Skip Lawrence has golfed to a handicap index of about 11 for years, but recently it’s been on the rise. It seems he’s not alone among the members of Del Paso Country Club, who say their swelling golf scores have little to do with age or skill and almost everything to do with the looming presence of the 2015 U.S. Senior Open.
“For the most part, members are very supportive of everything happening on the course, beginning with its near total redevelopment back in 2006,” says Lawrence, a retired dentist who has been golfing at Del Paso for 37 years. “But the recent addition of the thick, white sand to all the bunkers and the sprawling, dense rough has made the game a little more challenging for many of us mid- to high-handicappers. For some of us, the only practical way out of the rough is to hit a sand wedge to the closest piece of fairway. It really makes you have a greater appreciation for the skill level of the pros.”
The countdown to the tournament has begun. And in a little less than a year, 156 golfers and more than 140,000 spectators will converge on Del Paso Country Club, the 98-year-old granddaddy of local private courses, for a weeklong tournament that could bless the region with an economic bump of nearly $17 million. As the club’s chief operating officer, Bob Kunz is keenly aware of the course upgrades’ impact on member play, but he says some of the changes (specifically, the improvements to the bunker drainage system) would have happened with or without the tournament.
“Our greenskeeper has always been the target of mostly good- natured grumbling from members,” he says. “The greens are always either too slow or fast on the same day, depending on who you talk to. And of course the roughs; nobody is ever happy about their height or width. But there’s always a good answer for that: Don’t hit into them.”
Member reaction to the course changes have been mixed, but for the most part, Kunz says, players understand that this is simply part of the preparation process, which began in 2010. At that time, incoming club president Daniel Spector floated the idea to the board, which agreed to the idea under the conditions that Spector would serve as general manager and that members would not be taxed to finance the event. The club also brought on a professional management company to handle logistics.
That company is Bruno Event Team, a Birmingham-based sports marketing and event management company that has directed 20 of the past 24 U.S. Golf Association’s women’s and senior opens. Bruno vice president Brian Flajole will be the on-site championship director. A resident of Granite Bay, Flajole has been a key organizer of many local events, including two U.S. Olympic Trials, an LPGA tournament and the Amgen Tour of California.
“We manage everything outside the ropes,” Flajole says, noting the USGA handles the players, the course, the competition and the prize money. “For the past two years we’ve been marketing to the community, putting together partnership packages and selling hospitality tents. And beginning in May, we started a recruitment process that will bring more than 4,000 volunteers from all over the country to work the event, June 22 through 28.”
According to Spector, USGA officials told him in October 2011 that he would need to raise at least $3 million in hospitality sponsorships to host a successful championship. As of earlier this spring, the group hit that goal and set a new target of $4.3 million.
Many of the usual suspects, including AKT Development, Kaiser Permanente, VSP, Wells Fargo and Porter Scott, have stepped up to buy sponsorship packages ranging from $125,000 to $450,000. One of the first local organizations to buy a tent and promise support in a big way was the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.
According to SCVB President and CEO Steve Hammond, the Senior Open will rival the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials as the largest event ever hosted in Sacramento in terms of spectators, duration and economic impact.
“People still talk about the impact the Olympic trials had on the regional economy,” Hammond says. “I believe 20 years from now we’ll still be sharing stories about Del Paso’s 2015 U.S. Open as well.”
In its effort to ensure the overall success of the event, the SCVB will market the U.S. Senior Open to newspaper travel sections, sports publications, tour operators and business and leisure travelers across the country, Hammond says. “We’ll create opportunities to promote this program on a variety of our social media platforms.”
Back at the course, Kunz and Spector are managing the public relations challenges of promoting a national sporting event while fielding complaints from golfers affected by course changes and challenges.
“The membership has made a commitment to the championship,” Kunz says. “Yes, that means the course will be aerified three times this year instead of the usual two. But in the long term, it will make the course better. And like the groundskeeper says, ‘Keep it out of the rough.’”
Doug Curley is the editor-in-chief of Comstock’s magazine. While researching this story, he hit into the rough several times. Contact him at email@example.com.
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