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Jan 17, 2017 4:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Planning Begins For 2018 U.S. Open At Shinnecock Hills

Charlie Howe is the championship director for the U.S. Golf Association that is in charge of planning the 2018 U.S. Open being held at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. BY GREG WEHNER
Jan 19, 2017 11:45 AM

It has been nearly six years since the announcement was made, meaning that spectators from around the world and residents of the East End have to wait only another year and a half to take in the sporting spectacle known as the U.S. Open Championship Tournament when it returns to the exclusive Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in June 2018.While 18 months might seem like a long time to wait, the clock is already ticking for Charlie Howe, the championship director of the 2018 U.S. Open who recently opened an office on Main Street in Southampton Village.

Between now and then the 32-year-old Richmond, Virginia, native will be busy mapping a blueprint to handle the estimated 250,000 people expected to converge on the East End from around the country and world for the week-long tournament, while also constructing a mini-city of sorts within the confines of the 259-acre private golf course that sits just off County Road 39.

“In my world, it’s probably not early enough,” Mr. Howe said on Monday when asked if he has ample time to prepare for one of golf’s most prestigious events. “Obviously, we want to create this environment and certainly provide our players, fans and spectators [with] the safest environment to see our national championship competition.”

The U.S. Golf Association, or USGA, announced in 2011 that the U.S. Open Championship Tournament would be played at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in June 2018. The event was last held at the course in 2004.

Mr. Howe has a team of individuals who will help him plan out every single aspect of the 2018 championship to ensure success. Some of those aspects include finalizing parking and transportation plans, signing off on the course layout, and even the installation of electricity and plumbing lines. He noted that he intends to review the USGA’s game plan for the 2004 event, which most agree went smoothly considering the volume of people it attracted.

Those plans include deciding on tent locations, the type of flooring that will be used inside those tents, as well as the amount and types of generators needed to power the concession stands. They even have to finalize the locations of the hundreds of portable toilets that will be needed to accommodate the crowds. Noting that the golf course lacks potable water lines that can be tapped, Mr. Howe said his crew must install temporary plumbing to supply water to the facilities that will be lining the course. “There’s a lot of infrastructure that we have to bring in,” he added.

Still, parking and transportation remain two of the biggest issues for organizers to address; the tournament is expected to attract an estimated 18,000 vehicles, and they need somewhere to park. Like last time, USGA officials are planning to work with Suffolk County in order to allow attendees to park at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and then shuttle them by bus to the golf course. They also would like to secure parking at the Stony Brook-Southampton campus, located directly south of Shinnecock Hills, and hope to soon have discussions with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about creating a temporary Long Island Rail Road train station at the campus—just like they did in 2004.

Explaining that he is aware of the fact that spectators arriving from the west have only two options—either Sunrise or Montauk highway—to reach the golf course, Mr. Howe noted that one of his crew’s priorities will be nailing down the logistics to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible. He also pointed out that he is familiar with Southampton Town’s traffic situation come the spring and summer months, when normal daily traffic can tie up both highways, especially in the morning and evening commutes.

“I would foresee that as being our office’s toughest challenge,” said Mr. Howe, who earned his master’s degree in sports management from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007, a year before he began working as an intern for the USGA. “But we also know that it did work in 2004.”

Tom Neely, Southampton Town’s director of public transportation and traffic safety—a position he held when the 2004 U.S. Open last came to town—said traffic was not the issue everyone feared it could be back then. He gave credit to the organizers of the 2004 tournament, saying they encouraged people to leave their cars and take either the shuttle buses or train to the golf course. Those who parked at the college had access to a temporary pedestrian bridge that was installed over County Road 39.

Mr. Neely also pointed out that many of those planning to visit the East End delayed their trips so they would not coincide with the golf tournament.

“It traveled better than normal,” Mr. Neely recalled on Tuesday, referring to the traffic situation in 2004.

Since the U.S. Golf Association employs only about 325 people, bringing in volunteers is a crucial part of ensuring a tournament’s success, according to Mr. Howe. To that end, he said he hopes to attract upward of 5,000 volunteers next summer.

“It’s a great opportunity to kind of get a closer view of golf and be part of the championship,” Mr. Howe said, explaining why the USGA is able to recruit so many individuals. “You get some cool gear, get to come to the championship and only have to work four shifts.”

Volunteers also can purchase a weeklong package that comes with two Ralph Lauren shirts and a jacket for $175. Those interested in volunteering for the 2018 U.S. Open Championship can go to 2018volunteers.usga.org.

Regarding potential changes, Mr. Howe explained that organizers recently decided to allow spectators to bring their cellphones to the tournament. Previously, he explained that they were concerned about protecting their broadcasting rights, but have since opted to back away from that stance. As result, attendees are now free to post photos and videos on social media.

He also noted that the USGA now has an app, called “U.S. Open Golf Championship,” that allows golf enthusiasts to more closely follow the tournament leaderboards, and they are also able to search for food and other concessions based on their location.

Organizers are also planning other modifications, such as cutting back on the number of tickets sold. In 2004, the U.S. Open was attended by approximately 37,500 people daily; for next year’s tournament, they plan on offering only 35,000 tickets a day, explaining that their research has shown that those buying them want fewer spectators on the course.

The tournament is also expected to provide a huge boon to the local economy, especially those businesses catering to the tens of thousands of visitors who are expected to arrive for the event. Mr. Howe estimated that the tournament will generate between $120 million and $130 million for businesses in the Long Island region.

“It’s a team atmosphere and everyone comes together,” said Mr. Howe, who worked on his first U.S. Open in 2008, when it was held at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California. “We are not experts by any means, but we’re pretty close. We strive to have exemplary championships.”

Next year’s tournament will mark the fifth time the U.S. Open has been held at Shinnecock Hills, a course that was opened in 1891, but was redesigned by William Flynn in 1931. It also marks the 19th time that the U.S. Open will have been played in New York State and the 10th time on Long Island. The USGA has already announced that the tournament will return to Shinnecock Hills for the sixth time in 2026.

The first time the tournament was held there in 1896, when the USGA hosted its second U.S. Open. That year, James Foulis won the championship by three strokes over Horace Rawlins. The tournament returned in 1986, when Raymond Floyd shot a final-round 66 break out of a tightly bunched field and win by two strokes over Chip Beck and Lanny Wadkins. In 1995, Corey Pavin clinched his two-stroke victory over Greg Norman with a memorable 4-wood approach to the final green. And in 2004, South African Retief Goosen outlasted Phil Mickelson by two strokes to claim his second U.S. Open title.

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Bus people from Gabreski again. That worked out great last time
By GoldenBoy (324), EastEnd on Jan 19, 17 9:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
Interesting, thorough and well-written story.
By Phyllisann (3), Lebanon on Jan 29, 17 5:28 PM
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