Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

'Shuttle Diplomacy' at the Open

By Jack Berry

There's a surprise in store for veteran Michigan golf fans who have attended PGA Championships at Oakland Hills, a couple of United States Senior Opens and all of the United States Opens going way, way back to 1924.

They won't be able to park on the North Course, cross Maple Road and catch all the action on the championship South Course during the 96th Open, June 13-16.

Nope, they'll have to park out at the Pontiac Silverdome and then be bused the approximately 7-8 miles to Oakland Hills, a ride that is projected to be 25 minutes maximum. And 20 traffic signals.

United States Golf Association and Oakland Hills officials are putting the best face possible on it: fans will park on asphalt at the Silverdome, not grass. If it rains, they won't be stuck in mud. Parking and busing is included in the price of the ticket.

And the shuttle buses will drop them off at the south end of the North Course, if you get my direction, and then it's just a short walk across Maple Road and into the main spectator gate by the second tee.

Why drive out to the Silverdome when there's all that room on the North Course? Well, in the modern age of bigtime golf, there isn't enough room for general parking.

"We parked 9,000 cars on the North Course during the 1985 Open," said Executive Vice Chairman Don McBride. "But our regular practice range isn't wide enough or deep enough now so we've moved the range to the North Course for the Open.

"It takes the space of 2,000 cars. Now we're down to room for 7,000 cars. That will be taken up by volunteers, Oakland Hills members, the media, guests at the hospitality tents and United States Golf Association-invited guests," McBride said.

Since there'll be 35,000 people daily, that means busing. Shuttling is new to Oakland Hills but it's long been a fact of life at Michigan's other professional tournaments, the Ford Senior Players Championship at the Tournament Players Club of Michigan in Dearborn, the LPGA Oldsmobile Classic in suburban Lansing, the Buick Open in Grand Blanc and the First of America Classic in suburban Grand Rapids.

The Buick is the oldtimer, a stop on the PGA Tour since its inception in 1958. At that time Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club was surrounded by fields and only a few houses. The fields were cut down and became the parking lots. As housing grew around the club, parking was moved to Grand Blanc High School.

TPC Michigan is shoehorned into a small piece of land and public parking never has been permitted. Parking is at the nearby Fairlane Town Center shopping mall with shuttle buses to the course. Likewise there hasn't been room for general public parking at the Oldsmobile Classic -- parking is at Michigan State University lots, about 4-5 miles from Walnut Hills Country Club.

And shuttling has been the practice for the First of America, first at the Elks Country Club on the west side of Grand Rapids, and now at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada.

Shuttling also is common at other tournaments around the country. There simply isn't any room around the courses for thousands of automobiles.

That doesn't mean course neighbors won't sell space on their lawns. They will and it always is interesting to see how prices fluctuate during the week. Will it be $10? Or $15? Or $20?

McBride said the Bloomfield Township police department intends to keep traffic moving on Maple Road and shopping centers east and west of the course are expected to ban spectator parking.

The cost of busing and renting lots are an element in ticket pricing. It was so simple in the old days -- tickets covered the purse, course improvements and some income for the club.

Those still are factors but there are many more -- charitable donations for PGA Tour and LPGA tournaments and the cost of doing business for the United States Golf Association. The USGA conducts 13 national championships but only three are money-makers, the Open, Senior Open and Women's Open.

The big ones pay for the other events, USGA research and testing projects, staff, museum and library.

The corporate hospitality tents, and sponsor guests, have become a key element in the financial picture and especially so for all major championships except The Masters Tournament which remains tentless. No commercial logos are permitted at The Masters, not even Cadillac and The Travelers, the two primary television sponsors. Even the names on the soft drink taps at the refreshment stands are taped over.

There will be modest identification of the 23 hospitality tent occupants on Oakland Hills' regular driving range, west of the 18th hole, and the seven along the signature 16th hole. The 16th is the dogleg around the lake which was pivotal to Gary Player's victory in the 1972 PGA Championship and Arnold Palmer's playoff victory over Billy Casper and Bob Stone in the 1981 Senior Open.

The tents are air-conditioned and cost $125,000 each and include 100 tickets, an option to buy 100 more, parking and other goodies -- programs, identification on the pairing sheets and a special golf day (three participants per tent buyer) on the South Course prior to the Open. Catering of food and beverages during the Open is extra and probably doubles the tent cost.

Oh yes, one more thing that's in keeping with the way bigtime golf is these days: there's no gate sale of tickets. All tickets must be purchased in advance and you go through the USGA, not Oakland Hills. The number is 800 336-4446 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Jack Berry is the secretary-treasurer of the Golf Writers Association of America.

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