Does This Make You Feel Safer? Rifle-Toting Guards at U.S. Open Reflect Growing Trend of More Visible Security That's a Part of the World We Now Live In
McCoppin, Robert, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer
Visitors to a U.S. Open practice round this week in Olympia Fields were greeted by a character who looked like he stepped out of a video war game.
A police tactical officer not only carried a badge, radio and handgun, but he also wore camouflage pants, a knife and knee pads, and he toted an assault rifle. Some 400 other uniformed and plainclothes security guards roved the grounds at Olympia Fields Country Club by foot, bike, golf cart and horseback.
Golf fans passed by the armed guard, some of their surprised glances quickly turning into looks of acceptance. The U.S. public has come to accept such displays of deterrence at sporting events - no longer just at the airport and Sears Tower.
Travelers at airports in Europe have been used to guards with automatic weapons for years, but in the United States, the practice didn't become visible until after Sept. 11, 2001, when National Guardsmen at the nation's airports carried rifles.
Rifles now also are used at high-profile sporting events like the Super Bowl. And police with high-powered rifles hid at Washington Redskins games last year after a sniper spree in the area.
The 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah took security to unprecedented levels, using X-ray checks, Air Force patrols and facial recognition screening.
At Olympia Fields, five police departments have deployed about 200 personnel for the six-day U.S. Open, which shifts from practice to competition today. The U.S. Golf Association hired another 200 to 250 security workers, including state and federal agents.
Despite the impression left by the rifle-toting guard, organizers say, security is slightly down from last year's Open, when the golf championship was held on Long Island, N.Y., the first U.S. Open after Sept. 11, 2001. That tournament was patrolled by 500 state troopers and 150 state park officers.
Olympia Fields police Cmdr. Carl Frey said this year's event needs fewer officers because there is less land to cover, with two rather than five courses.
Part of the SWAT-style protection, Frey said, is for effect.
"It's more of a visibility thing," he said. "If we didn't want anybody to see them, you wouldn't see them. We're trying to give people a sense it's under control, and we're trying to keep them safe."
Security was nowhere near as extensive in 1999 at the PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club, or even last week when Annika Sorenstam won the Kellogg-Keebler Classic at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora. …