The 6,000-seat grandstand around the 18th green at Chambers Bay is the largest in U.S. Open history, and almost like a little city of its own.
UNIVERSITY PLACE — Watching practice rounds from the largest grandstand ever used at a U.S. Open, Dan and Amy Evans, of Port Orchard, have seen golf shots that bend, shots that skitter, shots that bounce and shots that curl.
Now they’re ready for something different: shots that count.
“It’s fun to watch their pre-tournament routine, but tomorrow is when it really starts to get interesting,” said Dan Evans, sitting about halfway up the mammoth, 6,000-seat grandstand that runs alongside the 18th hole at Chambers Bay.
The structure, large enough to hold nearly the entire population of nearby Steilacoom, is the flagship of the USGA’s fleet of Chambers Bay grandstands that together offer 18,000 seats on the 250-acre course hosting the 115th U.S. Open.
After three practice days on the Pierce County-owned course, competition runs Thursday through Sunday, and continues Monday if Sunday’s action ends in a tie. About 30,000 spectators a day are expected.
Grandstands offer 18,000 seats at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Gates open at 6 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. Some tips for those headed to the event:
• Get your spots early. Grandstand seats are first-come, first-served.
• Avoid the first couple of rows, or you may be watching people walk in front of you all day.
• Wear sunscreen and a hat. The stands are shadeless, as is nearly the entire layout.
• Bring binoculars to see players approach the green you’re near, and possibly catch views of players on adjacent holes.
• On Thursday and Friday, players start on both the 1st and 10th tees at 7 a.m., and some will begin reaching the 18th hole a couple of hours into the event. On Saturday and Sunday, with players starting only on the 1st tee, it will take much longer for action to reach the 18th. First weekend groups may tee off between 8 and 9 a.m.
• For more spectator information, see www.usopen.com and click on “Know before you go.”
Each dark-green grandstand at the course has something to entice viewers. The one at the 9th hole offers a close-up view of a tricky par-3 that could play from two different tee angles. Grandstands by the 16th and 17th holes offer dramatic Puget Sound vistas.
But when the championship is on the line, it could very well be the grandstand at the final hole that offers the ringside seats.
“It could all get decided right here,” said Roy Dowty, a volunteer marshal who traveled from his Memphis home on vacation to work his fifth U.S. Open. “From here you see the approach and the putts — the two most important shots in golf.”
Grandstands are particularly important at this course. Because some corridors between the holes are tight or have rugged terrain, the USGA has not opened a route that would help spectators follow a single player or group from hole to hole. Pathways do cut across the course, but not in a route that follows the holes in order.
In a sense, the 18th hole grandstand is akin to a small village. Volunteers such as Dowty maintain law and order, ensuring that people on the walkways keep moving, to avoid blocking the view of those behind them.
Other rules are posted: Don’t take video. Keep your phone silenced.
Sustenance is available from a nearby concession stand. And in the seats, village elders with tournament experience can be overheard telling younger fans what to watch for.
The 18th-hole grandstand, which has 21 rows of seats, even has what might be called a public utility: 60 portable toilets tucked behind a chain-link fence covered with green fabric.
The terrain under the seats is markedly steep: Spectators entering the west end of the structure climb 33 steps just to get in, while the east end of the grandstand sits almost level with the ground around it, providing an access that wheelchairs can manage.
Spectators at the stand’s west end are farther from the green, but look almost directly out at one of the course’s signature features, a 10-foot-deep bunker in the middle of the 18th fairway that could spell deep trouble for any golfer unlucky enough to visit it.
Peggy Dunner, of Mercer Island, who has played this course several times, watched Wednesday’s action from the 18th-hole grandstand, and likely will return to it Saturday, the only day of the competition she’ll attend. “It looks fabulous from here,” she said, also noting that this grandstand is nearest to the entrance many spectators will use.
It’s not just the spectators who are noticing the gargantuan grandstand on 18. At a news conference Wednesday, golfer Justin Rose mentioned it: “The grandstands are very impressive down the last hole, and I think the scene there Sunday is going to be amazing.”
Sharp-eyed fans or those using binoculars will note this effect while watching a player hitting an approach shot from 200 or more yards out. First they will see the player swing, and then a brief moment will pass before they hear the click of the club head hitting the ball, because light travels faster than sound.
Another feature of the 18th-hole grandstand is that it faces what USGA folks are calling “The Monster Board,” a digital display 14 feet tall and 38 feet wide. It can show a traditional leaderboard, but also switch to a display showing player locations around the course, or even video clips. Most of the other 12 large displays around the course are 22 feet across and just under 10 feet tall.
Construction of the grandstands began in late April, and like nearly all of the infrastructure the USGA put in place, the stands are to disappear by the end of July.
Some might ask, if the grandstands are so great, why remove them?
Janeen Driscoll, spokeswoman for the USGA, said putting up temporary golf-course villages is a USGA specialty, but those structures aren’t intended to permanently replace or alter a course’s appearance and feel.
“It’s a park, not a stadium,” she said. “So let’s bring back the natural park look and keep that look pristine.”
A bit of strategy is called for in deciding when to grab a seat by the 18th green. It may not be necessary to claim a grandstand seat immediately upon arriving at the course. But if you intend to sit there, it might be good to keep an eye on it as the morning progresses. As players get close, the stands could fill up quickly.