Crooked Stick and Benner/Sports and Men's Senior Open and Golf and Sports Business

Crooked Stick is primed for the Men's Senior Open

May 25, 2009

The media and other hackers gathered at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel recently to hear about plans for the upcoming U.S. Men's Senior Open, then tested their limited skills on the golf course.

I had an absolutely glorious and fun-filled day, except for the nine lost balls, which, in my "Tin Cup" moment, included the four straight I hit into the water on the eighth hole.

In case you haven't heard, we've had an exceptionally wet spring here in Indiana. At Crooked Stick, that has resulted in a rough that is a brutal tangle of cabbage just steps from the beautifully manicured fairways I occasionally crossed in search of my errant sphere.

"We have very healthy grass here," said Jeff Hall, director of rules and competitions for the U.S. Golf Association. "You can hear it grow."

Conditions promise to be similarly challenging by the time practice begins for the Senior Open, set for July 27 to Aug. 2.

It's certain to challenge the 50-and-over set who will arrive in search of a coveted USGA championship.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but is there any game other than golf that people will pay to watch geezers (hey, I'm a geezer, so I can say that) compete on a regular basis?

But when those past-their-prime folks are the likes of Tom Watson, or Greg Norman, or Ben Crenshaw, or Hale Irwin, or even Indiana's own Fuzzy Zoeller, abundant galleries are still to be found.

Crooked Stick's Senior Open will be no exception.

Organizers are shooting for crowds approaching 150,000 for the week. More than 100,000 tickets were sold (purchasers have been from more than 30 states) even before single-round sales commenced.

And here's the kicker: Any paying adult can bring up to nine children (ages 17 or under) free. That's an extraordinary offer.

More than 2,800 volunteers are on board. The corporate community has stepped forward in support of the event, too.

"With the economy, it's been pretty tough, but we're excited with where we are," Crooked Stick President Sam Tancredi said. He cited an economic impact for the area of $30 million. "This is a big deal for the state of Indiana," he said.

I believe it all speaks to the appetite for big-time golf in central Indiana.

A big part of the appeal is that these guys can still flat play. Even with Crooked Stick's abundant rough, narrowed fairways; slick, undulating greens; and an overall length that organizers say could stretch to as many as 7,316 yards—the longest in Senior Open history—I wouldn't be surprised if the winning score is below par.

Of course, just as the 2005 Solheim Cup was for his wife, Alice, the Senior Open will be a fitting tribute to the other half of Indiana's First Family of Golf, Crooked Stick designer Pete Dye, who will serve as honorary chairman.

Dye, 83, who humbly describes himself as a "dirt digger," has designed courses around the world, including the TPC at Sawgrass and Harbor Town. Still, he refers to Crooked Stick (he and Alice have a home alongside the 18th fairway) as his "first love."

Crooked Stick President Tancredi noted that Dye, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year (what took them so long?) is now generally recognized among the greatest designers of all time, among such greats as Alister MacKenzie, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Donald Ross.

We'll be highly thankful for Dye's work again in 2012, when the PGA Tour's BMW Championship comes to Crooked Stick, bringing along the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Now then ... the ink was barely dry on last week's column about the Indiana Pacers' Danny Granger and the gift of a new minivan to the Shepherd Community Center in conjunction with his NBA Most Improved Player Award when word came of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's PeyBack Foundation grants. The foundation doled out more than a half-million dollars to youth-serving groups in Indianapolis, Tennessee and New Orleans.

About half that money went to 48 Indiana groups.

Since its inception, Manning's foundation has distributed more than $3 million, much of it locally.

I'm guessing the grant recipients wouldn't want to see the Colts leave. Just guessing.
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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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