The tournament provided an unusual setting at Whistling Straits, an Ireland-inspired course built alongside Lake Michigan near the small (50,000) city of Sheboygan, Wis., halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay.
The main attraction was Tom Watson, once the game's dominant player. Every year's Senior Open needs someone like Watson, capable of elevating the event from simply crowning the Geritol champion of men's golf.
Let's face it: Crowds and viewers aren't mesmerized by Brad Bryant, Loren Roberts, Jay Haas and Sam Torrance, no matter how gracious and engaging they may be. Fans want to see players who have won majors, recognizable names such as Watson, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, Mark O'Meara, Craig Stadler and Curtis Strange.
Next year, the site will be Colorado Springs, at the Broadmoor Golf Club on the week of July 28-Aug. 3, with at least $2.6 million in prize money.
The event here will run circles around Whistling Straits. Perhaps the Broadmoor East course won't have water and sailboats as a backdrop, but it will have Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain. It'll also have people, far more than the crowds in Wisconsin.
Clearly, the organizers there made mistakes, starting with overpriced tickets. Admission for Saturday and Sunday was $75 each day in advance, rising to $95 a person once the tournament began. The crowds were estimated at 21,500 for the second and third rounds, about 23,000 on Sunday, but other than the typical grandstand scene around the 18th green, the galleries were sorely lacking for a U.S. Golf Association event.
That won't be a problem in 2008. Today, you can buy Saturday or Sunday tickets for $45 each. Better yet, you can purchase a "4-pack" of tickets, good in any combination one each day or even all four for Sunday for $135. Those and more are available at usso.broadmoor.com or by calling 877-281-OPEN (6736).
It's so refreshing to see an event of that stature with prices that make sense for everyday people. Also, the local organizers lucked out big-time with Colorado losing its PGA Tour event, the International, this year. Many International sponsors, even from Denver, have committed to luxury packages next year.
Yet more appeal of the Senior Open comes from having a new group of 50-year-old "rookies" each year. The class of 2008 will have some big international names, led by Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle.
Rest assured, the seniors will want to come here. They know about the thin air, which means many of them will be able to crank out 300-yard drives again. In fact, given the superior shotmaking skills that the top seniors still possess, not to mention the advances in technology for clubs and balls, the USGA likely faces a challenge in making the course difficult.
If the greens are slick and super-fast, that'll be a good start. And if 40,000 people show up for each of the final two rounds, perhaps the seniors will remember Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor as fondly as the women still do from the 1995 U.S. Women's Open.
That's when the Women's Open rose to a higher level.
Now it's the seniors' turn.
Tune in 2007 ESPY awards,
Sunday, July 15, 7 p.m. MDT on ESPN.
Pay attention Barry Bonds is closing in on Hank Aaron's 755 career homers.
Go online Vote at espn.com for the Ultimate Sports Star. Eliminations daily. Top seeds for the Who's Now series are Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, LeBron James and Tom Brady.
Miss the headline? Figure skating champion Michelle Kwan will light the torch for the State Games of America opening ceremony here on Aug. 2.
Everyone eligible Register to compete in the State Games of America at thesportscorp.org or call 634-7333.
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