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SPORTS: Making the case for a U.S. Open at Crooked Stick

May 12, 2008

Preparations are well under way for the U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel.

Traffic and parking plans have been determined. They've identified the main entrance and the location of merchandise, media and corporate hospitality tents. Speaking of the last item, they're already approaching a sellout, but tents might be added if demand persists.

Tickets have been printed and have gone on sale. The money necessary to put on such an event is being raised.

They've even had a Media Day, which allows hackers like yours truly-who has neither the game nor the money for Crooked Stick-to beat it around Pete Dye's layout for an afternoon. For the record, I had one birdie and lost only three balls. That's a good day.

And the golf course? Oh, yes, the golf course. Dye, who lives along the course's 18th hole with his wife and co-designer, Alice, can't resist tinkering with his layout in anticipation of the big event. Fairways are being narrowed, with rough replacing the short grass. Bunkers have been added to several holes. The course will be stretched to a demanding 7,300 yards. And the greens? Well, let's put it this way: The only faster slopes in this area are the turns at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Of course, I guess I should mention that the Senior Open isn't this summer. It takes place July 27-Aug. 2, 2009, more than 14 months from now.

But that gives you the proper context in which to gauge the effort being put forth by the Crooked Stick membership, led by club President Doug Cook and the tournament co-chairmen, Tom Buck and Steve Baker.

They're determined not to do the Senior Open in a manner that merely would satisfy the U.S. Golf Association minimums. They want to take it to its greatest height yet and prove-as Crooked Stick did in hosting the 1991 PGA Championship, the 1993 U.S. Women's Open, the 2005 Solheim Cup and last year's U.S. Women's Amateur-that the Stick is worthy of hosting the biggest events in golf.

Up to and including the U.S. Open.

Now you won't get them to say that, and believe me, I tried. But it's clear that if Crooked Stick does an exceptional job hosting the seniors, it might be enough to convince the USGA to bring the Open-you know, the one Tiger, Phil and Vijay play in-here sometime down the road.

For sure, that's a mighty exclusive club to join, even for exclusive golf clubs. The USGA is incredibly particular about where it places its biggest championship, and it requires from the hosts a huge investment and commitment, monetarily and otherwise. It also demands that the host course be turned over in sufficient time for the USGA to perform its diabolical diligence and turn it into a monster the members might barely recognize when the circus leaves town. So, you want a U.S. Open? OK, but be careful what you wish for.

Remember, hosting a tournament means the members must love their course so much they're willing to give it up for a substantial period.

Crooked Stick actually will have two upcoming opportunities to make an impression: the Senior Open next year, and the BMW Championship (formerly the Western Open), which arrives in 2012 as part of the PGA Tour's season-ending Fed Ex Cup Championship. Yes, Tiger, Phil and Vijay will be expected to play in that event, and it could be a chance to prove the Stick has the teeth to test the game's greats should the USGA be looking for such testimony.

For now, however, the Senior Open is anything but chopped liver and shouldn't be considered a consolation prize, not with a field that could include the likes of Tom Lehman, Tom Watson, Mark O'Meara, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Bob Tway, Hale Irwin, Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer and, of course, our own Hoosier, Fuzzy Zoeller, whose photo is featured on the tickets.

The gentlemen at Crooked Stick are anticipating attendance of 150,000 for the week, with about 500 media in tow. It's a big chunk of business, too, with an economic boon for the area of an estimated $30 million. There also will be 14 hours of television coverage via ESPN and NBC.

Dye has been named honorary co-chairman, a fitting tribute, just as it was for Alice Dye when the Solheim Cup was at the Stick. When Aug. 3 of next year gets here, I don't see anything less than a head-turning, knocked-it-out-of-the-park success that will leave the USGA with only one question:

So, now, how do we not award them an Open.



Benner is associate 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. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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