After it was made official last month that World Long Drive would be headed to Rochester (N.Y.) for the “ROC City Rumble” in July, the news carried added significance for Ryan Steenberg, the newest hitter to top the world rankings as No. 1 amongst the Open Division competitors.
Calling Rochester home, Steenberg is exceedingly familiar with its history as a golf hotbed in staging numerous premier events in the sport, and took it upon himself to try and connect the dots in an effort to add a new chapter to the city’s golf lore.
“As soon as I got exposed to long drive, I told myself ‘that needs to go to Rochester’. As soon I hit the tee box and got to taste what long drive was all about, I knew that Rochester would [be a fit].”
Rochester has hosted U.S. Amateurs, U.S. Opens, PGA Championships, a Ryder Cup, and Senior PGA Championships on the near-by Oak Hill Country Club designed by Donald Ross. The area also was home to the LPGA Championship (now the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship) for decades at Locust Hill Country Club.
“The history is unprecedented,” says Steenberg of his hometown as a golf destination. “People really don’t think of Rochester when they think golf towns. But Walter Hagen was born there. Robert Trent Jones has history there. We’ve got “The Beast” there at Oak Hill. We’ve hosted a championship in every major tour in Rochester over the years.”
Even though Rochester has so much golf history, putting together a World Long Drive event requires a slightly different type of land and layout. To state the obvious, one of the first hurdles to clear is identifying a venue that is suitable for driving distances beyond what most traditional golf course layouts can accommodate. Luckily, Steenberg was ready with a potential suitor that could check those boxes.
“Some good friends of mine own a piece of property that, when I saw it, I knew it [had the potential] to be the biggest and best grid in the world if we could pull it off,” Steenberg said. “So, a small conversation turned into bigger conversations and then finally we were able to see this thing through. And here we are.”
The property Steenberg is referring to is Home Team Sports Park, which will serve as the competition venue from July 20-24, which will include hosting the final Volvik World Long Drive Championship qualifier (July 20-21), and culminate in the event conclusion on Wednesday, July 24 (airing live on Golf Channel). As Steenberg describes it, the property did require some changes in order to be ready to facilitate a long drive competition, but he insists the final product will be something his fellow competitors will be praising.
“The venue is an old driving range, so there’s already a structure in place. It’s also kind of a natural amphitheater. It’s huge. The biggest thing that I’m excited about is understanding how Rochester rallies around events like this.”
Adding to the pressure of trying to win his hometown event is the fact that he’ll be competing for the first time having a target on his back with the No. 1 ranking.
“My goal this year was to crack the top five [rankings] and win on TV” says Steenberg of his ambitions entering the 2019 season.
He did both of those things after claiming the Exchange for Service: Fort Jackson event in May. But, after advancing to the finals at the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bash earlier this month before falling to Tim Burke, Steenberg earned enough points to take over Justin James’ nearly two-year reign at No. 1.
Afterward, upon learning of his new ranking atop the sport, Steenberg said, “It’s a hard place to be and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with it. But I felt like I came into [Atlantic City] with the expectation that I would hit a good ball, so I wasn’t worried about that. My expectations will be the same at the ROC City Rumble.”