Live here long enough, like Jack Diesing Jr., and you get used to the outside perception of your hometown and state.
No mountains. Nary a hill. Omaha is flat. The state, in general, is mile upon mile of treeless prairie.
Therefore, the fairways at Omaha Country Club, the site of the 2013 U.S. Senior Open, must undulate about as much as the bottom of a cast-iron skillet.
Diesing and others who play and run the course are eager to watch such preconceptions dissipate when practice rounds start prior to the four-day tournament that begins July 11.
“I think it will provide a unique perspective that I don't believe, on a regular basis, that these pros experience,” said Diesing, an OCC member, Omaha insurance executive and president of College World Series of Omaha Inc. “It's definitely a different perspective than people would relate to Midlands golf.”
There are uphill holes — more than seem plausible.
There's the potential for uneven lies in almost every fairway.
There are elevated tee boxes that add short hikes to everything else golfers will contend with over 300 acres of — believe it — rolling and tree-covered hills in north-central Omaha.
“I came in here having never seen the property, and I was blown away the first time I came in and walked it,” said Eric McPherson, OCC's director of green and grounds. “I thought it maybe had a gentle hill roll here and there. But it's a lot of hills, a lot of valleys, a lot of plateaus.”
Diesing said there's a chance the course could wear on players over four days, especially because the Senior Open goes 72 holes — a change from the usual 54-hole format on the Champions Tour — and participants are not allowed to use carts.
Combined with the July heat, the terrain could be one of the underrated factors in determining who's atop the leader board, especially those at the, ahem, “mature age” required to play on the Champions Tour.
“At 50 or 51, and you're in good shape, it's taxing but doable,” Diesing, 67, said of walking the course. “But if you're 55 to 65, and it's hot, no matter how much you work out, especially the last few holes ...
“You're just always walking uphill to a tee, then you've got to turn around and hit a ball. I'm sure they're all in reasonable shape, but in my opinion it could affect the outcome toward the end.”
Defending U.S. Senior Open champion Roger Chapman got his first taste of the course back in May when he played a round during a media day appearance at Omaha Country Club.
“You have to be fit,” Chapman said. “Caddies are going to be tired at the end of the week.”
McPherson, the OCC grounds director, came to the club two years ago from Point Judith Country Club in Narragansett, R.I., which sat less than 100 feet above sea level. The 41-year-old Michigan native had gone there from Congressional CC just outside Washington, D.C.
Taking his first look at OCC, he said he was impressed at how developers had “used the natural lay of the land, instead of moving the land around.” There's a point on the property at the No. 6 tee where the No. 14 green is visible, which McPherson estimated at a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.
“It seems out here, especially on the back, like you're playing uphill all the time,” McPherson said. “There's movement and motion in the fairways and the greens, and the whole property is going one way or the other.”
McPherson said it will be a “very stern test” for the pros, and he agreed that caddies lugging around the bags will take even more of the brunt.
OCC moved to its current location in the 1920s with the goal of finding a home outside the city. It found its spot north of Omaha where hills and trees began to dominate the landscape.
North of the club, the familiar rolling hills and trees continue, but to the south and west the land flattens.
Even though it is just minutes away to the south, the Benson Park municipal golf course can't match the hilliness of the OCC grounds.
“It changes dramatically,” OCC head pro Tony Pesavento said. “Both the trees and the topography are totally different.”
Diesing said he can't think of another course regionally that is similar to, or rivals OCC. Patrick Duffy, general chairman for the U.S. Senior Open, said some of OCC's elements remind him of Augusta National.
“First-time observers are blown away with the rolling terrain, the beautiful bunker complexes and the mature trees,” Duffy said.
When you combine the elevation changes with the trees, Pesavento said, it creates another issue for players.
“The winds sort of swirl around,” he said, “and you can't tell half the time what they're doing.”
Pesavento thinks for a moment when asked where hills don't come into play. No. 4 is reasonably flat, he admits, but other than that ...
“Even the par 3s have pretty severe elevation changes,” he said.
And that reminds him of the old Omaha Classic that Warren Buffett used to host at OCC and the reaction he would see from participants.
“You'd have these guys from the East Coast coming in, and they'd think they were coming out to play on a prairie,” Pesavento said.
Duffy said the practice rounds that start July 8 will be huge for the contestants. They will have to think their way around the course.
Even with some accuracy with the driver, Duffy and Diesing said, a player is not assured of perfect circumstances for a second shot.
“There are definitely a lot of areas where you could hit your tee shot in the fairway and have a side-hill, downhill or uphill stance,” Duffy said. “That adds to some of the variety out there.”
Because of the hills, Diesing said, OCC plays longer than the scorecard, which will read 6,711 yards for the Senior Open. The four trips players must make around it won't be casual walks in the park.
“You don't really need to even speculate on that,” Pesavento said.