BMW, Crooked Stick perfect combo for golf-starved Hoosier state

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Fans have been flocking to Crooked Stick all week.
September 07, 2012
Bob Verdi, PGATOUR.COM

CARMEL, Ind. -- I am watching hundreds of people watch a parking lot. That is correct. I am at Crooked Stick early Friday morning and hundreds of people have gathered around the fence surrounding a parking lot where golfers are to arrive for the second round of the BMW Championship. The players are driving shiny new automobiles from the title sponsor and you would kill to take any of those beautiful machines home with you.

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However, in a region weaned on the Indianapolis 500, I think this is not about wheels. I think it's that these people miss golf as much as they miss Peyton Manning. Crooked Stick has been host to the fabled 1991 PGA Championship, a Solheim Cup, a U.S. Women's Open and a Senior U.S. Open. But this is not a regular PGA TOUR stop, so a week among the world's best golfers competing in the third leg of the FedExCup Playoffs has generated a big buzz for an area that doesn't stop at small. Super Bowl XLVI, you might recall, created Hoosier hysteria last February. The show went so smoothly, it is probable the NFL will not regard Indianapolis as a one-time fling.

Friday at Crooked Stick meant more thick galleries despite the threat of more bad weather. The course was soaked on Labor Day weekend, and because of an ominous forecast, second-round tee times were advanced from late morning to 8 a.m. As sure as Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's recent lifting of the summer-long watering ban -- no wonder why -- thousands flocked here at dawn on short notice, parking lengthy distances from Tiger and Rory and all the boys of summer.

Lack of sleep and sunshine certainly did not affect the communal mood, which is perpetually friendly. It's as though the natives are violating a local rule if they don't say hello and ask how you're doing. I have friends who don't talk to me as much as these people and don't ask how I am doing because they don't care. Yet, a complete stranger can be made to feel comfortable around Crooked Stick, probably the entire state of Indiana.

"We couldn't be happier here," said John Kaczkowski, president and chief executive officer of the Western Golf Association/Evans Scholars Foundation.

Since its inception in 1899 (I did not attend) and until the 1960s, the Western Open was frequently conducted outside the Chicago area. But when it joined the FedExCup Playoffs in 2007 reincarnated as the BMW Championship and destined to be quite portable, some Windy City critics -- including yours truly -- vented about the injustice of it all. But duty compels us to report that the WGA and PGA TOUR appear to have hit another home run at a different ballpark in a captive market.

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Playoffs update
ROUND 2 MOVEMENT: Vijay Singh could move into the FedExCup top five if he continues his current pace at Crooked Stick. Update

The first was in 2008 at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis, where, despite foul weather and the absence of a wounded Tiger, crowds were thick and interest intense. According to Kaczkowski, that BMW Championship produced a net of about $3.5 million for the Evans Scholars Foundation -- well above the average of $2 million for what the charity received from recent tournaments at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club.

"Coming to Indianapolis has been much the same story," said Kaczkowski. "Like St. Louis, we have at least twice the corporate hospitality we usually do in Chicago, and close to three times the ticket sales." St. Louis, arguably America's best baseball town, was a great golf town for that week in 2008. Indianapolis has been every bit as supportive thus far. I say this while aware that Saturday afternoon features an all-Indiana college football rivalry -- Notre Dame vs. Purdue -- and Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts and their quarterback prodigy, Andrew Luck, open their NFL season in Chicago.

"Going against football will hurt us more in the TV ratings than our crowds here," said Kaczkowski, noting that Saturday's third round will not be scheduled early to make way for Notre Dame on NBC. In a departure from the norm, NBC will televise golf until the 3:30 EST kickoff in South Bend, at which time coverage will be switched to the Golf Channel. When golf was designated to finish by mid-afternoon at Cog Hill on a football Saturday, the effect was visible. Saturday at Crooked Stick, after perhaps yet another overnight cloudburst, galleries will have live golf until 6 p.m. or so.

The BMW, steered from Chicago this year because of the impending Ryder Cup, returns there next September, but to Conway Farms, a northern venue nearly 50 miles from Cog Hill. "We wanted to try something new," said Kaczkowski, hopeful that a new fan base might be cultivated. It is an experiment, to be sure, and in 2014 the BMW shall take place at Cherry Hills in Denver, another precinct pining for golf. Thus, another home run in the offing.

When Pete Dye, a Hoosier, converted acres of farmland into Crooked Stick years ago, he couldn't have imagined that Vijay Singh would shoot 13 under for 36 holes to lead a tournament. But Singh needed 13 under to lead because there are three golfers only one swing behind after two rounds of the BMW Championship. Crooked Stick is harder than that, but it is softer than intended and so saturated that lift, clean and place in the fairways has been the policy throughout.

When unknown John Daly captured the 1991 PGA Championship, he toured Crooked Stick in 276. That number won't win this BMW, but no number will remove Big John as the mystery guest who put this course on the map.

"You gotta remember, there wasn't a house, a pretty girl, nothing out here," recalled Dye. "It was just open land. People thought I was crazy wanting to build a golf course out here. And they were probably right."

When people started to play Crooked Stick, they didn't just think Pete Dye was crazy. They knew it.

"I kept hearing the course isn't fair," said Dye. "Well, neither is life."

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