The U.S. Open! At Pebble Freakin’ Beach!!
According to various myths and legends, there are tribes of indigenous people scattered throughout the world who believe that to have their picture taken is to have their soul stolen. While I haven’t been able to verify the exact genealogy of these people, I’m pretty certain there’s a connection to the U.S. Golf Association. There’s really no other rational way to explain the USGA’s relentless assault on the harmless pastime of recreational photography.
Picture this (sorry, bad pun) – you’re with friends, enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a sporting event …let’s say the U.S. Open, for example. You’d love to have a nice little souvenir of your visit to Pebble Beach to email to friends and family. Maybe something to frame and put on your desk. A little insert for the annual Christmas card: “Here’s us at Pebble Beach – it was awesome!” Don’t even think about it. Why not? Because the USGA says so, that’s why not. You will steal the soul of golf.
The USGA’s policy regarding cameras at the Open states something like – and I’m paraphrasing here – “if you attempt to enter the course with a camera you will die a slow and horrific death, and any life insurance policies you may hold will immediately be rendered null and void”.
I understand the basic concept. The clicking of camera shutters at close range in the middle of a golfer’s swing can do damage to the trajectory of that shot. I get it. But given the gallery set-up at Pebble Beach, where an “up close” look at a golfer in mid-swing is measured in tens of yards and not feet, you could hook up the average hand-held digital camera to a bullhorn and snap away to your heart’s content without remotely disturbing that golfer you see off in the distance. Stevie Williams couldn’t even find you with a map, let alone be motivated to throw your Canon Sure Shot into the ocean.
Even so, it was with sheer horror when waaaaayyyy out near the 10th green, on the farthest reaches of Pebble Beach Golf Links, I stumbled across a scenario that froze me in my tracks – too stunned to even think about making the requisite Citizen’s Arrest. A smiling young couple was brazenly posing for a picture to be snapped by another young girl holding a…palm-sized pink camera. I braced myself and waited for the lightning bolt that would strike the young couple dead on the spot. And as for the picture taker, I’m a little fuzzy on the particulars, but I’m pretty certain that under USGA Regulations, she has since gone directly to Hell. Or at least to Purgatory, where she will spend eternity watching an endless loop of those cheesy PSA’s that the USGA trots out every year for the telecast of the men’s and women’s Opens.
But here I’ve gone and digressed from my actual purpose – to tell you about my Day At The Open.
I’ve been going to a lot of games lately. You may have noticed. So when I first gain consciousness on the morning of an event, it doesn’t typically evoke a major reaction. But it was different when I awoke the other day and realized I was going to the U. S. Open! At Pebble Freaking’ Beach!! This was special. This was epic. And now, having seen the legendary golf course up close, I must admit that…pause for effect…it was better than a sharp stick in the eye.
Don’t get me wrong. It was every bit as beautiful as I had anticipated, made even more so by a clearing pattern that brought in the brilliant sunshine that makes the ocean a trade-markable brand of blue. But (and I really, truly do hate to say this) take away the ocean views and it was just another well-manicured resort course. Of course that’s like saying that if you took away the smile from the Mona Lisa all you’d have was a glorified color-by-number, but consider this: fully half the holes on the course lie inland from the coast. And those that do, look…well, pretty ordinary. It’s a great track that I’d love to play, but even on my most fiscally irresponsible of days would I ever remotely consider paying the $495 (plus cart fee) to do so?
Maybe I’d feel differently if the process of getting to Pebble Beach Golf Links hadn’t felt like the golf equivalent of the Bataan Death March.
Google Maps told me that it was 82 miles from my hotel to the Links, and that it should take 1 hour and 31 minutes. Obviously, Google Maps did not know or care that my destination was the U.S. Open, so their estimate of time was understandably well understated. But seriously…I left my hotel at 7:30 – and I saw my first golf shot at 11:15. For those of you scoring at home, that’s an additional 135 minutes of time beyond what Google innocently reported that I might expect. I’ve had dental surgery that took less time and involved less pain.
What did I do with that time? Well first I visited my good friends at StubHub. I’ve been using StubHub for years, having stumbled onto their web site almost by accident. In the intervening time, it has caused a paradigm shift in my decision-making involving what concerts and games to attend. Now, nothing is ever truly Sold Out. If an event is important enough to me to pay the premium that the free market demands, StubHub will have a ticket for me. They’ve literally never let me down.
So when my original Plan A for obtaining admission went by the boards, I turned to StubHub. And not only did they have a ticket for me, they had even set up a pop-up fulfillment center only a couple of miles from the Spectator Parking complex. It literally took me less than a minute to pick up the tickets I had purchased online less than 24 hours before. And as a bonus, they even let me take a picture of them at work, which is the closest that I could get to providing you with a photographic image from the U.S. Open. I love these guys like they are family members. OK, maybe like fifth cousins removed, but still.
By far the largest chunk of my morning was spent at the General Spectator Parking Lot, negotiating the process of getting through security and loaded onto a bus. I can only describe it as akin to sitting through the same stop light for about, ohhhh…30 full cycles. It was the only thing I’ve ever done that made me long for the “brisk” pace of the security checkpoint on Monday mornings at LAX.
It was around the 10th or 12th “light cycle” that I began to count among my blessings the fact that The Bird was not with me. She’s not one for “process”, and the pesky details of an assault arraignment and bail-posting would have really cut into my time on the golf course.
This is not to say that the entire ordeal was disorganized or planned haphazardly – for it was about as efficient as could possibly be. This was clearly a volume thing, as I found the case to be with virtually everything about the day’s experience. In a nutshell, the event was wildly over-sold. For example, each transport bus can hold 50 people. There were about 1,500 people awaiting screening and boarding at any given time while I was there. You do the math.
Once blessedly on site, my plan was to walk the hallowed course backward before things got crowded. With the first tee time at 9:00, it would be hours before play reached there. But I had a little bit more company than I had anticipated. When I got to the 18th green to begin my tour, there were already several hundred people in the bleachers – which I found a little odd. The first golfers of the day were at least 90 minutes away, and it was five hours before the leaders were to even begin play. When I got to the 17th green the bleachers were half-full. The 17th tee grandstand – about 80% occupied. Sure they afforded a nice view of the ocean, and it was very cool to see these holes in pristine condition before the onslaught of golfers, but still. Of course, a much smarter Sports Fan than I should have been tipped off by all of this excessively early claim-staking …
To be continued…