The Los Angeles U.S. Open Experience
---by Jay Flemma, Golf News Net---
LOS ANGELES, CA – Mark Twain famously quipped, “Tip the world over on its side, and all the loose change ends up in California.” I’ll describe it more succinctly: Weirdsville!
I won’t call California a foreign country, but even though we’re all Americans, they are an entity all their own.
“Kind of like New Yorkers, Jay?” you might ask. “Pot, meet kettle?”
Yes, to an extent. But there’s an unpredictability to California that doesn’t exist in New York City. California: where impossible burgers close out 85% lean beef patties 4&3. California: where you can’t smoke outside. California: where, “Oh, that’s just an earthquake,” is in the daily lexicon.
California: It’s a different world.
It all gets compounded in Los Angeles, compounded exponentially. Let’s start with the airport. Flying in to LAX is a level of Hell even Dante never visited when he wrote the Inferno. Post-Covid airline travel is annoying at best, near-panic inducing at worst anyway, but in my case a 3:00 am wake-up call (ruthless no matter where your destination), a three-hour layover, no food service, and a kid in the middle seat on the six-hour leg from Baltimore to LA keeping me from sleeping weren’t the start my chi and chakras needed.
Things don’t improve upon landing. Rental cars are four miles minimum from the terminal, and cars incessantly delay the shuttle busses so the supposed “five-to-seven-minute ride” is more like 41-44. The delays also mean more people stuffing themselves on the bus along with mountains of luggage so that the shuttles end up looking like those chicken coops that ski areas use to tote people to and from ski areas.
The fights between passengers were the lone bit of amusement to be found between the interminable wait and the crush of people. A car would pull into the clearly marked bus lane, start loading in enough gear for a family of six, lollygagging like there was no one around instead of a maelstrom of bedlam and mayhem at the third-busiest airport in America. Then the screaming match would start.
“GET OUTTA DA WAY YOU’RE BLOCKIN’ THE BUS!”
“OH, BLOW IT OUT YOUR PANTS!
(HONKING AND SHOUTING)
For a hot minute, it sounded an awful lot like New York.
Meanwhile the bus we wanted saw the cluster#$@% and ditched us, pulling past and motoring on to the next terminal.
Rental vehicles were equally flummoxing. “Go through that door and choose any car in section 303,” he said, but though there were six cars there, they all had chalk marks all over them., denoting why they weren’t in use. I went from car to car in a fruitless search, every car had a warning: “Key missing” or “front end damage, do not rent” or “no gas,” so it took another 90 minutes for some to return a car, have it cleaned, and then processed for me to rent.
I guess it’s better than the last time my ski buddy tried renting a car in Boston. When he got in the car and opened the glove box, he found a set of scales, plastic baggies, and a fistful of smoked roaches. “We try harder?” I think not…
And then, of course, there’s LA traffic, worst in America. I used to love calling attorneys in LA during working hours:
“Have I caught you at a bad time, Jill?”
“No this is perfect. I’m in traffic for the next hour.”
“Oh, how far are you going?
“Just eight miles.”
By contrast, this week I’m averaging a much speedier 17 mph driving back and forth between the course and my digs in Manhattan Beach.
Ah, yes, my digs. Pulling in to our condo in Manhattan Beach was a STOP THE PRESSES! Moment.
Finally, here’s the payoff. Two blocks from the beach! Four blocks from downtown Manhattan Beach, a sizzling hotspot day or night. Five-star restaurants with – gasp! Are those reasonable prices??!! Did I just eat a five-star tasting menu from a Nobu spin off for just $50??!! Score!!! Runs along the ocean inn the morning! Writing outside watching the sunset! And getting chatted up by all the would-be actresses and ath-lebrities walking by on the street.
This is my 19th year covering the U.S. Open, with almost as many PGAs, and only two places beat it: 1) the ultra-industrial home with 14-foot ceilings in San Francisco and 2) the biggest boat in the Seattle marina, dwarfing everything around it. I couldn’t resist getting behind the wheel and shouting, “Hey Smells! My dinghy’s bigger than your whole boat! Save me a parking space, I’m coming in!”
Getting to the golf course wasn’t as easy as hoped the first day. Try to find your parking lot. Ha! Just try! Directions sent you all the way around Robin Hood’s hideout, just to get to London. Our lot was beneath a skyscraper. Almost 20 years of majors and I’ve never seen that. And once you park, then there’s the shuttles. When you’re on the bus, you can see the fences hiding the course like medieval castle walls, and then you drive around them…over and over. 20 minutes to go a few hundred yards as the crow flies.
And once you get inside, it’s more of the same: miles and miles and miles of walking for those who have not plunked their fannies down on a grandstand somewhere or $1,700 tickets for air-conditioned hospitality tents.
That’s L.A. for you.
That – along with $17 beers, $7 ice creams, and $37 steak sandwiches at concessions - are tough on spectators, but someone has to pay for all these inflated purses now that the Saudis have overpaid to buy pro golf. Of course, it’s you.
The USGA did a good job of having plenty of crossings, but the terrain of Los Angeles Country Club is severe – wonderful for golf, exhausting to walk around as a spectator.
Still, the golf course is sublime and the golf even better. Records are falling the walls of Jericho, fan favorites are caring up the leaderboard like Beatles hits raced up the charts, and ovations are ringing out everywhere but in LACC member locker rooms.
They’re agonizing over how their beloved course is looking like host of the Quad Cities Open instead of the National Open.
Everyone else, however is in full Rager Mode The energy and fervor of the fans is more than palpable, it’s heartwarming. It’s pretty damn cool when the National Championship is best exemplified by the fans’ love of golf.
Perhaps no one personified that better than PGA superfan Billy Nathan, the real-life Sign Boy, with his effervescent sign-off to a phone call:
“Of course I’m getting up at 5:00 a.m. It’s the U.S. Open; it only comes around once a year.”
So, no matter who takes home the trophy, Los Angeles has been the big winner this week, and so is everyone enjoying the party. This is always a working gig for us journos; when people find out I’m covering the Open and say to me, “Have fun,” I reply that I’ll have fun when the article is done, and my readers like it.
But sometimes, you get to have a little fun by accident. Table at the oldest restaurant in Manhattan beach or maybe some Brazilian churrasco in El Segundo? Invited to a late-night rager in Beverly Hills? Cutie chats you up on the boulevard and then accepts your dinner invitation? Weirdsville? Sounds like my kind of place. And as Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” So, hello, sunny Southern California! Show me what you got.