Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

The PGA Championship: Tuesday at The Ocean Course

Posted 8/7/2012 6:30:00 PM

For most visitors to this week’s 94th PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, the biggest pre-tournament concern probably was not navigating their way around the longest golf course in major-championship history, or even the prospect of trekking through the course’s sand dunes. Rather, it was getting to the golf course in the first place.

Those who live in the Charleston area know that getting to Kiawah involves a lengthy drive – and that’s just the start. Maneuvering from Kiawah’s front gate to The Ocean Course on the island’s narrow, tree-lined routes might’ve seemed like a potential hassle. In fact, it has turned out to be anything but.

Once spectators arrive at the PGA parking lot behind Freshfield’s shopping center at the island entrance, the rest of their trip to the golf course is a 15-20 minute study in accessibility, thanks to the PGA’s system of buses and on-island shuttles. That’s even more so for the 156 contestants in the PGA Championship field, who are driving Mercedes courtesy cars this week.

And if South Carolina’s trademark heat and humidity become on-course issues, or spectators are dealing with physical handicaps, the tournament is ready with a fleet of golf carts to get people where they need to go.

Start with a fan’s arrival at the Kiawah parking lot. A fleet of 80 buses is waiting to move that fan to the Ocean Course – and not just any buses.

“All our public coaches are air-conditioned, and all have video players,” PGA Championship Director Brett Sterba said. “We show (fans) a 20-minute presentation that showcases Kiawah, Charleston and the PGA of America’s programs, such as Get Golf Ready and Tee It Forward,” initiatives to help beginners and to encourage playing from correct tee boxes, respectively.

The video, which changes daily, features such golf celebrities as Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, defending PGA Champion Keegan Bradley and others. Even Charleston’s own Darius Rucker, former lead singer for Hootie & The Blowfish, makes an appearance to welcome fans to 2012’s final major. Also, features from WCSC-TV, the local CBS affiliate, update fans with previous day’s highlights, weather forecasts and other helpful information.

For spectators staying on Kiawah Island, another 30 buses are traveling three on-island routes (labeled Red, Yellow and Blue) to the golf course, their purpose being to keep on-island vehicles to a minimum and speed up travel, as well as for visitors’ convenience. The 23 posted stops, as well a downloadable map of the routes, can be found at www.pga2012.com under “Parking and Transportation.”

“What we’ve found out these first two days,” Sterba said, “is our on-island ridership is about 20 percent greater than we expected.” A 2011 survey of 8,000 ticket-holders indicated 25 percent of those fans would stay on-island; in fact, Sterba said, the number to date is 27-30 percent. In total, buses will carry an estimated 200,000 fans over seven days of the tournament week.

The obvious exceptions to the bus riders will be the PGA Tour players. For them, Contestants Transportation chairman Scott Ammon said, the tournament has 250 Mercedes vehicles – as of Monday night, all but 27 had been picked up, Ammon said. That’s one per each of the 156 contestants, plus cars for PGA of America VIPs, for emergency evacuation use, and 30 cars used to provide a players’ families taxi service.

“If, say, Phil (Mickelson) has his car and (wife) Amy wants to go to Charleston to shop, we’ll take her there and pick her up,” Ammon, head professional at Kiawah’s Oak Point course, said with a laugh. “Or if she has the car and he calls us to take him to the golf course, we’ll do that, too.”

A total of 250 volunteers will be available, on Friday after the 36-hole cut and again after Sunday’s final round, to pick up players’ vehicles and return them to Charleston’s airport.

What about on the golf course? Teresa Keller heads up the ADA Shuttle committee, which includes 37 volunteers working 147 shifts this week from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. each day. Their jobs will be to assist physically handicapped spectators, the elderly and others needing assistance to get around. When a few fans physically over-extended themselves in Monday’s humidity, Keller’s crew was there to provide help.

“We have four-passenger golf carts based at the PGA Village, the clubhouse and at the tournament entrance,” as well as the 18th green and the driving range, Keller said. “We help anyone using walkers, canes and the like. We’ll also help handicapped folks get to their seats.”

Medical personnel, located at holes No. 7 and 12 as well as a central location, have their own carts for emergencies. Keller’s staff – connected with medical personnel by radio – will be able to transport family members of those being treated. “Or if someone just can’t walk all the way to the entrance, or if they have kids, if they’re tired, we’ll take them,” she said.

Bottom line: It might be hot and humid, sandy and tiring walking The Ocean Course this week, but getting there, and even getting around the course in most cases, won’t be a problem – not if Sterba, Keller, Ammon and Co. have anything to do with it.