U.S. Open set to bring $140m to area

The U.S. Open in Bethesda this week is expected to bring in$140 million in spending and an onslaught of visitors.-Andrew Harnik/Examiner
The U.S. Open Championship is expected to bring in $140 million in spending when the world's top

golfers tee off in Bethesda this week, but local residents and commuters are bracing for the onslaught of visitors that will descend on the Washington region's roads and rails for the blockbuster tournament.

The tournament, played at the prestigious Congressional Country Club, is expected to sell out with a total of 250,000 spectators through next Sunday -- even without Tiger Woods playing. And Montgomery County's 10,000 hotel rooms are sold out for the entire week, although the tournament itself doesn't kick off until Thursday and Monday marks just the beginning of practice rounds.

Jon Ladd, executive director of Baltimore's Classic Five Golf Courses, the city's public golf course network, said he didn't think Woods' withdrawal last week would hurt attendance.

"People plan for this months in advance -- they've made their arrangements, they've purchased tickets," he said.

U.S. Open by the numbers
250,000 Expected total attendance
128,000 Sales transactions
47,000 Peak daily attendance
22,000 Parking spaces
2,000 Media members
30 Total hours network coverage
Source: U.S. Golf Association

And these are no ordinary sports fans -- with tickets going for more than $100 per day and hotel prices inflated to $400 per night, the men's national golf championship is the county's version of the Super Bowl.

Visitors, who tend to be well-heeled, often will bring their families for a weeklong vacation, pouring tourism dollars into the District or getting their luxury-shopping fix in places like Tysons Corner, Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights.

"That's where the big economic impact is," Ladd said.

The tournament is a boon to other local businesses and workers, too. For example, Bethesda caterer Ridgewells has said it plans to hire 400 to 700 people for the tournament.

Montgomery County officials predict spending will generate numbers similar to last year's open at Pebble Beach -- roughly $74 million in direct benefit and an additional $68 million in indirect benefit, according to Kristina Ellis, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development. Following the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional, the estimated $100 million in spending brought about $400,000 in county tax revenue and $3 million in state sales tax revenue.

But while cash-strapped Montgomery gets to line its coffers, the thousands of additional daily visitors in an already heavily traveled portion of the region will tax roads and transit.

The expected congestion around Congressional is prompting Carderock Springs Elementary School, which serves autistic students and is adjacent to the golf course, to end classes two days before the rest of the county's public schools. Carderock's principal did not return a call requesting comment.

Officials are trying to ease traffic with free parking and a shuttle service from Washington Dulles International Airport and the Montgomery Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, which should help divert thousands of vehicles from the tournament area. Limited shuttle service is also available from the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station for a fee.

With each shuttle fitting at least 40 people, that will significantly reduce the traffic effect for local residents, said Wes Guckert, president of the Traffic Group consulting firm.

"They'll see a little, but it's not going to be much," he said. "That's really going to significantly take the sting out of the issue."

Kelly Groff, executive director of the county tourism bureau, said Montgomery has had practice with high-profile events such as the AT&T National golf tournament in recent years. This is also the county's fourth U.S. Open, the third at Congressional.

"Montgomery County is very accustomed to handling events like this," Groff said. "They will pull off a great event and everything will be smooth."