When the LECOM Suncoast Classic took place last February, the event was quite different than its predecessors thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Less than five months prior to tee-off for the 2022 edition of the Korn Ferry Tour event at Lakewood National Golf Club, tournament officials say more fans will be welcome and the return of the popular Fan Zone should be back for the Feb. 17-22 event.
“We’re here to let people know we're full steam forward for 2022,” Suncoast Classic Tournament Director Justin Kristich said at the LECOM Suncoast Classic Happy Hour kickoff event Sept. 24 at the PGA Superstore at University Town Center. “We're going to look more like the 2020 tournament versus the 2021 tournament.”
That 2020 event was held just a few weeks before shutdowns began due to the pandemic. Last year’s tournament was a socially-distanced affair that allowed 3,500 spectators each day. Kristlich said a return to normal could bring around 20,000 spectators for the week. The event already ranks in the top 10 for attendance for the Korn Ferry Tour.
“In 2020 we had over 30 different types of vendors in the Fan Zone,” Kristlich said. “There’s games, activities and different companies out there marketing their products. We had cornhole, food trucks and a putting green company set up a three-hole course. It’s a very cool set-up and we’re looking forward to having it back.”
The Suncoast Classic gets underway with a pro-am event Feb. 16. The four-round main event features a mix of young players hoping to get a shot at the PGA Tour and former PGA Tour players who couldn't maintain their status and want a return to the major tour. The first round begins Feb. 17.
Past players include Major champions Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion; and Angel Cabrera, who won the 2007 U.S, Open and the 2009 Masters.
Hayden Buckley won last year’s event in a playoff and has since earned his PGA Tour Card.
LECOM has been the event’s main sponsor since its inception in 2019. Tim Novak, the dean of schools of Health Service Administration for LECOM, said the sponsorship creates additional awareness of health and wellness.
“I think that as the largest medical college in the United States, we have a responsibility to set an example,” Novak said. “So this is the type of event we want to be associated with and that we're proud to be the principal sponsor.”
Sponsorship for the tournament is also on the rebound. Kristlich said that while last year's event lost some of its major sponsors, smaller and local companies stepped up and the value was up 18% over 2020. That figure is likely to jump up again in 2022.
“We’re now getting those bigger partners back and we're keeping all those small businesses, too,” Kristlich said. “It's shaping up to be a really good event next year.”