The U.S. Open is underway at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, and back in Los Angeles an entire city waits with bated breath for its turn to finally play host to golf’s national championship. OK, maybe not really, but it’s still worth examining why the event hasn’t been played in the country’s second-largest market in over 60 years.
Don’t get me wrong, Pinehurst No. 2 is a worthy, historical venue that has previously hosted four major championships (three U.S. Open’s and one PGA Championship), not to mention a Ryder Cup and a U.S. Amateur championship. Granted the latter two, although great golf events, aren’t nearly the same logistical undertaking.
It’s simply hard to fathom a big rotational sporting event — in this case major golf tournament — without L.A. occasionally playing host. In the case of the U.S. Open, it’s been able to capture metropolitan New York City with Bethpage, Chicago with Olympia Fields, Philadelphia with Merion, Washington D.C. with Congressional and San Francisco with The Olympic Club.
Yet for all its merits, L.A. continues to be overlooked by the USGA. So let’s consider the factors why the city of angels is consistently on the outside looking in when it comes to hosting the U.S. Open.
The USGA doesn’t have an issue with selling tickets, as this year’s U.S. Open marks the 28th straight sell out of the event. So any sales bump expected from hosting the event in the country’s second most populous city wouldn’t resonate with the USGA. But would the secondary ticket market and overall tournament buzz receive a boost with a U.S. Open in Los Angeles? It should. With an oft-injured and aging Tiger Woods, the USGA may very well need to pump some life into the event soon. Jordan Spieth is a tremendous talent, but there’s not a transcendent player anywhere on the horizon. In theory, the USGA could leverage Hollywood to sell the game to existing and potential golfers.
When it comes to corporate spending, the USGA is just fine without Los Angeles. In golf, the corporate dollar will travel and given its country club demographic, it’s not contingent on seeking out a specific market with big spenders. The USGA is able to attract high-end corporate sponsors in the less desirable markets where its events are often hosted. Still, as with everything in Los Angeles, the prices would go up and the USGA could tap into new corporate clients that might not be present in rural North Carolina.
The conversation starts and ends here, as this is the major roadblock between Los Angeles and a U.S. Open. Pinehurst, a public resort, is a prototypical U.S. Open site that is fully capable of welcoming the full array of corporate and fan accommodations, in addition to the expected 55,000 daily spectators on its grounds. Unlike the cozy confines of last year’s U.S. Open at Merion in suburban Philadelphia, Pinehurst Resort’s property spans a total of eight golf courses. The USGA made Merion work, but it was probably a major headache to find the necessary space to host seating, concessions, retail space, parking and all of the other amenities of a modern U.S. Open on the course’s comparatively small footprint. That’s why it took the event so many years to return to such a historic venue.
The same issues remain in Los Angeles, particularly with the area’s best private courses. There’s simply not a public course in greater Los Angeles capable of hosting the U.S. Open, making that a non-starter. As far as private courses go, Riviera Country Club would probably have the best shot at hosting a U.S. Open.
Riviera has the major championship pedigree — having hosting a U.S. Open in 1948 and two PGA Championships, most recently in 1995. The club maintains a longstanding relationship with the PGA Tour as the site of the Northern Trust Open (formerly L.A. Open), one of the most prominent tournaments on the PGA Tour’s west coast swing. However, hosting a Tour stop in February is a far cry from hosting golf’s national championship.
The PGA Tour doesn’t release tournament attendance figures, but according to the outgoing Northern Trust Open general manager, the 2014 event hosted 50,000 spectators for the week. The USGA begrudgingly caps a small U.S. Open site like Merion to 25,000 daily spectators, while a large venue like Bethpage Black has hosted over 60,000 a day. Riviera would be bursting at the seams with that amount of spectators, not to mention the issues that come with trying to traffic that many people in and out of that area — or any area — of Los Angeles.
The situation with the USGA selecting U.S. Open sites is not unlike the NFL selecting a host site for the Super Bowl. That event continues to be hosted in the tried and true cities with accommodating venues – New Orleans, Tampa, Houston, Phoenix – not to mention New York, Dallas and Indianapolis with their recently built facilities. Rarely does the NFL stray from its blueprint with the Super Bowl, except in the recent instance with Minneapolis, which will soon unveil a sparkling new facility designed to lure such events. Maybe in this case all Los Angeles needs is to design a brand new championship golf course?
The USGA will come to Riviera for the U.S. Amateur in 2017, which is a nice start, but the question remains whether it will ever entrust any course in Los Angeles with its crown jewel event.