UNIVERSITY PLACE, Washington (Reuters) - Fans hoping to watch next week’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay must get there first, completing a daily odyssey of lengthy bus rides or carefully researched alternatives to find a course nestled between a leafy suburb’s tiny streets and the Puget Sound.
Nearly a quarter million people are expected to descend on Pierce County’s public golf course from June 18-21 in University Place, about an hour’s drive south of Seattle, creating logistical hurdles for the Pacific Northwest’s first Open.
“We’ve spent the better part of two years creating a transportation and security plan — and it’s rock solid,” Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy told Reuters.
“It doesn’t mean you won’t be in congested traffic. People know this is a major event.”
The time it takes to reach Chambers Bay depends, among other things, on who you are.
Golf’s top professionals, like world number one Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Jordan Spieth, as well as select officials and dignitaries, will drive right up to the links-style course, waving coveted credentials as they cross security checkpoints.
Roughly 30,000 fans will journey to Chambers Bay each day next week and the majority of those will be directed to free parking in two massive holding lots in neighboring cities Puyallup and Lakewood.
From there, they will board many of the nearly 300 shuttle buses — from the stylish coach to the yellow school varieties — for 30-minute-plus rides along thoroughfares and meandering two-lane streets that lead, eventually, to the course’s freshly built Spectator Square.
Some 5,000 volunteers, VIPs, venders and journalists will park in about a dozen other lots closer to the course, though their shuttle bus routes may have to navigate traffic-slowing roundabouts in the neighborhoods approaching the course.
Other than that, there is one drop-off point at an elementary school that will put fans exiting taxis, limousines or their wife’s car within a 10-minute walk of an entrance gate, which opens each day of the tournament at 6 a.m. local time.
Walking the course can be a breath-sucking endeavor, with sharp elevation changes and uneven surfaces, and officials are warning fans to “be conscious of your physical limitations and be sure to wear appropriate footwear”.
Some fans weary of the herd have spent hours developing alternative travel plans, including shelling out thousands of dollars for rental homes that are walking distance to the course.
Michael Smith, a Seattle banker, plans to drive to an unspecified city about an hour down Interstate 5 from his house, and use his mobile phone to order a car from rideshare company Uber, which will then drop him off at the school for a gingerly walk to the course.
“I don’t want to do the main lot and a 45-minute bus ride,” Smith said. “They have nice comfortable coaches and it works really, really well. It just eats into your time that you spend there.”
The travel plans mirror previous U.S. Opens, with the United States Golf Association and county partners spending months testing traffic pattern and crowd management theories to build tournament-tested security protocols fit for air, land, and sea.
All attendees must pass through security screening for not just weapons but also mobile devices bigger than 7 inches, noise makers, step ladders, metal-spiked shoes, large bags, banners, and food or drink that is not meant for babies or medicine.
Puget Sound boaters, some of whom may have hoped to catch a glimpse of play with binoculars, will have to stay outside a 1,000-yard “security zone” policed by the U.S Coast Guard, which can impose fines as much as $40,000.
Also barred from entering that zone will be environmental activists in boats who have planned a demonstration against fossil fuel-toting trains that run alongside the course.
Despite the well-laid plans, officials are hoping for a bit of luck too, such as rain-free skies and no congestion-causing collisions along the shuttle bus routes.
Some grander plans were scrapped, like a commuter train that would have dropped fans off at the site, as officials preferred the park-and-ride schemes used at Merion outside Philadelphia for the 2013 Open or New York’s Bethpage Black, in 2009.
“It’s a golf course, not a football stadium,” said Simon Landon of Chicago, who recently played at Chambers Bay. “People know it’s a whole-day thing.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes