From The Blog

What TV Didn’t Tell You About the PGA

The hoopla started just over a week before the tournament began, with convoys of trucks bearing materials that would build PGA City at the Ocean Course, while KICA’s security pass office moved off-island to the Island Center, and regular contractors scurried to complete jobs before the temporary halt of work.

Tiger Woods triggered the next bit of excitement on Aug. 1 when he arrived at Bohicket Marina in his 155-foot sleek and pristine yacht, the Privacy. The boat dwarfed everything else in the marina. So many people visited the marina to see the yacht that for a while bouncers were stationed at the road entrance, asking people their destination and turning away voyeurs. Boaters, however, took
advantage of their prime waterside viewing opportunity.

A private airplane quickly upstaged Tiger. Reports on Thursday morning, Aug. 2, had a young man en route to New York making an emergency
landing on the beach at the Ocean Course. Later, investigators learned that he had merely wanted to take some pictures. Unfortunately for him (or perhaps karma), the plane became stuck in the sand. Witnesses reported an amusing sight of men rocking the plane trying to free it. Apparently the pilot had broken no FAA regulations, but town officials later determined that he breached a number of local laws, even though no ordinances expressly prohibit landing a plane on the beach. Action is pending.

Maintenance and landscape crews worked long, hard hours preparing the island for the tournament, and their efforts paid off. Visitors reported being enthralled by Kiawah’s beauty and the pristine condition of nearly everything they saw. This was particularly noteworthy given the capriciousness of the weather, largely thanks to remnants of a tropical system. Several major overnight storms on Kiawah meant that crews had to be out in the wee hours of the following morning restoring order to areas that were immaculate the night before.

On Tuesday, thunderstorms and lightning caused a couple of suspensions of the practice rounds. During the second, longer one in the afternoon, the evacuation volunteer who was assigned to Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler loaded them into his Mercedes Sprinter and transported them to the Ocean Course clubhouse. The highly sociable driver looked around at the other evacuation vehicles and the drivers sitting in them patiently waiting to return their charges to the course, and thought, the heck with this. He promptly followed his group into the clubhouse where he chatted amiably with the bemused players.

The tournament faced more challenges than weather. Parking was difficult for many attendees. Others had no problems at all with transport, experiencing short waits for buses and easy commutes. One bus rider praised the luxuriousness of an air conditioned bus with plush seating, and said that both the parking and the buses were superior to another PGA tournament he had attended. A banking executive and his son, a home builder, said they enjoyed the bus ride from Freshfields because it allowed them to enjoy the beauty of Kiawah and to arrive at the tournament entrance relaxed and in a good mood.

Eight local children from the DJ Trahan charity for abused children came to the course to follow golfer Charley Hoffman for nine holes during the practice rounds, but because of traffic delays, the children missed half of the round. To compensate, Charley spent some time talking and posing for photos with them and gave each a souvenir ball.

No preparation was sufficient to cope with the combined force of bad weather and traffic volume. Late afternoon on Saturday, the sky turned a foreboding shade of dark grey. Just before 5 p.m., a horn signaled that lightning was in the area, and the tournament halted. Hordes of spectators converged on the bus stops, creating a football-field-sized mass of packed humanity. Attendees reported waits of two hours before boarding a bus. Meanwhile, the skies opened and a heavy downpour drenched the waiting crowd.

Most spectators expected challenges with an event of this size and took things in stride. Traffic leaving the island Saturday evening backed up the length of the Kiawah Island Parkway and down Governors Drive. Two young women returning to Charleston made it to the bus area around 6 p.m. and finally boarded “well after 9 p.m.” They then sloshed through ankle deep mud to reach their car in the Freshfields lot, reaching Charleston at almost midnight. Undaunted, they returned to the tournament on Sunday.

Above each hole towered a leader board with the names and scores of leading contestants. Volunteers on a platform at the board manually changed names and scores as the players moved through the course. After the horn sounded, one young lady climbed onto the abandoned platform at the 18th green to pose for a photo, quickly starting a trend. About an hour after suspension of play, a group of five young adults who had finagled tickets to a corporate box at the 18th green witnessed a commotion out by the leader board. “Some guys” had climbed onto the leader board
and were changing numbers and names, possibly posting their own names. One of the young men was easily identifiable in his bright pink shirt; another wore conspicuous shorts. The group watched as police approached the pranksters, who ignored the police at first, then suddenly sprinted off. The mischief-makers reportedly did not elude officers for long.

One evening a Kiawah resident stopped two young men walking in the rain on the Governors Drive trail. They had tried to board a bus for Freshfields Village but learned there was a wait of several hours. They were in the military and had to report back before midnight, so decided to walk to Freshfields. Realizing their plight, the resident gave them bottles of water, then went out to the street and stopped the next car that came along so the men could catch a ride.

Despite the challenges of traffic, weather and parking, visitors praised Kiawah and tournament organizers:

• The course is beautifully maintained and almost all of the players have seemed to enjoy the challenge. They were amazingly upbeat through the wind and rain!”
• “The world’s best players came to tackle the world’s best course.”
• “Tournament organizers did the best they could, given the logistics of a course with only one way in and out.”
• “It is almost impossible to stage an event the size of the PGA on a two lane road. Still, I am glad that the PGA officials agreed to the challenge.”

One volunteer, a captain at the formidable 17th hole, described “a fabulous experience despite grueling physical challenges,” and warmly praised other captains and the crew of about 70 marshalls.
Sunday weather was as good as Saturday evening was bad, with blue skies and a strong breeze, a fitting final day. While the golf provided the closing drama, for some, the highest drama was on Saturday before the storm. The captain at the 17th hole provided details about a story mentioned in the media:

“I thought that hearing one of the captains from hole #12 on the radio asking what to do about the alligator that had just crawled onto their tee box was way cool, but today we at #17 beat them hands down. After play was suspended, while we were all watching, an alligator leapt out of the lagoon onto the green, grabbed the big CBS microphone and swam off with it. His fellow gator who was swimming nearby came barreling up and attacked, trying to take it away.”

Overall the organizers did a credible job managing traffic and crowds. Lessons learned will be put to good use when discussions turn to future opportunities.