ERIN, Wis. – So, you got your ticket, parked your car miles from the site, went through security, rode a bus and walked through the front gates at the U.S. Open.
You made it to Erin Hills.
Now, how do you actually watch the golf?
Everyone tackles it in their own way.
Some are sitters, parking by one hole. Others are walkers, going to the parts of the course that are farthest away from the clubhouse, to get away from the crowds and closer to the golfers.
And then there are the followers, who with thousands of others, just have to get a glimpse of the big stars and tournament leaders.
On Friday, 35,000 spectators made their way along the Erin Hills course. The fans gathered in bleachers, pressed up against ropes and perched on ridge lines like birds on trees.
Well, on this course, there are only a handful of trees.
Tom Graham, a 75-year-old Marquette University graduate who lives in Orlando, found some shade beneath an old oak tree overlooking the 17th fairway. As he lay in the thick grass, he texted his son to meet him in the shade.
“It’s the best place in the house,” Graham said. “This place wore me out.”
Last year, Graham and his son did a scouting trip of Erin Hills on the way to the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Course in Minnesota. They also detoured to visit Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
“We looked at the course,” Graham said of last year’s trip. “If I would have walked it, I’m not sure I would have come back.”
The whole day was a hike. But not just any hike. Up and down steep hills on thick grass pressed down and turned slick. Plenty of people did a slow slide.
“This is hard to navigate,” Graham said. “But it’s a beautiful place. And it’s just so spacious.”
Shawn Groshek, a high school athletic director from Nekoosa, and Steve Fisher, a middle school teacher from Elkhorn, rested for a few moments in the shade.
“You either have to know the course to follow your player or pick a spot and see who can hit the best shot,” said Groshek.
Let’s just say Groshek is a bit of a golf addict. He plays, caddies and even works in course maintenance.
How do you watch the ball in flight? Well, that’s up to the weather, Groshek said.
“It was a struggle when we had overcast skies early,” he said. “You couldn’t catch the ball.”
But when the skies cleared, it was a different story, with golf balls lofted high in the air and clear to the naked eye.
“With blue skies, it’s simple,” he said.
The Krueger family of Mukwonago likes to get away from the crowds. So Brian and Susan and their son Eric did what they always do at a golf tournament: They planned to traverse the course in a reverse fashion, from the 18th hole to the first.
“I’m a walker,” said Susan Krueger, a retired school teacher.
The family played Erin Hills a couple of years back and Susan Krueger recalled with a laugh that a caddie told them some people who arrive at the course are surprised that it’s walking-only. A few turn right around and head back to the parking lot, she said.
There may be charm in walking while playing. But when there are thousands of spectators doing the hoofing, well, there can be traffic jams as people wait patiently — OK, sometimes not so patiently — to cross the fairways.
Kevin Ackeret, who runs a floor-covering business in Milwaukee, came to the second round with a golf umbrella, armless folding chairs for him and his 17-year-old son and a pocketful of money.
“We’re eating and drinking out here today,” he said, overlooking the 15th green, snug in his chair.
His son had wandered off to see other players.
But Ackeret was staying put.
“I’m 53 years old,” he said. “I have to sit.”
(Bill Glauber writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)