On Grand Strand Golf: PGA Championship officials tackle troublesome traffic hurdle

ablondin@thesunnews.comJuly 2, 2012 

The 94th PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course is just five weeks away, and the PGA of America knows it will have the world’s best players, sold out crowds and a stunning venue to showcase.

What tournament organizers also hope and apparently believe they have is a viable plan to routinely get up to 30,000 spectators, volunteers and media members – a total of up to 210,000 people over the course of a week – on and off the course without a debacle.

The travel and spectator logistics have been considered one of the great hurdles to the Ocean Course hosting a major championship, and is likely the reason it hasn’t hosted a PGA Tour major up to now since its opening in 1991.

The issues are the course’s terrain and remote location. The sand dunes that surround many holes can be difficult for spectators to traverse, and the layout is on the far end of the island. The only road to the island is four lanes, and the course is still several miles down a narrow two-lane road once inside Kiawah Island’s gates. There are also few parking lots in the area.

While some other major venues have been able to accommodate 50,000 spectators, the PGA has limited ticket sales and spent two years creating a Traffic and Parking Plan.

The plan was drawn up and recently announced by the PGA Traffic and Safety Committee, which is comprised of 35 state, county and local officials.

“We’ve known from the beginning the logistical challenges we face getting people to and from the golf course,” said Roger Warren, General Chairman of the tournament and former Kiawah Resort president. “We have what we think is a very effective method to direct people where they should go and get them in and get them out.

“We’ve gone through a lot of planning, and I think we have a great plan and we’ll execute it. We want the story of this event to be the great play of the players and nothing else.”

Deputies in uniform will be posted at critical intersections on roads to and from Kiawah Island, roving patrols on motorcycles will respond to traffic incidents along the travel routes, tow trucks will be on standby at multiple locations, and trash and recycling collection times will be adjusted.

Public parking will be located behind the Freshfields Village Shopping Center between Kiawah and Seabrook Islands at a cost of $10 per vehicle if purchased before July 15 and $20 thereafter. Warren said enough acreage was cleared to park between 10,000 and 12,000 vehicles.

The PGA optimistically estimates delays of only 10 to 20 minutes during anticipated heavy traffic times between 7-11 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., and says the motor coach ride to the course will take only 20 minutes. The PGA will try to have all players staying on the island to avoid commuting issues.

Spectators are encouraged to use one of two travel routes to public parking: one from the South and West includes U.S. 17 to Main Road/Bohicket Road, and one from the North includes Maybank Highway to River Road to Betsy Kerrison Parkway.

Additional details and travel routes can be found at www.PGA2012.com/PGAParking.

“It’s our hope that, in years to come, people will continue to talk about the PGA Championship as a well-planned, memorable event,” Warren said.

Bunker rule undecided

The PGA Championship rules committee will visit the course a couple weeks before the Aug. 9 opening round to determine its policy on bunkers at the Ocean Course.

For the 1991 Ryder Cup, 2007 Senior PGA Championship and 2005 PGA Club Pro Championship, the PGA defined all sand on the Ocean Course as waste areas where players could ground their clubs, and 2012 PGA Championship director Brett Sterba believes the policy will be similar this year.

But the PGA and course designer Pete Dye have been discussing having some greenside bunkers play as traditional bunkers where clubs can’t be grounded.

The PGA wants to avoid the controversy at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where Dustin Johnson missed a playoff because he was penalized two strokes on the 72nd hole for grounding his club in a loosely defined bunker with spectators standing in it.

Whatever the policy, Warren said it “will be determined and will be clearly defined for all the players … which I know they will appreciate.”

Players in the 2007 Senior PGA Championship had issues with balls plugging in steep greenside bunker faces, so the higher portions of many bunkers were filled in and sodded with Paspalum grass.

“We did alter those faces and we have sodded them with Paspalum in the attempt that if you hit it in that area it will roll down the face and go down to the bottom of the waste area or bunker,” Warren said.

Coming off a U.S. Open at Olympic Club in which winner Webb Simpson was over par, the Ocean Course could produce similar scores. It can be stretched to a ridiculous 7,800 yards and can be brutal if a strong wind is coming off the Atlantic Ocean.

“This course is going to be spectacular,” said defending champion Keegan Bradley, who played the course for the first time in March. “I heard it was really hard, and they were right. It’s brutal. It’s fair, which is nice, but it’s going to be tough.

“If the wind blows I think the winning score could be over par. Though I’m not sure what the greens are going to be like and the rough is going to be like. But it’s going to be challenging no matter what the weather.”

NGA Tour experimenting

The first of four two-day, 36-hole tournaments on the Grand Strand-based NGA Tour’s Carolina Summer Series will conclude Tuesday at Aberdeen Country Club.

They are the first two-day tournaments in tour history, and each event has a guaranteed $5,000 first place check. Earnings count on both the Carolina Series and national Pro Series money lists.

The remaining tournaments are Thursday and Friday at Long Bay Club, next Monday and Tuesday at Rivers Edge Golf Club, and July 12-13 at Crow Creek Golf Club.

The entry deadline for the next event has passed, and entry deadlines for the last two events are 5 p.m. Friday and next Monday, respectively. Events are $600 for tour members and amateurs and $800 for non-members.

Justin Lower of Ohio leads the tournament at Aberdeen by two strokes over Evan Phillips of Lexington after a 65 Monday. Joe Young of Cochran, Ga., is third after a 68, Yoshio Yamamoto of Myrtle Beach is tied for 10th after a 71 and Roberto Diaz of Myrtle Beach is tied for 18th after a 74 in the 33-player event.

Lowcountry Open set

The Lowcountry Open two-man best ball tournament will be held July 28-29 at the Founders Club at Pawleys Island.

The entry fee of just $100 per player includes two rounds, prizes, food and a tournament gift. There are open and senior (55-and-over) age divisions, and net and gross format divisions. Only teams with verified USGA handicaps can compete in net division. The entry deadline is 5 p.m. July 20.

Tee times begin at 9 a.m., and practice rounds are available from July 25-27 for $30. Interested players can call Founders Club pro Rick Taylor at 843-237-2299.

Norman student excelling

Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy student Gonzalo Martinez is having an impressive spring and summer season. The native of Mexico City, Mexico, has a sizable lead on the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour points list with 4,400 points, which is 950 more than second place.

His two victories have come in the Hilton Head National Junior Classic, where he shot 69 and 74 in cold and windy conditions, and IMG Country Club Junior Classic, where he was the only player to post two under-par rounds with a 70 and 69. He has five top-five finishes in nine starts and leads the tour in birdies and scoring average.

He is entering his senior year at the GNCGA, where his instructor is Chad Gibbs and he’s been a student since the age of 14.

The Hurricane Tour, created in 2008 and based in Jacksonville, Fla., holds tournaments across the Southeast and is scheduled to return to the Strand for the Sept. 29-30 Myrtle Beach Junior Challenge on the Myrtle Beach National Golf Club West Course.

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, go to MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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