Patrick Duffy made his pitch to a U.S. Golf Association rep as the two walked across greens that needed updating, past bunkers that could use some reshaping and around excess trees that tainted course aesthetics.
Both looked past the shortcomings. They visualized the future.
In Mark Passey's eyes, here was an “unpolished gem” of a golf course, bordered by acres of open space perfect for housing throngs of fans.
Passey, the USGA's regional affairs director, had asked Duffy once before about the area's potential as a site for events like the U.S. Senior Open, but no local course seemed suitable. He'd chatted with the Nebraska Golf Association's Craig Ames, too.
But that was before Omaha Country Club announced plans for a $4 million renovation. Duffy, Passey and Ames first toured the course together about eight years ago.
And it wasn't until 2008, after many site visits, presentations and planning sessions, that the USGA announced Omaha would host the 2013 Senior Open. And that's when the work really began.
“Pat deserves a lot of credit,” Passey said. “He, early on, saw the vision. He's a dynamic leader, and good player, which is why he understood the golf course, how it played and what we needed (to do).”
Duffy, the 2013 Senior Open's general chairman, won't accept any of that adulation, though. Not for a second.
He'll instead start revealing names of people integral in the process, with roles he views as important as his own. Ed May helped form a leadership team. Mike Meyer and Clark Lauritzen were strategists, responsible also for attracting the support of local businesses. The Omaha Country Club's membership board, captained by five presidents since Duffy's first course walkthrough with Passey, bought in, too.
“There have been dozens of people heavily involved at different points in the process who made a material impact,” Duffy said. And about 3,000 more will volunteer in some fashion this weekend.
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But ask any of those organizers about the formation of this event, and their anecdotes about the process will soon point back to Duffy.
He's a former Creighton Prep golfer who played at USC — he made the Pac-10 all-academic first team in 1993 and 1994 — before going to law school and becoming the president of an investment firm in Omaha. Duffy won four titles in five years at the Omaha men's city golf championship.
“I'm 100 percent convinced that this thing wouldn't have been as successful if it hadn't been for Pat,” said Ames, the executive director of the Nebraska Golf Association. “He was able to put all those (skills) together. He noticed and identified how great it would be for the community, put a lot of thought into it, and in every aspect of the championship, he just excelled.”
Des Moines amateur Mike McCoy, a USGA committeeman and player in the Senior Open, put it like this: “Nothing Pat does surprised me. He's so talented and everything he does is so well thought out. I know it's a big commitment and I know he's taken it seriously.”
Duffy says he's simply giving back. Without the community's track record for packing the stands at special events and the three-year renovation of the country club's course, Duffy's sure the Senior Open would be held elsewhere this year.
Omaha has always been monitored by Passey, even though the state has hosted just one USGA championship event — a Women's Amateur at Lincoln's Firethorn Golf Club in 1996 — since 1941. But part of his job is to monitor the region for potential new sites, especially medium-sized cities with enough interested people to attract, but not so many that the tournament would get overlooked.
Then the Omaha Country Club redesigned its course. The club hired Keith Foster, a respected course architect, made its alterations and reopened in 2007. New greens and tighter fairways. Bunkers, some expanding a little deeper, inched closer to the targets. Unnecessary trees were removed — like the ones that blocked a view of the 18th green from the clubhouse.
They had to get USGA Senior Director Tim Flaherty to OK the site's infrastructure. And the USGA's Jeff Hall needed to sign off on a hilly course that local staffers worried had too many par 3s.
Duffy doesn't remember too many hurdles, though. Just a lengthy process that required contributions from lots of folks.
“At the end of the day, we have the community and the OCC membership to thank for bringing the Senior Open to Omaha,” Duffy said.