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Senior Players Championship draws crowd to Fox Chapel Golf Club

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Final set up for the Dick's Sporting Goods welcome tent is underway at the Fox Chapel Golf Club preparing for this week's Constellation Senior Players Championship.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
Barry Lane practices for the Seniors Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club on June 24, 2013. The event takes place June 27- 30, 2013.

As thousands flock to the Fox Chapel Golf Club this week to rub elbows with PGA greats, there is plenty of allure off the course, as well.

The Constellation Senior Players Championship runs through Sunday, with 81 of golf's biggest names vying for a $2.7 million purse. Spectators who take a break from the action can enjoy golf-themed activities, upgraded concessions and other perks that have transformed the club along Fox Chapel Road into a festival-atmosphere outside the ropes.

Katelyn DiCristofano, tournament services manager, said a major draw this year is the Heinz Birdies for the Brave Patriot's Outpost.

“Any veteran or current military person can get into the tournament free, but they also have a tent where they can get snacks, water and relax,” she said. “It's on the 18th hole, so it's a great location to watch the play.”

Crews were busy last week putting the finishing touches on the hospitality tent, a large gathering area that faces the hilltop club and provides a welcome bit of shade for fans.

Heinz came on board this year to sponsor the PGA Tour Charities program, which has raised millions of dollars since 2006 for groups that improve the lives of veterans, as well as military families.

Created by golfer Phil Mickelson, the program originally was intended to support troops injured during combat. Mickelson donated money for each birdie or eagle throughout that first season to specialized veterans' services.

It has expanded now to benefit eight national groups that encompass the needs of military members, including Homes for Our Troops and Military Warriors Support.

Anyone interested in complimentary military admission can visit www.pgatour.com for verification and to download a voucher.

With up to 10,000 visitors a day to the golf club, organizers are trying to alleviate any traffic congestion and are offering free parking and shuttles from Pittsburgh Mills, along Route 28.

Premium parking at Shady Side Academy is available for $20 a day. Space is limited. Anyone interested can purchase a pass at www.pgatour.com.

Senior Champions Tour executive director Joe Rotellini said preparation for the event was on track. Organizers were busy over the weekend roping off the course and meticulously marking the boundary lines.

The weather was expected to play along this week too, with temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s and minimal chances of rain.

Rotellini said he expects fans will enjoy the Dick's Sporting Goods Spectator Village, an interactive tent where visitors can mimic their favorite competitor.

“They're going to have a swing net where you can test different clubs and a putting challenge where you can test your luck,” DiCristofano said. “We've moved it to the 17th hole this year, which is a great location. It's a par three, so watch it from the tee or the green.”

The gaming tent is surrounded by shaded bleachers and patio seating with umbrellas, creating a “little oasis” to enjoy the competition, she said. There also is an ATM and cellphone charging station, and it is open to all visitors.

DiCristofano outlined some general guidelines for fans who come out to the games. Cellphones must be in silent or vibrate mode and can be used to make calls only in designated areas away from play. Cellphones cannot be used to take videos.

Texting, e-mailing and Internet use are not allowed near play, nor are cameras.

When the Fox Chapel Golf Club hosted the tour stop last year, more than 53,000 spectators turned out. DiCristofano said organizers assessed what worked best and recommended minor changes or “fan enhancements” this year.

“We might have moved some bleachers so they are a little more in the shade or upgraded some of the concessions,” she said. “All these things were done to make sure fans got the best experience.”

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

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