When officials with the United States Golf Association (USGA) began the selection process for the 2013 U.S. Senior Open more than five years ago, one city and one course stood above the rest.
Prior to an expansive renovation of the Omaha Country Club in 2007, every time Omaha tried to lure a major golf event to town, the USGA declined, saying there was no course in the state of Nebraska that was capable of hosting this level of national championship.
“The USGA was impressed with what the club and [designer] Keith Foster had done when they renovated the golf course,” says Tim Flaherty, senior director, U.S. Women’s and U.S. Senior Opens for the USGA. “By bringing back the Maxwell features [put in place during a 1952 renovation of OCC by renowned golf course architect Perry Maxwell] and by lengthening the course, we felt it was a worthy test for the Senior Open. Our number-one issue is the golf course, and we really feel like Omaha Country Club is a hidden gem that a national audience will not be familiar with.
“We were also impressed with the club leadership and [general chairman] Patrick Duffy in particular. These championships are a collaborative effort, and we felt like the club would be a wonderful partner in this endeavor. Lastly, we were intrigued with the city of Omaha and all of the success it’s had with major, national events. There is a strong corporate base which supports events of this kind and that was readily apparent when we made the decision to accept the club’s invitation.”
“This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history.” – Liz Leckemby, Championship Director
Convincing the USGA to host such a widely followed and prestigious event as the U.S. Senior Open was quite a coup for Omaha. It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase Omaha to an international audience, as the championship will be broadcast live on ESPN and NBC to more than 100 countries for four days between July 8 and 14.
With internationally known names like Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Couples, and Mark O’Meara—among many other former tour championships—competing for the title, Championship Director Liz Leckemby says spectators will experience an event like none other in Nebraska.
According to Leckemby, Omaha and the Omaha Country Club were selected from an elite list of clubs interested in hosting the championships—some past sites and some new contenders. This is the first time the U.S. Senior Open has been in the state of Nebraska, although there have been two smaller USGA championships held in the state.
“Because the Senior Open is the biggest event for the players over 50, it provides the largest purse, and the trophy is the one the players all want to win, so we never need to go out and actively recruit players to come to this event,” Leckemby says. “This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history, so while having the top-name players is important, if someone does not make the field list due to injury or another reason, the championship will go on.”
“The rookie class for 2013 is pretty exciting, as we have Colin Montgomery, Steve Elkington, Vijay Singh, and Rocco Mediate who will all be eligible for their first U.S. Senior Open.”
“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events.” – Tim Flaherty, USGA Senior Director
From an economic impact, Leckemby says the USGA is conservatively expecting a crowd of 150,000 for the week to watch the 156 players and their caddies. Add in a few hundred media and broadcasters, volunteers, spectators, manufacturers, rules officials, USGA staff, USGA executive committee, and some vendors traveling to, staying and eating, and spending money in the city, and Leckemby is anticipating an economic impact of $30 million-plus to the local community.
She adds that the local public and private communities, as well as large and small companies, have been tremendous in supporting the championship. Ticket sales have been strong in both Omaha and Lincoln, and companies understand why it’s important to support major national championships like the U.S. Senior Open.
Flaherty agrees with Leckemby in predicting this championship is poised to be the most successful Senior Open in history. The event has already eclipsed the previous benchmark for corporate support, and ticket sales will end up in the top two or three championships in history.
“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events,” Flaherty says. “The club has been a pleasure to work with, and our championship staff is excited to be there in July. Successful Senior Opens are the ones that transcend the club and the USGA and truly become a community event. The unprecedented corporate support, strong ticket sales, and a full volunteer force are all indicators of a successful championship on the horizon.”
Leckemby says she expects the coverage and notoriety Omaha will get as host city of the Senior Open will intrigue organizers and decision-makers of sporting and entertainment events to investigate and ultimately choose the city for a variety of reasons.
“Anytime you can feature a successful event to a national and international audience, it opens the door for future events,” Leckemby says. “There are many people who may be learning about Omaha for the first time when the NBC broadcast coverage opens at the Senior Open on Saturday afternoon.
“I personally grew up in New Jersey, an hour outside of NYC, so Omaha was never a place I knew much about. I think this championship will do wonders to educate people about Omaha, and the golf fans in particular.”