UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — At mid-afternoon Friday, Bob Meiering was sitting at a picnic table in the Spectator Square at Chambers Bay watching the U.S. Open on TV.
Meiering, a club pro and lifetime member of the PGA from Durango, Colo., and a buddy had given up for the day on viewing golf in person. They had lost the battle.
"It's tough," said the 71-year-old Meiering, a $110 admission ticket dangling from his shirt. "The terrain would be taxing for anyone who is a little bit older. Every hole, it's very difficult to see the person tee off and also see where the ball landed."
Here is the truth about Chambers Bay: the USGA basically went all-in for TV aesthetics for the 115th edition of the U.S. Open. In the process, they signed on with a course that has frustrated the golfers and been even more difficult for the fans. This is a hard place to watch a golf tournament.
[Slideshow: Round 2 of the U.S. Open]
It is steep, sandy, slippery and long – an arduous course to walk. Worse than that, the hills and dunes that rise around every hole severely limit sight lines, which means there are fewer places here than just about any other course to actually see golfers and golf shots. And even in the places where fans can see the course, they generally are viewing from long distance.
"The ropes are just too far back," said Meiering, who has been to several major championships and actually played in the PGA Championship a few times.
The Chambers Bay galleries aren't lining the fairways, like most golf tournaments. Which explains why you haven't seen them form a semicircle around a wayward golfer who drove into them. They'd have to be crazy wayward to hit the ball that far off-line. Nobody – not even Tiger Woods on in his worst major performance ever – hits the ball where these fans are.
The galleries aren't very close to the greens, either. Other than the holes with grandstands (more on those later) the fans generally are a long way from the action.
That's made those first-come, first-served grandstand seats more valuable than Puget Sound real estate.
Lines were about 50 deep to get into the grandstand at No. 18 at one point Friday. Meiering and his friend said they waited 40 minutes to get seats in the grandstand at No. 9.
Three teachers from Rogers High School in nearby Puyallup arrived at Chambers Bay by 6:15 a.m. Friday to stake claim to seats in the grandstand at 18. They stayed put for hours before leaving behind a friend to hold the seats while they wandered into the Spectator Square for a beer ($6.50 for a Bud Light, more for craft beers) and some food ($15 for a steak sandwich, $13 for a grilled salmon sandwich, $8.50 for a no-frills cheeseburger).
"In terms of following a group, that's rough," said Paul Appel, the golf coach at Rogers High. "There's only a few spots where you can do that effectively."
The teachers – Appel, wrestling coach Dave Johnston and track coach Danny Carlson – were undeterred by the spectating challenges. They bought their tickets the first day they became available, last year, and were going to enjoy the first-ever U.S. Open in their state.
But not everyone is a happy customer. Complaints to course marshals have been plentiful, and fans have been sufficiently starved for sight lines that a few of them tried rearranging the man-made scenery Thursday.
Woods, Rickie Fowler and Louie Oosthuizen were teeing off on the fifth hole when the top of a nearby chain-link fence covered with a green windscreen was bent over. A group of guys on the other side of the fence were bending it down just far enough to peer over the top and see the golfers tee off. A cop came over and told them to knock it off.
"But we paid to see," one of the guys said.
"You should have gone up higher," the cop responded.
The guys backed down, and the top of the fence went back up. They missed seeing Woods & Co. tee off right in front of them.
Among the golfers, even some shooting low numbers aren't that happy with the course. Fox microphones caught Jordan Spieth (5-under par) calling the 18th, "The dumbest hole I've ever played in my life."
Asked about it after his round, Spieth didn't back down. He's not a fan of holes that can be a par-5 one day and a par-4 the next.
"I think 18 as a par-4 doesn't make much sense," the Masters champion said. "So all in all, I thought it was a dumb hole today but I think we're going to play it from there again, so I've got to get over that."
If Spieth thinks playing 18 is difficult, he ought to try experiencing it and the other 17 holes as a fan. The paying public has the hardest assignment of anyone on the grounds this week.