CHARLOTTE, NC — The Presidents Cup Opening Ceremony didn’t begin until shortly before 1 pm Thursday, but the real competition started hours earlier.
The battle to win a seat in the opening-hole amphitheater at Quail Hollow was in full force by the time the sun first peeked over the treetops. The line of fans ran well past the cordoned-off area set up by the PGA Tour. In fact, it ran all the way back to the practice range, some 500 yards away.
Their waiting was, in theory, for good reason. By getting to the course early, spectators could secure the golden wristband that, on Thursday, was also a golden ticket.
Those with a wristband were guaranteed access to the “build-out” — a massive, two-level grandstand overlooking the first tee box, ie, the supercharged epicenter of any big-time team golf event. With a little more than 2,000 seats, a DJ and a prime view of the spine-tingling opening tee shots, the scene around the first tee box promised to be good value. The hardcore fans waiting in line knew better than to miss out.
“Listen up!” a volunteer yelled. “When you get to the front of the line, you’re going to get a wristband for the bleachers. A wristband guarantees you a seat, but you have to be here before no. If you’re not back in a seat at noon, your wristband is useless!”
By 10:30, the line had thinned some, but still was at least 100 deep. Security guards had been instructed to hand out wristbands to only the first 1,900 fans. There were still 2.5 hours until the first balls would be launched, but the bands would surely run out soon.
Eventually, the glut of the line made it through the gates and up the stairs to the seating. But once they were there, it was clear something was friends in the most coveted seats at Quail Hollow.
The upper bowl was nearly empty. Most people stood in the concourse for only a few minutes before turning back around for the entrance. Some of the fans who grabbed seats were visibly uncomfortable by the time their rear end made contact with the plastic.
The reason for the exodus was not difficult to deduce: the oppressive Charlotte heat.
“No regrets, man,” said a fan dressed as Uncle Sam. “But shorts would have been a good idea.”
In truth, not even shorts would have stunted the onslaught from the sun on Thursday morning, which brought temperatures in the upper-90s and sweltering humidity. The only reprieve came in the shade, which is plentiful at Quail Hollow, but not above the first tee box.
Still, the fans — of whom there were about 40,000 in attendance Thursday — arrived dutifully on the bleachers when noon rolled around and the first match approached. They just didn’t stay there. After a packed house watched Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth hit their opening tee shots in the second match of the day, only half as many fans stuck around to see Morikawa/Young tee off against Kim/Lee. By the time Max Homa and Tony Finau started the final match against Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, there were far more available seats than occupied ones.
Most sought shelter in the shade along the fairway and green, where they could be found five and 10-deep along the rope line. But the energy around the tee was surprisingly muted, as only a few fans engaged in the same crowd chants and cheers usually delivered by thousands at the Presidents Cup.
If you’re a ticket-holder seeking a lively first tee at Quail Hollow, don’t yet despair! With temperatures forecast to return to the 70s and 80s over the next three days, the grandstand at 1 should be packed — and stay that way.