My First Tour Stop: Walking the Grounds at The Barclays

September 1, 2015
day walk.jpg

At 8:20 a.m. on a hot, hazy August Sunday, J.B. Holmes and Russell Henley were introduced to a crowd of tens by a mustachioed tournament host in a dark suit before teeing off for the final round of The Barclays. Not a single spectator claimed to see where either player’s drive landed after flying against the pale white morning sky. Lee Westwood, half of the second pairing, received reverent applause as he approached the opening tee. Patrick Reed, in the third pairing, lamented the previous day’s loss by the Little League World Series team from his native Texas with a fan in the front row.

Such is the atmosphere for the early pairings on a morning like today, a tournament with money and little else at stake, with some of the sport’s most famous competitors either missing the cut (Jordan Spieth), failing to qualify (Tiger Woods) or treating an injury (Rory McIlroy). Jason Day’s late afternoon victory felt inevitable.

Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J., features a serpentine front nine that leaves spectators walking nearly in circles to follow the players, but it also features viewing areas of multiple greens and tees with minimal effort. From a single spot on the right side of the first fairway, viewers can see the greens on 1, 6 and 8—plus the tee box on 7—by moving only a few steps. The back nine opens up after the 148-yard 11th hole, basically a closest-to-pin contest on a long, sloping green in front of a small grandstand of fawning spectators, several convinced they’ll be hit by a ball soon.

Following any earlier pairing through the “Tunnel” on Nos. 13-15 leaves the viewer essentially alone with the players and their caddies. There were no cameras following pairs like the one comprising Paul Casey and Troy Merritt as they maneuvered the far corner of the course, each totaling par over the three holes in front of less than a half-dozen onlookers. The chatter with their caddies and each other was easily audible through the Tunnel, only interrupted by food trucks opening near the 15th green. It’s a shame the second of Brian Harman’s incredible holes-in-one came on 14, where it is doubtful many spectators bore witness.

The broadcast couldn’t do justice to the terrain of the course. While CBS’s HD cameras accurately depicted the spotless greens and broad, rolling fairways, it is difficult to overstate the number of blind tee shots, crater-like bunkers and steep, cruel greens toying with the minds of players and caddies. The bunker on 5 was so confusing that a clandestine search party was formed to find Holmes’ ball, which was directly in front of him. Four is simply a giant hill with the green at the top. Even on 11, the fan-friendly landing pad, the green is so convex upward it looks like a massive, grassy contact lens with the front side pressed down. The rough all around the course is so deep that certain areas never felt fully dry from the previous night’s watering. Spectators have to watch nearly every step they take at Plainfield Country Club.

While loud ovations could be heard at random throughout the course—especially for Harman’s hole-in-one on 3 in front of a set of bleachers—much of the buzz was on the tournament’s most infamous guest. Only Donald Trump could make regular Wayne Gretzky sightings seem like an afterthought, but Trump stole the show. Wandering the course with an entourage larger than even Day or Bubba Watson’s, he was a distraction unto himself. As one of his final acts before deserting the property, a young lady interrupted Trump in his haste to depart and asked for a photo. Trump looked her over, said “Can’t turn that down,” and smiled for the camera. With that, he was gone.

As the tournament wound down and Day completed his demolition of the field, the crowd grew to a swell at the 18th green. A fruitless line formed to enter the bleachers and spectators lined up nearly 15-deep to watch the sport’s hottest player clinch his fourth Tour victory of the year, the FedEx Cup Playoffs points lead and a nearly $1.5 million prize. Day threw his ball into the crowd and kissed his son Dash as fans hit the exits.

Day’s victory on the harsh terrain capped a good walk, not spoiled.