BEHIND THE SCENES
Local Knowledge: Behind the Scenes at U.S. Open May 25, 2016 | OAKMONT, Pa. By Charlie Howe, USGA

As U.S. Open championship manager, Charlie Howe spent nearly three years immersing himself in Pittsburgh and Oakmont history. (USGA/Robert Hartnett)

Whoever said “Don’t sweat the small stuff” never had to stage a U.S. Open. Because when you are responsible for the logistics and planning for one of the largest sporting events in the world, viewed by 80 million people in more than 150 countries, there is no small stuff. I am so thrilled to be part of the team bringing the U.S. Open to Oakmont for a record ninth time this year, but it is a daunting prospect to make sure that it lives up to the legacy of the championship and the club.

As the manager for the 116th U.S. Open Championship, my job is all about planning and details. With so many moving parts and so many individuals involved in the success of the U.S. Open, I have to make sure we are prepared for anything, because we have to understand that things don’t always go as planned – especially the weather, the ultimate uncontrollable variable. Weather is the one factor that I lose the most sleep over, but I have to trust in our preparations and quickly adapt to communicate the details of Plans B, C, D or Z.  I’m kidding (sort of), but there aren’t enough letters in the alphabet to cover our alternate plans.

The USGA has about 20 staff members dedicated to the U.S. Open. Several of them work from an office in Pinehurst, N.C., with the rest of us physically at the current (and future) U.S. Open sites. The U.S. Open team is joined by other USGA departmental staff in advance planning. All included, you have more than 100 USGA employees who play a role in conducting the U.S. Open.

I was one of the first USGA staff members to move on-site, in October 2013, right after we wrapped things up for the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. I found a place to live in Shadyside, a Pittsburgh neighborhood that I really enjoy. Moving every two years certainly can provide challenges, but I’ve always just tried to make the most out of all my championship assignments. It’s been enjoyable to call places like San Diego, Long Island, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and now Pittsburgh “home.” I count myself blessed to have been able to meet and work with so many incredibly talented people in the golf industry, including volunteers and host site staff.

I got started in championship operations as a USGA intern during the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course, in San Diego, Calif. I got the internship after playing a year of professional soccer with the Richmond Kickers in the United Soccer League. After Torrey, it was on to Bethpage Black for the 2009 U.S. Open, and I became part of the team. I really enjoy the responsibilities – and the opportunities – that come with being part of a community, especially building and forging relationships with the championship host site and the local community stakeholders.

In addition to managing staff to develop and launch the volunteer program – no U.S. Open could run without the more than 5,000 golf fans who help with every facet of the operation – I partner with local visitor and convention bureaus to secure hotel rooms for several key groups, such as players, USGA staff, media, Rules officials and future championship site guests. There is also a considerable amount of focus on reserving the necessary parking lots and shuttles for upwards of 30,000-40,000 people per day. I develop a plan with Oakmont and the U.S. Open team to create the championship infrastructure, which includes about 300 tents, 85 office trailers, 16 miles of fence and 600 radios. At the same time, we work with officials from local boroughs and townships as well as surrounding county, state and federal agencies to maintain a safe and secure environment for the more than 235,000 people who will attend the championship. 

On a personal level, it has been a blast to get to know Pittsburgh. It’s an incredible city, revitalized from its steel-country roots. The energy and pride of those living here is on display every day, and the proximity to city parks and the number of great restaurants has made being a “local” quite enjoyable. I had no idea until I got here that Google employs approximately 350 people in East Liberty and has plans to grow to 500 employees at that location. Oh, and Pittsburgh has a few professional sports teams that perhaps you’ve heard of! Fortunately, the USGA’s record at Oakmont – 15, soon to be 16, championships – can live up to the Steelers/Pirates/Penguins totals of six Lombardi Trophies, five World Series Titles and three Stanley Cups. I have accumulated my share of Terrible Towels. All of Pittsburgh’s stadiums provide great atmosphere and vistas, but PNC Park is one of my favorite stadiums in the country, in any sport.  The USGA team at Oakmont participated in the Pittsburgh Pirates Home Run Charity 5k; we ended the event by running onto the field along the warning track, ultimately finishing at home plate. I’ve even seen a few soccer games at Highmark Stadium, where I got to catch up with my old Kickers coaches and teammates after they played Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a USL match.

I love to eat and Pittsburgh is a great food city. Here are a few of my favorite places in Oakmont and in Pittsburgh itself. You might want to call ahead for reservations!

NEAR OAKMONT: I don’t want to know how many pizzas I’ve had from Somma’s down the street from Oakmont. Here are some of my other favorites:

  • The family-owned What’s Cooking at Casey’s is one of my favorite breakfast and lunch spots. Check out their display of plates autographed by some of the golf legends who have visited. 
  • You also can’t go wrong with Oakmont Deli or Oakmont Bakery.
  • If you’re looking for a good dinner, there’s the Mighty Oak Barrel, Hoffstots and Chelsea Grille.
  • My favorite spot to watch a game or sports in general is at Carnivores.

IN PITTSBURGH: It’s hard to keep up with all the great places in Pittsburgh, in Shadyside and all over the city. These are definitely worth a visit:

  • In the city’s historic Strip District, it’s worth checking out Wholey’s Fish Market and two of my favorite new places – Smallman Galley and Gaucho Parrilla Argentina
  • The Strip District is also home to the original Primanti Bros., where French fries and coleslaw adorn Pittsburgh’s staple sandwich.
  • In the Cultural District and downtown, my favorite spots are Sienna Mercato, Meat and Potatoes, Il Pizzaiolo, Täkō and Vallozzi’s.   

Because we conduct the U.S. Open at a different site every year, the core of the USGA’s Open leadership has been together for several years. It’s definitely a team-first atmosphere and we drive each other to raise the bar every year, because the U.S. Open is indeed golf’s grandest stage.

It’s never easy leaving those you have worked with so closely. Before you know it, days and nights of hard work dedicated to making the U.S. Open the best possible experience for the host site, the region, players, caddies, spectators and viewers around the world turn into years of happy memories. But this life I lead has allowed me to build lasting friendships with staff and members of the host site, as well as numerous friends in the local community. We feel a sense of accomplishment and a true bond in creating a moment in U.S. Open history; these communities and host sites become part of a larger USGA family. It means a lot to me when I see old friends from my past “homes” come to support the U.S. Open each year. The last truck at Oakmont will be packed up and back on the road in August. By September, I will be moving to Southampton, N.Y. to begin my next assignment at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, host site of the 118th U.S. Open.

Charlie Howe is the championship manager of the 116th U.S. Open Championship.

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