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Jun 20, 2018 12:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Locals Offer Mixed Reviews Of Golf Championship's Effects

U.S. Open attendees attempt to avoid the traffic.
Jun 20, 2018 12:02 PM

Locals throughout Southampton Town breathed a sigh of relief in unison on Monday as the week of the U.S. Open came to a close.

The biggest downside of the massive event—at least according to many people—was the traffic.

“I never experienced the volume of traffic that we did this year for the U.S. Open,” said Steven Bernstein, the chief development officer at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and the Southampton Hospital Foundation president.

Mr. Bernstein, an Old Bethpage resident who has been making a one-hour trek to Southampton every day for 11 years, said his commute time nearly tripled last week during the golf championship. For most of the week, the drive was two and a half to three hours each way. “It was worse than driving in Manhattan,” he noted.

Robert Coburn, a member of the Southampton Village Architectural Review Board, who lives on Hill Street in the village, said he didn’t have to go past the end of his driveway to see the “gridlock” drivers faced during their commute. The bumper-to-bumper traffic was practically at a standstill for hours at a time during the tournament. As the hours dragged on, drivers became impatient and some began driving recklessly.

Mr. Coburn said he felt he was in danger when he would approach the shoulder on Hill Street, just to get his mail. “I almost got hit in my driveway—twice,” he noted.

While commuters felt the traffic was at a crawl during the morning and evening rush hours, multiple Southampton Town officials insisted that they went into the Open with a well-ironed-out traffic plan.

Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, who led the effort, said that police agencies and representatives of other agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Conservation, met often before the Open meetings to discuss how best to handle the additional traffic.

“We’ve been having traffic meetings for quite some time with all of our partners,” the chief noted.

A video of the traffic patterns during this year’s Open was streamed at an operations center, based at the Stony Brook Southampton campus. A DEC drone also sent feedback about traffic backups.

Ahead of the Open, police had closed various roads to limit cars merging on County Road 39 and blinked some traffic lights to keep vehicles moving. The U.S. Golf Association also installed an additional traffic light on County Road 39 near the Shrubland Road intersection to help shuttle buses from Francis S. Gabreski Airport get people attending the golf tournament around traffic.

Shuttles also brought visitors to the Open from the Hampton Classic parking lot in Bridgehampton, and from Southampton Village.

Throughout the week some tweaks were made to the plan, which mainly included more traffic lights being put on blink and officials urging drivers to use main arteries—especially County Road 39.

“There is a coordinated effort,” Chief Skrynecki said during the event. “The traffic flow is not ideal, and we realize that. We have a significant challenge here.

“But through the active analysis and adjustments, we have been able to improve traffic each day,” he added.

In an interview on Thursday, June 14, the day competition began, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said traffic had improved since earlier in the week.

“It’s interesting, because you’ve had an increase in traffic flow each day, but there’s less traffic each day,” said Mr. Schneiderman, explaining that on June 14 there were 23,000 people at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

Mr. Schneiderman, Chief Skrynecki and Tom Neely, the town’s director of public transportation and traffic safety, all agreed that one of the largest traffic dilemmas faced during the Open was drivers using secondary roads instead of main highways.

“[County Road] 39 has been moving significantly better than Montauk Highway,” Chief Skrynecki said earlier in the week.

Mr. Neely noted that officials involved in traffic safety during the Open would be gathering sometime on Wednesday to review what worked and what didn’t to prepare for the future.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor, who attended the Open from Thursday through Sunday, questioned the level of preparedness of the town and other involved agencies leading up to the Open. “Compared with previous Opens, it didn’t seem as if the USGA and local governments were as prepared, or had planned as well,” he said.

While Mr. Thiele was in Albany for the first half of the U.S. Open week, he said his Bridgehampton office received a surge of calls complaining of the traffic backups.

“I certainly heard from a lot of residents and constituents who were upset about traffic earlier in the week,” Mr. Thiele said on Monday.

The assemblyman said he hopes that for next time—the U.S. Open is expected to return to Shinnecock in 2026—more is done to control the effect on traffic. “I think, in retrospect, that a more sophisticated traffic plan was in order,” he said.

By 2026, Mr. Thiele said, commuters will at least be able to benefit from an extra two rush hour trains in each direction as part of his initiative called Commuter Connection. The extra trains are expected to be added to the LIRR schedule in February 2019.

While the heavy traffic was the buzz of the town for most of the week, Mr. Thiele pointed out that local businesses also felt the effects of the Open. Only certain businesses—like ice cream shops, hotels and motels, and restaurants serving dinner—reported an increase in foot traffic.

“There was a disappointment from some Main Street businesses,” Mr. Thiele said. “A lot of people come in just for the day.”

Dennis Schmidt, the owner of Schmidt’s Market on North Sea Road, said business actually decreased while the Open was in town.

Many of Mr. Schmidt’s employees commute from the west and were stuck in traffic, making it difficult to keep up with any breakfast rush, he said. Some employees came in early and waited in the parking lot until the market opened, while others turned around to go home after sitting in traffic for an hour.

In the second half of the week, business picked up a little, but there was still less activity than on a typical June weekend, according to Mr. Schmidt.

Other shops on Main Street in Southampton Village, especially retailers, reported seeing average foot traffic for a summer day.

The most frustrating part, according to Briana Santiago of Mastic Beach, sales associate at the Theory clothing store in Southampton, was the commute home earlier in the week. It usually takes Ms. Santiago about 40 minutes to get home, but she sat in about two and a half hours of traffic on her return trip on the first day of Open week.

However, some stores saw benefits to the surge of people in the area.

Gwen Waddington, co-owner of The Wharf Shop in Sag Harbor, said most of her increased business came from tourists visiting neighboring villages after checking out the U.S. Open. “People did shop, but they didn’t come here specifically to shop,” she said. “Most were just browsing around the area.”

Valerie Smith, the founder and owner of The Monogram Shop in East Hampton Village, reported a similar trend in her store. “I think they were just in the ’hood and were curious,” Ms. Smith said of her added customers. “I think they usually take one or two days to explore nearby places.”

Most of the foot traffic came closer to the end of the week of the Open, she noted.

On the western end of town was Mike Cuomo, owner of Hampton Smoothie in Westhampton Beach.

“Actually, I did not see a real change,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I mean I had a very busy Saturday, which was unusual for this time of year, but I figured it had more to do with the weather.

“One of the reasons why is my business is in Westhampton Beach, so the people who are going to the Open are not really coming to Westhampton, you know, they’re going to points farther east.”

In Hampton Bays, The UPS Store reported an uptick in business during the Open. “We were one of the fortunate stores,” said Ron Reatherford, the owner and manager.

Many customers came into The UPS Store to ship shirts, hats and other Open merchandise. There was also an uptick in business thanks to the operators of the U.S. Open who needed to ship things. “There was a little bit of everything,” Mr. Reatherford said.

Still, he reported one downside: “Monday was the worst,” he said. “In the morning people would avoid coming into town because they knew Montauk Highway was going to be bad. Maybe it slowed down business for the first few hours.”

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, one of the largest employers in town, went as far as to tweak schedules to accommodate the workers’ travel delays, according to Robert Ross, the hospital’s vice president of community and government relations.

“We anticipated U.S. Open travel delays and worked with our teams to manage schedules accordingly, to ensure that there were no staff shortages affecting our patients,” Mr. Ross said in an email.

Mr. Schneiderman acknowledged that the slowdown on Monday may have hurt some businesses, but said that overall it seemed that the Open was helping the local economy.

“I’m hearing really extremely positive reports,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “A lot of people have rented their property and their homes, and they seemed to have gotten good rental prices.”

Mr. Schneiderman said that he heard estimates that the Open poured somewhere around $120 million into the local economy. “I think this has a broad reach, economically,” he said.

Mr. Thiele said that despite the traffic and some impacts to businesses, the Open generally had a positive effect.

“Overall I still believe it’s a prestigious event,” he said. “It’s good for the area, but there are certainly pluses and minuses.”

Even so, many individuals, including Mr. Bernstein, are ready for things to go back to normal.

“I was happy that the U.S. Open was here,” he said, “but I’m not unhappy that it’s over.”

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can't help but wonder what the price tag was to the taxpayers
By typical (63), southampton on Jun 20, 18 3:39 PM
Bet the trade parade isn't complaining right now...
By knitter (1895), Southampton on Jun 20, 18 4:23 PM
The trade parade is a nightmare everyday.
By Fred s (3180), Southampton on Jun 20, 18 4:32 PM
The Shinnecock Hills golf club benefits more than anyone else by a mile.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (740), southampton on Jun 20, 18 5:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
A ballot measure to gauge the publics appetite for it to return is in order.
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Jun 20, 18 6:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
If Southampton Town and East Hampton town wouldn't issue building permits the first half of 2026, maybe the traffic will be better. Other wise I see it worse for the next one.
By sueg (10), Bridgehampton on Jun 20, 18 6:24 PM
the Traffic management was horrible. shows us all that need to reconsider all such events including a major hospital at the college. We have two ways in and out. If any emergency evacuation was needed it could not happen with the current roads.
By Obserever (40), Southnampton on Jun 20, 18 9:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Can they show us the money please?

130 million?

And what did it cost the taxpayers?
By lursagirl (241), southampton on Jun 20, 18 9:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
convince Town Hall to Ban the Open in 2026...
By Draggerman (941), Southampton on Jun 20, 18 9:21 PM
Monday thru Friday the local working community was stressed beyond intolerable, and extremely po’ed.
Saturday and Sunday traffic was a non-issue.
Events like this are an insult to the local working community, and cannot be repeated. Negative benefit to the general public.
By Non-Political (124), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 18 10:33 PM
Will the cement barriers be removed from the road that runs thru the golf course?
By patriot50 (42), sag harbor on Jun 20, 18 11:51 PM
County Road 39 was flowing significantly better because everyone was on Montauk. No way! How do you figure? So when they said that and people went back on 39 it was all ok? No it wasn't. If you shut down all the side roads and put on all blinking lights of course things will change. What won't change is when you put them back on Monday. Short term thinkers for big salaries is what is in place.
By lirider (288), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 18 12:05 AM
... unparralled world-class sporting event. Watching players excel up close earlier in the week can not be achieved by a fan in any other sport. Actually thrilling, Traffic has been a nightmare for years with nothing being done, why gripe now?

This thing rolls into town every ten years, roll with it.
By William Rodney (558), southampton on Jun 21, 18 7:57 AM
Shinnecock pays miniscule taxes to support Tuckahoe School. This event didn't buy one extra crayon for the kids. The least they could have put change buckets at the entrance for the kids. They should be tax shamed after all the money they make. The merchandise store was as big as Macy's, I'm sure they made big money just licensing their logo. And they want to steal our senic road. Not so nice.
By TheTurtle (143), Southampton on Jun 24, 18 2:44 PM
power tools, home improvements, building supplies, Eastern Long Island