Kiawah weather could make for a trying week for fans

Wednesday August 8th, 2012
Rory McIlroy got some practice in beneath threatening skies Tuesday at Kiawah Island.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- After one day here at the Ocean Course, I'm starting to wonder how this PGA Championship is going to get played.

The sun is out as I'm writing this, but it probably won't be by the time I finish this paragraph. We've had recurring thunder, heavy downpours, breaks of sun, steamy humidity -- in other words, a typical August day here in the South Carolina Low Country, or so I'm told.

There have been at least three suspensions of play during practice rounds. There are ominous thunder clouds in just about every direction. Check the weather forecast, and it looks like the San Diego Chargers' home schedule -- there's a lightning bolt graphic every day.

Not just today, and not just Wednesday and Thursday. Every day through Sunday. As far as the eye can see.

The Ocean Course can handle the rain. It drains like most normal beachfront property. But lightning is another matter. It's dangerous, as the NASCAR tragedy over the weekend proved. And the Ocean Course will be a logistical nightmare if the course needs evacuating. Nightmare? Yes.

Vans and cars are in place to get players and caddies off the course in case of dangerous conditions, but what about the 20,000 or 30,000 fans? It's not like they can dash back to the public parking lot -- it's miles away. Those spectators pay $20 to park and then ride a shuttle bus to the course. If they all want to leave at the same time because of rain and lightning, they'll be standing in line for an hour or two. There aren't enough buses in the entire state of South Carolina to move them immediately.

Am I exaggerating? Not really. In case of bad weather, you can run but you can't hide here. And if we get clear skies, the course will still be relatively inhospitable. There are few trees and very little shade in the August heat, and the nines go out and back. The course is very spread out.

As flawed as it is, the park-and-ride system was the only possibility for tournament organizers. There is effectively only one road that goes to the tip of the island, where the course is. If fans could drive straight to the course, it would result in epic gridlock.

"Just like every championship, there are kinks that we will continue to work out," said Kerry Haig, the PGA's managing director of championships. "If we get a delay for lightning, we will evacuate the golf course and take the spectators back on buses to the parking lot. It's no different than any other venue we play."

It's no different, except for the scale of the crowd and the remoteness of the site.

The weather changed on the fly Tuesday. If it had been an official round, the first group off would've been hard-pressed to get more than an hour's worth of play in by noon. It looks like a start-again, stop-again, start-again kind of week because the forecast calls for similar conditions through the weekend.

How will all this affect the course and attendance?

"The good news is that the course is on sand and dries out very quickly," Haigh said. "We just need a couple of days of nice breeze and drying sun, and we'll be in beautiful shape."

The forecast doesn't call for any such thing but, like forecasts everywhere, you never know.

Will the weather keep fans away? Getting to the course is, to be blunt, an ordeal. Even the media shuttles, which travel directly from a hotel to the course, take at least an hour. Fans have to drive to the public lot, pay $20 to park, and then line up to ride a shuttle to the course. If the skies are threatening, will they really want to arrive at a course where there is so little cover?

The locals are hardy, and they're used to this kind of thing in the summer, and the PGA Championship is a very big deal in these parts. They'll probably still show up.

Let's just hope they have a tournament to watch in between the lightning delays. It could be a long week.


 

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