Gee Smith walked out of his front door this morning to watch the first round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. By the end of the day, he might be in his basement with a few hundred other fans.
“I don’t know if we have enough room for everybody, but we’ll do what we can do,” said Smith, 50, a Merion member who retired after working in private wealth management for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) “If you get tornadoes, it’s going to be a problem.”
The U.S. Golf Association suspended play at 8:36 a.m. at the course just west of Philadelphia as severe storms approached. Play resumed at 12:10 p.m. Forecasters posted a flood watch across eastern Pennsylvania and much of New Jersey because one to three inches of rain may fall on ground already soaked by as much as six inches this week.
Today’s storms are capable of producing high winds, hail and possibly a severe windstorm known as a derecho -- a rare event characterized by winds of at least 58 miles per hour (93 kilometers per hour) creating a line of damage at least 240 miles long.
Merion’s championship course has many temporary structures for the event, such as concession and media tents, that may be tested by high winds.
The 24,000-square-foot merchandise tent, filled with gear sporting the course’s logo, was jammed with thousands of spectators after play was stopped and thunder and lightning rolled into the area. The store sold out of umbrellas on Monday when the rains first came to the area; it’s restocked for now.
“We’ll probably go through that today as well,” Mary Lopuszynski, senior director of U.S. Open Merchandise, said in an interview while managing the line to get in. “Ponchos sales have been steady all week.”
Today, she was more concerned about making sure everyone found shelter than she was about driving sales, she said.
“It’s not about shopping,” she said. “It’s just about making sure people are safe. That’s really the priority right now.”
Lopuszynski said she feels the tent is sturdy enough to withstand a windstorm, having endured severe weather events at past tournaments while using the same tent company.
“When there’s danger, lightning, that sort of thing, you have to make sure people are safe,” she said.
Fans holding tickets for today’s round have already been hit with bad luck.
Renee Gosik, 55, came out to the course with her two brothers, a brother-in-law and nephew in an attempt to see as much golf as possible before the severe storms hit.
“We’re just going to ride it out,” Gosik said. “I know somebody who lives off of the 8th fairway, so we’re just going to make our way over there.”
Gosik was standing alongside the 15th hole, watching a four-time major winner Phil Mickelson make par. Across the fairway, 2012 Masters Tournament winner Bubba Watson was making a bogey on the 16th hole.
Gosik, who had a raincoat tied around her waist and was carrying two umbrellas, only had a ticket for today’s opening round.
“This is it,” she said. “It’s too bad I didn’t have this weather forecast a year ago when I bought the ticket.”
Other spectators who had been planning their visit even longer were using the event as a reason to get together with friends and family.
Joe Young, a 28-year-old account manager with a New York-based advertising agency, was enjoying the first day of a weekend-long bachelor party for his September wedding. He arrived at the course early in the morning along with his father and three college friends. The best man in his wedding had flown overnight from St. Louis and was only able to sneak in two hours of sleep.
The group had watched about 90 minutes of golf before play was suspended.
“We’re just trying to get as much golf in as we can and enjoy it,” said Young, who wore rubber boots, rain pants, a jacket and carried an umbrella. “This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”
Most fans who didn’t take trains or buses to the tournament will have to take a shuttle bus to one of the parking lots scattered around the area. They then will be faced with suburban streets jammed with golf fans trying to get home.
Smith, the retired Goldman wealth manager and Merion member, didn’t have that issue when he was watching play before the golfers were called in.
“We live about three houses down,” he said, “So we can just walk home and come right back.”
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