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U.S. Open security plans for worst

Tom Fontaine
| Sunday, June 12, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

When Jack Nicklaus — The Golden Bear — appeared in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, it spelled trouble for other golfers. That's where he won the first of his record 18 major championships.

When a black bear appeared on the course 45 years later, the last time Oakmont hosted a U.S. Open, it posed an unforeseen danger.

“We hadn't prepared for that,” said Plum police Chief Jeff Armstrong, the department's acting chief in 2007.

The black bear didn't cause problems and quickly disappeared into the woods, but Armstrong said the sighting prompted officials to include the Pennsylvania Game Commission in planning for this month's U.S. Open, expected to draw 215,000 spectators, vendors and others during six days.

“It's that kind of minutia that goes into planning an event of this magnitude. You try to think of everything,” said Armstrong, whose department is the agency's lead law-enforcement agency with Oakmont, Allegheny County and state police assisting.

“You have to plan for the worst, and you hope all that planning is for nothing,” Armstrong said.

Non-golf-related planning for this year's U.S. Open began more than two years ago. Much of it has focused on security, transportation and parking.

Officials said the plans largely resemble ones used in 2007.

Again this year, organizers will provide free parking and shuttle rides to and from two large lots miles from Oakmont Country Club in an effort to minimize traffic headaches.

Hartwood Acres, a county park in Hampton and Indiana townships that is about nine miles from the course, will serve as the “red” lot. The Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, a sprawling shopping complex in Frazer that is about six miles away, will be the “blue” lot. They will offer about 10,000 spaces combined.

The United States Golf Association, which is staging the championship, has capped daily ticket sales at 30,000.

Shuttle riders will walk through a magnetometer before they board a bus, said Hank Thompson, the USGA's director of U.S. Open administration. They won't have to go through further screening when they're dropped off at the course, he said.

The shuttle rides are expected to take about 25 minutes each way and run continuously from 5:30 a.m. until one hour after the end of play each day, Thompson said.

“If people take advantage of that shuttle service, it works very well, and it works for the benefit of everyone because it keeps heavy traffic off Hulton Road,” Armstrong said, referring to the two-lane road that stretches through a largely residential area from the new Hulton Bridge to the country club.

The new bridge, which expanded from two to four lanes since Oakmont's last U.S. Open in 2007, should also ease traffic congestion, officials said.

“We know there are going to be people who feel like they have to drive themselves to the event, and they have to park close, but there's really nowhere to park (around the course). There's no magic hidden parking lot,” Armstrong said.

For those who don't want to ride the shuttle, Oakmont's 10th Street Elementary School will serve as a drop-off point for those in vehicles with up to 12 people, including those using taxis, limousines and ride-shares such as Uber and Lyft. The drop-off point is about a five- to 10-minute walk to Gate 2, near the course's practice area. People will have to undergo security screening at that gate.

Posted parking restrictions elsewhere in Plum and Oakmont will be “closely monitored and strictly enforced,” the USGA said.

“Regular business traffic in Oakmont on Allegheny River Boulevard and Allegheny Avenue will be welcome throughout championship week, including those wishing to patronize local restaurants and shopping establishments,” Thompson said.

PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said the agency will suspend work along the Parkway West and in the Fort Pitt Tunnel during the U.S. Open to make sure “people traveling from out of town via the (Pittsburgh International) airport don't have any issues regarding lane closures or restrictions.”

Among notable changes from 2007, spectators will be able to bring mobile phones onto the course — as long as their ringers are on silent or vibrate mode and spectators don't use them to shoot photos or videos of golfers during championship rounds Thursday through Sunday. Photography is permitted during practice rounds earlier in the week.

Phone calls must be received and placed in designated “phone zones.” The USGA will offer complimentary Wi-Fi service and a mobile application providing an array of information about the weather, golfers' scores and their locations on the course.

Spectators will be allowed to bring in clear, empty water bottles of up to 24 ounces. Water “refilling stations” will be set up throughout the course.

USGA spokeswoman Janeen Driscoll urged spectators to wear comfortable shoes, noting, “We probably get more requests for the medical team about blisters than anything else.”

For more information about attending the event, visit: http://bit.ly/1dPd8Uf .

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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