OAKMONT, Pa. — There are 1,149 green plastic seats in the grandstand to the left of the short par-4 17th hole at Oakmont Country Club. But if you’re fortunate enough to attend the 116th edition of the U.S. Open, you need only concern yourself with one of those seats. It’s on the top-right corner — all the way up, 20 rows deep — and it affords sightlines rivaled by few vantage points in professional golf.
To be fair, there’s not much competition. Golf spectating, it’s no secret, is hard work. FoxSports.com this week ran a lengthy piece headlined “Going to a golf tournament is the most overrated experience in sports.” There’s a kernel of truth in that. Standing five feet from Bubba Watson as he obliterates a drive is exhilarating, but following a featured group — Rory! Rickie! Danny! – for 18 holes across a hilly layout like Oakmont is as about as fun as a Tough Mudder. A tough Tough Mudder.
Which takes us back to that seat. From this holy perch you can see all or parts of not one hole, not two holes, not three holes, but four holes — that’s more than 20 percent of the course, folks! With apologies to the camera operators up in the cherry pickers and the members sipping their Moscow Mules back in the clubhouse, this is best seat in the house at Oakmont.
Unfurled on an incline in front of you is one the game’s great short par 4s. Make that one of the great par 4s, period. From the tippy-tips, this little temptress plays 313 yards, but you’ll see the blue coats set it up shorter this week in an effort to goad players into having a go. All that lies between the tee box and the green are a six-pack of bunkers up the left — one dubbed “Big Mouth” — and around the green five more bunkers paired with some of the juiciest rough on the course. The tee shot, the wedge approaches, all that fun by the green – it’s all right there in front of you.
Now turn 45 degrees to your right. That’s the par-3 16th, a 230-yard bear that used to be shrouded in trees before the club controversially (but sensibly) commenced the Great Tree Removal. The green is deep and accessible but pitches hard left to right. Which explains why during the weekend rounds at the ’07 Open, the 16th parted with just three birdies. Again, it’s all right there in plain view.
Keep pivoting to your right so you’re looking directly over the back of the grandstand. Just to the right of the 16th tee, you’ll see the green at the par-4 15th. The sightlines are partly obstructed by a couple of low-rise scoreboards, but you still have a reasonable look at the action, at least around the green. Chips, putts, bumps, flops — you’ll see them all.
Swivel right again, and there, maybe 50 yards away, is the 18th tee. Flagpoles impede the view, but you’ll have no problem spotting Rory McIlroy or local legend Mike Van Sickle letting one fly. Crane your neck just so and you can peer through the trees backing the 17th green up the 18th fairway. You can even catch a glimpse of the 18th green, where just a few days from now this proud old club will crown its ninth U.S. Open champion.
If you’re fortunate enough to occupy the best seat in the house this week, enjoy the show — and don’t forget your phone. Did we mention the grandstand has complimentary wifi?