Haverford police official has done homework on U.S. Open

Haverford Township Deputy Police Chief John Viola is no golf fan, but he attended the last two U.S. Opens, in Washington and San Francisco, to prepare for his role in helping to oversee security at this one.
Haverford Township Deputy Police Chief John Viola is no golf fan, but he attended the last two U.S. Opens, in Washington and San Francisco, to prepare for his role in helping to oversee security at this one. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 05, 2013

John Viola says he's not much of a golf fan.

That said, he's been to the last two U.S. Open tournaments, in Washington and San Francisco, and this year he'll be watching intently as the nation's championship descends on Merion Golf Course.

That interest is explained by his job.

Haverford Township's deputy police chief, Viola has been involved in planning the logistics around Merion's Open for about two years.

And that task led the U.S. Golf Association to cover the costs for him and a contingent of other local officials to visit the last two championships. The idea, Viola said, was to get a firsthand look at what it takes to run a golf tournament that this year is expected to draw about 25,000 daily spectators.

"When you look at an event to see what's going on behind the scenes," Viola said, "it's truly amazing."

The scale of hosting this year's U.S. Open is unlike anything the township has ever seen, local officials say. In addition to spectators, there will be thousands of others milling around the course and its environs next week: volunteers, employees, members, local residents, reporters, and, of course, the golfers and caddies.

In addition, a variety of roads in the area will be closed next week, partially a result of how tightly Merion is woven into its suburban surroundings - two fairways on the course sit only a few feet from a residential road - and because some of the infrastructure supporting the tournament, such as corporate tents, has been built at Haverford College or on neighboring lawns.

Developing a plan to address all of the security and logistical details therefore proved a massive task.

"It's like having the Super Bowl being played in our township," said Mario Oliva, president of the Haverford Township commissioners. "This is big in the golf world. It's going to bring a lot of people and put us on the map for this week."

While township officials have been preparing steadily for the Open for two years, the intensity has picked up in recent weeks, Viola said, adding that he has woken up in the middle of the night worried about overlooked details.

His planning group - which includes Officer Larry Howard and Lt. Joe Hagan - has regular meetings with the fire department, other local police departments, and the USGA. In addition, he said, officers throughout the department have been fielding calls from local residents and handing out parking passes to course neighbors.

This week, about 3,500 signs will be posted on roads surrounding the course alerting people of where they are not allowed to park, he said.

And next week, police officers from about 60 other local departments, as well as the state police and federal agencies including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, will converge to help Haverford Township police monitor the area. The schedule for the additional police officers was just finalized Monday, he said.

"This past year has flown by, trust me," Viola said with a laugh, adding that "the past month has been extremely intense."

Viola was a Haverford Township officer when Merion hosted the U.S. Open in both 1971 and 1981, but those two experiences were nothing compared with the scale of the event this year.

"You could walk down Ardmore Avenue in 1981," he said, referring to a road bisecting the course that will be closed this year. "They were just checking tickets to make sure you could get in."

But despite the Open's increased level of attention this year and his increased role in planning, Viola says he thinks the township is ready to face the challenge.

"Right now we're running on adrenaline," he said. "But we are. We're excited."

Contact Chris Palmer, 609-217-8305, cpalmer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

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