Going to a golf tournament is the most overrated experience in sports
If you asked sports fans which event they'd most like to attend, The Masters would probably be atop most bucket lists. The folks converging on Oakmont this week for the U.S. Open will have a tremendous time and an experience they'll remember for the rest of their lives. And seeing a British Open at St. Andrews or watching a Ryder Cup are among the holy grail for any sports fan.
But even as we covet a grounds pass to those events, we do so all knowing the same little secret: Going to a golf tournament sort of stinks.
It's not just the normal complaints of attending live sports: the cost, the crowds, the traffic, the cost, the time outlay, the weather and the cost. Yeah, paying $40 to park a half-mile away from your favorite NFL stadium, all for the right to go watch a three-and-a-half hour television show during which you spend most of the time trying to ignore the drunk moron behind you while rifling through your pockets and wondering where all your twenties went isn't always fun. A golf tournament is a totally different animal, though. It can be the best, but too often it's the worst. Here are nine reasons why:
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There's no on-site parking at most golf tournaments and the good off-site parking puts you as close to the course as a Tiger Woods approach. Then there's the off- off-site parking, which most people have to use. This involves pulling into a parking garage in an office park 15 miles away from the course and then getting herded like cattle onto a slow-moving shuttle bus. On the way to the tournament, it's not so bad. It's usually early in the morning. You're excited about the day ahead, the adrenaline is pumping, you've eaten a solid breakfast, everybody's in a good mood. Fast forward seven hours later when you're exhausted from a day of walking, drinking and baking in the sun; your clothes are stuck to you like you just got pushed in the pool and everybody is cranky, hungry and just wants to get home. But before you get to do that, you have to wait in a line with 2,000 of your closest friends for that same shuttle bus, which felt so good hours before but suddenly has an aroma that you'd swear had been there for months with a non-functional air conditioner. No matter what, parking for a golf tournament almost invariably means using a shuttle bus, which means it takes parking, walking, riding and then walking again, all to get to the course.
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2. The weather and walking
Walking the course at a golf tournament is a highlight. It's one of the most freeing experiences in sports. You get to see all 18 holes. You randomly come across some shots and become one of those guys standing directly behind someone hitting a 5-iron off the straw. You experience the changes in terrain. You see what TV can't: How greens undulate. If you're a local, you run into people you know. If not, you make new friends from all over the country. You get dozens of different vantage points. Like I said, a golf tournament is fun to attend. But just because something has highlights doesn't make it exempt from lowlights.
After a while, you look at your FitBit and have 21,000 steps. Your legs and feet are hurting. You realize that the hills are much bigger than you first noticed. You want to sit down, but there are no seats, so you either awkwardly fall to the ground or find a tree to lean up against. (The latter isn't something attendees will be able to do at the arboreal-challenged Oakmont) Then, on top of that, most U.S. Opens, and a majority of American golf tournaments, are played in the swelter of summer. Here's how hot it was the last time I went to an Open (back when Rory dominated Congressional in 2011): The mere sight of people drinking beer made me question the entire institution of brews. Yeah, it was too hot for beer. When it's 95 degree with high humidity and you're walking five miles up and down fairways, the only ice-cold refreshment you want is water, Gatorade, air conditioning or an ice bath. The thought of beer was the nastiest thing, right up until I saw a dude smoking a cigar, which smelled, and felt, like barbecuing burnt fish inside a sauna.
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Oh, and if it rains, as it's wont to do on summery afternoons? You won't have your umbrella (and probably not your suntan lotion, for that matter, since you're just rolling up with what's in your pockets). Good luck finding a covered place to stand too. They don't exist, so you have like 30,000 people going for 700 such spots. It's like applying to Princeton.
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3. There's only so much to see
How are you going to spend your day? Sit at the range and watch players practice? Follow around a group then jump to some others throughout the day? Park yourself at a spot in the bleachers? Or sit down on a well-situated hill, thus ruining your back for the next three weeks? There are a good number of ways to enjoy a tournament but none of them affords you the opportunity of seeing more than a few dozen shots.
The range is underrated because you get to see each golfer come through, watch them work through their bags and hang out without pressure. I like sitting on a green too, as you can see every player hit their approaches in, then walk up to the green whereupon you get a nice close-up of the entire field. After about two hours, you're an expert on the green and its contours, knowing that those who leave it short of the hole are probably going to miss the left-to-right break that's been fooling guys all day, or that those who end up on the left side of the green are going to misjudge the speed and leave theirs short. It makes you feel like a golfing savant.
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4. And even when there is something to see, you often can't
Following a popular player is just about the biggest waste of time there is, minus rooting for a Cleveland sports team. In the heyday of Tiger, you'd have to slowly migrate with a mass of humanity and even if you did, the only way you could see him is if you ducked and peaked through the crowd like a six-year-old at a parade. It's mostly the same way with the big guys now. The beauty of a golf tournament is that you can see the biggest stars all in one place. The downside is that you can't see much of them. (The best way to see a big player: Situate yourself a few holes ahead of where they are on the course. Let's say the featured pairing is on No. 2. Go ahead to No. 6 and wait. You'll get in the front of the ropes and though you might have to spend an hour waiting, you'll get close-up views of plenty of other players and then get to see the Spieth/Day/McIlroy pairing come along. Because of your persistence, you're as far from them as their caddies. Way to go!
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5. You have no idea what's going on
When you're chillin' on the couch this weekend, tuned into FOX and watching the leaders get beat up by Oakmont, you'll be experiencing the tournament through the eyes of dozens of cameras, hundreds of microphones and various forms of technology including Protracer, drones and, if you have access, virtual reality. All of that will be filtered through directors, producers and announcers whose job it is to frame the action to tell the best story of a wide-ranging sporting event, one that isn't contained on a single field or court but is instead spread out over acres with different players moving up and down a fluid leaderboard during a stretch of five hours. With so much going on, no sport is better helped by television than golf. That's never more clear than when you're at the tournament and your best way of following action is by the century-old method of watching a dude put up giant numbers on a hand-operated scoreboard.
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When you're at a tournament, your knowledge about what's going on is relegated to what's directly in front of you. You can hear cheers and chatter from across the course but those are usually unassigned. (Those "Jack" and "Tiger" roars you've heard about were very real -- when Tiger was in contention at a tournament, you could literally follow his progress shot-by-shot based on the oohs, aahs, cheers, roars and groans. It's harder when there are a handful of fan favorites.) The rest of your awareness comes from a communal, preppy game of popped-collar telephone. ("JDay birdied 12. Jordan bogeyed 15. Bubba is yelling at someone again. Angel switched to Kools. I think Phil might have knocked out an entire family with an errant drive.") When you go to a football game and think "it stinks not being able to see the replays," a golf tournament is like that, except replace "replays" with "everybody's shots."
6. Rooms of rest
I've been to music festivals, fireworks displays and frat houses with better bathroom situations.
7. The merchandise tent
Something about going to a golf tournament makes you want to drop hundreds of dollars on swag (the U.S. Open tent is the size of a Costco; the Masters tent is the stuff of legends). But once you do, you're faced with a dilemma: You just bought a $30 hat. But you're already wearing a hat. Now you have two hats. You can see the problem. So, do you drag around the bags all day or check them and then have to wait in a Space Mountain-like line at the end of the tournament to retrieve the paperweight, mug, signpost and 18th-hole flag you bought, not to mention the polo shirts you're sending to family all across the country.
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8. As the weekend rounds progress, there are more people watching fewer holes.
It's simple: On Saturday and Sunday the leaders tee off on No. 1 and there are 35,000 people distributed nicely over the 18 holes and 215 acres at Oakmont. But then, as the day goes on, the amount of fans stays the same but the number of holes that are available to watch go down. By the time the leaders make the turn, those 35,000 only have nine holes to watch. Half the course is rendered useless. Have you ever seen one of those British music festivals where it looks like 150,000 people have crammed into a space about as big as an Ikea parking lot and are basically immobile other than to bob their heads to Muse? Even if you're not agoraphobic or claustrophobic, you wonder how the hell people do that. At some U.S. Opens, you wonder no more. You can hardly move on Sunday when the tournament hits the last few holes at, for instance, Pinehurst. By the 72nd hole, it's impossible to see anything on No. 18, unless you showed up at 6 a.m. to get a seat in the bleachers.
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9. How to have it all
Ask any Warriors fan to pick a game to go to this year and they'd say "Monday night, Game 5." Ask a Broncos fan and they'd have said "AFC championship" (with the idea that a home championship game is better than a bland, corporate Super Bowl). Same goes for hockey or baseball. In golf? The best ticket in golf isn't for Sunday at The Masters or the Open; it's for one of the weekday rounds or even a Wednesday practice ticket. That way, you get the best of both worlds. You can enjoy all that a golf tournament has to offer: the up-close intimacy of seeing the world's best players, marveling at the swings of both the rippers and the smooth sailors (to this day, watching Ernie Els swing is my favorite moment at a golf tournament), seeing historic courses in top-notch conditions and the unbeatable enjoyment of being outside in nature and watching sports. Then, on the weekend, you get to sit on your couch, crank up the A/C, pop a brew, order some wings and watch golf the way it was meant to be seen - with cameras on every hole and a leaderboard plus announcer keeping you up-to-the-second on the goings on at one of the greatest events in sports. Heck, you can even wear your $30 hat.