Politics & Government

Want to watch US Open from Puget Sound? Better bring binoculars

Traveling by boat along the shore of Chambers Bay golf course might sound like a good way to catch a glimpse of the U.S. Open without fighting the crowds, but don’t count on getting anywhere near the action.

The Coast Guard and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department are preparing a security plan that will bar all boat traffic within 1,000 yards of shore during the nationally televised golf tournament, according to a draft rule published by the Coast Guard.

It’s part of the overall security plan meant to protect the Open’s projected 65,000 daily visitors from “potential criminal and terrorist activity.” USGA and law enforcement officials have not released the security plan, but some pieces have come to light such as parking restrictions and a ban on drone aircraft around the course.

“Our plan is to take reasonable steps like the (marine) security zone for the safety and security of all persons who might be in attendance,” said Capt. Scott Mielcarek, who is coordinating security plans for the U.S. Open.

He described the marine buffer zone as a rectangle running along roughly 3,500 yards of shoreline into the Puget Sound. The perimeter would extend halfway to Fox Island at its narrowest point.

It would be enforced from June 14 to June 22.

Officers say it should leave enough room for commercial and recreational traffic to move north and south in the Puget Sound while giving law enforcement agencies a way to manage boaters.

“It doesn’t go all the way across the waterway. It’s not blocking people north and south,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Meridena Kauffman. “If you’re just transiting, people going north and south, that shouldn’t affect you.”

The buffer also means boaters will not be able to ferry people across the water and drop them on or near the shores of Chambers Creek properties. The Bridge to the Beach and public shoreline area are already closed for U.S. Open preparations and will remain off limits until after the tournament.

The Coast Guard is expected to publish its final plan this month. It released a preliminary version in February. It did not receive any public comments on its proposed rule, and the deadline for residents to express opinions about the security zone has passed.

County officials have been getting the word out about the marine security zone in meetings with boating groups. Some organizations have been confused by different reports from the agencies.

The Tacoma Yacht Club in late March heard an update on the proposal from Pierce County officials. Boaters left with the mistaken impression that they’d be able to travel within 300 yards of the shore, a distance they considered to be fair.

Some members are not so receptive to a security buffer more than three times as wide.

“A thousand yards is half way across the bay” between the golf course and the southernmost tip of Fox Island, said Cliff Rickmers, commodore of the Tacoma Yacht Club.

“It doesn’t seem reasonable to me,” he said, expressing his personal opinion.

County spokesman Hunter George this week sent a message to the yacht club clarifying the rule and apologizing for the incorrect description given to the boating group.

Members of the club are planning to sail their boats past the tournament, contributing to a picturesque Puget Sound background for national TV cameras that will be rolling during the Open.

Anchoring 1,000 yards from shore likely will be difficult for most boaters because it is a deep point in the Puget Sound, Mielcarek and Rickmers said.

Should someone settle in about that distance from shore in a kayak or a boat, Kauffman said “I don’t know how much you would be able to see without binoculars.”

Officers are unlikely to allow a row of boats to line up exactly 1,000 yards from the golf course, Mielcarek said. They’re concerned about blocking commercial and recreational traffic.

“There’s always the caveat of if the security experts on the scene say ‘I don’t like this,’ they may ask them to move,” Kauffman said.