Worth the trip: Spectators drive to Senior PGA from Missouri to North Dakota

Spectators follow Colin Montgomerie, Kenny Perry and Rocco Mediate on the 14th hole during the first round of the 2016 Senior PGA Championship. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Spectators follow Colin Montgomerie, Kenny Perry and Rocco Mediate on the 14th hole during the first round of the 2016 Senior PGA Championship. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Nothing was going to stop Jim Northrop from attending the 77th Senior PGA Championship on Thursday.

The golf fanatic left Dickinson, N.D., at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and arrived at a friend’s house the day before the tournament’s first round was set to begin.

With more than 1,100 miles between him and Benton Harbor, Northrop spent 16 hours on the road. The North Dakotan got a flat tire in a small town outside Bismarck, where he had to fill the tire up and drive another 18 miles to get it fixed at a tire repair shop.

“They couldn’t change it in the small town I was in,” he said. “By the time I got to Jamestown, it was about 3 o’clock central time. There’s an hour change because we’re in mountain time.”

From there he stopped in Eau Claire, Wis., to grab a bite to eat. He then drove to Madison, Wis., and slept at a truck stop for another four hours. The next morning Northrop left and made it to the Michigan-Indiana border by the afternoon.

The bumpy ride came with no rest. Northrop did all his traveling in a Dodge pickup truck.

“I slept in the back seat and made a bed back there,” he said. “No hotels for me. Just rest areas and gas stations.”

This is nothing new to Northrop. Last summer, he golfed at least one course in the 48 continental states. He said he plans on golfing in Alaska and Hawaii sometime in August. In 90 of those summer days, Northrop managed to hit a course in 27 states.

Northrop is geologist in the oil field by trade, but his work was getting slower. So, he decided to take some time off until it gets busier.

“I haven’t worked since January,” he said. “It’s pretty much shut down now. We are at 27 rigs right now. In 2012, there were 209.”

Despite the long trip, Northrop said he won’t be able to stay for all four rounds. He heads back either late Friday or Saturday morning once the field is cut in half.

Anita Sedorcek and her husband, Rob, made the trip from St. Louis. The couple drove six hours to get to Benton Harbor because her husband qualified for the Senior PGA for the first time.

“This was his dream eight years ago when I met him,” she said. “He’s been working toward this for some time. He’s normally a director of instruction at a country club in St. Louis.”

Sedorcek does a lot of traveling, but doesn’t have a routine down when it comes to packing. She said there were no stops for them, as she packed roast beef and meatloaf sandwiches to get them by.

“We don’t care for flying at all, so if we can drive there and it’s reasonable, then we’ll drive,” Sedorcek said. “Our country is so beautiful. You don’t have to travel far to see new places. There’s no better way to see the country as well. Regardless of how Rob does this weekend, we plan to have a nice drive back.”

Not everyone at the Harbor Shores Golf Course was from out of state.

Johnnie Washington drove 2.5 hours Thursday from Flint to Benton Harbor to see his favorite golfer play.

As a fan of Olin Browne, Washington said he was alone for his trip to the Twin Cities. Washington said he plans on driving to and from Flint each day to avoid staying at a hotel.

“I got here this morning at about 9:30,” he said. “I left close to seven in the morning. God willing, the plan is to drive to town for all four rounds.”

Washington said he chose to visit Harbor Shores because it’s the closest thing to what he had when the Buick Open was in Grand Blanc. The Buick Open was a recurring event in the city near Flint for 51 years until 2009.

While he gets to see Browne maneuver around the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, Washington said the 18 holes are too spread out and is not friendly to older spectators like himself.

“It’s a little bit different than walking continuously or sitting in one spot,” Washington said. “Any time you have to take trolleys in between holes, it’s going to be different. I can’t complain though, I still get to see Olin.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 27, 2016)

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