There are no indications for commuters heading out of downtown Charleston and crossing the Wappoo Cut Bridge that the most important women's golf tournament in the world is just a couple of good golf shots and four weeks away.
But make that turn onto Country Club Drive and reality smacks you in the face. Scattered around the grounds of the Country Club of Charleston are workers quietly erecting bleachers, hospitality tents, television towers and all the other necessities to put on the 74th U.S. Women's Open.
The tournament dates are May 30-June 2 for the event that will be broadcast by Fox to 120 countries. Players will begin arriving for practice on May 27, just 28 days from Monday.
"With all the stuff that's getting built, that's when it starts getting real, especially when you know where things are going. The media there, the caddies over there, the Palmetto Pavilion down there," Country Club of Charleston director of sports Hart Brown said, swinging an arm to point out the various locations.
"The golf course right now is perfect. We're well on our way. The greens are firm and the rough is going to be 2½ to 3 inches. We've been fertilizing that. This past winter was perfect. We had no freezing issues this past winter. I'm curious to see what kind of scores we'll have."
Brown said the women professionals seldom see old-style courses such as the Country Club of Charleston, a Seth Raynor design that opened in 1925.
"I'm not sure the girls play golf into greens that are elevated and firm and fast. Our greens will be rolling 13, 13½ (on the stimpmeter), about the same as they are in the Azalea," Brown said, relating the fast greens to the elite men's amateur event held at the Country Club of Charleston during the spring.
"If the ball rolls off the side of the green, you have to figure out what to do with it, putt it, chip it, pitch it, whatever. It depends on how (USGA Championship director) Shannon Rouillard sets the course up and what clubs they have into the greens."
Brown said a handful of Women's Open participants have already visited the Country Club of Charleston. The latest to play a practice round was 2018 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur champion Shannon Johnson, a sales representative for Ping in the Boston area, who played the course with Country Club of Charleston member Bert Atkinson. Johnson said she's tried to qualify for the Women's Open several times and finally got in with her Mid-Amateur victory.
"I think it's an awesome layout," Johnson said after a practice round Wednesday. "From the green to the tee boxes are super short walks. It's a very easy golf course to get around in a timely fashion. Off the tee, only a few bunkers come into play. The bigger hitters will have a pretty decent advantage. It depends on if the rough will get thicker.
"The golf course is immaculate all the way around. The greens weren't too fast, but Bert said these greens can get going pretty quick and they will. That's what will be the big equalizer. Your approach shots have to be in the right quadrants of the greens to have a halfway decent birdie attempt. If not, you're hopefully trying to two-putt and salvage par."
Big crowds expected
There were some questions about the course being a suitable venue for the Women's Open. The Country Club of Charleston made a splashy impression when it hosted the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur. But holding a successful tournament goes beyond a quality golf course; just as important is the event being embraced by the community.
"I'm happy the way things are going. We've closed down most of our corporate sales. Now we can focus on entertaining those people and doing a great job of having them here," said Frank Ford III, who is general chairman of the 2019 U.S. Women's Open.
Ford said the skyboxes and rooms in the clubhouse are almost sold out but they still have a few pavilions that are open.
He said he isn't privy to ticket sales numbers, "but what I've been told is they're ahead of the last three Opens, maybe the last four Opens. I know (the U.S. Golf Association) upped their target for sales based on presales last summer and spring."
"There was definitely a Tiger jump in ticket sales last week," Ford said, referring to Tiger Woods' Masters victory. "We ran spots on TV during the Masters and on Tuesday morning they called and said they sold a bunch of tickets the last few days. Tiger created a little excitement."
Ford said the USGA is planning for 100,000 people over the six days of the event but a "wild card" is that ticketed adults can bring a youth with them.
"We want the people to come out and enjoy these girls," Ford said. "They're the best 156 players in the world at this moment in time. If we have a great tournament, we have all those people out there, everybody's going to be happy. That's what we want — a great tournament, a quality championship. We want the city and the people in the county and state to come out and enjoy it.
"The players are going to be unbelievable. It's such a different atmosphere from a men's event. The players are so appreciative of their opportunities. ... I can't wait to see them play the golf course and for the people in Charleston to watch them."