Folks who tuned into last week’s episode of “Strapped,” a YouTube video series through the golf website No Laying Up, were greeted by a surprising sight in the opening seconds. Viewers didn’t see views of a golf course, but instead Harper-Wyckoff Hall on Bradley’s campus.
In fact, the video opens with roughly five minutes of Bradley-related footage, including stops at Bacci’s Pizza and the Lydia Moss Bradley statue before it focuses on Newman Golf Course.
While the impromptu tour of campus may seem random to some, two Bradley alumni played an integral part in the episode.
No Laying Up producer D.J. Piehowski is a 2010 graduate of BU, and did much of the tour guiding at the start of the video. Scott Phegley, a Peoria resident and 2007 alumnus of the Braves’ golf team, was featured in the video playing the round at Newman with “Strapped” regulars Neil Schuster and Phil “Big Randy” Landes.
The concept for “Strapped” is simple. The No Laying Up crew picks an unconventional golf destination to visit for three days, two nights and three rounds of golf while “strapped” for cash. $500 has to cover all of the trip’s expenses, from golf and lodging to food and alcohol.
“All golf travel stuff tends to focus on about six locations in the world,” Piehowski said. “It’s kind of Scotland and Ireland and Bandon and Streamsong and Cabbot – these very high-end places … [“Strapped”] is basically showcasing the places that kind of make up people’s everyday golf and shining a light on what makes them great as well.”
So, how did “Strapped” land on Peoria?
In April, the Jacksonville Beach Golf Association, a local charity that No Laying Up supports on a regular basis, started seeing financial trouble as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To raise funds, “Strapped” offered to come to the city that donated the most money. Additionally, the money that the winning city donated would be awarded to a local golf charity in that city.
A group of Peoria golfers, including Phegley and Bradley basketball alumnus Kevin Jones, rose to the occasion, creating a website and a 50/50 raffle for those who donated. Not only did the River City win – it lapped the field.
“In the first couple days, we started off as one of the top cities,” Phegley said. “If we didn’t do our local promotion, we might’ve got it anyway.”
The city’s golf community raised about $6,000, beating larger cities such as Boston, Anchorage, Cincinnati and Detroit by over $4,000.
“Peoria just blew everybody out of the water, which was wild,” Piehowski said.
Phegley and company directed the money toward the River Cup Foundation, where Phegley is a board member. The foundation provides grants and scholarships to local golfers and players, among other causes.
“It’s probably the only true passion I have,” Phegley said. “The River Cup foundation is really small. If we donate over $10,000, $15,000 a year to junior golf programs and local hospitals and stuff like that, we had a good year … We’ve already seen some of the [“Strapped”] money being used.”
In terms of content, Phegley believes the Peoria golf scene was a great fit for the show. All three courses featured – Newman, Madison and Lick Creek – were public courses with greens fees less than $30.
“We have great golf around here that’s not super expensive, and with the show that they ran, that’s what it’s all about,” Phegley said. “It’s not about playing the sweet courses and paying 150 bucks a round; it’s about going out with your buddies and walking and playing for 20 bucks.”
For Piehowski, his familiarity with the city of Peoria made things different from the typical “Strapped” trip.
“Normally, the cities that we pick are totally, completely random,” Piehowski said. “It definitely keeps it a little more natural. Whereas, Peoria, we’re showing up and I’m like, ‘Well … I lived here for four years, I know where everything is, I know exactly what we should do and what we should see,’ and all of that stuff. And so it’s really hard to keep the ‘spirit’ of what we’re trying to do.”
Piehowski’s return to the Hilltop was just one stop in a career in golf that has taken him to cover major championships and courses worldwide.
After working for The Scout’s sports section and receiving a degree in journalism, the Illinois native moved to Florida after graduation to work for Golfweek magazine. After a few years there, he worked for the PGA Tour, where he wore a number of hats including writing for the website and running official social media accounts.
While working for the Tour, Piehowski got to know the founders of No Laying Up through the internet. When he eventually left the Tour, he found himself in a unique spot.
“I kind of felt like I was uniquely qualified in the world of golf to go out and kind of do my own thing,” Piehowski said. “I kind of floated to them like, ‘Hey, maybe you can pay me X amount of dollars per month, and I think we can ramp up some video stuff and we can do a bunch of other things.’ Fortunately, they took me at my word on that, and we all kind of figured it out together.”
Fortunately for lovers of the game like Piehowski and Phegley, golf is a sport that is somewhat unaffected by COVID-19, which provides a slice of normalcy in a world dominated by the virus.
“We’re super lucky to have golf,” Piehowski said. “That’s one thing that hasn’t really changed, it’s something that you can still experience in basically the same way.”
As a result, people are still able to come together around the game to have some fun, or in this case, support a good cause.
“It was great to be able to do that,” Phegley said. “$6,000 to a junior golf program or the Peoria Park District or for high schools or however they use it, it goes a long way.”
All three episodes of “Strapped: Peoria” can be found on the No Laying Up YouTube Channel.