UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — This U.S. Open is all about distance, and it has nothing to do with how far it is from tee to green at Chambers Bay.
With dunes and mounds creating isolated stretches, fans are struggling to see their favorite players up close.
The lack of clear views and proximity to the players is frustrating for spectators looking to follow their favorite groups from the first tee to the 18th green. At Chambers Bay, that is an impossible task. The patrons who attempt the journey, even for small stretches, are confronted by a massive crowd and collect dust and sand in their shoes.
Only when someone goes wayward, like Tiger Woods on the 12th hole on Thursday, landing on a pedestrian path, can fans get an intimate experience. Woods was engulfed on both sides. Some fans ignored the ropes and climbed the dunes to try for a closer look, drawing warnings from marshals and law enforcement.
Even players have taken note of the small galleries for stretches of the course and choke points where groups of fans accumulate while trying to navigate an unfamiliar map.
“The golf spectators are probably the most dedicated fan, when you think about it. Any other sport you buy a ticket, you sit in a seat and you watch a hundred percent of the action,” Phil Mickelson said. “In golf you buy a ticket, you’ve got to walk miles in rough territory and you see but a fraction of the event. So I give a lot of credit to the people who are out here.”
The features that make Chambers Bay unique and caught the eye of the USGA also make it a logistical challenge for crowds. The massive elevation changes, the sandy subsurface that helped create the golf course, the striking man-made mounds and dunes are all impediments to making a golf course that is spectator friendly.
That is why the USGA scattered 18,000 bleacher seats around the golf course for the 31,000 ticketed fans per day. They first set up the preliminary ropes locations two months ago and have made adjustments, but the priority throughout is making sure spectators are safe.
“We knew it was going to be interesting with the dunes out here. It’s not Pinehurst where there is hundreds of acres of flat ground,” USGA championship director Danny Sink said.
But getting fans to understand is not easy. Behind the 11th green, fans ignored the ropes and climbed on top of the slippery dunes to get a view of what was happening. The only way to safely get down was to sit on their backsides and slide like a kid on the playground, even if that meant stains on their pants or shorts.
Some fans got into arguments with marshals and law enforcement wondering why the ropes couldn’t be moved closer to the action. Others pondered aloud if it was worth coming back later in the tournament or if it was better to stay at home and watch.
It is possible to see the entire site from the ridge above the golf course, some 50 feet above the eighth hole, but bring a high-powered pair of binoculars.
Billy Horschel said on Twitter on Thursday night that he would be upset if he paid money for a ticket and could barely see a shot.
“I truly miss the cheers/roars when you hit a great shot. Especially if you can’t see where it finished,” Horschel wrote. “I feed off the energy of the fans!”
Sink said officials worked Thursday night to try to create additional viewing areas around the course but safety remained the priority.
“We’re not going to sacrifice safety to give our spectators more shots, more angles, more views,” Sink said. “We’ve been conservative and we’ve made sure people are not going in places where they are going to fall down and get hurt. That’s our ultimate concern when it comes to that.”
At least one player noted an advantage to having fans in bleachers for hours on end.
“It had a British Open feel in some respects. Because when they see 20 groups play the hole, they start to realize what the good shots and the bad shots are. They appreciate it more,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “There were some knowledgeable reactions out there, which is a side bonus to having them sit there all day in one spot.”