Lakeside Ryder Cup Tickets: easy with a seaplane! Or maybe not…
The Ryder Cup is one of the premiere golfing competitions between the US and Europe (originally Great Britain) which is held every other year. This year, the matches were held at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. Hazeltine National Golf Club is a private club and usually closed to guests not accompanied by a member. This is the first time the golf course has hosted the Ryder Cup.
Sunday the 2nd of October was the final day of the Ryder Cup tournament and the singles matches would determine the victor. The US had not beaten Europe since 2008 and this year, they had a chance to win. Needless to say, tickets were sold out as the excitement escalated.
The golf course is hilly and nine of the holes have water hazards. The tee shot on the sixteenth hole must carry 220 yards (201 metres) over Hazeltine Lake.
The fixed wing single engine aircraft registered N2985 is a good looking Piper Super Cub. The aircraft is fitted as a seaplane with pontoons. The registered address of the owner is in Chaska, Minnesota, within walking distance of the golf course.
On that Sunday morning, the pilot picked up a passenger and they flew to Lake Hazeltine, landing in the middle of the lake. He taxied closer to the shore, dropped the anchor and got ready to watch the final matches.
Chaska Police were not amused.
“I’m just incredulous that anybody would think this is OK,” [the police chief] said. “In today’s world and environment with everything going on, to think it’s OK to violate airspace in this way is the most imbecilic thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The police rushed onto the lake in a fire department motor boat to raid the Super Cub. Unfortunately, the boat’s engine failed and they had to paddle the man to shore.
[The police chief] said the plane will remain in the middle of the lake until the Ryder Cup ends. When the event is over, the man can get back to his plane; until then, Knight said, the man is “afoot.”
The pilot was arrested for violating a city ordinance and reported to the Federal Aviation Administration for violating airspace. The passenger was also escorted off the lake and cited. The Super Cub was abandoned in the lake, allowing for plenty of pretty pictures.
The police chief said that the city ordinance prohibited any activity on Lake Hazeltine during the tournament. The pilot argued that he did not know that the lake was off limits. He faced a fine of up to $300, which he said he was unwilling to pay, as he was not guilty of any offence. He claimed he had permission from a private landowner to get on the lake.
As it happens, there’s a question as to whether a private landowner could give permission to land on the lake. It turns out, however, that the question is largely irrelevant.
When the news was posted to Reddit r/flying, however, Redditors were unable to to find any record of a Temporary Flight Restriction.
The Federal Aviation Administration has a strictly defined procedure for Airspace Restrictions which include Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) where the airspace is restricted because of a temporary condition, such as a wildfire. There’s temporary flight restriction for stadiums and sporting events in which aircraft operations are prohibited within 3 nautical miles up to 3,000 feet above ground level. This airspace restrictions applies from one hour before the scheduled time of the event until one hour after the end. It is automatically applied to events at stadiums with a seating capacity of 30,000 or more, as well as Nascar Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races.
The thing is, if you aren’t seating over 30,000 people or are one of the named events, then you need to apply for a Temporary Flight Restriction and it seems quite clear that the city of Chaska didn’t. To be honest, it’s not clear to me whether the golf tournament would even have qualified: the FAA decide on whether a TFR is needed on a case-by-case basis.
The FAA confirmed that no Temporary Flight Restriction was in place.
There was no airspace violation.
The city of Chaska responded to the news by saying that the Lake Hazeltine was private and not accessible to the public.
Reddit user chriscicc soon disproved this.
Lake Hazeltine is owned and regulated by the city, although there is no public access. State law specifically allows seaplane operations (bolding is my addition).
Subpart. 2. Permissible operations. Seaplane operations are permitted only on the following public waters within the seven-county metropolitan area.
A. Anoka County: Centerville Lake; Coon Lake; George Watch Lake; Ham Lake; Howard Lake; Lake George; Linwood Lake; Martin Lake; Mississippi River; Mud Lake; Otter Lake; Peltier Lake; Pickerel Lake; Reshenau Lake; Rice Lake; and Round Lake.
§B. Carver County: Goose Lake; Hazeltine Lake; Lake Minnewashta; Lake Pettersen; Lake Riley; Lake Waconia; Lunsten Lake; Mud Lake; Oak Lake; Parley Lake; Pierson Lake; and Tiger Lake.
Reddit user chriscicc was intrigued and started digging.
Some notes: Lake Hazeltine is a public lake owned and regulated by the city, but there is no public access to it. Only those who have shoreline property have access. Despite that, the city banned them from putting their kayaks and other boats on the lake during the Ryder cup (which has me curious if that is a violation of deeds etc, but that’s a separate issue).
I found the ordinance the chief was referring to. There’s a catch though. It was adopted in August and is not published in an informational way on the city website’s news list or parks department page. Further, it’s not in the main list of ordinances, but rather, in the separate list of “adopted ordinances not yet codified”.
Two months later, Chis posted an update. On the 28th of November, the StarTribune reported that the charges had been dropped.
Citing in a court filing six weeks later the “unlikelihood of success at trial,” the Carver County attorney’s office dismissed the petty misdemeanor charge against plane passenger James D. Render, 64, of Wayzata. The case against pilot Dean S. Johnson, 60, of Chanhassen, was also thrown out.
“My understanding is the FAA gave inconsistent information about whether the plane could land on the lake and whether they’d be in FAA violation,” Dave Hunt, criminal division manager for the county attorney’s office, said Monday. “It was unclear whether the city could prohibit planes from landing on the lake.”
Well, yes but no. The FAA information was completely consistent and no one was confused about whether the plane could land on the lake except for the police. I’ll concede that it is unclear whether the golf tournament would have qualified for a TFR: the FAA decide on whether a TFR is needed on a case-by-case basis. It doesn’t really matter, because the city never applied for one.
I’m glad that the case was dropped; it clearly was unfounded. But even if it had gone to court, the fact remains that a $300 fine is cheaper than tickets to the Sunday tournament. The US won for the first time since 2008 making it the golfing spectacle of the year. When the pilot saw there was no TFR, he must have decided, yep, it’ll be a hassle but it will totally be worth it.
I think I might have, too…