When the U.S. Senior Open comes to Nebraska for the first time, golf fans get a Christmas in July.
They've already responded as if they were shopping on Dec. 24, snapping up the volunteer positions, gallery tickets and corporate hospitality at rates that have exceeded expectations.
So what's left on the wish lists for three key figures in the tournament's operation, for the days leading up to tournament week July 8 to 14 at Omaha Country Club?
Championship Director Liz Leckemby starts hers with a big-ticket item.
“Greg Norman to register as an entrant,” she said. “I'd also like 95 days of nice weather/sunshine, a flawless build (of temporary structures for the event), 150,000-plus spectators, 10,000 kids at the two days of special events we'll have for them, 3,000 well-trained, nicely-uniformed volunteers who can find their posts. And a Sunday leader board of Couples, Watson and Funk.”
Norman has bypassed the past three Senior Opens as he's played a limited schedule worldwide. It would be a huge coup for him to play in Omaha.
As one might expect from the club's director of greens and grounds, Eric McPherson's list revolves around weather.
“Normal temperatures,'' he said. “It would be nice to get timely rains to bring us out of the drought, but at the same time, no severe weather, the damaging storms that would involve tree work. I just want an average-type spring.”
He said the OCC course made it through the winter in good shape.
Patrick Duffy, the tournament's general chairman, said many of his wishes have been fulfilled.
“My wish list is simple — good weather, good weather and good weather.” Duffy said. “We are grateful for the tremendous support we've received from the business community, volunteers, the membership at Omaha Country Club and various government agencies. The community support is extraordinary and it is why events are so successful here.”
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Omaha's benefits from hosting the Senior Open include 14 hours of live telecasts on ESPN and NBC and potentially $30 million for the area's economy, starting with a possible 7,000 nights of lodging and including food, rentals and entertainment.
Tournament week will see the course at 72nd and State Streets transformed into a championship venue of corporate hospitality and merchandise tents, grandstands surrounding many holes and courtesy luxury vehicles for the golfers in the club's parking lot. It requires a crew of more than 3,000 volunteers, who already have paid $125 apiece to work.
About the only Senior Open records Omaha isn't expected to break are those for attendance, because Omaha Country Club's grounds are compact in comparison to 1999 host Des Moines Golf and Country Club. That year, the week's total turnout was estimated at 253,000, topped by a Sunday gallery of 51,200.
The USGA will set up Omaha Country Club at 6,711 yards and par will be 70. The 10th hole, normally a par-5 that increases OCC's par to 71, will be a 494-yard par-4 that provides a strong start to the back nine.
The Senior Open is open to any golfer who is 50 years old by July 11. An amateur is eligible with a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 3.4. The deadline for entries is June 5. The USGA accepted 2,479 entries for the 2012 U.S. Senior Open. The record number of entries is 3,101 in 2002.
Already in the field of 156 are defending champion Roger Chapman, three-time runner-up Tom Watson and past winners Bernhard Langer (2010), Hale Irwin (1998, 2000), Graham Marsh (1997) and Peter Jacobsen (2004). U.S. Open champions Tom Kite and Corey Pavin, along with Tom Lehman, Loren Roberts, Mark O'Meara and Rocco Mediate, also have entered.
ArborLinks, at Nebraska City, will be one of the 34 sites for sectional qualifying — the 18-hole events will be held between June 17 and 27 — to complete the field.
Last year, Chapman shot a 4-under-par 66 in the final round to finish two strokes ahead of Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, Fred Funk and Bernhard Langer at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich. Chapman joined Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Irwin as the only players to have won the U.S. Senior Open and Senior PGA Championship in the same year.
This will be the third USGA championship and the first open held in Nebraska. In the 1941 U.S. Amateur at the Field Club of Omaha, Marvin (Bud) Ward defeated Pat Abbott 4 and 3. In the 1996 U.S. Women's Amateur at Firethorn in Lincoln, Kelli Kuehne won her second consecutive U.S. Women's Amateur title with a 2-and-1 victory over Marisa Baena.
Tickets are available online at www.2013ussenioropen.com. Grounds tickets are $150 (good Thursday through Sunday with free parking and shuttles at the North Omaha Airport). Weekly ticket packages and Trophy Club hospitality are sold out.
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