Marlene Deras and Judy Andresen spent Tuesday morning under the awning of an air-conditioned corporate hospitality tent at the U.S. Senior Open, a potted marigold between them.
From their seats overlooking the 10th hole, they chatted and sipped what appeared to be iced tea. (Andresen was coy about what the plastic cup actually did contain — it was still before noon.)
The longtime friends had taken the day off work and arrived at the Omaha Country Club about 9 a.m. After walking part of the course, Deras, 57, and Andresen, who is in her early 70s, decided to put the tickets that friends had given them — which included the corporate tent access — to full use.
They made friends with the couple sitting next to them — Garry and Connie Yanke, 56 and 57, respectively, who had come from Tekamah, Neb., to spend Tuesday and Wednesday watching golf.
Deras and Andresen were clearly having a good time. But it was a very different kind of good time from the one they had at the College World Series in June — that one was far from AC, among throngs of beer-drinking, bead-wearing, beach-ball-volleying, generally festive fans from across the country.
At the U.S. Senior Open, spectators in khaki shorts and visors quietly watched Tuesday's practice rounds from the sidelines. Officials and players tooled around the course in golf carts and around town in one of the 235 Lexuses on loan through the event.
Children (and some adults, too) politely approached famous golfers for autographs.
Cellphones and cameras were banned, and for the most part spectators didn't push the limits.
“This is quiet, reserved and grown-up,” Andresen said.
Deras added, “I think the difference is you don't have the tailgating.”
|COURSE GUIDE: U.S. SENIOR OPEN|
|See hole illustrations, insight from course pros, photos and video from every hole and more in our Senior Open course guide.|
There are many differences, as it turns out, between a national baseball tournament and a national golf championship.
The golf crowd, by and large, is older. It's made up in large part of devoted golf fans who make a special point to attend, as events like this don't make their way to the Midwest often, said Tim Flaherty, senior director of the U.S. Senior Open.
Many have money or work for someone who does — between 5,000 and 6,000 fans each day will visit a corporate tent. And if spectators show up for the first rounds at 7 a.m., they're generally too tired to party when the last rounds end, usually between 5 and 7:30 p.m.
“You don't get the drinking crowd,” Flaherty said.
That doesn't mean the crowd is small, though — Flaherty expects around 150,000 people to attend this week. That's less than half of what the College World Series drew this year, but it's still a major event.
If Flaherty's prediction is correct, this year's U.S. Senior Open will be the second-largest ever, second only to the 1999 tournament in Des Moines.
“It's a special thing here,” he said.
It certainly was for 9-year-old Tyler Reidy, who planned to spend every day this week at the U.S. Senior Open with his dad, Rod Reidy.
“This is a tough green,” commented Tyler, who has golfed since he was 4, as he and his dad stood near the 18th hole.
Tyler enjoyed seeing golf heroes — the players his dad had grown up watching — in real life. But his main task had been collecting autographs.
By early Tuesday afternoon, he was up to 22 signatures on his commemorative satin flag, but he hadn't yet nabbed Tom Watson's.
“That's the big fish,” said Rod Reidy.
Reidy's main reason for buying the tickets was so Tyler could go. But it was a bit of a birthday celebration for himself, too — he will turn 43 on Friday.
Back at the corporate tents, Deras and Andresen joked that they were looking for their favorite golfers, too.
“We're waiting for Tiger and Phil,” Deras said.
“We'll have to wait a couple of years,” Andresen replied.
The Yankes offered the two women an extra pair of tickets in exchange for lunch, and Andresen and Deras planned to spend Wednesday much as they had spent Tuesday.
The Yankes planned to return, too.
“It's the first time we've had (the U.S. Senior Open here). You've got to see a little bit of it, I think,” Garry Yanke said.
But he acknowledged that the drink in front of him didn't hurt, or the air-conditioned tent behind him, or the new friends he had made.
Even so, he wouldn't have driven the 50 miles to Omaha for just anything.
“I wouldn't have ever come here for tennis,” he said.