Posted: June 14, 2014 12:18 pm
PINEHURST, N.C. – The spectator experience of attending a golf tournament is very unlike, say, a Phillies or Eagles game.
The golf courses that host major tournaments tend to be remote from major hubs of transportation and infrastructure.
Parking passes are gold. Proximity of parking to course is status. And always there are shuttle buses or vans. Waiting in line for them, or hurrying to catch them, or hoping you’ve found the right one.
Next year’s U.S. Women’s Open, at Lancaster Country Club, will apparently be a dramatic exception.
Get ready for a shuttle-free Open.
United States Golf Association officials said Saturday they believe everyone, or virtually everyone, who attends the tournament, scheduled for July 9-12 of next year, will be able to park their car on site and walk to the course.
“We’re really happy with that site,’’ U.S.G.A. Senior Director Tim Flaherty said. “There’s a lot of space overall, and the parking situation appears to be exceptional. We won’t have to do any shuttling, and that’s very unusual.’’
For example, Pinehurst, host of the Men’s U.S. Open that ended Sunday and the Women’s Open that begins Thursday, is a tiny, rustic village in south-central North Carolina, only about an hour’s drive from Raleigh and Charlotte.
The men’s Open drew roughly 100,000 spectators over the week. The town couldn’t begin to handle that many people comfortably. Forget comfortably; it couldn’t begin to handle them, period.
But most fans never see the town. They’re shuttled in from as far as 12 miles away. They don’t get a taste of Pinehurst’s charms, or pump cash to local merchants.
Lancaster Country Club has roughly 430 acres of land on its sprawling site. It also, with the U.S.G.A., negotiated a deal with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to lease an extra 50 acres along the so-called “goat path,” adjacent to the Highlands nine at the club.
Flaherty said the only comparable situation he could recall was the 2004 U.S. Senior Open at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, which has only one golf course but a 350-acre site.
“The extra 50 acres was critical,’’ Flaherty said. “We really appreciate the state doing that for us.’’
Yes, there will be the traffic issues that come with getting that many people in and out. But the proximity of major highways (an entrance ramp from New Holland Pike to Rte. 30, which runs into Rtes. 283 and 222, is less than a mile from L.C.C.s main entrance) is another fortunate feature of the site.
And people who drive to the site are likely to fuel the local economy on a micro level, by staying in Lancaster hotels, visiting Lancaster attractions, eating in Lancaster restaurants and drinking in Lancaster bars.
“I’ve already been there quite a bit,’’ Flaherty said. “The community really seems to be behind it. It seems like they’re off to a great start.’’
The only challenge Flaherty sees from afar, a year out, is that L.C.C.’s back nine contains some tight spaces, where moving spectators around could be difficult.
But nothing like Merion, last year’s nearly claustrophobic Men’s Open site.
“We have plenty of time to look at that,’’ Flaherty said. “We can do a lot of things with grandstands, get people sitting down in one place rather than trying to move around.’’
The U.S.G.A. reportedly lost money on the Open at Merion, and expected to, going in. It had to limit ticket sales because of the size and limitations of the property.
Flaherty doesn’t see that as a problem at Lancaster.
“It’s a long way from being determined,’’ Flaherty said, “but 125,000 for the week, which would mean 25,000 (per day) on the weekend, seems reasonable. I think we can put a lot of people on that property.’’