Golf is one of the mostÂ exciting sports on planet earth.Â When two players are fighting it out on championship Sunday, the drama and tension can be palpable, with spectators knowing that everything can all come down to one final excruciatingly exciting putt on the 18th hole.
Well, from May 19-24, elite golf is returning once more to Kentuckiana. The Senior PGA Championship will be held at the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Indiana. For championship director Bryan Karns, the championship promises to be one of the most exciting yet, as 2014 champion Colin Montgomerie returns to defend his title in French Lick. And just like Montgomerie, many of the stars playing this year are golfers who have already spent decades tasting glory, living the highs and lows of the tour and having the development of their career watched by millions around the world. And those same millions now get to see the stars they grew up watching close up in French Lick.
â€œWhen you come to our event, you recognize almost all of the names on the leaderboard. And certainly our demographic know a lot of the players that come out,â€ Karns says. â€œThey are in that age group where theyâ€™re starting to see guys that they grew up watching.
â€œI think itâ€™s just a different mindset when theyâ€™re (the players) at that point in their career,â€ he continues. â€œMontyâ€™s (Montgomerie) a great example of a guy like that. Certainly for American golf fans over the years, there was sort of a contentious relationship there.â€
But thatâ€™s changed.
â€œHe was in French Lick three weeks ago, and he was just so gracious and had such a great attitude,â€ Karns says. â€œI think it was the attitude you wouldnâ€™t expect coming from Montgomerie. And seeing him win last year in Benton Harbor with the same kind of attitude, he just kind of seems to be having a lot more fun. And thatâ€™s reflecting, I think, in his interactions with the fans and the media.â€
As Karns sees it, the reason for such a relaxed attitude might be the fact that the players â€“ now at the tail ends of their careers â€“ can just compete for competitionâ€™s sake, rather than fight for money. Thereâ€™s more purity to the game.
Take Jay Haas, for example.
â€œJay Haas, last year, had his spouse and kids come in,â€ Karns says. â€œItâ€™s one of those situations where these kids are now to the age where they see how good dad is.â€
You donâ€™t get moments like that at the Masters.
â€œI mean, everybody saw Tiger at the Masters at the par- three competition,â€ Karns says. â€œHis kids are really young, and they may have some pictures and vivid memories of it. But these kids are 20, 30 years old, and they can actually walk with their dad. They can see the fact that he is one of the top golfers over the last 30 years. They actually start getting it, experiencing all the stories that heâ€™s talked about, so it really opens them up to that. Itâ€™s more of a family environment.â€
Not that the experience dampens the competitive instincts in any way.
â€œTheyâ€™re very focused in winning,â€ says Karns. â€œBut itâ€™s now more open up to, â€˜I want to enjoy the experience, and I hope I win.â€™â€
One thing thatâ€™s endured over the last few years in regard to the Senior PGA Championship is the partnership with KitchenAid. Thatâ€™s something that has led to much more fan engagement, according to Drew Spuller, marketing and promotions specialist at the Senior PGA Championship.
KitchenAid is running a social media campaign around Louisville, inviting residents to take selfies with a food mixer based near Louisvilleâ€™s most memorable landmarks. That opportunity is still available.Â
Karns and Spuller want to highlight to golf fans that the chance to watch legends play up-close at French Lick comes at a very low and accessible price, with tickets still widely available for both the tournament and practice round, at www.srpga.com.
â€œThatâ€™s another great thing about a senior event â€“ the affordability,â€ adds Karns. â€œSo you get tickets that start as low as $15 for the Wednesday practice round. Kids 17 and under get in free; military personnel and their immediate family get in free. So I think when youâ€™re looking at Memorial Day weekend, you can take the family out for $30 or less.
â€œI think thatâ€™s a huge selling point for us in addition to everything else weâ€™ve talked about,â€ Karns adds. Heâ€™s also quick to add that there are some corporate packages available as well for the event, in case local business are interested.
â€œThere are also some packages through the hotel, that you can buy tickets to the hospitality and then also stay at the hotel â€“ so kind of a neat, all-in-one sort of stay-and-play package.â€
For guys like Karns and Spuller, the Senior PGA has been a journey. Like many PGA staff, they are assigned locations at which to organize a championship over a couple of years before moving onto the next site, eventually graduating to dream events such as the PGA Championship or Ryder Cup. The constant change of locations can prove both exciting and taxing.
â€œItâ€™s a different mindset, I think, and itâ€™s hard at times,â€ explains Karns. â€œI mean, I donâ€™t have any kids, but Iâ€™m married, and so itâ€™s taxing on your spouse to do that.
â€œAnd some communities are easier to acclimate to than others,â€ he adds. â€œWe lived in Chicago for two years, and that was great. We had some friends up there, and just the culture â€“ so many more people there. When you go to a town and community of 2,500 like French Lick, and itâ€™s harder to meet people, itâ€™s harder to kind of settle in and feel like youâ€™re really building a life there…
â€œBut I think itâ€™s also exciting,â€ he goes on. â€œBut then when the eventâ€™s over, you get a new place to go and experience. Living in French Lick for a year and a half, you really get acclimated and sort ofÂ ingrained in the culture. You pretty much know everybody; they know who you are. So itâ€™s different in a big market, when they donâ€™t know who you are.â€
Indeed, French Like is much different even from Louisville.
â€œWhen you come to Louisville, you have the Derby and you have Louisville basketball and football and everything that comes along with what the city does. And so a PGA championship certainly is big, but itâ€™s not, â€˜Oh my gosh, this is the end-all, be-all.â€™ Whereas, I think in that community [French Lick], thatâ€™s the biggest event theyâ€™ll probably ever have, from a spectatorâ€™s standpoint â€“ and theyâ€™ve done some other big things there. Theyâ€™re hosting the Porsche convention this summer, and they are doing some really great things at French Lick Resort, but I think in terms of bringing 35-40,000 people over the course of six days on a property, theyâ€™ve never done anything like that.â€ VT
Photos courtesy of PGA of America.