Editors' Note: On Friday morning, the USGA announced that Thursday ticket holders would be allowed entry on Monday if there is play. The people have spoken!
One of the loveliest things about being a golf fan is that the outdoors is so intrinsic to the experience. Sun at your back, a little breeze in your face, the smell of flowers and fresh-cut grass, the sounds of birds chirping sure beats being crammed into a dark, pungent dump like Madison Square Garden.
The variation of the playing surface is one thing that makes tournament golf so endlessly fascinating. Over the four days, the continuous shifts in the breeze and changes in the speed and firmness of the greens test the players' judgement and patience as well as their skill.
Unfortunately, the first round of this U.S. Open was compromised by the rainy weather and unplayable course conditions. Now there's a bit of a stink about the USGA's decision not to offer refunds or rain checks. It's a bummer of a situation for the fans who made the long journey to Bethpage, but the anger is misplaced. The USGA is not a greedy corporation or wasteful government agency trying to screw the little guy. It is the very soul of golf, run largely by volunteers whose only motivation is to preserve and protect the game we all love.
The USGA conducts more than a dozen national championships. All lose money except for the U.S. Open, four rounds of golf that keep an entire ruling body solvent. There is a good chance that the next three (or four or five) days will be interrupted in some manner by rain delays. If the USGA were to offer a refund to every affected fan it would take a huge financial hit, damaging an organization that supports countless initiatives to help underprivileged kids gain access to the sport, among many other worthwhile programs.
The notion of rain checks is romantic but not practical. Bethpage is already a quagmire of slippery slopes, mud, muck, grabby grass and other potential booby traps. Some 50,000 fans hold tickets for each of the next three days. Add Thursday's 50,000 to these masses and the quality of the spectating experience will be degraded and safety of the gallery imperiled.
Since this Open is being played in the shadow of the hyperbole capital of the world, I wouldn't be surprised if the USGA is prodded by the nasty headlines to rethink its hard-line stance and try to somehow make it up to the first-round spectators. Maybe they could offer Knicks tickets. That's a nice indoor sport.