U.S. Senior Open could tee up fans, millions for Sacramento

The Del Paso Country Club golf course is the backdrop for U.S. Senior Open Championship Director Brian Flajole, left, General Chairman Dan Spector, center, and club General Manager Bob Kunz.
The Del Paso Country Club golf course is the backdrop for U.S. Senior Open Championship Director Brian Flajole, left, General Chairman Dan Spector, center, and club General Manager Bob Kunz. The Sacramento Bee

The 18th-hole grandstands are going up. The signature shaggy rough is in place along most fairways. And the USGA welcome mats are out.

When Del Paso Country Club hosts the prestigious U.S. Senior Open in June, it’s expected to drive an estimated $16.7 million into the Sacramento economy. That projected revenue will be spread among hotels, bars and restaurants, rental cars, entertainment, souvenirs and other purchases made by fans, participants and local spectators at the seven-day event.

But it’s also shining another major-league sports spotlight on Sacramento.

With a local budget of $7.5 million and global TV coverage focused on the 156 international players and thousands of spectators expected to attend, the United States Golf Association’s Senior Open is another chance for Sacramento to sell itself.

“There isn’t enough money in our budget to purchase that level of promotion, not just nationally, but the grandeur of this event and the international exposure,” said Steve Hammond, president and CEO of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and part of the local organizing committee that helped land the tournament. “It will put Sacramento on the front of sports pages in this country, and internationally.”

Now, less than 70 days away from the tournament’s opening tee shot, event organizers are focused on advance preparations. A construction team is erecting grandstands on more than a dozen holes. The course fairways are being groomed. And advance single-day tickets, starting at $39, recently went on sale.

The timing of the single-ticket sales was tied to the recent Masters championship in Augusta, Ga., won by 21-year-old Jordan Spieth and watched by millions of golf and sports fans worldwide. Some of the players coming to Del Paso – including Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer – also competed in Augusta as former Masters champions.

Brian Flajole, championship director with the Alabama-based Bruno Event Team, which has marketed and managed 20 of the past 24 Senior and Women’s U.S. Opens, said ticket sales are brisk and running ahead of expectations. He did not have specific sales numbers.

For the U.S. Senior Open, Flajole is managing “everything outside the ropes” – a lengthy to-do list that ranges from arranging traffic control and porta-potties to marketing, operations and hospitality sales. It’s a natural job for the Granite Bay resident, who helped run the Longs Drugs Challenge LPGA Tour event here for 10 years through 2006 and oversaw marketing for the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Sacramento.

USGA tournaments are known for attracting major corporate sponsors. In Sacramento, those will include VSP Global, Kaiser Permanente, Blue Diamond Growers, Wells Fargo Bank, the Sacramento Kings and The Sacramento Bee.

Flajole said about 20 hospitality tents will be erected on the closing holes, each belonging to sponsors who typically pay between $125,000 and $400,000 for the front-seat venues. Flajole calls them “villas,” essentially ground-based luxury boxes, with seating for 100, air conditioning, catered food and beverages, furniture appointments and large, flat-screen TVs. Each sponsoring company’s villa is limited to using subdued USGA-approved signage of their corporate logos.

As of last week, only one villa remains unsold.

One of the hospitality villas is hosted by the Sacramento law firm of Porter Scott. Firm co-founders and Del Paso members Russell Porter and Irv Scott were early supporters of the local effort to land the U.S. Senior Open. The firm’s on-course presence will serve multiple purposes, according to Carl Calnero, a managing partner with Porter Scott and also a Del Paso member.

“From our standpoint, we recognized from the get-go that this probably was going to be, if not the biggest, one of the biggest sporting events that Sacramento has ever encountered,” Calnero said. “We thought it would be an excellent opportunity not just to support the community, but an excellent marketing effort in connecting with our clients.”

Another 40 supporters have put up $30,000 each for a “Champions Club” hospitality area inside the Del Paso clubhouse. About six have ponied up $50,000 apiece for a “Magpie Club” hospitality package in the clubhouse lounge overlooking the 18th green. In some cases, Flajole said, local supporters combine funds to co-host a single hospitality site.

Aside from sponsorships, the bulk of the Del Paso club’s revenue will come from a percentage of ticket and hospitality venue sales. The club also picks up revenue from tournament merchandise and food and beverage sales.

During the U.S. Senior Open week, Del Paso’s clubhouse is adding a Sacramento farm-to-fork touch: food offerings from regional growers, including on-table biographies of the individual farms and growers.

The event expects to attract droves of outside spectators. According to the economic analysis prepared for Del Paso by Sacramento consulting firm Economic & Planning Systems Inc., attendees are expected to book a projected 25,000 hotel room nights – at roughly $4 million – and 7,000 car rental days at an estimated $400,000.

“One of the most exciting things for us is so many hotels being used during that time,” said Hammond. “It will impact every hotel in Sacramento County.”

It will also generate dollars spent by patrons at gas stations, local stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. “Not many conventions can do that,” said Hammond. “For us, it’s the best kind of event we can get.”

Getting to the June 22 tee-off was a years-long process.

Del Paso, which will mark its 100th anniversary in 2016, underwent an $11.5 million golf course makeover in 2005-06 to bring the venue up to the USGA’s stringent standards for hosting a national golf championship.

In past decades, the club had hosted USGA women’s events – the 1957 and 1976 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, the 1960 Senior Women’s Open and the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open – but never a major men’s tournament. And the competition among golf courses seeking to host a major championship had ramped up.

Club General Manager Bob Kunz came aboard in 2007 with a goal of bringing in a top-tier USGA event. Del Paso members had already voted “overwhelmingly” to deny themselves access to the course for 18 months during the upgrades, he said, while still paying monthly dues and “with no guarantee that (Del Paso) would land a major event.” Members endured the unsettling sight of heavy machinery digging into their golf course, affecting “pretty much every blade of grass,” Kunz said.

The results were dramatic. The course was lengthened to more than 7,100 yards from the professional tees. Narrower rye-grass fairways were installed, greens reconstructed, roughs replanted, trees removed and state-of-the-art drainage systems installed.

In 2010, Dan Spector, the club’s then-president who is now the event’s general chairman, spearheaded Del Paso’s pitch to the USGA. During the process, he recalled feeling apprehensive about news stories detailing the region’s recession-related woes and the uphill efforts to keep the Sacramento Kings in town. Event organizers said Sacramento was likely one of dozens of communities expressing interest; the field was eventually narrowed to a handful of locations.

“Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best time to do it, but we were determined to succeed,” Spector said. “… And then, this community stepped up,” with more than $1 million in sponsorship commitments.

The USGA offered the club other championship options, but Del Paso held out for the U.S. Senior Open, with its international prestige and all-star lineup of golfers.

On April 2, 2012, the USGA made the formal announcement that Sacramento would host the 2015 tournament. Spector said the financial support of the Sacramento community was crucial. “Of everything, that’s really the most important thing, showing everyone what this community is about and how it has responded to this event...This is a perfect example of what private citizens can do to help their own community.”

At this point, Spector said, the club hopes to recoup its $7.5 million investment, including a “substantial commitment” to help The First Tee of Greater Sacramento, the local youth leadership and golf program.

“I’ve said from the beginning that we’d be happy to break even...but right now, things are looking really good,” Spector said.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.



The event: The 36th annual U.S. Senior Open, to be held June 22-28 at Sacramento’s 99-year-old Del Paso Country Club, 3333 Marconi Ave. Practice rounds are June 22-24, with the tournament’s four rounds starting June 25.

Participants: Starting with 156 of the world’s top senior golfers, ages 50 and up, including Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, Vijay Singh and Tom Watson.

Prize: A reported purse of $3.5 million, with a projected $700,000 for the first-place winner.

TV exposure: 20 hours of live coverage on Fox TV networks

Attendance: Up to 150,000 for the week

Volunteers: Between 2,500 and 3,000

Flying in: An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 tournament-related passengers will go through Sacramento International Airport.

If you’re going: Single-day tickets start at $39. More information:

Sources: Del Paso Country Club, United States Golf Association, 2012 financial analysis by Economic & Planning Systems Inc., Bee research

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