- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2011

The unmistakable whack of drivers striking golf balls was mingled across Montgomery County on Sunday with the more subtle sounds of opportunity and excitement, before the start of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

“Anytime there’s a golf tournament, people get golf fever,” said Alex Rhea, a pro shop attendant at nearby Falls Road Golf Course. Realizing how regular golfers get energized about their game when a major tournament comes to town, the public course has tee times this week starting at 5:57 a.m.

“People want to play golf, then see the Open,” said Falls Road pro and general manager John LeSage.

Three days of practice rounds beginning Monday will be followed by four days of tournament play, which are expected to attract about 250,000 spectators. This is the third time in Congressional’s 87-year history that the club has hosted an Open on its Blue Course.

Golf’s best professionals and amateurs will begin to arrive in earnest today, though some, including No. 1-ranked Luke Donald, reportedly planned to arrive about a week early. Officials are expecting good crowds despite the absence of Tiger Woods. However, the price of tickets on resale websites has decreased since Mr. Woods withdrew June 8.

“But people are used to Tiger not being around,” Mr. LeSage said.

The Hunter’s Inn, a restaurant decorated in sleek wood paneling and white tablecloths, has hung a sign welcoming the tournament to the area and added a U.S. Open burger to its menu. And across the street in the bustling Potomac Place Shopping Center, River Falls Market general manager Max Devens expects to see some players and golf executives pass through the market’s restaurant, Renato’s.

However, he thinks the crush of spectators will cause a drop-off in business from local customers.

“Since it’s falling on Father’s Day, we may lose a little bit,” he said. “And some [local] people schedule their vacations around this week.”

Hill Slowinski, a Potomac resident who lives across the street from the fifth hole at Congressional, will be staying in town and offering his yard as a parking lot, which he did when the club hosted the 0pen in 1964 and 1997.

In front of his sprawling brick ranch, a red-and-white “Park” sign has been nailed to a tall tree.

He knows the process well, including getting a permit from the county 10 days before the event, and Mr. Slowinski even printed out courtesy flyers with a layout of the course and helpful spectator reminders.

“It’s fun,” he said. “Everyone is expecting to have a good time.” Mr. Slowinski said he can fit as many as 110 cars on his lawn. Prices for a spot depend on the day, and fans might find themselves shelling out $150 during the final rounds.

As for the state of his lawn at the end of the week, Mr. Slowinski said “that depends on the weather.” But even muddy days haven’t destroyed his yard, he said.

The biggest concern among North Bethesda-Potomac residents appears to be the traffic.

To help lessen the impact on many of the area’s two-lane roads, shuttles will be bringing spectators from as far away as Washington Dulles International Airport, in Northern Virginia.

Montgomery County is directing all spectators arriving by car to park at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds and the Crown Farm property off Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg.

The U.S. Golf Association will operate roughly 180 shuttle buses from both parking areas. They will run continuously and drop off spectators near the club’s main admission gate. Spectators also can take a Red line Metrorail to the Grosvenor-Strathmore Station in Bethesda. Shuttle service to the course is available, but spectators must make reservations.

“It’s tough getting back and forth from work, but it just means I go Bradley [Road] instead of River Road,” said Patrick Coffey, who lives about a mile from the club. Neighbor Laurence Richard is hosting a family that has rented their house along the course to spectators, and like Mr. Coffey, said additional cars won’t be a bother.

“The impact on the community is that it brings people from all over,” she said. “If we, immediate neighbors, aren’t welcoming, who will be?”

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