LOS ANGELES — The crowds at Los Angeles Country Club have felt somewhat sparse this week.
While the gallery has filled up for the biggest groups for parts of the U.S. Open, many areas of the course have both looked and felt quiet and empty.
Just about everyone outside of the biggest groups have struggled to draw a normal following from the gallery. Even the marquee pairings have had quiet stretches on the golf course, like on the 13th hole near the old Playboy mansion, where very few fans appear to be making the trek.
The lack of fans, and therefore lack of a traditional major atmosphere, isn’t sitting well with some golfers, either.
“Very poor … It’s disappointing on the USGA side,” defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick told Barstool Sports’ Dan Rapaport after his round Saturday. “They want a great tournament. From what I’ve heard, a lot of members bought tickets and that’s why there’s so many less people. Hopefully it’s not the same for other U.S. Opens going forward.”
Fitzpatrick later walked that back slightly, and said he wasn’t criticizing the USGA specifically. But his point wasn’t lost, and he wasn’t alone in making it. Fans watching at home have been voicing their displeasure with how it’s looked on TV for about the entire tournament.
“Their decibel [was] just higher than ours is out here,” Max Homa said earlier this week, comparing the crowds from last year’s tournament at The Country Club in Massachusetts to this year’s on the other side of the country.
Fitzpatrick was even shocked with the reaction after he hit a hole-in-one on Friday, which drew one of the loudest roars of the tournament.
“I wish it would have been louder,” Fitzpatrick said after Friday’s round. “I wish it was a few more people. But, yeah, I’m surprised there’s not been as many people out as I thought this week.”
The only notable golfer who truly praised the crowds at Los Angeles Country Club was Scottie Scheffler, who said he only knew his wild 197-yard eagle hole-out at the end of the third round Saturday went in was because of the “nice crowd” that erupted behind the green.
The USGA was behind ticket sales for the first time ever at the U.S. Open — and major event, period — at the secretive country club tucked away near Beverly Hills. USGA president Mike Wahn said they could have sold almost double the amount of tickets that they did each day, but that they opted not to on purpose.
“We have to find the right balance of bigness, right, in terms of where we play it, how we televise it, how many people we let on this golf course,” Wahn said Wednesday. “We could’ve sold 40,000 tickets a day but we sold 22,000 to make sure the experience here is still a quality experience for those that get on the golf course.”
But that doesn’t mean 22,000 tickets for the general public. The USGA, per The Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson, allotted most of those tickets to corporate sponsors, club members and hospitality areas. Only about 9,000 tickets per day were slotted for general admission. That’s led to skyrocketing ticket prices on the resale market, too. As of Sunday morning, tickets were going for more than $300 to simply get onto the course.
The USGA said in a brief statement on Sunday morning that it works “with our host site to determine onsite access and availability of tickets.”
While it’d be easy to simply blame a smaller number of fans for the issue, part of the problem is how the course is actually set up — which isn’t the USGA’s fault. The course is very tight, and there are a number of greens and tee boxes that are almost on top of each other.
For example, the No. 1 and No. 10 tees are right next to the clubhouse, situated around the No. 9 and No. 18 greens. The ninth green is just steps away from the 10th tee box. Getting fans to that area is nearly impossible with the way it’s situated, too.
The clubhouse area is blocked off for members and VIP guests, and a massive, often empty hospitality tent lines the right side of the first fairway. There is a small grandstand that fits just less than 1,000 people along the end of the 18th fairway, and a smaller one for members behind the 18th green, but that’s about it. In order to see the first tee or the final green, fans are stuck watching from 100 yards down the fairway or so — which is way too far to comfortably see what’s going on.
“Given that 1, 9 and 18 all come together in front of the clubhouse with little space between the holes, combined with the slope and barranca, it was very difficult to accommodate a large grandstand,” the USGA said in a statement, via The Associated Press.
Though this U.S. Open has felt unique, it’s not taking away from the golf itself. Rickie Fowler holds a share of the lead with Wyndham Clark entering Sunday’s final round, which would mark his first major championship win and a huge resurgence for the fan favorite. Rory McIlroy, who hasn’t won a major championship in almost a decade, is just a shot back.
But the vibes, for better or for worse, are undoubtedly different around the course.