Friday, June 14

U.S. Open Spectator Report: For the Love of Golf

Golf fans flock to the U.S. Open. (© USGA/Hunter Martin)

PEOPLE, AS IN SPECTATORS, LOVE the U.S. Open. I believe it because I've seen it. Yesterday's dire weather forecast did not keep golf fans away from Merion Golf Club or significantly diminish the crowds, at least not as far as I could tell. We don't have weather anymore. We have "weather events." This area's Thursday forecast had a little bit of everything: severe thunderstorms, rain, more rain, possible tornadoes, possible hail, you name it.

But it did not deter thousands of spectators who were determined to be a part of America's national golf championship. They tromped along muddy paths in all kinds of footwear, many wearing rubber boots, to watch the world's best golfers. You know what? The "weather event," as forecasted, didn't come off. Thursday turned out far better, with more golf played, than anyone could have hoped for. The USGA must have breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief.

One man who I heard interviewed on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio had a ticket for Thursday and was on a personal mission to get here. He had never been to a U.S. Open. He lives in Rochester, New York. He drove seven hours from his upstate New York home and planned to park at the Rose Tree lot. Upon learning that particular lot had been closed for the duration of the championship due to weather-related issues, he parked his car, hopped on public transit and arrived at Merion's doorstep. On Thursday evening, he was on the road home to Rochester, brimming with enthusiasm.

Opening in 1912, Merion wasn't built for an event such as this, with its tented villages, massive USGA infrastructure, worldwide media presence and tens of thousands of spectators. The U.S. Open has taken over this quaint Ardmore neighborhood. USGA shuttles loop through driveways of residents. The scoring trailers and flash media area where players are interviewed when they come off the course are on the McNeil's property. (It's a nice place with a rather large garage.)

U.S. Opens might typically host approximately 40,000 spectators per day. Because of Merion's petite size, this U.S. Open can accommodate 25,500 golf fans per day. Routing and flows make certain parts of the golf course inaccessible to spectators on foot, but there are bleachers galore. In fact, there are enough bleachers to seat 15,000 folks. (One prime viewing spot that I've taken advantage of is the generous bleacher seating at the 17th green.)

For those determined to park their cars close to Merion, it will cost $30 to $45 per day based on the signs I've seen. There are plenty of residents and local businesses hawking parking spots on the edges of the East Course.

The weather forecast looks good for today's second round, which was delayed about three hours as several groupings still had to finish round one. It is overcast and cool. It will only reach the low 70s. Rain showers and thunderstorms are possible late this afternoon.

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