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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2003

More yards, less trees Inverness could host a U.S. Open

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Reed Mackenzie said late Sunday that he was delighted with all aspects of last week's Senior Open, giving high marks to Inverness for its ability to host a major championship and to the Toledo community for its support of the event.

He suggested that the club might have to agree to do two things to assure itself of a future Open - remove a number of trees and add some length to the course.

Inverness has removed upwards of 1,000 trees over the past decade, and club president Mike Miller said yesterday that it would be willing to continue with that program as an accommodation to the USGA.

“We have a tree-management program and we will continue with that, much of it dictated by the life cycle of trees,” Miller said. “Clearly, if the USGA were to award an Open, we would be absolutely willing to take specific trees down and add length on the holes where we have that capability.

“Frankly, we would not do all of those things without a commitment from the USGA. There is certainly an expense to adding length, and the majority of our members don't play from the championship tees. So we would need a commitment. If one would materialize, we'd be delighted and more than willing to do the things the USGA requested of us.”

Miller said he spent considerable time with USGA officials during the past week and was encouraged by the feedback he received.

“I don't want to get into specific conversations, but I heard comments which they would not have made, I don't think, unless they were taking a serious look at us,” he said.

The USGA has announced Open sites through the year 2009. There has been speculation that the 2010 Open will be staged at Pebble Beach in California, making Inverness a logical candidate for 2011. There is no timetable for such an announcement, however.

David Fay, executive director of the USGA, acknowledged that Inverness has submitted an open-ended invitation to host a future Open.

“I believe it has been on file for close to five years,” Fay said. “We will certainly consider it. This is our first visit back since the '79 U.S. Open and we'll get our staff together and analyze all aspects of [the Senior Open] week. I rarely like to comment about what might be next until I get input from all of our staff members.

“But you've heard the players rave about the course all week, and I certainly don't disagree. The infrastructure is wonderful with parking, the corporate tent villages and practice facilities for the players. Everything the club has done is first rate, and that doesn't surprise me. This is one of the country's wonderful old clubs, and courses that are very much like good sipping whiskey.”

Mackenzie said the course was “comfortable” with 30,000 spectators on hand for Sunday's final round of the Senior Open, and that it probably could have accommodated 35,000. He added he might like to see that potential expanded a bit, and much of the tree removal he referred to would be to open areas for more on-course bleacher seating. There were about 18,000 bleacher seats available for the Senior Open.

Compared to U.S. Opens held in major metropolitan areas like New York City and Chicago, an event in Toledo would be what he called “a small Open.”

Added Mackenzie: “I'm not going to lie to you. The Opens we stage at places like Bethpage and Shinnecock [on Long Island] are big-money events, and the importance of that can't be ignored. But we also can afford to have occasional small Open slots like Pebble and Oakmont [near Pittsburgh]. Inverness would be another such example, and we're open to that in order to bring the championship to the great, traditional venues.”

Mackenzie said he would like to see Inverness stretched to 7,300 yards for an Open and seemed a bit surprised when told that the championship tees already play at more than 7,250 yards. The Senior Open was played at 6,983 yards.

“Well, it might be that the additional yardage is not all in the right places,” he said. “Those are the things the USGA will review.”

Bruce Lietzke, the Senior Open champion, had much the same reaction as Mackenzie when asked if Inverness was worthy of an Open, suggesting that the course might have to be lengthened “a little bit.”

When told there are two par-4 holes, Nos. 9 and 14, that were each being played 50 yards ahead of the back tees and that the course expanded to 7,250 yards, he responded:

“Really? Is there that much? I thought we played close to the tips, but I can't say I was that observant. Yes, that would be enough. Absolutely it would. I would say yes because of the size of the greens, the degree of difficulty of the bunkering and how strategically the fairway bunkers are placed. I think they could grow a little more rough, and that would make it even more of a strategy golf course.

“It would be a wonderful Open course, just a great test of golf.”



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