ALLISON PARK, Pa. – It was a blustery morning here Wednesday, with hand-warmer temperatures in the low 40s, a chilly breeze and occasional numbing raindrops.
The surprise guest at Wildwood Country Club during U.S. Open local qualifying didn’t mind the weather thanks to a protective canopy and a large placard wall next to the clubhouse.
It was the U.S. Open trophy its ownself. The U.S. Golf Association hit on the idea of sending the trophy on tour around the country to generate interest for the Open, sort of a poor man’s version of the Olympic torch marathon.
There were 40 entrants playing for two sectional spots, and most of them enjoyed scoring a glimpse of the ultimate prize before they teed off. While scores were higher than expected in the challenging conditions, the main thing for Barrett Campbell was that no unsanitary human fingers besmirched the trophy’s shiny sterling-silver surface.
“No one touches the cup, and when I touch it, that’s what the white gloves are for,” said Campbell, a native of Minocqua, Wis., who lives in Tampa, Fla.
It’s Campbell’s job to chauffeur the trophy. The quest began in New York, where he picked up the $98,000 Lexus LX 570 in which the hardware rides. Wildwood was fourth on Campbell’s whistle-stop tour. Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth, N.J., was first.
On the road, the trophy rides shotgun in the passenger seat, strapped down with its seat belt, and Campbell says he brings it into his hotel room each night.
“I read it bedtime stories,” he said.
I doubt that, but you get the idea. He treats the cup like gold.
Last year when he hauled the trophy around Pittsburgh before the Open at Oakmont Country Club, he recalled, “I had an older gentleman come up and say, ‘My father’s name is on that trophy.’ ”
The man was the son of Sam Parks Jr., who as a 25-year-old area club professional won the 1935 Open in part because he stopped at Oakmont every day for a month to play a practice round before going to his own course.
Campbell and the cup have a busy schedule ahead, including stops in Toronto, numerous Lexus dealerships, baseball games in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and the Harley-Davidson Museum in downtown Milwaukee as it circles closer to Erin Hills, site of next month’s U.S. Open.
The trophy will spend part of Memorial Day weekend at Brat Fest in Madison, Wis., which claims to be the world’s largest bratwurst festival.
“We expose the trophy to a wider range of people there,” Campbell said. “A lot of them won’t know much about golf, while others will stand there in complete awe.”
The tough part is eating brats while wearing those white gloves. Will the cup hold a sausage at any point during Brat Fest?
“No,” Campbell said. “Like I said, no one touches the cup.”
Campbell has toured with other items, including the Heisman Trophy, which often was showcased at big college football games such as Michigan-Ohio State.
“College football fans are a different crowd,” he said. “We had to keep the Heisman inside a glass case. A lot of people would stand next to it and try to do the Heisman pose and then fall down. We don’t have that problem with the golf crowd.”
Mike Reimer, owner of Pheasant Ridge Golf Club in nearby Gibsonia, Pa., got his picture taken with the U.S. Open trophy. He watched as Campbell pulled the Lexus and its precious cargo out of its prime parking place by the first tee and drove slowly out the club’s entrance road while the qualifier wrapped up.
“It was awesome to pose next to the trophy,” Reimer said. “It makes anything else I hold in my hands feel small.”
Some people say the same thing about Brat Fest.