunteers that were unbelievable. We had Lakes Printing—when does a small tournament have a (24-) page program in color with player bios?"

Chuck Klecatsky, director of golf at Cragun's, said now the wait is on to see what the PGA says about a event in the lakes area.

"The nice thing is the players said they had a good time," he said. "Hopefully they'll go back and tell their friends and next year hopefully we have 75 or 80 pros that come and play for hopefully a $100,000 purse."

Klecatsky was encouraged by Wednesday's event because the course and the resort handled the tournament flawlessly.

"We had about 120 golfers, the golf course held up very well, the greens were in great shape," he said. "People had a great time. From the tournament support staff to food and beverage, dining, the bar, all that kind of stuff, the facility did a good job."

Pierz High School graduate and former University of Minnesota Gopher Robert Bell, one of the pros playing Wednesday, endorsed the lakes area for a event.

"I think (this area) can, because on the Tour right now, they're only having a couple grandstands out there," he said. "It's not like the PGA Tour where you see (grandstands) everywhere.

"I think it just comes down to what course out there would be most suitable for it. I think any of the Brainerd lakes courses—you could even throw Deacon's, the Preserve as well as Madden's and both Cragun's courses—any of them can host it condition-wise. It's just where do they want it, where do they think is best for the event?"

Klecatsky said the plan for 2019 is to possibly run two pro-am tournaments.

"Maybe morning and afternoon shotguns Tuesday, and a two-day tournament for pros playing their own ball Wednesday and Thursday," he said. "Hopefully it will be a three-day event. Maybe have a fishing event, things like that, on Monday."

Pro Matt Rachey and teammates Andrew Leintz, Luke Riordan, Josh Boom and Matt Riordan shot 53 and won a scorecard playoff with pro Donald Constable, Shawn Chambers, DJ Dondelinger, Shawn Carter and Dean Grillo.

Bell's team shot 56 and finished seventh. He said he has played in two Tour events, one this year.

"They're just hard to get into," Bell said. "When they're only taking six guys from the site out of a 100, and they're all as good as you, if you're not playing your best that day you know six other guys are. It's tough, it's a hard road, but I enjoy it."

Sanders, one of the founders of the Burnet Senior Classic, which became the 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities, said one of his concerns about a future lakes area event is his age. He's 76 and has had health issues.

"The first thing I did is I got some advice from somebody that if you're going to do this you need to find somebody that can ride along with you," he said. "I found a gentleman named Greg Rueter. He's been my partner. His only mission this year was to give me encouragement. If for some reason I got sick or passed away, he would be the succession plan, and he's done just that. He's given me all kinds of encouragement.

"I didn't want the community, the sponsors or anybody else involved to be let down if something happened to me."

Sanders said groundwork for the event included getting Cragun's to host, enlisting DJ Dondelinger of Dondelinger Chevrolet Cadillac in Baxter to sponsor the event and getting Xcel Energy to be a presenting partner. Sanders, who now has an office at Dondelinger, said after Dondelinger and Xcel came on board the tournament began to become a reality.

"Prior to that it kind of looked like the Ron Sanders charity golf tournament," he said. "I've said all along I have no desire to run a golf tournament. I have a desire to bring a happening to the Brainerd lakes area, central Minnesota, to reflect all the things we have to offer.

"I've already sent information on seven of our facilities up here as far as golf courses, lodging, resorts, vacations, I could go on and on and on. Why we haven't had a PGA Tour event before is beyond me because I couldn't design a place that would be a greater place to come than Brainerd, Minnesota."

Low Gross Scramble

1-Matt Rachey, Andrew Leintz, Luke Riordan, Josh Boom, Matt Riordan 53 (won scorecard playoff)

2-Donald Constable, Shawn Chambers, DJ Dondelinger, Shawn Carter, Dean Grillo 53

3-Nick Delio, Roger Justin, Joe Foley, Mike Higgins, Gordie Roberts 54

4-John Hafdal, Mark Osendorf, Jerry Traut, Scott Hults, Howard Hoffman 55

5-Sam Matthew, Joe Reed, Chuck Albrecht, Aric Welch, Eric Jendro 56

6-Alex Kline, Steve Gabrielson, Bruce Sanders, Doug Sanders, John Lieser 56

7-Robert Bell, Ben Duhn, Bart Taylor, Josh Rardin, Bruce Kennedy 56

8-Riley Johnson, Greg Rueter, Abby Legatt, Chris Legatt, Chip Lohmiller 56

9-Jack Gustafson, Scott Schlecht, Jason Schlecht, Jim Matthew 57

10-John Fritsche, Gary Kreb, Stephanie, Tony Roach 57

11-Josh Esler, Zach Spalj, Luke Anderson, Gavin Metz, Josh Hukriede 57

12-Chad Merzbacher, Tim Bergin, Don Evans, Paul Casey, Terry Smith 57

13-Ricky Hearden, Jeremy Millsop, David Hughes, Matt Holmstrom 58

14-Patrick Stolpe, Jon Latcham, Aaron Zimmer, Steve Carney 59

15-Kevin Stanek, Tom Norman, Dave Norman, Gary Lippo, Joe Joe Stansberry 59

16-Sam Frank, Aaron Otteson, Dereck Schmeck, Conner Learman, Glenn Hagberg 59

17-Neil Johnson, Mike Hayes, Steve Quisberg, Trevor Harting, John Thelen 60

18-Devon Johnson, David Chapman, Bud Chapman, Doug Johnson, Jim Kendall 60

19-Jeff Berkshire, Colin MacDonald, Brad Holland, Andy Hayes, Jarrod McKinney 60

20-Andre Metzger, Andy Isackson, Joe Buttweiller, Terry Thompson, Scott Bender 60

21-Julian Ramirez, Nate McClellan, Bruce Stainbrook, Dan Nahan, Jon Budge 60

22-Paul Henderson, Brian Finch, Chris Olander, Tim Laudenbach, Eric Carlson 61

23-Andrew McCain, Trevor Grossman, Doug Dittbenner, Paul Swenson, Chris Pederson 61

Skins: Berkshire, MacDonald, Holland, Hayes, McKinney 1 (eagle on 18)

Skins: Hafdal, Osendorf, Traut, Hults, Hoffman 1 (eagle on 3)

Closest to pin: Hudson Carpenter, Devon Johnson

Longest putt: Jason Schlecht, Scott Bender