Transporting a city is not an easy task.
The USGA managed to do such a thing for this year’s U.S. Open Championship. With all the tents, grandstands, even an entire courtyard for spectators, Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Washington, was completely transformed for the largest golf tournament in the United States.
The festivities started almost a week before play began on Thursday, June 18. There was a Flag Day ceremony in Spectator Square on June 14, with activities for younger fans. There was also a golf course simulator and the opportunity to take a lesson from a professional golf coach.
When I arrived, the first things I noticed were the differences between Chambers Bay and most other golf courses. For starters, there’s only one tree on the entire course, a fir tree between the 15th and 16th holes.
The rest of the course that isn’t playing surface is mostly sand dunes covered with thick fescue grass, a long, golden, wheat-like grass.
The fairway and greens are also covered with fescue grass. Luckily for the golfers, it’s cut much shorter there to provide a high-quality, yet very fast, playing surface.
It also gives the course a washed-out look, both live and on TV, an appearance that the course is not well-maintained. However, the course is in tip-top shape for hosting its first major.
Because of the dunes lining the course, spectators were unable to walk the fairways with players as on most courses because the ropes are on the other side of the dunes.
This resulted in very few spots in which to view the action outside of the grandstands, and those that had availability were very crowded. Spectators could see a player’s tee shot, then walk outside the dunes and view the fairway shot from the green area.
Luckily, I was able to be in designated areas for media, which gave me very good angles at which to watch players’ fairway shots and putts.
Travelling from hole to hole was much harder than expected. The entire course is seven miles long, and that distance is measured inside the ropes.
On my first day, when I was following 15-year-old golfer Cole Hammer, I walked a total of nine-and-a-half miles, all of which was up and down hills.
I had to rush to the next green just to see Hammer’s next approach, fighting through crowds on the way. The best strategy for covering the action was to stay at one hole and watch golfers play through.
Live golf is quite a bit slower than golf on television. On TV, the cameras can cut away to a different golfer on a different hole between a player’s shots. Live, however, maneuvering between holes is also difficult between groupings.
When players are taking their shots, though, watching live is much more entertaining. Players’ swings are smoother than can be grasped on TV, and watching live gave me an appreciation for the sport. Comparing different players’ swings from the tee box and their putting styles was also interesting.
One of my favorite parts of watching the tournament was staying at one hole and observing how different players attempted putting on one green. The greens at Chambers Bay are very deceptive and break in many hidden spots.
Each player made an initial read of the green and proceeded with his shot. By watching many players pass through one hole, I began to be able to read the green myself and anticipate where putts would roll.
Though most players at the Open are professionals, there is a bigger difference in play that I thought there would be between those that are at the top of the leaderboard and those at the bottom.
Struggling players aren’t just getting unlucky lies or mishitting the ball; their reads of the greens are off as well, and their plans of attack from the tees, fairways, and also their approach shots aren’t as successful as those at the front of the pack.
The U.S. Open Championship is the biggest golf tournament in the country. Though it can be challenging to maneuver and to see the action, watching the tournament live gave me insights into the game that a fan cannot grasp when watching it on TV.
Photos: Robert Beck /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images (crowd), Kohjiro Kinno /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images (reporter)