By ANNE MARIE TOBIN
The crowds, the players and all the excitement and hype may be a distant memory, following Kenny Perry’s record-setting 2-stroke victory over Kirk Triplett in the 38th U.S. Senior Open Championship at Salem Country Club June 29 to July 2.
Three days after the Open’s final round, Salem was somewhat back to normal. The ropes, the grandstands, the Fox Sports television village, the hospitality tents, had all been dismantled and shipped out.
In the eyes of some, this championship might not have measured up to the 2001 Senior Open, also hosted by Salem, when the club reportedly netted a million-dollar windfall with record-setting ticket sales and crowds estimated to be as many as 20,000 per day. But for most of the club’s members, the feeling is strong that the tournament will reap dividends for years to come.
“Attendance was certainly down from 2001, as we did not sell as many tickets as hoped and not nearly the number we sold in ’01,” said General Chairman Bill Sheehan, a Peabody native and longtime Salem CC member. “The USGA estimated that there were 13,000-16,000 spectators daily, Thursday through Sunday, with Saturday being the busiest day. However, with fewer spectators, it was a much more pleasant experience for fans, who were able to move with ease and see a lot of golf from close range.”
Sheehan said he knew when Salem signed on to host the event, that things would be different from the first go-around in 2001.
“No question, we had real star power in ’01. We had Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player,” he said. “People came out in droves to see those three legends. Today, while you have golfers who are stronger and fitter, you didn’t have the legends. It was just a different era.”
Sheehan also cited technological advances as another reason why ticket sales were down.
“Today, there are so many options to follow (the championship), with social media, the Internet, live-streaming and enhanced television coverage, we just didn’t have any of that in 2001,” he said. “Also, with the tournament preceding the Fourth of July, we knew that a lot of people who might otherwise come, were on vacation. But we knew all that coming in.”
Sheehan said it is too soon to estimate the financial impact the championship had on the club, but was confident that even it the event did not break even, the net impact to the club’s bottom line would be positive.
“We get a percentage of the hospitality revenue. We received 50 percent of the ticket sales and the concessions. Advertising and programs are all ours,” he said. “We budgeted to break even, and had ticket sales been higher, we would have been right on the number.
“But honestly, the financial benefit to the club goes far beyond dollars. The bigger view is that we had 12-to-16 hours of national and international television exposure, we had daily exposure to millions through Internet and social media, we had the television announcers every day praising the golf course and the club. So, in reality, what we really gained was an investment that will pay off in the future.”
Sheehan said guest rounds are already way up and membership applications have more than doubled.
“Hosting this tournament allowed us to share our club and give back to the game, and, for that, our membership is to be applauded,” said Sheehan. “As members, we are only stewards, and our responsibility is to make sure that 75 years from now, the club and its members are thriving. Hosting the Senior Open will help make that happen.”
Sheehan said that this year’s event featured several improvements from 2001, most notably in the areas of transportation and hospitality, all of which added up to enhanced enjoyment for everyone.
“The logistics surpassed our lofty expectations. People were getting here from Topsfield in 15 minutes, which was a big piece of the planning, as was safety,” he said. “We spent thousands of hours to make sure fans were safe and secure, and we did that, thanks to the cooperation of the Peabody police and fire departments and state and county police as well as federal authorities who worked with our private security.”
Giving the members a great experience was another priority.
“From the beginning, we were committed to giving our members a positive experience,” said Sheehan “They were losing two full weeks and had numerous other inconveniences, so we spared nothing in making sure they were happy. We did not hear one discouraging word and the members’ response was extremely supportive and positive.”
Tournament Director Eddie Carbone of Bruno Events Team also was happy with the way things turned out.
“It was spectacular and just a tremendous success,” he said.
“To be a part of a national championship at one of the greatest courses in New England was incredible. It’s like a seven-day long wedding and it just could not have gone any better. This year featured a little different cast than in 2001, but that was an amazing confluence of the biggest legends in golf the likes of which will never be seen again.”
Is there another Senior Open in Salem’s future?
Sheehan and Carbone say yes.
“With the USGA coming (to The Country Club in Brookline) in 2022, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if somewhere down the road they come back to Salem,” said Carbone.
“I had lunch Friday with some of the USGA people and they said they would love to come back,” added Sheehan. “They all feel the course is an excellent course for seniors, and we heard nothing but effusive praise all week long about the course, the committee work, the entire way the event was run by Bruno and our people at Salem. So don’t be surprised to see another USGA event at Salem.”