UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — If you’re headed down to University Place this weekend to watch the world’s best golfers duke it out at Chambers Bay, there are few tech-related tips we’ve come up with after spending some time at the course these past few days.
The 115th U.S. Open officially kicked off on Thursday with first round play and runs through Sunday. More than 30,000 people are expected to attend each day, and for the first time in history, the USGA is allowing patrons to bring their smartphones on the course.
Given that a majority of people own a smartphone, this policy change can certainly help improve the fan experience. Read on for our smartphone-related tips at the U.S. Open and more:
1. Download the official U.S. Open app
The USGA partnered with IBM to develop its own app for the annual tournament after “our fans were requesting access to their loved ones and outside world during the championship,” Janeen Driscoll, Director of Public Relations for the USGA, told GeekWire earlier this month.
The app is packed with a bunch of neat features, but perhaps most useful is the “player locator,” which shows fans which golfers are playing on what hole thanks to new laser position technology and volunteers spread around Chambers Bay. We tested it out on the course Thursday and noticed a few delays, but for the most part, it’s a nice way to figure out who’s playing where.
There’s also an interactive course map on the app that shows fans where the concession stands, Wi-Fi zones, grandstands, merchandise tents, first aid stations, and more are located. However, I found that the larger, old-school paper map was easier and more simple use.
2. Access WiFi
Given the new smartphone policy — devices larger than 7 inches in length and/or height aren’t allowed, by the way — the USGA built a WiFi network at Chambers Bay.
There are also four designated “WiFi zones” around the course, mostly near the entrance and around corporate tents. In our tests, the WiFi connection was strong within these zones and even worked on some holes.
The USGA says that phone calls must be received or placed only in these zones, however, we saw numerous people on their phone elsewhere.
On that note, the USGA does not allow spectators to take photos or video from Thursday through Sunday. Unsurprisingly, we saw many people taking photos on the course regardless.
As far as network connectivity goes, I had no problems with T-Mobile. My colleague John Cook, an AT&T customer, noticed some spotty signals around the course. Most of the big networks added extra capacity to nearby cell sites and set up portable cell towers in preparation for the U.S. Open.
3. Stay juiced
Since it’s tough to find an outlet, we recommend bringing a small portable charger for those that expect to be using their smartphones on the course. For those in desperate need of a charge, IBM does have a charging station near the main entrance with 24 locked slots available.
4. Portable radios
If you like listening to play-by-play radio commentators while watching the action in person, head over to the American Express tent near the main entrance, where the company is giving out small portable radios. However, you’ll need to show your American Express card to receive the device, or head to the sixth hole between 10 and 11 a.m.:
Spectator Tip: You can get the American Express Golf Radio at the 6th hole even if you don't have a Amex card between 10-11am. #ChambersBay
— Play Chambers Bay (@playchambersbay) June 19, 2015
5. Bring binoculars
So binocs aren’t the most advanced piece of technology available today, but they will surely help you at this particular U.S. Open. Given the layout of Chambers Bay, the massive amount of people, and how the USGA placed the ropes, it’s difficult to find a good spot to see the golfers up close. Binoculars can surely help out in this case.
What's disappointing about @usopengolf is the fans not being about to walk around the course/get close enough to most of the greens to cheer
— Billy Horschel (@BillyHo_Golf) June 19, 2015
Getting to and from any big sporting event can be a pain. For this U.S. Open, general spectators must drive to one of two designated lots and then hop on a shuttle that can take anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes, depending on traffic.
For smartphone owners, Uber is an alternate option. There is a designated pick-up and drop-off zone for taxis and limos at the Sunset Primary School, which is about a 5-to-10 minute walk from Gate 2 at the north end of Chambers Bay. If you take an Uber, this is where you will be dropped off or picked up.
— Uber Washington (@Uber_WA) June 19, 2015
The ride-hailing company also partnered with Lexus to offer free rides. Also, given the amount of people requesting rides, don’t be surprised if you’re paying a bit extra with surge pricing.
The U.S. Open app can help you keep up with all the action around the course, but Twitter may be even better. Check out the hashtags #USOpen, #USOpen2015, and #USOpenChambersBay. Here are a few accounts to track, too: Bob Harig, Jason Sobel, Ron Sirak, Shane Bacon, Stephanie Wei, Alan Shipnuck, Dan Jenkins, Geoff Shackelford, and Doug Ferguson, among others.
8. Get off your phone
This is somewhat ironic, but here’s to hoping your head isn’t buried in your smartphone for the entire tournament. The U.S. Open app is nice and helpful at times, but if you have the awesome opportunity to watch the tournament in person, I’d recommend keeping the smartphone use to a minimum. Chambers Bay is a beautiful course and you’ve got the world’s best golfers right in front of you — enjoy it!