My indignation is parked. My hackles lie flat. I feel the way Andrew Jackson might have felt if the British had come ashore at New Orleans offering toast and tea instead of musket balls and bayonets.
Believe me, I was ready to go to war when I first heard about GolfWatch—the PGA Tour's new "premier class" tournament ticket. Created to spare the Donald Trumps of the world the indignity of shoulder-to-shoulder contact with us proles in the gallery, GolfWatch promised "courtside seating" and "skybox luxury" to those willing to pay $1,500 per tournament. The prospectus even promised high rollers an exclusive walking lane inside the gallery ropes. No more sitting for three hours in the sun to get a good look at Nick Faldo; just stroll up with your folding seat and cigar and perch in front of the retirees from Dubuque. Champagne wishes, as Robin Leach used to say.
That's why, with a rush of adrenaline, I enlisted for last week's debut of GolfWatch at the Nissan Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Bravely—because I had decided to go behind enemy lines—I wore the GolfWatch badge. I left my car with the valet at the GolfWatch lot, and I rode the GolfWatch shuttle up Sunset Boulevard, maintaining a poker face while eavesdropping on the patrician chatter. ("Is this your first time at Riviera?" "Yeah, how about you?") At the clubhouse, the first of many attractive young women briefed us on the GolfWatch rules. Then she led us down a steep path and explained that our base camp would be the GolfWatch Home Pavilion, a portable palace with a fabric roof set up near the 2nd green. Minutes later, after scarfing down an omelette prepared by a bow-tied chef working behind a table decorated with fern baskets and piles of fruit, I grabbed a GolfWatch folding seat and went out to follow Tiger Woods.
Surprise! The GolfWatch lanes conceived by Marie Antoinette ("Let them eat cake!") had been laid out by Abe Lincoln ("With malice toward none..."). Two yards wide and restricted to one side of a given fairway, the roped walkways evaporated at the front edge of most greens, leaving Golf Watchers with a respectable but hardly sinful view. No lane wrapped around a green; no lane provided access to a tee box. On the 12th the lane ended 80 yards from the green, on the wrong side of an arroyo.
Not believing my eyes, I scurried over to the 18th hole, where thousands traditionally watch the action from a grassy hillside above the green. A modestly sized and nonprime piece of real estate was roped off for GolfWatchers; GolfWatch patrons who arrived too late to squeeze onto the greenside turf would have to climb to the hideous Panorama Suite erected about 60 feet above the green. From the rail of this aerie I had the view McGarrett enjoyed from the balcony of the Ilikai Hotel during the opening credits of Hawaii Five-O.
Clearly, my $1,500—well, somebody's $1,500—had been spent elsewhere. A good bit of the money went into the five Skybox Oases scattered about the course. These cocktail lounges on stilts, with their plush carpets and cushy sofas, actually lived up to the GolfWatch slogan: the Ultimate Spectator Experience. Oasis B afforded a tree-house view of the 5th and the 16th greens and was so close to the action that the bartender had to muffle his ice cubes when golfers were putting. Oasis A, overlooking the 1st green, offered a similar close-up. "I could get used to this," a middle-aged beanpole said, settling into a cushioned chair with a plate of finger food.
O.K., I said it. Satisfied that ordinary ticket holders were not being inconvenienced by GolfWatch, I threw down my weapons and defected. I lunched in the Pavilion, lining up brochettes of chicken and sausage on my plate. At Oasis E, I looked up from my newspaper to watch Fred Couples put too much juice on a pitch and then turned again to the stock tables, popping a grape in my mouth. I kept an eye out for celebrities—James Caan and Andrew Shue, among others, turned up on Sunday—but mostly I looked out for No. 1.
Last Thursday evening, before the Pavilion's combo started playing, I did the arithmetic on a napkin: 1,000 (the number of GolfWatch tickets available at Riviera) times $1,500 equals $1.5 million. But the expenses! Guides, waiters, bartenders, musicians, valets, tableside magicians, hostesses—160 paid staffers in all—plus 60 security guards to help marshals police the spectator lanes, plus food, liquor, furniture, flowers, etc. Little wonder that GolfWatch plans only four trial runs in 1997, the next one coming in June at the Buick Classic in Rye, N.Y.
But as I always say, big concepts demand bold thinking. Spotting a shoeshine chair in a corner of the Pavilion, I had my pair of Clarks of England burnished, handed the fella a five-dollar tip and strolled back into the afternoon sun, spurning the offer of a cigar from the GolfWatch humidor.
I know where to draw the line.