FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The galleries at the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens were famous—arguably notorious—for their presence, in number and voice. Those expecting a similar turnout this week may be disappointed.
Through three practice rounds at the 2019 PGA Championship, the grounds have been noticeably quiet at Bethpage State Park. On Tuesday and Wednesday, many of the holes boasted more volunteers than spectators, a sight especially true on the remote part—holes six through 12—of the property. A beverage vendor mentioned sales were "about 30 to 40 percent" off from their weekly forecast. And a fan noted on the fifth hole, “It’s more crowded out here on a normal Saturday.”
To be fair, one can’t judge optics alone. Bethpage’s Yosemite-like dimensions provide plenty of space to roam. This is in stark contrast to last year's PGA host, Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, where the confines were so tight that you occasionally felt like you were at an overrun rock concert. The vast expanse at Bethpage correlates to a natural thinning of those outside the ropes.
And yet the spartan bleachers were evidence that more might be at play. According to ticket marketer VividSeats, the average price of passes sold leading up to the 2019 PGA Championship is down nearly 20 percent from last year. Sports business analyst Darren Rovell reported that the tournament has the lowest secondary ticket prices in recent major history, noting $350 weekly passes are going for $150.
At time of publication, the PGA of America had not responded to a request for practice-round attendance numbers. On the PGA of America website, however, Saturday and Sunday daily passes are sold out. And PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh noted on Tuesday that Tiger Woods' victory at the Masters directly correlated into increased fan interest in the PGA.
"It's helped—obviously blew up our ticket sales immediately thereafter," Waugh said. "We were in good shape anyway, but it certainly helped."
It has not been picnic weather out on Long Island. A steady rain on Monday made for unfavorable conditions, and temperatures the first two days hovered in the high 40s. Even with clear and sunny skies on Wednesday, a soft-yet-steady wind brought out heavy jackets and winter hats.
There’s also the matter of timing. The PGA Championship's new May date has its benefits, but it’s not particularly conducive to local families, with school still in session in the New York area. Only a handful of kids have been on site, a far cry from the scene down the road at Shinnecock last summer for the U.S. Open in June.
Whether crowds are thin because the tournament proper has yet to start could also be a factor, although it's worth noting that Bellerive broke attendance records on Monday and Wednesday despite bad weather, while Shinnecock also claimed robust crowds all week.
There's also the chance that saturation is at play. The 2002, and to lesser extent, 2009 U.S. Opens at Bethpage were novelties. The course has since hosted two PGA Tour events—the 2012 and 2016 Barclays. And unlike St. Louis, which welcomed professional golf back for the first time in a decade, New Yorkers are a spoiled bunch, having the Open at Shinnecock last year and Winged Foot serving as U.S. Open host next summer.
Admittedly, that tenor at Bethpage could change come Thursday, and again PGA of America officials are still expecting a big weekend turnout. Perhaps it will be just as rowdy an environment as previous U.S. Opens. But through three days at Bethpage, the build-up to this PGA has not translated to fannies in the seats.