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A Day at Chambers Bay: The US Open

Yesterday, my husband and I spent a very long day at Chambers Bay, WA for the first day of championship play of the US Open.

These tickets were my Christmas gift for my golf fan husband. Such a rare opportunity couldn’t be missed since he plays golf regularly in his hometown of Tacoma, mere minutes from the action. Of course, by the time the idea occurred to me in September, the only championship round tickets available were Thursday – so I snapped up a pair and the waiting game began.

Neither of us had ever attended a PGA tour event before, and of course this is one of the largest of them all. We were spared the first test – parking at the large community lots – thanks to the kindness of one of my husband’s childhood friends, who let us park at his home and gave us a lift to the course.

The course has a beautiful hillside view of the Puget Sound, and feels very expansive – because it is. 30,000 people a day, with only 18,000 grandstand seats – meaning over ten thousand people wandering the paths at any time.

We got to see all the big names – Mickelson, Mcilroy (nice birdie!), Watson, Furyk, Els (rough go), Spieth, Garcia (awkward bunker shots into a par save), Woods (birdie!), etc. etc. – along with some impressive amateurs and some unexpected leaders, like Martin with his birdie on 16.

Some observations from the experience:

Grab the day’s schedule and map at the security station. We used this CONSTANTLY. Would have been permanently lost otherwise.

Our favorite view was from the small bleachers at the 16th hole. We started there by random chance, finding it not the most difficult hole shot for shot, but it had a really interesting green with weird hills and irregular bunkers. Lots of players hit par, but they were either hard pars from bunker saves, or missed putt pars from the cup’s very weird lip. We saw a triple bogey, but we also saw Tiger hit a birdie (more rare than a unicorn lately). The small 16th bleacher is more steeply raked, meaning less obstruction from other spectators – and the height gives it a view of the entire hole, from tee to cup. PLUS it’s on the water, so: water breeze! But your mileage will vary. I’ve heard recommendations for the 15th hole too. If you’re taking the bleacher route you may want to bring a blanket or cushion, as they’re small and unforgiving.

Wear hiking shoes or walking sandals. The course is incredibly sandy. My flexible sneakers weren’t the best choice. We didn’t walk as much as some folks and still put in over 7 miles during our time there. And save energy – depending on what gate you came in, you may have a LONG uphill climb to leave the course. My clothes literally looked like I’d come from safari afterwards, so be prepared to track dust everywhere. It might not be as bad today due to rain, but by Sunday it’ll be blowing sand again.

Avoid the 17th Bottleneck. There’s a choke point near the spectator crossing for the 18th hole, and thousands of people get tied up there. If you can avoid it, do.

Be prepared, but don’t overthink it. Don’t panic about bag size down to the inch. The purse I brought in was more 8 x 6 x 2, not 6 x 6 x 6. That said, they won’t let large-looking opaque bags in. (Basically, NFL stadium rules.) Bags had to go through an X-ray machine. Lots of people, my husband included, were forgetting to pick their items up after going through the security gates. Other things you may want to bring – empty transparent collapsable water bottle, which can be filled at the first aid stations, and some wet wipes or hand sanitizer (it’s dusty and the restroom situation is far from ideal.)

This course doesn’t lend itself well to following players. It’s big, it’s long, and it’s hilly. Much of the walk is literally on sand, so imagine walking 7-10 miles down a lumpy beach. Certainly hundreds of people DID follow Tiger Woods and his trio, but they were jostling for a few spots along the rope, and from many of those spots you could EITHER see the player OR their ball. We got much more enjoyment from sitting at a single hole and watching many different players tackle that challenge.

Bring a device with the official app. The “new scoreboards” are a nice idea, but they were glitching all day. For 3 hours, ALL course scoreboards were showing stats for the 18th hole, meaning the app, paper schedule or the standard board were the only ways to know who was playing. The board on the 16th hole crashed to the desktop a few times, hilariously. Also, the board at the 16th hole is behind the train tracks – if a large, slow train comes in you won’t be able to see it.

Keep your phone on battery saver or airplane mode when not using it. Signal is sporadic and that’ll drain your battery. If your phone dies there’s a charging station in the main spectator village.

Get food before venturing deep into the course. The best variety is in the spectator village. By the time you get out to 16 the offerings are largely chips and PBJ sandwiches, and the satellite locations had a hard time keeping stock replenished as the carts can’t get through the thickest crowds.

Protect yourself. As always, WEAR A HAT, SUNSCREEN AND SUNGLASSES. Even with clouds, the ambient light will get you. There is NO SHADE AT CHAMBERS BAY. None. Zero. Unless you’re in the merch tent or a port a potty (and you won’t want to stay there for long – the upkeep was dire.) You will also want a light jacket for the evening breezes.

Get a return ticket when leaving grandstands. Your return ticket is good for 45 minutes. If no one is saving your seat you’ll probably end up in a new spot, but it’s a really nice system for letting you get a drink, stretch, or bathroom break.

Our recommendation – choose one hole, camp out till just before the second half tee times, grab lunch, and either return to your original spot or move yourself. We were glad we went and I actually found the experience of watching a single hole more interesting than watching on television. Groups were fairly tightly spaced (though will be less so post-cut.)

Happy spectating!

For more thoughts, this article is good (but don’t take their advice about cleats – they are forbidden!)

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