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US Open in LA turns into a quiet major with limited crowds and tough walk

Viktor Hovland chips to the green on the seventh hole during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Los Angeles Country Club on Friday, June 16, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — This U.S. Open is not to be mistaken as “Golf, But Louder” on so many levels.

Mostly the loud part.

Bringing the second-oldest championship in golf to Los Angeles Country Club — so exclusive that some Angelenos don’t know it’s there — was always going to come with a cost. It’s a small footprint in the rotation of U.S. Open courses, meaning a small crowd compared with the likes of Oakmont or Pinehurst No. 2.

The North course is magnificent, even if it doesn’t look to be a traditional U.S. Open. With a blazing sun in the forecast for the weekend, the players likely will get what they’ve been expecting since they arrived — firm, fast and demanding.

Missing is the noise.

Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick discovered as much when he made his first hole-in-one as a professional on Friday at the par-3 15th hole.

“I wish it would have been louder,” Fitzpatrick said. “I wish it was a few more people. But, yeah, I’m surprised there’s not been as many people out as I thought this week.”

It could be like going to a game at Dodgers Stadium, which has a reputation of fans not arriving until the third inning. The weekend might be a better gauge.

Then again, the USGA allotted only 22,000 tickets, the majority of those going to corporates and club members. The estimate on public sales was around 4,000 of that stash.

That’s the trade-off of going small, with few regrets from the USGA if it means a quality course, such as The Country Club last year in Brookline, Massachusetts, in the Boston suburbs.

“We think about U.S. Opens over a five-year period,” said Mike Whan, the CEO of the USGA. “If you only thought about the U.S. Open every year — like how much revenue you make, what’s the biggest bank — we probably wouldn’t go to smaller footprints. All those we control how many folks get on because the experience would be pretty tough.”

Whan said the USGA determined 22,000 would be the right fit — in hindsight, he said, it could have gone up to 25,000. That might be the case when the U.S. Open returns to LACC in 2039.

“But this isn’t a 35,000 opportunity,” he said.

The numbers, however, aren’t really the issue for this U.S. Open. That’s not what has kept the volume turned down, and it’s especially noticeable at the end. The U.S. Open champion will be crowned on Sunday afternoon, and the question is how many people will be able to say years later, “I was there.”

It’s tight behind and around the 18th. The small grandstand directly behind the 18th green is for special ticket holders. There’s a tiny deck above that for those even more special.

And there’s no room on either side. To the right of the 18th green is the ninth green — they are separated by 22 yards, with the 10th tee in the middle. To the left is the putting green, part of which serves as the first tee and the early portion of the fairway.

What the public gets is a small grandstand with 189 sets to the left of the ninth green. That’s part of a complex that does have 972 seats in a grandstand to the right of the 18th green, more removed than at most courses.

“Given that 1, 9 and 18 all come together in front of the clubhouse with little space between the holes, combined with the slope and barranca, it was very difficult to accommodate a large grandstand,” the USGA said in a statement, anticipating such observations.

The USGA is contemplating a plan to allow spectators to line the 18th fairway well back of the green — think of a British Open, or the Tour Championship when Tiger Woods won in 2018. That can only happen if officials are assured there won’t be a playoff.

It’s not just the area behind and around the 18th. The barranca running through LACC, and a few of the bridges over it, create pinch points that keep the gallery some hundreds of yards from the green.

The route from the eighth green to the ninth tee boxes goes next to the 16th green, and in front of the tee box at the 17th. The crowd has to go around.

There’s that other fact of the massive hospitality structure down the right side of the first fairway, with two smaller marquees. With more tickets sold to the corporate side than the public, it’s convenient to stay in the boxes for much of the day to watch on TV, much like some corporate boxes at football and baseball games.

Big crowds don’t always lead to big noise. Chambers Bay in 2015 and Erin Hills in 2017 were on massive pieces of property, but the fans were so far removed on parts of the course that it was hard for fans to feel part of the action.

It all leads to a quiet U.S. Open compared with others, the trade-off for being at a gem like LACC on the edge of Beverly Hills.

But at least the noise will be from cheers, not from a speaker system playing music.