LAKE ORION, Mich. — Gary Hallberg is one of the few Champions Tour golfers to play the Omaha Country Club course.
What he saw last summer stunned him.
“Very, very hilly,” Hallberg said Thursday. “You wouldn't think Omaha would be, but (the course) is up and down and side to side.
“It was really ‘Wow.' And the trees, too. It will be a great venue.”
Pro golfers treat tournaments like their shots — focus only on the next one. So while some have been to Omaha and some have heard about the enthusiasm building for the 2013 U.S. Senior Open, well, it's still a year away. They first have to get through this year's tournament at a completely different style of course, the open spaces and native grasses of Indianwood Golf and Country Club.
“One of the things the USGA does, they never fail to go to a great golf course, and they never fail to put on a great event,” Peter Jacobsen said. “(Indianwood) is a tremendous venue. I would imagine next year in Omaha is going to be the same thing.”
The 2004 Senior Open champion said he's been to Omaha, but not the golf course. Jacobsen also appeared at a charity exhibition in May 1994 at Lochland Country Club in Hastings in conjunction with the state high school boys golf championship.
Hale Irwin will be one of the few golfers in Omaha next year also to have played the 1999 Senior Open at Des Moines. It's the tournament that is considered the benchmark for Senior Opens.
“It was over the top for enthusiasm,” said the 68-year-old Irwin, whose tie for fifth in Des Moines was sandwiched by wins in 1998 and 2000.
“For all the players, we were hosted tremendously by the people of Des Moines. I expect no less from Omaha and I would think even better,” he said.
Tony Pesavento, Omaha Country Club's head professional, said he drove Tom Watson around the course two years ago before the reception for the 10 largest corporate sponsors that participated in a drawing for their hospitality suite locations.
Watson said this week that the course will favor golfers who hit the ball high.
Fred Funk was hurt when Mutual of Omaha last fall had a client outing with the pro golfers it sponsors. He, too, only viewed the course from a cart.
Fuzzy Zoeller played a charity event at OCC in 2008 with Hubert Green (who retired from competitive golf a year later).
“My back was hurting so bad when I played there,” Zoeller said. “The course was in such good shape.”
Chip Beck has a history with Omaha from his appearances in the Cox Classic. He's best remembered at Champions Run for his hole-in-one on the 315-yard ninth hole, a par 4, in 2003.
“Omaha is a great place,” Beck said. “When I played the Nationwide Tour, Omaha and Knoxville were the two nicest places we went to. Just hidden gems of communities.”
Hallberg was in the Omaha area because his son played in an American Junior Golf Association tournament at Quarry Oaks near Ashland.
A three-time winner on the PGA Tour who also won a Champions Tour event two years ago, Hallberg played in three Cox Classics during the 2000s.
To him, Omaha Country Club has a course that can't be played for the first time with a good score result.
“I didn't have my Bushnells (electronic rangefinder) with me so it was pretty hard,” Hallberg said. “It seems to require a lot of local knowledge for where to hit it. It's not driver on every hole, either.
“There's some great holes and some tricky ones. A course with a very different look from this week.”
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