ELKHORN — Northeast Nebraska influence has helped make one of the newest events on professional golf's Web.com Tour one of that tour's best.
More than 40,000 attended last year's Pinnacle Bank Championship hosted by The Club at Indian Creek, which was named the top Web.com Tour event of the season. In its debut, the tournament was named that circuit's Rookie of the Year.
There are area natives playing influential roles for both the tournament and the site itself.
Tournament director Jessica Brabec is a graduate of Neligh-Oakdale High School and Wayne State College. The golf course superintendent at Indian Creek is Jim Nedrow, a Norfolk Catholic graduate.
On Wednesday, representatives of the tournament and its host site announced and signed an extension of their contract.
Top players from the Web.com Tour can qualify for the next season's PGA Tour, which is considered the highest level of golf.
“We're really excited to extend for another five years at Indian Creek,” Brabec said. “That's going to be great for us moving forward. It'll allow us to have a lot more fun as we work with our hospitality options on the course. The players love this course so much, so we're excited to bring players out here for the coming years.”
Also on Wednesday, it was announced that Brandon Crick of McCook and Braden Thornberry of Olive Branch, Miss., received exemptions into the tournament.
Crick and Thornberry join Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, who was awarded an unrestricted exemption into the tournament, as early entrants. Crick is a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln golfer who turned pro in 2010 and has a top-20 finish this season on the Web.com Tour.
Vermeer, who played in last year's tournament, said the Elkhorn event was comparable to a PGA Tour event he played recently in the Dominican Republic.
“This tournament is every bit as good as that, and that is a PGA Tour event,” he said.
That small-town Nebraska background has come in handy, Brabec said.
During her first year, tour officials were quizzing event organizers about different aspects in regards to how it treats players and officials. One of the things that came up was what kind of eggs they served — fresh eggs or powdered eggs.
“What do you mean? They're eggs,” she said, recalling her response. “I'm from Northeast Nebraska. We know what eggs are.”
In the first two years of the tournament, it hosted a 36-hole qualifier at ArborLinks in Nebraska City for golfers with Nebraska ties. This year, however, instead of hosting that event, the tournament's board of directors awarded that unrestricted exemption spot to Vermeer.
Vermeer won last season's PGA Professionals Championship, which gave him a spot in the PGA Championship earlier this year, among several PGA Tour events. But because of his schedule, he was unable to earn a berth unless he did so through one of the qualifiers.
“Ryan was a unique situation in that he's doing great things for Nebraska golf, and with that, he still couldn't get into our event,” Brabec said. “He had this great experience with his win and with the PGA Section national player of the year, plus he got starts on the PGA Tour, but he was not able to choose us on the Web.com Tour option.”
Last year, Norfolk's Luke Kluver won that event to qualify for the Web.com event in Elkhorn. That decision meant Kluver has no chance to defend his title in that qualifying tournament.
“While we understand that it will hurt our amateurs a little bit not having that chance, we couldn't pass up the history making in our own back yard,” she said.
How to qualify
Despite having that exemption unavailable, Kluver and other amateurs from Nebraska still have two chances to earn a spot at the Pinnacle Bank Championship.
Amateur golfers with Nebraska ties may earn one of the unrestricted spots for the tournament through the Indian Creek Invitational in Elkhorn on July 13-14. Top amateurs and professionals may also qualify via the Web.com Tour's qualifier Monday, July 15 at either Wilderness Ridge Golf Club in Lincoln or Bent Tree Golf Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“It's going to be great for the crowds,” Brabec said about having golfers with Nebraska ties in the tournament. “We've had 40,000 spectators at last year's, and we know that more people are going to come out and follow them, and just the buzz around town will be great.”
Brabec said there are still openings for the Indian Creek Invitational. Interested individuals should call 402-289-0900.
“Amateurs looking to play in the Pinnacle Bank Championship have a couple of different options,” Brabec said.
Another upcoming event at Indian Creek has connections to Norfolk.
The inaugural Chris Jessen Classic will be held Wednesday, Aug. 21, at Indian Creek. The event is in memory of Jessen, a 2000 Norfolk Catholic graduate who died last year at the age of 36 after a battle with a chronic liver disease and cancer.
Proceeds from the tournament will go toward the Lane Thomas Foundation, which was set up in memory of Thomas, an Elkhorn boy who died after an alligator attack while his family was vacationing in Florida. The foundation assists families who have children in need of organ donations.
“Organ donation was a cause that Chris was really passionate about,” said Nedrow, who was Jessen's brother-in-law.