Ailene Voisin

Opinion: U.S. Senior Open success begs for an encore

Fans line the Del Paso Country Club course, which players widelypraised for its excellence, as Bernhard Langer tees off in the final round of the 36th U.S. Senior Open on Sunday, June 28, 2015 in Sacramento, Calif.
Fans line the Del Paso Country Club course, which players widelypraised for its excellence, as Bernhard Langer tees off in the final round of the 36th U.S. Senior Open on Sunday, June 28, 2015 in Sacramento, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The list isn’t particularly long or impressive, unfortunately.

In fact, if you polled area residents about the most significant sports events in Sacramento within the past few decades, the results would be all over the local map.

The Kings’ great run in the early 2000s. The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2000 and 2004 (Who could forget Marion Jones’ defiant denial of her alleged steroid use?). The Amgen Tour of California has had its moments, none bigger than Lance Armstrong’s final spin around downtown. The LPGA Tour visited regularly before the sponsorships disappeared. And creaky old Sleep Train Arena attracted early rounds of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

The 2005 WNBA champion Monarchs also deserve a mention, as do the River Cats when they were perennial Triple-A title contenders as an A’s affiliate, though both drew niche audiences.

So welcome back to Del Paso Country Club. Sometimes the best lessons come right out of the aging textbook. The elderly gentlemen who put on a show this past week at the U.S. Senior Open – winner Jeff Maggert, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer, Billy Andrade and Sacramento’s own Kevin Sutherland, among others – were born long before laptops, cellphones and social media were conceived. Only those age 50 or above qualified for the event that was played on a gorgeous 99-year-old course in front of record crowds.

Let’s face it. It doesn’t get much bigger than this around here, though that will change. The downtown sports and entertainment facility is under construction. A soccer stadium is on the drawing board. But that’s tomorrow. These past few days, the legends of golf came to town, survived triple-digit heat Thursday and Friday and contributed a healthy financial sum to the region and a psychic boost to the sports community.

“We will do an economic impact report after the event,” said Dan Spector, the tournament chairman and a local attorney, “and by all indications, it appears that our impact will be potentially higher than what we forecast.”

With the final attendance figures expected to exceed projections – somewere above 100,000 for the week – the initial study projected an estimated a $16.7 million contribution to the local economy, with most of the revenue generated by 25,000 hotel room bookings, 7,000 car rentals, ticket and merchandise sales, and entertainment fees for bars, restaurants and clubs. Additionally, several major local companies purchased sponsorships and suites, among them VSP Global, Kaiser Permanente, Blue Diamond Growers, Wells Fargo Bank, the Kings and The Sacramento Bee.

Though several players withdrew, citing injury, the reviews about the course and the atmosphere were overwhelmingly positive.

“This golf course is fantastic, great crowds,” Andrade said Sunday. “I wish the Champions Tour could come here on a yearly basis. The USGA has done a wonderful job setting the course up. Today, we had a little variety with No. 9 playing short and No. 15 playing shorter. But all in all, I’m tickled to death and very happy with the outcome.”

So, what about doing this again in the near future? Don’t put away the clubs just yet. USGA officials were delighted and, without offering details, Spector said he has received inquiries from the PGA Tour.

“This week has shown Sacramento is able and willing to support major sporting events of major import, whether it’s golf, basketball, track, whatever,” said Spector, who headed the group that approached the USGA five years ago. “This really is a great sports town. I can’t say much more (about the PGA inquiries) than that. But their interest is a result of the showing this week.

“The USGA only holds a national championship, in the same location, every seven to 10 years. But because the club has renewed our relationship with the USGA so successfully, it’s also possible the members would have a smaller championship here in three to five years, say, a girls amateur or some sort of junior event, with the goal of hosting another Senior Open in seven to 10 years.”

When USGA officials began considering the Del Paso bid, their primary issues pertained to the economic viability of the region, the quality of the course, and the weather. In other words, how hot is too hot? With the economy improving and the course having been renovated and judged to be in excellent condition, the biggest obstacle proved to be the potential for a daily overdose of triple-digit temperatures.

“We moved the tournament from July or August to June,” said Matt Sawicki, USGA director of championships. “One, for the golf course, so we would have better playing greens. And the putting green surfaces have been as close to perfect as you can get. Then from outside the rope, spectator enjoyment was a factor. But we have a safety group we have worked with for two years that has included everyone from the California Sheriff’s Department, the Sacramento Fire Department, among others. The No. 1 thing we focused on was this: ‘How were we going to manage the heat?’”

Besides the calendar, other concessions were made. Bottled water was sold for a reasonable $2.50 per bottle, cheap by sporting events standards. Spectators were allowed to bring two bottles of water into the premises. Cooling stations were set up around the course. Almost as importantly, some of that old-fashioned California karma kicked in; after the 100-degree temperatures Thursday and Friday, the weekend numbers hovered around a more comfortable 90 degrees.

“It’s been a great week,” Sawicki said. “The leadership at the club has always told us what a great golf course this is and what an exceptional community Sacramento is, and this week really proved it. Even with the heat, we had exceptional crowds, and the players had a great time. This is by far the biggest event on their calendar year. They’re playing for the most money. And for many of them, it harkens back to when they were on the PGA Tour.”

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, avoisin@sacbee.com, @ailene_voisin

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