From the gallery to the course

Jun. 20, 2014 @ 09:11 PM

Camelia Adel hadn't seen a U.S. Open, or any golf tournament, or played the sport, until this past Sunday.

Camelia and her husband Mark, who's played the sport for 55 years, live next to Pinehurst No. 6. She joined him to see the final round of the men's Open.

"I really enjoyed it. I think I've become a maniac now," said Camelia.

Now the Adels have been out Tuesday through Friday of the women's championship.

Alex Toleski, is 10 but has already been playing, mostly at Carolina Trace Country Club, for a few years.

His grandparents, Garey and Dottie Toleski, took his older brother to the 2007 U.S. Women's Open a few miles away at Pine Needles Golf Club. They want Alex to see the same experience up close, and the best time to be up close, right next to practically anyone in the field, wasn't last week, but this week, and that's why the Toleskis decided on days at the women's Open.

"We were here Thursday (and Friday) and maybe we'll be here Saturday," Dottie said.

"Sunday is the most exciting, but it's also the most crowded," she said.

For really seeing the final outcome and the last few holes down the stretch, Garey's best plan is, "sometimes it's better to watch it on TV, at home, in the air conditioning."

Given the national championships being a short drive from Sanford, this was something they had to share with Alex. Instead of scrambling for a spot to see Phil Mickelson or a few glimpses of the final pair on Sunday afternoon, they are all over the course making the most of their time and tickets.

"We don't sit in any one place. We just sort of see who's playing well," said Dottie.

The main point, they said, is a relaxed time seeing great golfers close enough where they're taking a few things home with them.

"It's great, because this is something he (Alex) can remember," she said.

It seems Camelia will be getting her first set of sticks right after this weekend.

Even with the crowds last Sunday, Mark said the layout of Pinehurst made it spectator-friendly and that goes even more with the women's Open.

"This is a great spectator's golf course. You can see a lot out here," he said.

Their favorite spot on No. 2 is the grandstands near the No. 17 tee. The gallery can see the approaches and putting on No. 16 then everything that happens on the par-three 17.

They were rooting for Lucy Li and are pulling for Michelle Wie to break through for her first U.S. Open title.

"She's still only 24 now," Mark said. "She's becoming the golfer everyone thought she'd be...and once (a U.S. Open title) happens, it could really open the floodgates for her I think."

Mark, who's on the Pinehurst Business Guild Board of Directors, thinks the back-to-back Opens will prove a longterm success as well. They've spent most evenings downtown in the Village and see and hear good things.

"From conversations we've had, we hear that a lot of people want to come back, and that's what everyone's hoping for," he said.

"In 20-twenty-something, I hope (the Opens) will be back," Camelia said.

"We think people will be back after this experience," said Mark.

In the shorter term, and much closer to home, Alex is going to be out at Carolina Trace playing and Camelia is ready for her first round and a Pinehurst course is a rare place to start.