At the last minute, I was invited to the Friday session of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. As someone who grew up working the grounds at the local country club, graduating to caddy, and who would sneak out after shifts to play on the back nines during twilight hours, this was a once-in-a-lifetime treat for me. The sport of golf doesn’t always inspire others with its perception (George Carlin remarked that golf courses were one of the most inefficient uses of land), and while the game is changing, at its core it is, I can assure you, a great game.
I wasn’t able to take pictures from the Olympic Club, as the tournament operators basically take your phone before you’re even near the grounds. For 6 hours that day, I roamed around acres of gorgeous, rocky, hilly property, hugging the Pacific and overlooking much of San Francisco — without ever looking at Twitter. I walked around a few holes but mostly planted myself at one approach near the clubhouse to see all the pros hit their third (or second) shots ont the green. While I prefer to watch professional golf on TV, being on the ground level where a pro threads a 220-yard iron within 20 feet of a hole offers an experience even HDTV cannot capture.
There were some aspects of the tournament that were surprising to me. I’d capture it with the term “Corporate Hospitality.” As you can imagine, there’s a lot of money invested in and generated from the U.S. Open. Certain segments of golf fans have disposable income and love garb. The merchandising pavilion would put even the most innovative pop-up stores to shame. Professional golf serves as the perfect vehicle for certain companies to promote their brand, whether in corporate suites, souvenirs, clothing, and even the golfers themselves. No ad space is left blank, yet for the most part, it’s tastefully done.
I don’t carry any ill will toward the corporate side of golf, but I did grow up playing a bit differently, and since I haven’t played consistently for a while, walking this magical course for a day with some good friends and without the distraction of my phone brought back a flood of memories, of waking up in the dark to start caddying, of working the grounds into the grueling hot midafternoon hours, of taking a bucket of balls from 5-7pm into twilight, trying just to hit one out of 100 approach shots perfectly.