The U.S. Open comes to San Diego County for the first time ever, from June 9 to 15, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla. The event will draw the creme de la creme of the golfing world and promises to bring national exposure and a much-needed infusion of capital to the local economy.
But along with that comes huge crowds, traffic congestion, a tourist "frenzy" and at least a degree of uncertainty as to whether the international sporting event will live up to its billing as a business bonanza.
The Open, now in its 108th year, is one of four major golf tournaments on the PGA Tour. It will far surpass the annual Buick Open, which is played at Torrey Pines each winter, in scope.
"This event, like other major sporting events, carries with it intense media interest all over the country and the world, as well as exposure for San Diego as a tourist and meeting destination," noted Sal Giametta, vice president of public affairs for San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, who added the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, N.C. generated an estimated $124 million in revenue for that community. "We certainly expect the event here, this year, to exceed that," he added.
The much-ballyhooed U.S. Open is the goose that laid the golden egg for its host, The Lodge At Torrey Pines. "This has been a tremendously visionary thing in the works for years," said Steve Pelzer, executive vice president, sales and marketing for Evans Hotels, which owns and operates The Lodge. "The hotel's been sold out for this event for years. We'll have 50,000 people a day coming."
Pelzer added the 2008 U.S. Open will be cutting edge. "The U.S. Open has not been in (Southern) California since 1947 (1948 in L.A.)," he noted, "and it's really only the second time in its history that it's been on a public golf course, the first time on a municipal course."
But the outlook of at least two local businesses on the prospects of deriving huge financial benefit from the week-long 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines is less sanguine.
"Not as much as we would have anticipated originally," is how Leslie Araiza, director of public relations at The Grande Colonial La Jolla, summed up the historic hotel's view of how the U.S. Open is shaping up. "We all (hoteliers) went into this thinking we'd reap the benefits and be sold out for the entire week with five-night minimums. But that's just not our reality."
The reality for The Grande Colonial has turned out to be more like 70 percent occupancy for that week.
How could the U.S. Open prove to be more bust than boom for some local merchants? Araiza has a theory. "It's primarily the parking," she said, adding there has been one question in common asked by all potential hotel guests: How am I going to get to the U.S. Open from the hotel?
The answer to that question, for the majority of U.S. Open spectators, will likely be via shuttle bus from Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley, which has been designated as the transportation hub for the tournament event.
That doesn't come as welcome news to George Hauer, owner of George's At The Cove on Prospect Street, who fears the city of San Diego, by designating Qualcomm Stadium as the event's transportation central, will effectively cut many local businesses out of the circulation "loop."
"The obvious answer is, yes, we've been expecting to (do great business)," said Hauer about the U.S. Open's potential. "But if everything goes out of Qualcomm ... who knows what will happen? It could be a mob scene. Or it could be a disaster. We have absolutely no idea."
Bill Harris of Mayor Jerry Sanders office said "not to worry" about fears that the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines will not "measure up."
"I suspect the restaurants will get additional business with the thousands upon thousands of people expected," Harris said. "They're going to be purchasing things, going out to eat and going to find some entertainment. It's going to be a very busy week up and around Torrey Pines Mesa."
Lt. Dan Christman, in charge of special events operations for the San Diego Police Department, said a plan is in place to deal with the 250,000 spectators expected during the four days of the golf tournament. "For general spectators, the majority of people are going to be shuttled by bus from Qualcomm," he said. "Then there are about 7,500 other parking spaces for media, corporate sponsors and volunteers being used to disperse traffic evenly in the Torrey Pines area."
Christman expects 20,000 people will visit Torrey Pines on Monday and Tuesday, 30,000 on Wednesday and upwards of 50,000 on the weekend. He offered this advice to travelers in the area: "If they have an alternative route that avoids the area of the golf course - they should take it."
Mike Antolini, manager of the 2008 U.S. Open for the USGA, said it's time for Torrey Pines, La Jolla and San Diego to shine. "The course is in the greatest condition it's ever been in," Antolini said. "The city, the host committee, the spectators, the 6,000 volunteers it's going to take to pull off San Diego's first U.S. Open ... everyone can expect something special that is very unique."
One word of warning to those planning to attend the tournament: there is a significant list of prohibited items, including cell phones, cameras, camcorders, large bags, signs, posters or banners, TVs, radios, pets, containers or coolers, lawn or folding armchairs, bikes, ladders or metal-spiked golf shoes.