Posted: July 10, 2015 3:21 am
One eye on golf, another on the sky.
That was the way thousands of golf fans went about watching the first round of the United States Women’s Open Thursday at the Lancaster Country Club.
For most of the day, whatever was in the passing clouds, stayed in those clouds.
True, a tornado watch was issued but elapsed. At approximately 5:15 p.m., a weather warning was issued and with it the message “spectators should be prepared to take cover.’’ The bleachers were cleared of fans, who were able to stay and watch provided they stayed on the grass outside the ropes.
Most, however, headed for the buses to transport them back to their cars at Park City.
At 6:03 p.m., the weather conditions were deemed dangerous, and play was suspended. Players headed for vans near the holes they were playing and stayed in place until a thunderstorm packing heavy wind and rain blew through the course.
An “all clear’’ was declared at 7:47 p.m. and players were allowed on the practice range and green.
The tournament, however, did not restart, leaving 56 players having to complete their first round early this morning. (Second-round starting times will likely be affected).
Officials indicated that they would rather use what light was left Thursday evening to clean up the course in preparation’s for today’s play.
Thursday’s late afternoon rain, however, couldn’t dampen the excitement brought by a U.S. Open in Lancaster County’s backyard.
“I measure spur-of-the-moment things by smiles,’’ said Steve Buterbaugh, the vice chairman for the event. “I had just one comment that wasn’t great. That’s it. A lot of smiles. A lot of, hey, this is bigger than I thought. Our corporate clients are saying this is a better-than-expected experience. We’re getting great feedback.’’
As far as attendance numbers go, the USGA is reserving their comment until the final round is played Sunday.
An event of this scope can be fraught with issues. But despite this being Lancaster Country Club’s first mega-event, the issues were kept to a minimum.
“We had to make a few tweaks but we weren’t caught by surprise in anything today,’’ Buterbaugh said. “We’re all learning. The executive committee and the fans, too, especially about items that weren’t allowed on the course.’’
Steamy conditions greeted fans, who jammed Park City’s parking lot with their cars before traveling to LCC via school buses.
The fringes of the fairways were crowded, too, especially on the holes where defending champion Michelle Wie, LPGA money leader Inbee Park and Morgan Pressel were playing.
Many of the stands behind the greens were filled with fans, who provided the group audio commentary.
Applause when a putt dropped. A drawn out oooohhhh when the putt was a near-miss. And applause —light as it might have been for the lack of fans watching — when Babe Liu from Chinese Taipei flew in her third shot from 150 yards out on No. 13 for an eagle.
Co-leader Marina Alex started drawing a crowd as her score went lower and lower.
Facing a seven-footer for birdie on No. 9, her last hole of the day, Marina slid the putt just past the hole on the left edge, bringing that oooohhhh from the fans in the stands behind the green.
While 4-under for the day was nice, 5-under would have been great. Still, the New Jersey native was all smiles when being interviewed after her round.
Interviewers came from every media outlet imaginable — The New York Times is here as well as Golf Digest and the African American Golf Digest.
And there’s Mike Collins from ESPN. Collins, a senior golf analyst for ESPN, attended McCaskey and Conestoga Valley High Schools. Collins took a circuitous route to ESPN. From stand-up comedian (you might remember him from the Uptown Comedy Club and Italian Villa) to 10 years as a PGA caddie to Sirius/XM radio’s PGA Tour Network.
Collins, 44, credits his experience as a PGA caddie for his ability to conduct interesting interviews with his guests. Collins lives in Gainesville, Florida, but his mother lives in Mountville.
Buterbaugh’s good reports on the day’s events were echoed by Rory Connaughton, who oversaw the scoring for the tournament.
Outside of doing some repairs to a leaderboard near the third hole, all went smoothly.
“I talked to Ross Galarneault, who is the director of scoring for the USGA and he was saying this was as smooth as a day as we could hope for, so I’m delighted about that,’’ Connaughton said.
Connaughton is also on a committee for course set-up. After Thursday’s rain, he’s looking forward to today’s “healthy wind and drier air.
“The course will become a different type of test for the players,’’ he said.
Having spent the last few years planning the event, did it come off as expected?
“We’re admittedly surprised,’’ Buterbaugh said. “We thought we could do this.
“I said way back that we had everything nailed down and I hope the people come.’’
And they did.