Matt Sawicki, the USGA director of championships, speaks about the upcoming for  US Senior Open to be held at the Salem Country Club. Mark Lorenz/Lynn Item

By BILL BROTHERTON

Matt Sawicki, director of championships for the United States Golf Association, says he spends about 180 days a year on golf courses. “Recently I spent five weeks in a row on courses and I didn’t hit a single golf shot,” said the St. Louis native. “I play five to 10 times a year, and my 10 handicap reflects that. … though it’s a trending-up 10.”

Matt Sawicki, director of championships for the United States Golf Association, says he spends about 180 days a year on golf courses. “Recently I spent five weeks in a row on courses and I didn’t hit a single golf shot,” said the St. Louis native. “I play five to 10 times a year, and my 10 handicap reflects that. … though it’s a trending-up 10.”

It’s a breezy but surprisingly warm late-January day and Sawicki is at Salem Country Club, standing behind what will be the 18th green for the 2017 U.S. Senior Open. It’s the 9th hole for members, but the nines are flipped for the Open championship. Sawicki, pulling his Budweiser ski hat over his ears, points to a skinny, orange stake in the ground. “That’s where Fox will set up (its main broadcasting tower for Joe Buck and the announcing team),” he said. “Fox will present start-to-finish coverage of the championship. We’re very excited about that.”

The Open doesn’t arrive at Salem Country Club until June 26-July 2, but Sawicki and his team haven’t been sitting idle. They’ve been meeting and planning every detail of the event for some three years. The process has hit a fever pitch for Sawicki, Executive Director Eddie Carbone and his Bruno Event Team management staff as the championship, the crown jewel of the Senior circuit, approaches.

Sawicki said the purpose of this specific 24-hour visit is to brainstorm over marketing efforts and develop an initial plan for the spring campaign. He will also tour the Donald Ross-designed gem with executives from corporate sponsor Lexus, familiarizing them with the course and going over such logistics as where people will congregate, spectator flow and optimum-exposure spots for the positioning of three luxury Lexus automobiles.

“I often get asked, ‘What takes so long to plan an event such as the U.S. Senior Open,’” said Sawicki, a resident of Hoboken, N.J. “Well, by the time the tournament rolls around everything is so intricately detailed that we’re confident that every person who walks on the course on the Monday of championship week will get the highest quality experience that’s possible.”

Matt Sawicki, the USGA director of championships, shows where FOX will have it's platform for television broadcasting from the 18th hole.

Matt Sawicki, the USGA director of championships, shows where FOX will have it’s platform for television broadcasting from the 18th hole.

The University of Colorado Boulder graduate, who earned enough money caddying to pay for his education, joined the USGA in 2005 and has worked his way up the ladder. He even volunteered at the 2004 Senior Open Championship at Bellerive Country Club in his hometown. He knows just what needs to be done “outside the ropes” to make a championship successful. His duties include fostering a relationship with the host club from selection to the close of the event, developing a revenue plan inclusive of corporate and ticket sales, working up a marketing and communications strategy, putting an operations plan in place with vendors, state, regional and local officials, and assisting in the training of some 2,500 volunteers.

“The volunteer leadership team at Salem has been great. This is a major commitment by members, who give up their course for several weeks in the middle of the golf season, but everyone here is committed to making this an incredible success,” added Sawicki, who expects to visit Salem CC at least every couple of weeks as the championship nears.

Salem Country Club has been a phenomenal partner with the USGA,” he added. “Ollie Cook, the chairman when the 2001 championship was held here, and Bill Sheehan, chairman of this championship, and I have become good friends. And Eddie Carbone has such good relationships here. That’s part of what I love about golf, working relationships become friendships.”

Sawicki said the USGA has been impressed by the club’s commitment. “You need a great course to host a championship. This is one of the best. The club did everything needed to prepare for it. As a golfer, I love the course. The first time I came up here I was blown away. The club restored it back to the way it was, the way Donald Ross designed it. Its strength is on the greens. If you have no short game, chip or putt, you’re in trouble. But it’s a course you can play every single day and have fun. It’s a special place.”

And the job doesn’t end once the Ouimet Trophy has been handed to the winner on July 2. “We are building a small stadium here. It takes six to eight weeks to build. Members are golfing in the midst of drilling and hammering, and we are mindful of them while we work. And then there’s the teardown on the back end. Again, the members are very supportive and committed, giving up their course for an extended period.”

His job puts him on the road about 200 days a year. Upon leaving Salem, he was headed to the site of this year’s U.S. Women’s Championship at Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, N.J. – “yes, that Trump,” he said with a smile – and then to Pinehurst in North Carolina, which is hosting this year’s U. S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Photos: Mark Lorenz

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