The U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National has come and gone, and Oak Tree’s owners now have their eyes on even bigger events: the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship or the Ryder Cup. You can read here about Oak Tree effort’s in Scott Wright’s excellent package in the Monday Oklahoman.
But the just-competed U.S. Senior Open passed two big tests for Oak Tree:
1. Difficulty. The course held up. Only four players finished under par. Only Colin Montgomerie and Gene Sauers bested one-under par. Monty and Sauers tied at 5-under and went to a playoff, won by Montgomerie.
The seniors aren’t the pros on the PGA Tour, but many still can play at the highest level. Lengthen Oak Tree just a little, another 200-300 yards, and Oak Tree would bite the world’s best golfers.
That’s important to the U.S. Golf Association, which doesn’t like to see 11-under win its tournaments.
2. Aesthetics. This isn’t often mentioned, but the USGA had to like the way the course looked.
Oak Tree had curb appeal for television viewers. That’s no small thing in an increasingly important market. Sports is becoming the last field that can draw major television ratings. Because of DVR and social media and live-streaming, the salad days of television are gone.
But sports still can pack a punch, which we’re seeing with the enormous gains of the contracts in television rights.
With that said, TV sports aren’t an automatic hit. Viewers remain quite discriminating.
And course appeal helps. Lack of course appeal hurts. The recent U.S. Open was a good example. While Martin Kaymer’s runaway victory at Pinehurst certainly hurt any potential drama, the course itself was blah. All the holes looked the same. The ant-hill greens, hole after hole, became quite tiresome. It reached the point where viewers couldn’t tell which hole was which and eventually didn’t care.
That was not the case at Oak Tree. The course was vibrant. Lots of water, which viewers like. Interesting sand bunkers, including the great beach bunker at No. 17. The box car at No. 7.
Oak Tree does not have the history of an Oakmont or Pinehurst or Baltusrol. But Oak Tree can make up for that deficiency with interesting holes that not only challenge golfers, but engage television viewers. As you know, the best courses — Pebble Beach, Augusta National — do all of the above. But if you don’t have history, engaging holes are mandatory. And TV viewers will take the latter over the former. Which is important to the USGA.