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Senior Open returns to the Lehigh Valley

While most of the professional golf world was focused on US Open, locally all eyes were on Saucon Valley Country Club.

The United States Golf Association held a media day at Saucon Valley Country Club recently in advance of this year’s Senior US Open, which will be played on SVCC’s Old Course.

“All of us at the USGA take great pleasure in having the opportunity to welcome the golf media and golf fans to the Lehigh Valley and the state of Pennsylvania this summer,” said Brian DePasquale, the senior manager of USGA Championship communications. “We’re proud to showcase Saucon Valley Country Club and the game’s best players as they compete for the most coveted championship in senior golf.”

The 42nd Annual US Senior Open, which will be played June 23-26, will be the eighth USGA championship to be played at SVCC and third US Senior Open, making it the site to have hosted the event more than any other course.

“Saucon Valley Country Club could not be more proud to have this long-standing partnership,” said David Kennedy, General Chairman of the 2022 US Senior Open and SVCC’s club president from 2015-2020. “We go all the way back to 1951 with the US Amateur. It’s been an amazing thing. We’re very proud to be the first country club to host out third Senior Open.”

Ben Kimball, the USGA Senior Director of Championships and Walker Cup Match, pointed out that this is the 90th USGA Championship to be contested in Pennsylvania. He has high praise for the club, which boasts three courses as well as a six-hole beginners course.

“This is probably the best 60 holes of golf you’ll find anywhere in the world,” Kimball said. “This is senior golf’s toughest test. There’s no grander stage in golf. It’s fitting that this championship is annually conducted on what many say are the greatest golfing venues in our game.

“It’s going to be a full examination of every golf club they have in their bag.”

Kimball shared some of the course set up features fans will see.

First is the course routing, which will change slightly from what members at the course play, although this season they are playing the Old Course by the same routing the pros will use next month.

The back nine will start with what are usually holes 13-18. Holes 10-12 during non-event years are going to be the last three holes of the course for the Senior Open.

The course will play over 7,000 yards, but will fluctuate day to day depending mostly on weather conditions. It will be a par 71.

The back nine is going to start with the club’s 13th hole through 18th hole followed by the 10th hole through 12th hole, which the USGA decided provides a better finishing stretch.

Green speeds will run between 11 ½ to 12 ½ feet on the stimpmeter.

In the event of a playoff, the USGA uses a two-hole aggregate playoff. The designated holes for a playoff are 17 and 18.

Tickets are still available for the event and can be purchased at ussenioropen.com. Individual round tickets are just $50 while practice rounds are half that price.

One notable storyline for this year’s Senior Open is the defending champ, Jim Furyk. The native of Lancaster County and 1988 PIAA high school golf champion won last year at Omaha Country Club to become one of just eight players to win both a US Open (2003) and a Senior Open.

He visited the property for the first time back in May and was impressed.

“I had heard so much,” said Furyk on a recorded video interview played at the media day. “I only grew up two and a half hours from here. I was excited to come play. I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen some pictures of the golf course. I heard people talk about it. I thought it was a great walk. I thought it was a beautiful golf course from tee to green.

“The difficulty really is on the greens. The greens really have some teeth. There could be some really interesting pin placements out here.”

Furyk will play in the US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, MA, in mid-June before heading back to the Keystone State to defend his Senior US Open title.

“Usually one US Open is plenty,” Furyk said. “One of those a year is enough. It’s always a mental battle, always a tough physical test. To play two back to back is going to be tough. I’m usually worn out after one of them. I guess really pacing myself at Brookline to make sure I’m ready here at Saucon Valley.”

He also talked about how much he’s come to appreciate the quality of golf courses in his former home state.

“I didn’t realize how lucky I was to grow up in this state,” he said. “There’s some beautiful golf courses. You have Oakmont and Merion on either side of the state. I grew up playing junior golf in the Philadelphia Section. For every Merion there’s 10 golf courses that I love every bit as much and probably more in spots. So as I travel, I went to school in Arizona, as I travel the country and the world and play golf in other places I guess what I realize is growing up I never realized how great the golf courses were in Pennsylvania and how lucky I was to grow up in this area.”

While the focus of the USGA is to crown the best player in the field next month, another primary goal is to create an amazing experience for the fans.

A 19th Hole area will include activities for fans of all ages during the event.

Some young fans have already contributed to the event as the Lehigh Valley Health Network and Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital sponsored a youth ticket design contest, which included four winners in different age groups. Connor Ciecwisz, age 6, of Lehigh Elementary School won the age 3-6 year old contest. Amani Sanchez, age 9 of Sheckler Elementary School, had her drawing chosen in the age 7-9 group. Mira Wendell (age 10, St. Thomas More) was the age 10-11 winner and Audrey Van Haute (age 13, St. Michael the Archangel) was the winner for the 12-14 age group.

The tournament, which will use 3,000 volunteers mostly from the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas, has many local sponsors including St. Luke’s University Health Network, Service Electric Cable TV, Wind Creek Hospitality, X-Golf of the Lehigh Valley, DG Yuengling, LVHN, Martin Guitars, PBS39 and WLVR 91.3.

Press photo by Mike Haines Connor Ciecwisz, age 6, of Lehigh Elementary School won the age 3-6 year old contest.