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Ben Smith

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City, course win golf’s accolades

– So here comes today’s testimonial, striding through the sun-dappled shade on another postcard morning. Her name is Fiona Abe, out of Texas by way of Uganda. Her daughter, Lakareber, is about to tee off here in the Junior PGA Championship.

“So you must be an old-school reporter,” she teases, nodding at my pen and notebook.

“Older than you know,” I say.

We walk together for a few moments, and then I ask whether her daughter had played this event before.

“No, this is the first time we’ve been here,” she replies. “But it’s the nicest event we’ve ever been to. The course is beautiful, and the people have just been unbelievably nice. They’re just doing an incredible job.”

I can’t say for sure, but right then and there, I think I heard the National Profile Odometer advance a couple of numbers.

That’s the practical effect of opening your doors and inviting America into your exceedingly well-manicured living room, of course. You play host to a national tournament, and do it as impeccably as Sycamore Hills has these past three years, and the oddest thing happens.

Nobody has to MapQuest you anymore.

“This championship certainly validates the golf course and the community,” Sycamore Hills general manager Eric Schneider said Friday afternoon. “The club showcased itself beautifully. Fort Wayne, more importantly, showcased itself beautifully. We got so many comments about the Hoosier hospitality. They just couldn’t believe people were so nice.

“I think it positions us nicely to look for other national championships that fit.”

And so, if this was the end of the PGA’s three-year Junior Championship commitment, it’s unlikely it’s the last time it will show its face here. The USGA Girls Juniors is already ticketed for next summer, and there were lots of whispers this week about a Web.com (formerly Nationwide) tour event coming to Sycamore.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options,” is all Schneider would say about that.

And the PGA is looking.

“Oh, sure, it would definitely be on our radar in the future,” says Allen Wronowski, PGA of America president. “It has everything you want.”

Weather included, of course. After roasting under God’s blowtorch all summer, Sycamore caught a break this week with seasonal temperatures and no wind. It left the course wobbling under a barrage of below-par scores, but it also made it ideal for spectators.

Five thousand to 6,000 spectators, by everyone’s best guess. Which doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider it in the context of the event.

And so: Onward and upward, presumably.

“You know, I’ve been out of the community for 17 years,” Schneider said. “And I’ve gotten numerous calls and emails from my friends all around the country saying, ‘Hey, we saw you on ‘SportsCenter,’ saw the club on TV, this and that.’

“So, this gets us out there. More importantly, the golf course is at a level to support it. Davis Love is a friend of mine, and this week he told me, ‘Hey, I’m calling the PGA Tour and I’m saying look, this is a really special place you’ve got here. It’s wonderful.’ ”

Today’s testimonial. Times two.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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