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Planning with Certainty During Uncertain Times

Dec 2021

The USGA uses high-resolution and up-to-date aerial photography surveys from Nearmap to plan for the 2021 U.S. Open.

Dec 2021

Held without fans at the Winged Foot Golf Club, the 2020 U.S. Open created a new obstacle for the United States Golf Association (USGA) — operating a major tournament during a global pandemic. Rather than hosting the average 25,000-30,000 attendees daily, on-site guests were limited to only the players, staff, essential personnel, and some volunteers. The lack of fans wasn’t the only change to the U.S. Open in 2020, as the event was pushed from its usual June date into September. Fortunately, the USGA was able to adjust to the restrictions enforced due to COVID-19 and put on a successful tournament.
The experience of hosting an event during the pandemic had the USGA feeling prepared for the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego — or so they thought.

“As of February 1, we didn’t even know what to plan for.”

The U.S. Open is one of golf’s major tournaments, and typically requires 4-5 years to plan how to transform host venues into stadiums capable of accommodating tens of thousands of guests. Torrey Pines Golf Course was selected as the site of the 2021 U.S. Open and planning began well before COVID-19 had made its impact on the world. With the pandemic still unresolved at the turn of the year, the USGA were left wondering if they’d need to build grandstands, food and beverage areas, and other structures that are usually constructed for event use. “As of Feb. 1, we didn’t even know what to plan for,” says Tim Loyd, director of operations at the USGA.
On January 31, 2021, the state of California told the USGA that fan attendance was unlikely. By early April the USGA were told they could possibly admit a few thousand fans, but that safety precautions needed to be in place. With fans now in play, the USGA began working with state officials, as well as San Diego County, to strategize how to create an environment for guests that adheres to safety guidelines without lessening the experience attendees expect from the U.S. Open.
Welcoming guests to the U.S. Open while still allowing for social distancing required the USGA to build bigger structures. The team integrated Nearmap aerial imagery with ArcGIS to visualize the golf course and understand the space available for these larger structures. Buildings were mapped out and built before the USGA were told by California that the status of fans had again been changed — this time to full audience attendance without the need for masks or social distancing.

“All these rapid changes took what’s normally a 4-5 year planning process and condensed it into 3-4 months.”

Full attendance at the U.S. Open means as many as 25,000-30,000 guests per day. While the USGA had clearance for this amount of visitors, they wanted to ensure that those who could attend would feel safe doing so. This concern created a priority for parking as shuttles were not in the cards. “Putting 55 people on a bus is not a good way to ensure safety during a pandemic,” says Tim Loyd.
Torrey Pines Golf Course offers 36 holes, yet the U.S. Open only utilizes 18 of them. Leveraging Nearmap aerial imagery, the USGA was able to map the 18 holes that would otherwise be unused and determine the best way to repurpose that space for a parking lot. Additionally, the imagery showed a college campus nearby that proved to be another parking resource.
With space identified, the USGA needed to calculate how many vehicles can be stationed at one time. Integrating Nearmap aerial imagery with ArcGIS allowed the USGA to measure the acreage available for parking and quantify the amount of possible spaces per acre. This data informed attendance capacity as any additional guests would require shuttles.
In order to complete the new parking areas, the USGA had to create temporary entrances into Torrey Pines. This required working with San Diego County to approve access points off of Torrey Pines’ adjacent roadway. Using Nearmap alongside other software, the USGA was able to identify and submit an entry point for an engineer who was then able to execute their design.

“What is that line going to look like if we have 2,000-3,000 people showing up at the same time?”

Ensuring adequate parking was just one form of overcoming the obstacles of COVID-19. This year required more than scanning a ticket, as guests needed proof of vaccination or a negative test result. Adding this checkpoint to the ticketing and security processes was a precursor to elongated wait times — resulting in large lines of people in close proximity to each other.
“What is that line going to look like if we have 2,000-3,000 people showing up at the same time?” This is what Tim Loyd and his team wondered as they went about mapping entryways into the U.S. Open. In order to avoid human bottlenecks, the USGA had to distance the points of entry so that everyone didn’t show up at once. Nearmap imagery provided an accurate visualization of the available area at Torrey Pines to space out checkpoints. Further, the USGA was able to identify walkable areas and create paths that avoided hills so that all guests could comfortably commute to the event.
Moving forward in the face of the unknown is a risk for any industry. Whether you’re overcoming a global pandemic or planning with outdated information, the less you know the greater your chance for error. With the up-to-date aerial imagery from Nearmap, the USGA had the ability to know exactly what the Torrey Pines Golf Course looked like and use our high-resolution captures within ArcGIS to tackle the task of planning a major event — even when confronted with newfound obstacles and limited time.