The historic Del Paso Country Club will host the 2015 United States Senior Open Championship during the week of June 22. This prestigious United States Golf Association event will be one of the largest and most significant sporting events to ever take place in Sacramento. Without a doubt, it will be Sacramento’s greatest golfing event.
It is expected that more than 150,000 spectators will attend the tournament, which will generate an estimated $17 million for the region’s economy. Sacramento will be on stage to the world, with week-long coverage of the event televised nationally and internationally. Del Paso Country Club, along with the city of Sacramento and the many local businesses that have supported the enormous effort to make this event possible should be applauded. Likewise, credit should go to the USGA for recognizing and rewarding Sacramento for historically being a great supporter of golf at every level. With over 30 courses available for public play in a 30-mile radius, our region is more accessible and affordable than anywhere else in California.
For Del Paso Country Club, playing host to prestigious golf events is not something new. Opened in 1916, the course was considered a true championship test of golf and regularly hosted golfing legends such as Tommy Armour, who won the 1928 Sacramento Open with a course record 66. In years between 1957 and 1982, the club hosted four USGA national women’s championships, culminating with the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
While Sacramento’s greatest golf events may have been a part of the course’s past, it was not to be part of its future. Over the two decades that followed, advances in club and ball technology caused the slow death of the once great course. Even when I first played the course as part of my design research for the soon-to-be Granite Bay Golf Club, it was evident that Del Paso was struggling to keep up. By the time we moved our family and design business to the area in 1997, the club could no longer challenge low-handicap amateurs, much less professionals.
Then in 2001, my office phone rang, and on the line was Cliff Hutchinson, then-general manager of Del Paso, who asked that I make a proposal for some small modifications to the club’s practice tee. During my visit, I discussed the past and present with then-president Mel Rapton and longtime club professional Mike Green. A vision for the future was conspicuously absent from our conversation.
After all, the club had retained course designer Sam Whiting (of Olympic Club fame) to reroute and lengthen the course in the 1930s. In the 60 years to follow, a handful of other designers were enlisted to lengthen tees and push back greens. The club concluded there were no further opportunities to expand the old course. The future of the club was destined to be memories of the past.
But the story was not meant to end there. While our fateful meeting was to focus solely on enlarging a teeing ground, our conversation eventually led to a broader vision of redesigning and reconstructing the entire 160 acres to re-establish Del Paso as the premier country club in Sacramento. Taking a comprehensive design approach to the existing property and by rerouting the holes, it became possible to lengthen the course by more than 800 yards, add a full-length practice facility and provide additional parking.
In the 1,800 days following that first conversation, the new 18-hole master plan was approved and funded by the membership, the course was redesigned and reconstructed and a new chapter in the history of Del Paso was written.
Success is always achieved when ability, opportunity and commitment are in harmony. The new design demonstrates Del Paso’s ability to thrive in the competitive Sacramento market. Del Paso’s renaissance was recognized and rewarded by the USGA. Their long-standing relationship was rekindled by the club hosting U.S. Open qualifying events and now with the 2015 U.S. Senior Open.
The USGA has given the club a fresh vision through its championship set-up of the new course. The fairways have been drastically narrowed, the rough grass grown long and the green surfaces made firm and fast for some of the greatest golfers of our time.
In this, Del Paso Country Club’s 100th year of operation, the future is bright. Sunday evening after the champion has been crowned and the fans have departed, the final exciting chapter of the 2015 U.S. Senior Open will have been written. More significantly, by the USGA bringing Sacramento’s greatest golfing event back to Del Paso, they will have succeeded in providing the perfect ending to the first century — and the perfect beginning to the second.