PGA a stroke of good fortune
KIAWAH ISLAND – The PGA Championship that ended Sunday was a $90 million-plus adrenalin shot to the heart of the recovering economy and local pride.
PGA officials, players, sponsors and media were wowed by the visually stunning seashore Ocean Course, happy enough with turnout and sales.
The Kiawah Island Golf Resort and Roger Warren, its president, are eyeing a 2019 return of the tournament.
Complete coverage at postandcourier.com/pga.
Where it goes from here is up to the Lowcountry and the state.
It comes down to one gnarly problem —the one that has vexed John's and Kiawah islands for the past few years — roads.
Efforts to push the controversial proposed cross-Johns Island Parkway and Interstate 526 extension now are likely to swing with a little more torque.
“There were far too many moments when traffic wasn't good. That's an issue that's out of my hands. It's a community issue. We can't discount it (as a factor to win future tournament consideration). We have to deal with it. We can't avoid it,” Warren said.
“The roadways will need to be improved,” said Brett Sterba, PGA of America championship director.
As the grandstands are dismantled, resort officials and the PGA separately will evaluate successes and failures. The PGA will tell resort officials what it wants fixed. The officials will have to figure out how to do it.
You can guess what the conversation will be about.
The traffic problem was a three-tiered cascade of marbles. The narrow Johns Island roads have gotten much of the finger-pointing, but contributing to the road backups were backups getting in and out of the open field dirt or mud parking behind Freshfields Village – problems that could be exacerbated by a simple foul-up like the shuttle bus that stuck in the mud Sunday and backed-up buses behind it until it could be towed.
In fact, after improvements managing road flow were made during the week, traffic moved smoothly enough Sunday that even people who came at peak hours reported little backup.
“The roadways have run well. The snafus have been in the parking lot,” Capt. Jim Woods of the Charleston County Sheriff's Department said Sunday.
Off-site bus shuttling from a paved location such as the North Charleston Coliseum, “in hindsight would have solved some problems, but it would have been a long way to shuttle people,” Warren said.
On top of that, the single road in and out of the course from shuttle parking exacerbated frustrations. When the course was evacuated Saturday because of thunderstorms, lines massed waiting for buses with people trying to cut their way in and literally being pushed away.
That sort of mass evacuation is a problem for any large sporting event, Warren said, and the sort that really can't be dealt with much better.
For now, the vaunted Ocean Course at Kiawah gets back to its day-to-day operation. Play begins again Wednesday. Prime tee times are booked well in advance, but “if you want to play later in the day, you can,” Warren said.
The idea of a 2019 PGA at Kiawah is “no question, very credible,” he said. “This was a huge benefit to the region. If the community and state want to do this again, we have to come up with a better solution to traffic. If the community finds a way to solve it, we'll be fine.”
The Ocean Course – How can you not like breathtaking ocean-swept dunes, a course where gators snatch television microphones off the greens, or wide-open swales and mounds that could accommodate tens of thousands of spectators without much shoulder-rubbing?
“I didn't know we had a golf course like this in South Carolina.” — James Hunter, Newberry.
Logistics – Despite the problems, the tricky feat of moving tens of thousands of people on and off a relatively remote barrier island was handled pretty well. When a problem arose, an answer usually was found.
“I was worried. I thought, how are they going to do this on Kiawah? One road in and one road out. Are you kidding me? But they're doing it. It's working.” – Terry Kocon, PGA calligrapher.
Tournament ambience – The laid-back Lowcountry beach vibe seemed to permeate the crowd, and most people showed respect for the game and the championship.
“I think they did Carolina proud to have it here.” – Dana McGhee, North Charleston.
Military free pass – Air Force reservist Tim McIver, of Atlanta, has been to three Masters tournaments, but never was waved through the gate after showing his ID.
“Excellent. Put a couple of stars by that.” – McIver.
Shank* (but sweet)
The weather – Fickle summer thunderstorms tormented the tournament, and the Ocean Course's notorious winds rose to near gale-force gusts on Thursday. But the wild wind brought another level of excitement to the event.
Traffic/parking — 'nuff said. Of a few dozen people informally polled Sunday at the course, more complained about the parking than traffic jams.
“Were you here Saturday night? Trying to get out in the mud and the rain?” – John Green, Orlando, Fla.
Water – Lack of free water was a complaint that got louder as more people were treated for heat-related problems. The PGA responded by allowing one unopened bottle, but then required people to tear off the labels if the water wasn't Aquafina. Aquafina bottles sold for $3.
“Yes, it's a sponsor deal. It's naïve to think (it would be) any other way. Very few sporting events, or restaurants, allow people to bring in food or drink. I don't think that was an unreasonable expectation.” – Roger Warren, Kiawah Island Golf Resort president.
Heat and humidity – It was, as any number of people said, what you get in the Lowcountry in the summer, and not nearly as bad as a week earlier, but it was steamy. More people on Sunday complained about heat than traffic issues.
“I don't care where you come from, you can't get used to it.” – Karen Graves, Houston, Texas.
*A shank is a golf shot that squirts sideways rather than going toward the hole.