FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota has the most golf courses per capita in the nation, its tourism department boasts. But what North Dakota doesn’t have is a major professional golf tournament, and some people believe it’s time to pursue the idea.
Golf enthusiasts have watched other Midwest cities of greater and lesser sizes host the U.S. Senior Open and wonder what it would take for Fargo to land the event. Others want to bring home Amy Anderson, a former North Dakota State University golfer and LPGA Tour rookie.
”I’ve said this before: In my opinion this would be a great town to have some sort of a tour event, whether it’s a senior open or some type of ladies event,” said Greg McCullough, the head golf professional at Edgewood, a public course.
Some members of the Fargo Country Club also are interested in bringing a major to the course, which has a United States Golf Association national event on its resume, are interested in bringing a major to the course. But that could happen only if the club solves recent flooding problems.
Enter former British Open champion Tom Lehman, a native of nearby Alexandria, Minnesota, who has played several amateur tournaments in the Fargo area. He has submitted blueprints to redesign and flood-proof the course. The club is considering those plans.
"Certainly, to have Tom Lehman’s name attached to a facility, that validates a golf course and gives it instant credibility," Fargo Country Club pro Mark Johnson said.
The USGA, which puts on the U.S. Senior Open and Women’s Open, has taken to markets that don’t fit the definition of a major metropolitan center and don’t have professional sports teams. And it loves the Midwest, with the Senior Open being held in Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin over the last 10 years.
"The formula has worked pretty well since the U.S. Senior Open went to Des Moines in 1999," USGA spokesman Brian DePasquale said.
DePasquale said the organization looks at three primary criteria for the Senior Open: the quality of the course, the commitment of the club’s members and community and corporate support.
The Omaha Country Club excelled at the latter of those criteria last year in hosting the Senior Open, breaking the record for corporate sponsors and coming in second in the tournament’s history for ticket sales, head professional Tony Pesavento said.
”We were able to recruit 3,500 volunteers in a couple of weeks. We just have a very healthy economy in Omaha and great corporate support,” he said of the city that is home to Berkshire Hathaway. Omaha raised close to $6 million from corporate sponsors.
The initial planning to bring the Senior Open to Omaha began about seven years before July 2013 event, Pesavento said. Representatives from the USGA toured the city and the club, got a feel for the corporate sponsorship and extended the offer.
"We were lucky. We hadn’t hosted any of the smaller things that typically you have to do to be considered," Pesavento said.
Steve Saxlund, director of sports for the Fargo-Moorhead Athletic Commission, said $6 million is a lofty fundraising goal, but there are a number of "big hitters" in the area who love golf. North Dakota’s economy is robust, with the smallest unemployment rate of any state in the country and the highest personal income growth among all states in 2013.
"You would have a lot of big names coming here," Saxlund said, referring to golfers such as Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson, all of whom played in Omaha. "It would be easy for us to promote."
Jon Davis, the Omaha Country Club’s general manager, said Lehman would be a good ally for Fargo.
"Hey, it’s about dreaming big," Davis said. "Anyone can call and invite the USGA up there, but it helps to know a few people."