One year – 365 days – from today, the best golfers in the world age 50 and over will begin play in the 2015 U.S. Senior Open at Sacramento’s Del Paso Country Club.
For that Thursday’s 25,000 or so spectators, it will an exciting day as professional golf returns to the city for the first time in 10 years.
For the people who made the event a reality, the day will be the culmination of a decade of vision and diligence that provided local golf fans the opportunity. It also will be time for them to reflect on how their pursuit to host one of the most important national championships in golf almost came up empty.
But today, with so much still to do, “It feels like time is speeding up,” said championship general chairman Dan Spector.
The year-out “done” list includes:
• Convince the United States Golf Association to return to Sacramento and Del Paso for the first time since the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open.
• The sale of $3.45 million in hospitality suites to essentially guarantee the event’s financial success.
• Replicate fast and firm national championship course conditions – along with 4-inch rough – to the satisfaction of the uncompromising USGA.
The “to do” list includes:
• Finalize the logistics of transporting an estimated 125,000 spectators for the week from Cal Expo to the intersection of Marconi and Morse avenues.
• Build the infrastructure that includes bleacher and suite seating for 10,000.
• Complete preparedness, particularly as it relates to spectator safety.
The 2015 Senior Open started with a notion a dozen years ago to get the USGA again looking Sacramento’s way when Del Paso members determined a renovation of the area’s oldest course, opened in 1916, was necessary. The course was closed for 18 months and reopened in 2006 with championship teeing options exceeding 7,000 yards.
In 2010, Spector, club president at the time, made it his mission to fulfill the vision of previous Del Paso boards and made the USGA aware of the club’s interest as a host. The USGA initially proposed the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
“We respectfully declined,” Spector said, and discussions continued.
Getting the Senior Open looked promising early in 2011 until a flagging California economy and Sacramento’s questionable willingness to take the financial steps necessary to retain the Kings caused the USGA to balk. Del Paso responded by securing $1.1 million in sponsorship commitments “that reflected Del Paso’s and Sacramento’s ability to make the Senior Open a success,” Spector said.
Five months later, Del Paso was awarded its fifth USGA event.
“The Senior Open is a perfect fit for the course, club and community,” Spector said.
The clock is ticking.
U.S. Senior Open 101: A local “players” primer
Dan Spector, general chairman
He initiated contact with the USGA in 2010 with the goal of re-establishing Del Paso’s championship history and remains the local point man.
Focus going forward: Share the vision and opportunity of the championship with the Sacramento community.
Regarding ...: The sale of $3.45 million in hospitality suites when the USGA suggests $3 million is the break-even number: “We’re a year out and have exceeded the expectations of the USGA. I think that speaks well of Sacramento and the Del Paso membership.”
Bob Kunz, Del Paso general manager
From the initial proposal, to establishing organizational structure, to working with the superintendent, to overseeing the bottom line, his impact is wide-ranging.
Focus going forward: Find a balance maintaining member experience while being part of a national championship that will represent Sacramento well.
Regarding ...: Projected revenue of $7 million with expenses of $7 million: “The objective is to not lose money. The X factor is what the course will look like after the championship. We’d like to have a reserve to put the course back together should that be necessary.”
Steve Pleau, sales chairman
He’s spearheaded a sales team that surpassed its initial goals and is aiming to reach $4.4 million in hospitality sales.
Focus going forward: Sell the hospitality plum – the clubhouse lounge, which comes with 100 tickets, an outdoor patio, an unobstructed view of the 18th green and a cost of $300,000.
Regarding ...: The perception of the championship: “We’ve tried to get across to the community and corporate sponsors that this isn’t a Del Paso event, it’s a community event. We’ve been pretty successful doing that.”
Bob Thomas, community services chairman
He’s responsible for working with law enforcement, fire departments and medical staff to ensure public safety. As a former Sacramento city manager and county executive, he was instrumental getting the city, county, airport and Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau as early sponsors.
Focus going forward: Training and preparation for every possible emergency scenario.
Regarding ...: Del Paso’s goal of hosting addtional USGA championships: “The visitor experience is going to be really important.”
Brian Flajole, championship director
He manages everything outside the ropes – marketing, ticket sales, operations, hospitality sales, and was the first person hired to work exclusively on the championship. He oversaw the LPGA Tour event in Sacramento for 10 years and was in charge of marketing for the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Track and Field Trials in Sacramento.
Focus going forward: Handling operational details.
Regarding ...: Whether the Senior Open will surpass the Olympic Track and Field Trials in magnitude and impact: “We’ll talk about it when it’s over, which one was bigger.”
Mark McKinney, Del Paso superintendent
His charge will be maintaining greens that will stimp at 13 and three varying cuts of rough that will top out at 5 inches. A test run two weeks ago showed that he’s on the right track.
Focus going forward: Get the course strong and healthy enough to go through dry, firm playing conditions and still have a good product to give back to the members.
Regarding ...: Working with the USGA on best agronomic practices since taking over as the course’s superintendent following its renovation: “We’ve been in dialogue with them long before we got the championship.”
– Steve Pajak
Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.