The Most Entertaining US Open This Decade
It seems like we have all come to the consensus that the 2019 US Open was one of the best of all times. It really had it all this time. The best golfers in the world playing their best golf, a course that is iconic, punitive, yet still fair, and best of all, an outcome that kept us watching until that last player walked along the seaside on the 18th hole.
As a whole, I think that we feel comfortable with Gary Woodland winning. He played great golf, with great composure, holding off a last day charge by the reigning king of majors, Brooks Koepka. Even though Rose faded a bit on Sunday, Brooks made enough shots to keep the pressure on Woodland, who ultimately shouldered it all with unflusterable confidence, securing his second best golf moment of 2019.
Yes, I did say second best. His greatest achievement came earlier in the year in Arizona. Seriously, he’d need to win multiple majors to top his session with Amy at Waste Management this year. Regardless, Gary seems like a really good dude, and I truly enjoy seeing good things happen to good people.
I’m not really writing this piece to talk about the outcome of the tournament. Lots of media outlets have already done that, and likely better than I ever could. Instead, I thought I would share my experiences while attending the US Open. I was fortunate enough to be granted a media badge for the event, and I thought that those of you who didn’t make the trip to Carmel would like to know what it was like to be there. So without further ado, I give you Dave’s Take on the 2019 US Open.
The Fan Game Begins The Sunday Before
While the main media and fan events start on Monday, it was actually possible to get on to the event site the Sunday before. While you couldn’t get out to check out the course, you could walk around the lodge and shops at Pebble Beach. If one of your golf goals is to enjoy a beer at the Tap Room, you can do that on Sunday, but not during the rest of the week as most of the facilities get converted into corporate suites.
The big draw for many on that Sunday, myself included, was the official opening of the merchandise tent. The tent is massive. You’ve got clothing, artwork, hats, and other souvenir knick knacks that all sport the US Open logo. When we hit the shop about noon on Sunday, it was quite busy, but nothing like it would be later in the week. In many ways, this is the way to do it as far as shopping goes. On Sunday, you can park at the course, whereas the other days required you to be shuttled in from nearby Cal State Monterey University. If you buy your stuff Sunday, you can just take it home Sunday, removing the need to tote it around later in the week as you watch the golf.
PRO TIP: There was a Merchandise Bag Check station where you could check your purchases while you hit the course to watch golf, picking them up later when you leave for the day. I believe this was a free service, but since I got my trinkets on Sunday, I didn’t use the bag check, and thus do not know for sure.
For the record, I snagged a hat, poker chip, bag tag, and an amazing tartan pin flag designed by Seamus Golf for the US Open. Seamus had a nice little set-up in the tent, showcasing lots of their gear, and an anvil to get your metal items stamped at no extra cost. The ring of the anvil and hammer definitely attracted lots of folk to the area. Love how Seamus has grown over the past years. Again, sometimes good things happen to good people.
Wife and I had lunch at The Bench, which would also be off limits to common folk for the week, but on Sunday we could sit on the patio with a lovely view of the back of the 18th grandstand. The view is definitely better on non-tournament weekends…
Attending the Tournament
Due to some family matters I needed to attend to, my wife and I departed the course on Sunday, and I was not able to return until the following Friday, with one day of the tournament already in the books. While I definitely missed out on some fun pre-tournament stuff, I like many of you, was able to keep up with the goings on through the US Open app. It was a serviceable app, but hopefully the people in charge of the 2020 majors apps take a look at the Masters app from this year. That app is hands down the best of the bunch so far.
Busses to the Beach
Attendees begin their day at the campus of Cal State University Monterey Bay where busses shuttle forty-five fan lots to the course. Ride time is about 30 minutes (though I did talk to someone who went in earlier in the week and the ride was closer to 60 minutes). He thought that the bus driver was likely lost when they drove by the same house for the third time. There have been some reports that Uber and Lyft cars caused some congestion and slowing as some fans went that route instead of the shuttle. Even with that, the bus system worked very well.
The lines were long, but the USGA hired a ton of busses, so you basically walked through the serpentine ropes at a steady pace until you reached a bus. Never once did I wait for a bus to arrive. I was quite impressed with the scale of this bussing operation, especially after learning that they had a second system to bus the hordes of volunteers to a different parking location, and a third shuttle system for media.
Be Prepared for Walking
The walk from the bus to the course was not a short one, so bring some comfortable shoes. This becomes even more important as you will also likely be walking all over the place during the event. Your walk from the bus was surprisingly entertaining and informative. The USGA had set up lots of posters about past events, a graffiti wall to write your name on, a huge merchandise tent to drop dollars in, food and beer stations, and a big sign for your social media photos.
Walking into the event felt like you were walking into an event. You quickly forgot the distance that you are covering.
Back to walking the course. You know that you walk miles and miles when you play golf, but at a golf tournament, you’ll likely walk more as you cannot just cross the holes wherever you wish. Rarely are you going as the crow flies. Most of the time, it reminded me of walking around a buddy’s marker on the green, traveling sixty feet to cover six.
You’ll hike from hole to hole, on adventures to find concessions and restrooms. Sometimes you'll be thwarted in your progress as the marshalls hold back the fans so that golfers can move along the course. You are going to walk, walk, and then walk some more. Unless you can show medical need, and then there are scooters available for rental. No golf boards though...
I was quite satisfied with my choice of running shoes. You could go probably spike-less golf shoes too, but you will be walking on grass, dirt, uneven terrain, concrete, and asphalt. Sneakers were perfectly versatile, and though the weather was a bit damp, I experienced not a drop of shoe sop. It’s the US Open after all. Not like they water the course after Tuesday.
Concessions are Expensive
Though not unusual for any sporting events, you will get soaked in the wallet should you want to eat or drink. Beers are about $10, with burgers and such costing about the same. Lunch will probably set you back about $25. Should you want water, premium lunch offerings, and multiple beers, you are likely spending double that or more.
Of course this is not a unique US Open thing. All sporting events, and every movie theater ever, mark up their concessions by about 500%, with the one exception being the Masters. As I drank my $10 Sculpin (12 oz.), I contemplated why we as consumers have let this happen. I would never, ever buy a six-pack of Michelob Ultra for $60 in a store, but loads of folk had them in hand as they strolled.
Perhaps it’s a warming the frog situation, where gradual increases in price have got us to this point. I love beer, but I feel like I am reaching that backlash point where I say no, that’s too expensive. There is a rebellion waiting to happen in our stadiums and our theaters. At some point, we are going to push back against the mark-up, or maybe, we take the opine option, and just keep paying an extra $8 for the privilege of having a beer at a special location. Getting drunk on the course definitely required investing a weeks rent money to get that way.
Be Prepared for Blue Room (Blues)
Like the busses, the USGA again did a pretty good job with the number of porta-potties on the course. There were lines, but nothing too long. A key spectator goal is to find the ones that are stealthily placed. We found a batch of four that were never occupied, and thus still pretty clean. Some of the others were a little rough as animals with no aim had issues with trajectory.
Do you want to get more women into the game of golf? Don’t piss on the seat in the blue room.
Watching Golf at the Event
Watching the golf at the US Open is not like watching it at home on TV. Don’t take that statement at negative, just that it is very different. If you’ve attended big venue sporting events, you know that this is true. The last time my Sacramento Kings made the playoffs, I had a seat in the very top row of the arena. I really couldn’t see much of the details on the court, but the eruptions of energy during the game were amazing, and only by attending can you experience that phenomenon.
The thing about watching golf in person is that you need to accept that you won't see it all. It happens at a huge venue, making viewing what is going on from one place impossible. You’ll either need to move from spot to spot to follow the action of a few golfers, or camp out at one location to see the golfers at that one place as they roll through. Both strategies have their advantages and disadvantages, and both will differ from how you’d be watching at home.
On Friday, my cohort began the day as wandering fans. We wanted to see the course, but were a bit lazy about it since we had attended the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 as well. That year, we walked the whole thing since none of us had ever been on the course before. I still need to play this beast at some point. Feel free to paypal me the $550 for greens fees.
So we walked around, and paused to watch when golfers came through holes we were near. Landing areas off the tee are great spots to watch from (find them by looking for lots of divots). You’ll see the results from the tee, and get to watch the approach shots. Keep an eye on the tee sheet that they give you at the gate to know who will be coming through a hole next.
We probably watched 14 holes as we wandered around that morning.
At some point, we switched strategies and became hole campers. We walked by the 9th tee and saw lots of space at the rope, so we dropped our chairs and settled in to watch groups file through. This was a close up view of the players, and a great hole to watch tee shots as they needed to hit a big one on that silly long par 4.
We watched for a while, and then decided to sit and wait for the Tigersurge.
One thing that you will not be able to experience from the comfort of your living room is the surge in fans when a popular player moves into a hole. Ricky, Jordan, and Phil all bring significant surges with them, but nothing like the Tigersurge.
Remember, we were able to sit at the rope when we got to the 9th. Once we were getting close to Tiger Time, that tee box had the population of a small town. People follow Tiger all around the course, watching him hit all of his shots on all of the holes. For hole campers, it is an amazing site to see the Tigersurge roll in, and then depart after he hits his shot. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced anything like it in another venue. Maybe the crowd surge after an opening band finishes and the headliner approaches, but I think that’s still not quite the same.
Hundreds, if not thousands of fans travel the course with Tiger. It’s a sight to see for sure.
(A buddy grabbed that shot for me from his TV last Friday.)
On Saturday, we camped out in a spot that we noticed on the way out the day before, just to the left of the green on the first hole. The first hole is not the sexiest hole at Pebble Beach by a long shot, but I think that lower status helped us to score prime real estate. We had a great spot to see where the tee shots landed, as well as approach shots and putting.
It was fun to really get a feel for the green by watching so many players putt it. After a while, we would make predictions about what the results would be, and most were just about right. We knew which putts would be short, or low, and so on. Hole One was a fun green to watch because it was challenging. Lots of pars, and only five or so birdies from the whole group of cut makers. One three jack too. It was painful to watch doubles happen on the first hole of the day.
Sitting by the first hole, we could also see that the rough was deadly. There were spots where players could still reach the green, but other landing zones were brutal. Rory had a rough go, and Xander had a lie so bad that he accused the marshal who found his ball of stepping on it.
To me, this was a testament to the USGA and their minions of grounds crew members. Good shots were good, but if you got loose, it was penal. That’s how it should be. This was the anti-Chambers Bay execution. If you can’t hit fairways, your black number is not on the USGA this time around.
In 2010, we camped out on the much more iconic 7th hole, but the spot where we sat back then were not accessible to fans this time around. Instead, there was a large grandstand to watch. The grandstands fill up early, and if you leave, you lose your spot. Again, it’s a different experience if you take that route. Lots and lots of people were out on that three hole stretch.
Another reason that we avoided the 6-7-8 peninsula this time around was the weather. It was pretty cold on the course, and the wind off the point was icy. It was very grey all days, as the marine layer came in and stayed in. Once we got back home, it was interesting to see how they adjusted the color for television. It was much brighter on TV, and definitely didn’t speak to the cold grayness that we experienced in person. On Saturday, the temperature didn’t break 60 °F, with the wind making it feel colder than that.
If I was going to pick my favorite venue to watch from, I’d probably pick my living room on Sunday afternoon. We were not able to stay for the last day, so I watched the drama unfold from the comfort of my couch. I really like having the ability to watch the leaders play the different holes and to see the build up as they head for the finish. That really is just not possible on the course. You’d need to be in two or three places at once to do so. If you want the Sunday drama, you probably need a television. It's so good to be there, but the cameras on each hole can tell a more complete story.
Flipping the script, some of the experiences from the tournament can only be obtained at the course. Camping out so close to the players on the 9th, and watching them hit powerful drives was unreal, not to mention surfing the Tigersurge. You’ll never become an expert on a single hole by watching TV, but you can if you spend the day sitting by the green. Both of these situations were amazing, and different from TV golf, which is really the point of attending in person.
One other thing that you’ll get to experience at the event are assholes. The vast majority of people are civil human beings, but there is something about golf that lets loose the lower brain functions in some. You’ll hear all of the mashed potatoes, bababooey, get in the hole, and other creative bullshit yelled when golfers hit their shots.
We had some guys behind us that were actually rehearsing what they would say when Tiger hit his shot. Who knew that there were so many different inflections of Taco Cheese. This was like an hour before Tiger would hit that tee. While they were ultimately pretty annoying to be around, I couldn’t help but respect their dedication to their craft. It’s not just someone expressing spontaneous sentiment. These shouts are planned and practiced. Who knew? It was obvious that they were really enjoying the process. Good for them, and good for us, when they departed with the Tigersurge.
Going Again in 2027?
So the question that I reflected upon at the end of the week was would I be attending in 2027 when the US Open once again returns to Pebble Beach. Actually, I had previously planned to be in attendance at Torrey Pines in 2021. I feel like the answer is yes, but maybe it’s a cautious yes. Amazing things are witnessed when you attend, but you do miss the real ebb and flow of the tournament. It is a physically demanding event to attend, and don’t forget expensive.
Still though, it would be pretty fun and memorable to spend Father’s Day in 2021 at Torrey with my then 21-year-old son. I think I'm down to go again, but I had better start saving the beer money now.
If you have any questions, be sure to ask. I'm happy to expand on anything