Beyond Golf — 19 June 2015 by Kirby Arnold
Open fan view: Tough but rewarding

The grass is too brown and bumpy. It’s hard to reach the greens. It’s a much harder walk than anyone imagined.

Yada, yada, yada… Have a tournament on a new course like Chambers Bay and someone is going to gripe.

Oh, we’re not talking about the golfers. This was reaction from some fans upon their first trek around the massive complex of 18 holes, grandstands, corporate suites, practice facility, food concessions, porta-potties and the impressive spectator square.

When you put more than 30,000 people a day into a confined area, even one as spread out as Chambers Bay, somebody’s going to complain. For the most part, the crowds have marveled at the experience.

On Wednesday, I took the public shuttle from Puyallup and walked nearly every corner of the course.  My only complaint was that my legs were tired at the end of the day.

Here are my observations, with a few tips for fans planning to spend part or all of the weekend at the course.

Getting there and back

The free bus service clearly is the way to go.  We had an opportunity to park at a home in University Place, but that would have required a one-mile walk to the course so we decided the bus would be better. It was.

Parking at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup was a breeze, as was the security check before we boarded the bus.  And the bus ride, which we were told would take 45 minutes, was shorter than that – 30 minutes from the time our butts hit the seats to our first step onto the grounds at Chambers Bay.

The return trip, at 5 o’clock Wednesday afternoon, took an hour because buses traveled more side roads back to the fairgrounds and weekday rush hour traffic was fairly heavy.  No worries, though, because the big tour bus was very comfortable.

We heard that traffic into the fairgrounds Thursday morning was heavy, with a backup on the freeway of about three miles.

Bring your walking shoes

We saw golf “fans” in everything from stylish boots to flip flops to – of course – golf shoes.  My suggestion: wear something comfortable with a lot of cushion, because if you want to see most of the course you’re going to walk more than five miles.

I wore a Fitbit on Wednesday and finished the day with more than 15,000 steps, which converts to nearly eight miles.  I’d hate to do that in boots or flip-flops.

It’s much more than a long walk if you plan to follow a particular golfer or group all 18 holes. There are hills and dunes at Chambers Bay, where the highest point of the course is about 500 feet above the lowest. You’ll not only be hiking up and down, but there are gravel paths, dirt paths, grass paths, sand paths and asphalt paths that make it a challenge for those walking and chewing gum (or checking their phones) at the same time.

We were walking on a grassy side hill slope next to the 11th fairway when I saw a couple of people slip and fall like they’d stepped on banana peels.  The long, dry fescue grass can be like ice with flat-soled shoes, so beware.

Bottom line is that this isn’t a simple walk in the park, even though Chambers Bay actually is a park with walking trails.  I didn’t find navigating this course any more inconvenient than, say, TPC Scottsdale where the Phoenix Open is played and crowds number 150,000-200,000 on the weekend days.

See and be seen

We heard complaints that some areas of the course simply aren’t accessible to fans.  I didn’t find that to be a huge issue because there are crossover points on most of the holes.

It does take a roundabout walk to reach the grandstand above the 12th hole, where it’s cool to see golfers try and reach the green with their drives.

We didn’t make it to the grandstand near the par-3 17th green, but I’m told it offers a great vantage point.

The grandstand around the 18th green offers a great view of the whole property.  Same with the grandstand next to the par-3 ninth hole.

My favorite grandstand was behind the 14th green. Golfers hit down the hill directly toward you, and the slopes and sand around that green make approach shots fun to watch.

Chambers Bay does fall short on greenside access for fans. Many greens are guarded by sand and hills that it’s simply not possible to allow fans to get close, and that’s a shame because there’s a sense of drama that’s lost.

Because of that, I recommend a pair of binoculars if you want to get close without getting close.

Otherwise, video screens throughout the course make it easy to follow the action, particularly the scoring.

Souvenirs, food

Yes, they’ll sell you just about anything with a U.S. Open logo.

The massive merchandise tent has every hat, shirt, towel, flag and trinket you can imagine. There are embroiders on site to put your name on a hat and engravers to chisel it on a bag tag.

My advice: Get your souvenirs on the way out because it’ll get cumbersome to lug a bag full of stuff on an eight-mile walk.

A person’s got to eat and drink, and I found prices to be reasonable.  A bottle of water cost $2.50 (it was $4 a few weeks ago when I was at the Indy 500), and a nice turkey sandwich cost $7.50. Not cheap by any means, but I expected worse.

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Kirby Arnold

Kirby was 10 years old when he played his first round of golf with his grandmother on the sand greens of the Versailles Country Club in Missouri, and his love of the game has never wavered. Only one thing stood between Kirby and a single-digit handicap: his job. Kirby worked 42 years as a sports writer and editor at newspapers in Missouri and Washington. He started while a high school sophomore at the Rolla Daily News in Missouri and covered a variety of events, including his own high school basketball games (he made sure his name was spelled right). He was a sports writer and editor for 10 years at the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, covering Southwest Missouri State University football and basketball, Missouri University football and basketball, and numerous motorsports events including the Indianapolis 500 during the 1970s and 1980s. He moved to the Seattle area in 1984, becoming assistant sports editor at The Herald in Everett, Wa., then executive sports editor from 1987-1998, a time when The Herald's sports coverage was recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as being among the best in the nation for newspapers its size. Kirby returned to the press box in 1999, taking over The Herald's coverage of the Seattle Mariners. He covered the Mariners/baseball beat the next 13 seasons and in 2007 wrote his first book, Tales from the Seattle Mariners Dugout. While Kirby pursued a rewarding newspaper career, one of his lifelong goals remained unfulfilled: breaking 80 on a consistent basis. Kirby left The Herald at the end of 2011, moved to Phoenix and immediately began spending more time at the golf course. His only excuse now is a 12 on the stimpmeter.

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