U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Military Appreciation Day a Hit in Omaha July 8, 2013 By Scott Lipsky, USGA

The USGA honored members of the armed services on Tuesday at the U.S. Senior Open at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club. (USGA/Chris Keane)

OMAHA, Neb. – The 2013 edition of the U.S. Senior Open has seen no shortage of local support, and on Tuesday, fans at Omaha Country Club had the opportunity to show their appreciation for the armed forces during Military Appreciation Day.

No stranger to honoring servicemen and women, the U.S. Senior Open has hosted Military Appreciation Day several times in recent years, with all active and retired military personnel and their families receiving free admission to a designated practice round. Indeed, Tuesday’s event provided an estimated 125 veterans and their kin a chance to watch some of the best senior golfers in the world prepare for the national championship, with veterans receiving an identifying ribbon so fans could recognize them throughout the day.

Service members stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in nearby Bellevue, Neb., a joint command that includes Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force personnel, were on hand in uniform Tuesday. Nine of them had the honor of introducing competitors as they began their rounds on the first and 10th tees. In addition, servicemen and women took turns tending the flagstick on the 18th hole, which was adorned with the American flag. Fans who were on hand for the start of play at 7 a.m. were able to witness the presentation of colors followed by the national anthem, before Rocco Mediate and Hale Irwin hit the first balls of the day.

Despite the hot weather, securing service members for the day was anything but difficult.

Since Offutt Air Force Base is a joint command, we wanted to have someone from each branch represented, said Admiral Bob Bell, a retired Naval officer who served as a nuclear submariner and is an Omaha C.C. member. We had so many applications, we had a selection process as to who would ultimately get to volunteer. The spots were given to the most deserving out of those that are stationed at Offutt.

One of those selected was Senior Airman Todd Marral, a Michigan native and avid golfer who plays often at the base’s golf course, Willow Lakes, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design. Marral had the chance to both tend the flagstick on No. 18, as well as handle player introductions, interacting with major champions Tom Watson and Steve Elkington in the process.

I know we had to volunteer to do this, but this is not a job to me, Marral said. I’m having so much fun.

Another service member who was eager to volunteer was Staff Sergeant Justin Demers, who was on the first tee early Tuesday morning to introduce some of the first groups out. Volunteering at a golf tournament is natural for him and his fellow service members.

Golf and the military have always gone hand-in-hand. I play golf with my chief all the time, and it really provides some great mentorship opportunities, he said.

As the only military base in greater Omaha, Offutt’s service members have always been heavily involved within the community. Their presence at the championship is not limited to Tuesday’s Military Appreciation Day, with several serving as volunteers throughout the week. Their willingness to help out is not unusual, notes Bell.

Omaha has a unique relationship with Offutt Air Force Base and the United States Strategic Command, Bell said. The community is interested in what they can do for those stationed there that are serving our country, and they, in return, are interested in helping the community. They are generally among the first to step up, and their participation is counted on.

Scott Lipsky is the USGA's social media specialist. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.