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By Stu Pospisil
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
LAKE ORION, Mich. — You'd think they were studying a long putt with the U.S. Senior Open golf championship on the line.
One guy intently watched how officials set pin placements on the 18th green.
A woman rubbed shirt sleeves between her fingers, clicked photos with her smartphone and took notes in the merchandise tent.
A colleague consulted with them about what they found.
In a way, the Senior Open is on the line for the three Omahans, leaders of the group that will stage the 2013 Senior Open next July at Omaha Country Club. They visited suburban Detroit last week to see how organizers there coordinated the 2012 tournament, on and off the course.
“The main objective of our trip was to work on a number of little details for next year, primarily the golf course and golf course setup,'' said Patrick Duffy, general chairman for the 2013 tournament. “We're soaking in as much as possible.”
The city of Omaha has much to gain from a successful tournament, its first United States Golf Association championship since 1941.
The Senior Open could lead to future USGA events here. It could raise the profile of Omaha — home of the College World Series and a two-time U.S. Olympic Swim Trials host — as a city that can put on major sporting events.
Duffy said the tournament must deliver “a great experience” for the golfers, volunteers and spectators.
One morning last week he walked the back nine at the Indianwood Golf & Country Club with Eric McPherson, Omaha Country Club's course superintendent. They watched several USGA officials test the green speeds and slopes and set the daily pin placements for the championship rounds.
What generated much discussion within the Omaha group were the electronic screens used for scoreboards and pairings. The TVs were in small tents by the first-hole tee and near the merchandise tent.
Duffy said he preferred a manually operated pairings board for Omaha's practice rounds because it looks more formal and traditional.
Details off the course are just as key.
Merchandise is important because it generates revenue. Spectators next year will exit shuttle buses, walk through a new grand entrance and immediately see a large retail tent — between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet — filled with apparel and other souvenirs.
The merchandise tent at Indianwood was half that size. Liz Leckemby, championship director for the Omaha tournament, chatted with vendors there and showed colleagues clothing ideas. Eventually Leckemby and others will develop a plan on what to sell, how many and in what colors. Among the decisions: Stripes or solids? Go with a bright color? Maybe the green in the Omaha Country Club logo?
As important is the outfitting of the volunteer corps, who will be seen on the course and in the community driving courtesy cars. Each will receive two golf shirts and a windbreaker that must be worn when working a shift.
They also surveyed the volunteer pavilion. The Omahans wondered if theirs would be the right size for 3,000 volunteers. They took note of small details, too. They figured they'd need at least a dozen water dispensers versus the one in Indianwood's pavilion.
Next on the 2013 Senior Open's operations list is setting the final transportation and public safety plan with Omaha city officials. Only a few hospitality packages remain unsold, Leckemby said, and the tournament sales staff will switch to service mode for sponsors.
“Our community is incredibly supportive of major events and we have a great group of volunteers,'' Duffy said. “We'll be ready.”
By Stu Pospisil
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
LAKE ORION, Mich. — It will happen again next year when Tom Watson shows up to play the 2013 U.S. Senior Open in Omaha.
His fellow pros will kid him about how youthful the native Missourian looks — he'll be 63 at tournament time — and those in the press room will want him to take them down memory lane.
They'll ask about his Duel in the Sun with Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977. His 1982 U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach. His near-miss at the 2009 British Open at age 59. His near-misses in the Senior Open.
“I think we ought to ask him for proof of age or something. He's unbelievable, isn't he?” defending Senior Open champion Olin Browne said Wednesday, the final practice day before the 33rd U.S. Senior Open opens Thursday at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in suburban Detroit.
After drawing a few laughs when asked to reminisce about his summers in Northern Michigan while growing up, Watson got more serious about his friendship with a former Nebraskan, the late Bud Williamson Jr.
A Lincoln High graduate, the 72-year-old Williamson died unexpectedly last Dec. 3, in Kansas City, Mo., three days before he and Watson were to enter the Midwest Section PGA Hall of Fame together.
“Bud was a very close personal friend,” Watson said. “He was a man who loved the game with a passion, unlike many people I've ever met who played the game. His desire to improve any time was always there. You never saw him give up. He was always in there. He loved helping people play a better game of golf.
“Boy, he loved life. He loved to play cards, loved Nebraska football. He was always game to do something. We went hunting, duck hunting quite a bit. We rode horses together. He wasn't afraid to do anything. Every time I drive in to Wolf Creek, a golf course where he was an honorary member there, I go in there and look for his car still.”
Watson has yet to play the Omaha Country Club course, but toured it two years ago while in town for a corporate sponsors reception.
“That course, you have to play some elevated shots. A lot of elevation for your approach shots,” he said. “It's going to take some height for both shots. Get the ball in the air. The high ball hitters have an advantage.”
Watson bypassed last year's Senior Open because he had committed to a then-new PGA Tour tournament at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. He is the club's pro emeritus. His absence ended 11 consecutive Senior Open appearances, with seven top-10 finishes and a runner-up three times.
“I've come close. Come close a couple times,” Watson said. “(To win) would mean a great deal because this event is a very special event to me. When I was a youngster, growing up with my dad, the U.S. Open was the tournament for him. If you won the U.S. Open, you were player of the year in my dad's book.”
Watson, whose last win was at the 2011 Senior PGA Championship, has been dealing the past 212 months with a weakened right hand that he injured while mowing on his Kansas farm. His doctor said he sees the same injury with jackhammer operators as the violent vibrations cause compression in the neck and the resulting pinched nerve causes the weakness in the hand.
“It's starting to come back. I think it's mostly back,” Watson said. “Everything else is good. I played the last two weeks at Pittsburgh and then Greenbrier last week. It was hot. It's been wearing me out pretty good.
“I don't think we're going to have the heat this week we had the last couple of weeks. At 62 in 105 degrees, it does drain you when you're out there. My game suffered because of it.”
By Stu Pospisil
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
LAKE ORION, Mich. — Tom Lehman hasn’t played Omaha Country Club, but he is well-acquainted with another part of the state.
The 1996 British Open champion, a winner of three senior majors, co-designed the Dunes Course at the Prairie Club southwest of Valentine, Neb.
“I love it out there,’’ Lehman said.
The 1982 University of Minnesota graduate had Omahan Gary Gabrielson as a college teammate. Gabrielson is now PGA director of golf at Shadow Ridge Country Club.
“I stayed with his family one spring break and played a bunch of courses with him, but I don’t remember (OCC) as one of them,” Lehman said Tuesday after a press conference at the U.S. Senior Open.
Gabrielson, in a phone interview, said Lehman is correct.
“He’s played Oak Hills and he played with me and Steve (Shanahan) at Highland quite a few times,’’ Gabrielson said.
Highland Country Club, which was at 132nd and Pacific Streets, was renamed Ironwood before the land was sold in 2011 for development.
Gabrielson said Lehman, at a Gopher team reunion in Phoenix in March for golf and dinner, said he was thinking of coming into Omaha sometime this summer to play the 2013 U.S. Senior Open course.
Lehman said Tuesday he’s heard OCC “is a great course” and knows from his daughter that the buzz for the 2013 Senior Open is building. She saw billboards for the tournament while in Omaha to visit a friend and attend the College World Series.
It’s been two years since the opening of Prairie Club’s first two 18-hole courses. The other was the Pines Course designed by Graham Marsh.
Lehman’s course, a collaboration with Chris Brands, took more than a year to design — in increments of three and four days a month.
“We had to get 18 great holes, not 15 great and three good or nine great, five good and the rest OK,’’ Lehman said.
Links magazine this year ranked the Dunes Course 100th on its list of the 100 best American courses. It was second on Golf Magazine’s 2010 “Best New Courses You Can Play” list.
“I was given an amazing opportunity,’’ Lehman said.
Volunteer recruitment for the 2013 U.S. Senior Open Championship is now closed for volunteers age 18 and over. In six short months, Omaha and its surrounding cities and states have filled the volunteer program faster than any other U.S. Senior Open Championship.
The championship will accept applications for a wait list, beginning June 1, 2012, via the championship Web site. All wait-listed applicants will be contacted on a first-come, first-served basis if, and when, space becomes available. Payment will not be taken during wait list registration, but only when a volunteer has been confirmed for placement. Junior Volunteer recruitment, for those 13–17 years of age, will begin in the fall of 2012.
“The Midwest is making a huge statement about the passion here for the game of golf,” Patrick Duffy, General Chairman said. “The volunteer turnout is incredible and we cannot thank each and every one of you enough for signing up over a year in advance. Although the volunteer program is full, it's not too late for those still interested in being involved in the championship.”
To find information about the ticket application process and limited clubhouse and on-course hospitality options, visit www.2013ussenioropen.com .