In the Ascendant

Tag Riddings with 2021 Ascendant Trophy

Colorado’s Korn Ferry Tour event has a new name, new sponsors and the same commitment to building something truly special.

By Jon Rizzi

In 2019, on the Tuesday before the Korn Ferry Tour’s inaugural TPC Colorado Championship in Berthoud, a 23-year-old tour rookie joined Tournament Director Drew Blass at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Fort Collins for #ULTRAShot, a promotional competition sponsored by Michelob ULTRA.

The game: With one swing from the roof of the 150-foot-high building, contestants tried to land a shot in a small painted circle 240 yards away.

Among the contestants: Broncos kicker Brandon McManus, Nuggets forward Mason Plumlee, David Duval and guys who’d failed at Monday’s qualifiers.

The problem: “I’m afraid of heights,” the rookie confided to Blass, who, aware of the assembled media, persuaded him to step up.

He did. Like all but one of the contestants, he missed the mark, but just having him participate in the spectacle helped publicize the tournament that would begin two days later.

That rookie, Scottie Scheffler, went on to become the Korn Ferry Tour’s Player of the Year, an undefeated member of the 2021 winning Ryder Cup team and the 2022 Masters champion. Acrophobia has not prevented him from ascending to the top of the World Rankings, a perch at which he appears to feel quite comfortable.

Scheffler’s ascendancy has coincided with that of the TPC Championship, which, as of this year, is officially known as The Ascendant presented by Blue (Ascendant National Title is the title sponsor; Blue Federal Credit Union, the presenting). Ascendant is arguably the most appropriate name ever for a title-sponsored tournament for aspiring PGA TOUR golfers.

The fourth edition of the event will take place June 30-July 3 at TPC Colorado in Berthoud, and when it does, it will be defending its title as the Korn Ferry Tour’s 2021 Tournament of the Year—an honor it received two years after earning the Product of the Year Award and unofficial title of “best first-year tournament in 30 years.”

“It is truly incredible how quickly Drew Blass and his team made this a marquee event on our schedule, in addition to putting on the tournament rated highest all around by our membership,” Korn Ferry President Alex Baldwin said during the announcement at the PGA TOUR’s annual Tournament Meetings last December.

Crowd at the Ascendant
The gallery looks on to the 16th green at TPC Colorado during the playoff of the 2021 tournament won by Tag Riddings. COURTESY THE ASCENDANT PRESENTED BY BLUE

“This is the standard,” she elaborated during a February event at TPC Colorado. “You have done something really special. The tournament is a favorite of the players and an amazing mobilization of people. Plus, you’ve had a meaningful impact on the community.”

That impact can be measured not just by the $50,000 the tournament has generated for local charities, but also by the number of volunteers and attendees at the event. As Blass said upon receiving the Tournament of the Year Award, “It’s truly an honor for the whole community,” tournament director Blass said. “Everybody is embracing it, …everybody involved all through Colorado and Wyoming can say, ‘Hey, we were a part of this.’ It’s special for everybody.”

Much of that feeling stems from the fact that the course, tournament and surrounding community are all the same tender age. TPC Colorado opened in 2018 to high praise, the tournament started in 2019—all while homes in the adjacent Heron Lakes development have been selling like hotcakes. “Plus,” Blass points out, “the whole northern area, from Longmont up to Wyoming, is a golf mecca,” Blass says.

More than 700 volunteers—about double the number for an average Korn Ferry Tour event—work the tournament and “they know what they’re doing,” Las Vegas-based golfer Taylor Montgomery says. One of them, Mark Fidrych, knew and did so much, working more than 140 hours chairing on-course services and handling uniform distribution for all volunteers, that he earned the tour’s 2021 Volunteer of the Year Award.

During tournament week, more than half the players in the field stay with volunteers, members and partners. “These players are so grateful for people opening their houses and welcoming them,” Blass says. “I hear all time about people getting to know the players personally and building friendships.” One of those relationships even resulted in the player, who’d finally earned his PGA TOUR card, inviting his host family to his wedding.


Given the tournament’s emphasis on hospitality, it’s no surprise that in the end-of-year Tournament of the Year voting Korn Ferry Tour players gave the TPC Colorado Championship the highest scores for player amenities. “There’s nothing to bitch about there,” Alexander says. “The facilities, the player dining, the fitness center, the course—they check all the boxes for us as players, so we’re all in a pretty good mood.”

“The crowds are bigger there than at other events,” Tom Whitney, a former Air Force Academy golfer observes. “The whole Northern Colorado area looks forward to coming. And with multiple military bases on the Front Range and the tournament offering free tickets to active military and veterans, I get a decent showing of spectators.”

“I’m always grateful if people follow me,” German-born former CU golfer Jeremy Paul says. He will see the course for the first time this year. “People say it’s their favorite tournament, that it’s the total package and they take care of the players. If people don’t like a certain event, you’ll hear it.”

“My favorite thing is the food. It’s incredible,” Montgomery says. “You lose weight at other tournaments, not this one.”

The TPC Colorado course also received the highest score of any course on the pandemic-induced 46-event wraparound schedule of 2020-2021.

“I do like the fact that the holes are longer—it’s not just driver and a wedge like just about everywhere else,” says Alexander, who finished one shot shy of being the fourth man in a playoff last year. He’s not enamored of the 773-yard 13th but loves the decision-making involved in the risk-reward third, the beauty of the par-3 eighth and the strength of the three-hole closing stretch.

Charlie Saxon chips on to a green during the 2021 Championship. COURTESY THE ASCENDANT PRESENTED BY BLUE

As far as strategy, “There’s some space off the tee and room to drive it,” he says which gives the longer hitters an advantage.”

Whitney concurs, although missing fairways is very penalizing. “They pride themselves on growing the rough out,” he says. “If you hit every fairway, you’re going to contend.”

In terms of playing at altitude, having played in Colombia, Las Vegas and on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, Alexander says 5,030 feet above sea level isn’t an issue, but “the altitude makes you control your golf ball.”

Whitney lived in Colorado and Wyoming for 12 years, so he’s “comfortable trusting my pitching wedge is going to go 170 yards. I’m not saying it gives me an advantage, just that there isn’t a learning curve.”

The FAN Experience

The 20,000 and 25,000 fans who attended the two TPC Colorado Championships that allowed spectators got to see players like Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris, Maverick McNealy and Davis Riley and before they graduated to the PGA TOUR.

They also got to experience most, but not all, of the bells and whistles—viewing areas, hospitality tents, merchandise sales, kid areas—that make a top-flight tournament.

That was before the event became The Ascendant presented by Blue. “This gets us over the hill and allows us to throw a better tournament,” course owner and developer Jon Turner said at the announcement. “The event is now poised to grow stronger.”

And that is has. Go this year and you’ll experience it. “Our slogan is bigger, better, back,” Blass says. Look for more interactive activities with BirdieBall and other partners, like Citywide Banks; improved parking and operational logistics; a heroes’ pavilion to honor military and first responders; and bigger hospitality areas on holes 15 and 18.

Shuttles will now take patrons from the clubhouse to holes 8-11—”the furthest from the clubhouse and some of the prettiest on the course,” Blass says—and a new caterer means there’ll be more food stations around the course, including by the eighth tee.

Construction is nearly done on additional viewing areas at the magnificent 16th—the par-3 known as “Center Stage,” where Kevin Yu, David Skinns and eventual champion Tag Ridings contested last year’s three-person playoff.

Like Nelson Ledesma and Will Zalatoris before him, Ridings received a distinctive trophy suggesting the peaks visible across the water from the 16th green. This year’s winner will get one too, plus a gift: a pair of Adirondack chairs made from skis—“one is painted with the Colorado flag, the other with the Wyoming flag,” Blass says, explaining that Blue Federal Credit Union is a Wyoming-based company.

“It’s a unique gift with a local flavor, and after the tournament, we’ll ship the chairs to the winner—even if lives in Australia,” Blass laughs.

“We want to keep building on the momentum of the last three years. Colorado deserves great golf, and we’ve really got something special that everyone should see.”


The Ascendant presented by Blue
June 30-July 4
TPC Colorado

2375 TPC Parkway, Berthoud 970-528-9957

 Jon Rizzi is the editorial director of CAG.

This article can also be found in the June Issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.

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