The big tent has been erected, which is fitting because there is a Tiger coming to town.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, the scene of the US Open, next month, is a flurry of activity these days as the United States Golf Association readies the course for what promises to be record crowds.
At the epicenter of it all, as he has been since turning professional in 1996, is Tiger Woods. Woods won 14 Majors by the time he was 33 and was widely considered to be the best golfer ever to play the game. But in 2013 a much-publicized brawl with his then-wife Elin Nordegren revealed Woods had been a cheater who had a series of affairs, and the marriage ended.
To make matters worse, Woods suffered numerous ailments requiring 11 operations from 2013 through 2017, including a spinal fusion. It was believed Woods would never play competitively again.
Woods confounded medical experts, not only joining the PGA Tour this year, but also contending for a title at one event and making the cut last month at the Master’s Tournament. Tiger is back, and more popular than ever. That could mean record crowds and of course, for local residents, the logical nightmare of dealing with thousands of vehicles.
Jeff Altstadter, the Public Relations Director for the Open, is well aware the tournament could draw record crowds. “We certainly hope so,” he said. But he acknowledged crowds would have to be capped, possibly at around 30,000 spectators each day.
He agreed Woods is once again drawing big crowds. “He really moves the needle, especially if he is playing well,” Altstadter noted.
There will be a focus on public transportation. The Hampton Jitney and the Long Island Railroad will announce this week special Open schedules that will make use of the rails. The old Southampton College station will be reopened and a bridge will allow spectators to cross Montauk Highway without disrupting traffic.
“The LIRR is committed to providing safe and comfortable transportation. Train service will be provided in both directions on the Montauk Branch and will accommodate customers traveling from either New York City or Eastern Long Island. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is located 85 miles from New York’s Penn Station and the trip is expected to take approximately two hours,” according to a statement provided by the USGA.
Complimentary parking will be provided at Francis S. Gabreski Airport. Gabreski Airport is due west of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Westhampton Beach. From the parking lot, complimentary shuttle transportation will be provided to and from Shinnecock Hills and is expected to take approximately 25 minutes.
Security will be ever present. “There will be coordination with all the local agencies, police, and the FBI,” Altstadter said.
“It’s a massive undertaking. Spectators will be screened and there will be metal detectors,” he added.
The tournament proper runs from June 14 to 17, but the course will be open for seven days beginning Monday, June 11. The first three days are practice rounds.
There are ticket packages for every pocketbook. Practice rounds are only $60 a day. Spectators can get a three-day practice round package for $125 or a full week for $500. The two opening rounds (June 14, 15) sell as a package for $245, and the final weekend package is $260. The big hitters will opt for 1895 Club seats, which include food and drinks.
For slightly more, spectators can buy a “Top of the Hill” seat. “There is a beer garden atmosphere and patrons can enjoy a drink,” Altstadter said. They go for $165 to $185 for tournament dates. A four-round Trophy Club package goes for $825. Tickets to the exclusive 1895 Club range in price from $325 to $575 depending on the day, with the most expensive being the weekend finale.
Bob Bubka, Indy’s “Chip Shots” columnist and the author of The Ryder Cup Golf’s Greatest Event (co-authored with Tom Clavin) covers golf for talkSPORT radio. He’s played Shinnecock regularly since he was a young man growing up in Sag Harbor. He said the top players arrive in Southampton with a singular purpose — to play golf. Everything else is taken care of for them.
“Tiger’s management team will come in and rent a house; it won’t be in his name. Some players share an agent, like Cameron Smith and Ricky Day. The agent will take care of everything . . . housing, meals, whatever. The client doesn’t worry about anything but golf. Money is no object,” he said.
Bubka tells one story about a famous golf patron who wanted to rent the house of a local golf pro for a previous Open. The pro quoted him a price of $15,000 for the week and the patron agreed.
Later, the pro found out the patron’s chauffeur was the only one using the house.
Altstadter noted that every player would be given a brand-new Lexus to use during the tournament.
A considerable effort has been made to encourage families. Children ages 18 and under will receive a complimentary ticket when accompanied by an adult ticket holder.
The course is being reconfigured for the event. The overall length of the course will be 7445 yards, a 446-yard increase from its current length. Fairways were made narrower, though they will be wider than they were for the previous three Opens played at the club in the modern era — in 1986, 1995, and 2004.
Bubka said the increased length will pose no problem to modern day players, who hit the ball much farther than those of two decades ago, due to technical improvements in golf clubs and golf balls and the conditioning of today’s professionals.
“One thing to look for is the wind,” Bubka said. “In 11 of the last 12 opening rounds played at Shinnececk, it has been windless.” He noted that the ocean breeze normally kicks up on the course, especially in June. “If the wind is picking up, it can be the great equalizer,” he said.
There were some complaints about Shinneock from golfers who played in the 2004 event. The greens inexplicably turned brown, for one thing. Officials are confident it won’t happen this time around.
Bubka made history when he went on the radio and predicted Lucas Glover would win the 2009 Open, which was played at Bethpage. A famous British bookie, Paddy Power, complained that
Bubka’s prediction cost him $1.3 million. Power called Bubka a “loudmouth” on the air.
The US Open is unlike the other three Majors — or most PGA tournaments — because theoretically, anyone can win it. There are qualifying tournaments held all over country. In 1969, Orville Moody won several tournaments to qualify, and then won the tournament (see accompanying sidebar in this section).
So, who’s going to win this year? Bubka said his money is on Brett Snedeker. “He’s a fantastic putter, and that’s what you need at Shinnecock,” Bubka predicted.