Ann Arbor — For almost three years, Keith Karbo has had the vision for the Volvik Championship.
When he first came up with the plan late in the summer of 2013, the event didn’t have a name, didn’t have a sponsor and didn’t have a place to play. But it had Karbo, a veteran of sports marketing who was determined to bring golf back to southeast Michigan.
So Tuesday morning, as LPGA players went through practice rounds and workers put the finishing touches on Travis Pointe Country Club, Karbo added one last item for good luck.
A devout Catholic, Karbo’s mother had given him a rosary and said it was for good luck, primarily for the inaugural tournament to be blessed with good weather. Karbo, the tournament director, took that rosary and placed it in a bush at the entrance to Travis Pointe.
The rosary clearly did its job as the event far exceeded what Karbo imagined, even with a short weather delay on Sunday that lasted less than an hour.
“You kind of take notes, you draw it out, you map everything out that you want to do and you just hope that it gets to 80 percent there,” Karbo said on Sunday morning as the final round was well underway.
“Well, this exceeded 100 percent. It looks gorgeous, the build went wonderfully well. It looks like a stadium. We built a stadium. Three weeks ago none of this existed. So we tried to plan the best we could, we tried to strive for perfection and we’re gonna take excellence.”
Judging by the galleries, excellence seems to have been attained. Hard numbers weren’t yet available on Sunday, but crowds around the some of the more popular areas — the 18th green, 16th green, and the first and ninth tees — grew throughout the week.
And judging by the feedback Karbo has received, everyone is having fun.
“Everybody has a smile on their face,” he said. “To see it actually come to fruition … I smile every time I turn the corner here and I see more people getting off the shuttle buses and everybody has a smile on their face. I couldn’t be happier.”
It’s been quite the road for Karbo to get to this point. The University of Michigan graduate had plenty of experience in sports marketing, working with the PGA Champions Tour event in Grand Rapids in the early 1990s and getting into motor sports from there, specifically at Michigan International Speedway.
By the summer of 2013, though, he had a moment that struck him and sent him on the path to creating the Volvik Championship. He had just said goodbye to some friends who were leaving the Ann Arbor area, and as he sat in his car while waiting for a light near the UM golf course, he realized what direction he needed to go.
“It just hit me right then,” Karbo said. “I thought to myself, go back to doing what you know how to do the best, go back to doing what you love to do and that is running a major sporting event.”
Karbo called a friend with the LPGA, one he’d known for years, and told him his idea. After pulling over and taking notes for 45 minutes, the plan was in motion. At first it was Karbo working in his spare time, but when he met with KC Crain, an executive in the publishing business, things really got moving.
The time was right to bring professional golf back to southeastern Michigan. It had been absent since the PGA Tour’s Buick Open last played in Grand Blanc in 2009, and Karbo and his team were ready to change that.
“That’s when we really hit the ground running,” Karbo said. “At that point the LPGA introduced us to Volvik and we were able to work out a sponsorship agreement and we’ve been off and running ever since.”
The tournament was announced in October and while it took some extra work, Karbo and his team was able to put together enough local sponsors, many of which have set up expo space at the course and have purchased skyboxes around the 16th and 18th greens.
And according to Karbo, it’s been a hit. So much so, he’s already hearing from other groups about next year’s event.
“Every one of the sponsors on board this year has said, ‘Now that they’ve seen it, we want to be involved even bigger and better next year,’” Karbo said. “And those that weren’t able to be involved this year have already called and sent emails saying, ‘Let’s get together in June. We’ve got to find a way to be involved next year.’”
As for that good luck charm, the rosary disappeared sometime Sunday morning. Karbo made a couple of calls and found out a worker had found it and had it with her. A half hour later, she was back and the rosary was in place.
It didn’t stop the quick delay, but it still did its job — the sun never stopped shining at Travis Pointe.