In the Gallery at Congressional

by G. Rennie

I’ve been lucky enough to attend several U.S Opens over the last 15 years or so and make a point to go to any event in the greater Northeast US. The USGA has been very obliging during this span as we’ve had more than our share of Championships within a reasonable driving distance. As a somewhat seasoned spectator I’ve gotten in the habit of comparing the amenities at the different courses and doing some up close people watching. Here are some thoughts and observations on how to (or how not to) get the most from your open experience.

1.       Lodging: Getting a decent place to stay close to the designated parking lots can take some doing. I booked a room in early January at a nice place but couldn’t manage to land a room with two beds. Being the nice guy that I am I slept on the pull-out sofa bed while my partner in crime enjoyed a luxurious pillow top bed. My advice is to book real early, or bring some Motrin.

2.       Tickets: This year we tried something new and bought tickets through Ebay. Prices were a bit higher than face value but we had the option of selecting only the days and type of ticket we wanted. In the past we’ve purchased tickets through the USGA for the week and invariably overpaid since we never got to the course for 7 days (3 practice rounds and the 4 Championship rounds). The Ebay deals sounded good but there was a twist on the tickets for one of the days that we discovered after paying our money. It turned out that we had to rendezvous with a “broker” at a Japanese steakhouse just down the road from one of the non-preferred parking  lots. For a while we thought we might end up with sushi rather than Open tix but the “broker” was there and we were in.

3.       Paraphernalia: Bringing the right gear into the course can make a big difference in your enjoyment of the event. If there’s a chance of rain, it will rain, so bring your umbrella. Play was suspended briefly on Friday afternoon due to a fast moving thunderstorm and while the downpour was brief it was a deluge. If 1 in 20  people had an umbrella I’d be surprised. When bad weather threatens the USGA advises it’s on course spectators to seek shelter . But they don’t offer any shelter and you’re out of luck unless you’ve got access to a one of the myriad premium or corporate tents.  We stayed dry under our double canopy golf umbrellas while most huddled under swaying tree limbs or headed for the exits.

4.       Reconnaissance: We’re there to see the golfers and we all want to get up close and get a good look. It’s not as easy to do as you might think because there are a zillion other people doing the same thing you’re trying to do: to get the unobstructed view at a green, preferably in the shade. This is where doing a little scouting on your first day gives you an edge on knowing the best viewing areas, with shade, around the course. If you don’t mind sitting in the bleachers all day baking in the sun then disregard this section since there’s ample seating of that type – just bring the sun block.

5.       Patience: This is perhaps your most valuable asset as an Open spectator and it will be tried and tested. First, on your drive to the designated parking expect traffic that crawls the closer you get to the lot. Congressional was the real exception to that rule- it gets an A. Next comes the security screening. In our post Twin Towers world we must endure security screening just about anywhere. Once again the Congressional organizers did well as we passed through security quickly every day. Kudos again to the logistics folks as the usual long lines and wait for a bus to shuttle you to the course we’re non-existent.  I’ve had bus rides to these events that lasted well over an hour (and one  which  seemed much longer since my seat mate sort of intruded into my space) but this week’s rides clocked in at a tolerable 30 minutes. Now you’re at the venue but not yet on the course which is another 10 minute walk to the entrance gate.  All that driving, parking, screening, busing has given you an appetite so you head to a concession stand, and wait.

Boy, I can’t wait until Merion.



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