Gallery turnout sluggish at Senior Players
As Joe Durant, the early leader during the second round of the Senior Players Championship, walked to the 18th green Friday, just six fans looked on from the bleachers to his left.
It took two hours and several clubhouse lead changes for the final hole to gain a sizable surrounding audience, with more than 20 onlookers in the bleachers and dozens more seated in a bar beyond the hole and in lawn chairs flanking the green.
This vantage point wasn't representative of all the galleries at Fox Chapel — the 15th green's bleachers, for example, were filled to more than half their capacity for much of the second round — but it pointed to a trend that buzz surrounding the tournament has been slow to build.
Still, Senior Players executive director Joe Rotellini said he is encouraged by the attendance heading into the weekend.
“Yesterday was a solid day. Today was even better,” Rotellini said. “We had some weather issues at this time last year, so our numbers were down last year compared to '12, but we're pleased with where we are.”
A Champions Tour official said the tour would not release attendance figures.
Rotellini said the Senior Players has helped its attendance by giving free admittance to members of the military and kids younger than age 18 when accompanied by a paying adult. He also downplayed the idea of legends like Fred Couples and Tom Watson not being in the field as a potential reason for smaller turnouts.
“We have Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Fred Funk, Kenny Perry, so we still have a very strong field,” he said. “It's the Players Championship. We're still going to get the best players in the world that are willing and able to play.”
Perry, who has finished in the top 10 of both Senior Players Championships at Fox Chapel, said he's expecting weekend attendance similar to last year's.
“I think the galleries are good,” Perry said. “I think the weekend will be a lot better. It's sparse on Thursdays and Fridays. Everybody's working or doing whatever. The weekend last year was huge.”
In early May, the Champions Tour announced it would move the Senior Players from Fox Chapel to Belmont Country Club near Boston starting next year. To players like Perry and Michael Allen, who consistently have performed well with the Senior Players at Fox Chapel, the announcement came as somewhat of a disappointment.
“Definitely sad,” Perry said. “Seems like wherever I win, they move the (tournament). But that's kind of the history of the Champions Tour. You get a few years and then move on to another place.”
For now, players can only speculate as to the future of the tournament and whether it will include Fox Chapel.
“I'm sure it's going to be nice,” Allen said of Belmont. “But you get used to this. I love coming here.”
Andrew Erickson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.