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Fox Chapel area gears up for Constellation Senior Players Championship

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Debbie Scully Vice chair of Championship services for the Constellation Senior Players golf tournament coming to the Fox Chapel Golf Club shows a new bucket hat to Maryanne Hermann as they sell merchandise at O'Hara Elementary.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Fox Chapel Golf Club begins setting up tents for the Constellation Senior Players Tournament.
Joe Daley tees off on No. 7 during the final round of the Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club July 1, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Tom Watson hits out of a bunker on No. 8 during round three of the Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club June 30, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
The Heinz spectator stand goes up on the 17th hole expecting huge crowds during the Seniors tournament at the Fox Chapel Golf Club starting next week.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
The blue and white signature flags have gone up around the tenting while Fox Chapel Golf Club golfers still enjoy the course.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Arches thanking guests for attending the Senior Players Championship are being put up at the Fox Chapel Golf Club.

Cold wet weather isn't typically a golfer's dream.

But Fox Chapel Golf Club Superintendent Jason Hurwitz couldn't be happier heading into next week's Constellation Senior Players Championship.

“It's great for the health of the turf,” said Hurwitz, of the recent heavy rainfall. “It's growing nicely and the rough is thick and lush now.”

With a grounds crew of nearly three dozen, Hurwitz is in the final days of preparing the famously meticulous course for the likes of 2012 winner Joe Daley, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Colin Montgomerie and Greensburg native Rocco Mediate, all competing for part of a $2.7 million purse.

The Constellation Senior Players Championship is one of five championships on the PGA schedule for professionals older than 50.

It hits town June 25 to 30 with crowds of up to 10,000 a day eager to see some of the game's best names. In all, 81 players will hit the legendary 1923 Seth Raynor-designed course uniquely contoured into the rolling landscape.

The elevated, multi-tiered greens were built into the existing farmlands, as was Raynor's signature style. It is consistently ranked among the Top 100 classic courses in the nation.

Hurwitz said the course is so distinctive that even the touring pros don't play one like it very often. Senior Players Championship Executive Director Joe Rotellini said many who competed last year wanted to return here.

“A lot of them had never played the course and they liked it,” he said, from a makeshift PGA office near the first hole.

It was a coup for Fox Chapel Golf Club when it was announced it would host the mid-summer event in 2012, after being played elsewhere five straight years in the fall. Broadcast in 141 countries, it puts Fox Chapel on a national stage.

It also impacts the local economy. Last year, more than 53,000 fans turned out over the six-day event, despite soaring temperatures.

“It was 104 degrees last year,” Hurwitz said.

Tickets start at $20 and are on sale now. Children younger than 18 are free with a paying adult. Military personnel also are free with a valid ID, courtesy of Heinz.

It was easy to see this week that preparation for the championship is in full swing. At almost every turn on the course, crews are working to erect grandstands, post signs and repair turf. More than 1,000 volunteer packages were distributed. A few diseased pine trees were removed. Bleachers were repositioned for better viewing, Rotellini said.

“One week out and we're on schedule,” he said.

New this year is the Dick's Sporting Goods Spectator Village near the 17th Hole. The tent will include interactive fun with golf simulators and putting greens.

“The excitement is palatable,” said retired teacher Joe Carmen, who works three days a week at the course, zipping in a cart across the landscape to collect practice balls. He said spectators are in for a treat.

“It's a beautiful course, with the best players coming in.”

And it's not just local golf enthusiasts who are eager to revel in the high-profile event.

More than $500,000 was raised in last year's inaugural PGA stop to distribute to area non-profits like the Cooper-Siegel Community Library, Aspinwall Marina and First Tee of Pittsburgh, a group that blends athletics with life skills instruction.

“It was exciting to have the PGA senior players just down the street from us last summer, and we look forward to their return,” said library Executive Director Stephanie Flom. The library in Fox Chapel received a $20,000 donation.

“To generate more than $500,000 in our first year in Pittsburgh and to positively impact 17 well-deserving charitable organizations in this community is a truly remarkable achievement that speaks to the commitment of this community, Constellation as a title sponsor, the members of Fox Chapel Golf Club and everyone who played a role in making it a success,” Rotellini said. “The (event) has a home in Fox Chapel Golf Club for the next two years and I know everyone involved with the event will work tirelessly to continue to allow this tournament to positively impact worthy charities throughout Pittsburgh.”

Since 1992, the event has raised more than $8 million.

Having hosted the Senior Players Tour last year relieves some of the pressure, Hurwitz said. Still, it's hard to escape the countdown to the international spotlight.

“We like to think we set the bar pretty high,” he said. “But we still want to bump it up a notch.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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