Just a day into practice rounds at the U.S. Open in Southampton, social media feeds were atwitter with locals bemoaning traffic that backed up for hours on County Road 39 and Sunrise Highway, with news of the luxury yacht, Privacy, docked in Sag Harbor with Tiger Woods on board, while parents posted photographs of jubilant children on the grounds of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Others openly questioned the benefit to residents and businesses on the South Fork, while tens of thousands of people were expected to attend practice rounds and the event itself, which ended on Sunday evening.
While official numbers were not made available by the United States Golf Association (USGA), which runs the event, Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that outside of the traffic woes, the event was largely a success — a testament, he said, to town departments that worked behind the scenes with officials from the USGA, including the town police department led by Chief Steven Skrynecki. As for debilitating traffic? Mr. Schneiderman on Wednesday said the event has opened new lines of communication with the Long Island Rail Road as the region continues to grapple with an influx of traffic beyond its means, even when the U.S. Open is not in town.
“It reaffirmed our roads are not adequate to handle the volume of cars with or without the U.S. Open,” he said. “When you stop traffic, particularly heavy equipment, it takes a while to get it going again, so the more we can keep traffic moving, the better. Traffic lights are necessary, but they do affect the traffic flow and must be monitored and adjusted. We also learned, another re-affirmation, that public transportation, in particular rail transportation, is very helpful.”
Mr. Schneiderman said ridership was so strong on the railroad — perhaps due to the heavy traffic on Monday and Tuesday while the town and police began to rework traffic plans to reduce backups — that new conversations with the Long Island Rail Road have begun to talk about how to increase the number of trains serving the South Fork.
“We are unlikely to get a second track, but we are talking about adding more trains and using modern signalization, and perhaps using the addition of new sidings in key locations,” he said.
The town has been working with New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to bring a commuter train service to the South Fork. The hope is that service will launch in February.
Mr. Schneiderman said the town was also looking at how it can best utilize public bus transportation to a model with non-fixed bus routes, but more of a concierge service — a method used in other communities, he said, that was often more affordable than running empty busses. “Basically, it becomes a car pooling service — instead of five or six cars on a roadway, you would have one,” he said.
“When you think about all the things that could have gone wrong, largely I think this was a tremendous success,” said Mr. Schneiderman, noting the reaction he has had from business owners ranging from those who benefited significantly by the U.S. Open being held in Southampton to those who saw no change, and even others who felt their business decrease. County sales tax receipts, not available for several months, will paint a clearer picture, he said.
“My sense is on the whole it was good for the local economy,” he said. “I am sorry people got stuck in traffic on Monday and Tuesday — I wish it hadn’t happened … But there was a lot of positive energy. I think people felt proud of the Town of Southampton and the area in general was able to have an association with this world class event tied to this world class community.”
In Sag Harbor, where people clustered together in Marine Park throughout the week, perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr. Woods at the nearby Sag Harbor Yacht Club, the reaction was mixed.
Nathiel Egosi, owner of the 45-room Sag Harbor Inn, said the U.S. Open actually hurt his business. Traditionally, the inn is fully occupied on weekends in June — a popular time for weddings on the East End. Last weekend, the inn was not fully occupied, although roughly a quarter of the guests were planning to attend the U.S. Open.
“Why wasn’t it a great weekend despite great weather and Father’s Day? Many guests, when they found out it was the U.S. Open, said they were not going to come out because of the traffic,” he said. “They heard about it and said they would pick another weekend or go elsewhere.”
Mr. Egosi said part of the reason he believes the inn did not draw more traffic from out of town guests enjoying the Open was because many stayed at hotels in Riverhead and west — hotels with brand names that also offered shuttle service to and from Shinnecock Hills. Local hotels have also been hurt by regulations on home rentals being relaxed during the Open, said Mr. Egosi — a decision Mr. Schneiderman said he made so local families could financially benefit from the Open by renting their homes.
Ted Conklin, owner of The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, said he experienced a small increase in business as a result of the Open. “But it was modest,” he said. “What seemed to be nice about that week is people are just in a festive mood. I realize how aggravating it can be for some people, but once every decade or two, I think it’s a positive for the area and a lot of local people I know enjoyed the heck out of it.”
“We had some people in the shop who were here on eastern Long Island because of the U.S. Open,” said Gwen Waddington, who co-owns Sag Harbor’s iconic toy store, The Wharf Shop, with her mother, Nada Barry. “We talk to a lot of our customers and asked them if they were new to the area, and they said, ‘Yes, we are here for the Open’ and they shopped.”
“And although no one mentioned it, I think a lot of people came to Sag Harbor because they heard Tiger Woods was here on his yacht, and I think some people came just to look at that,” added Ms. Waddington.
Vicki Nolan, owner of Country Lane on Main Street, is an avid golfer — she and her husband volunteered Monday through Friday at the Open, marshalling the sixth hole. “I had a ton of customers who were here for the U.S. Open,” she said. “Some were here for the first time, some had been here before, some were staying on their boats for the Open, and they all thought Sag Harbor was the best.”
“Speaking from the Variety store, last week was a busy week in general,” said Lisa Field, owner of Sag Harbor’s Variety Store and president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “I do think the U.S. Open helped bring many visitors to Sag Harbor. Several customers were looking for items needed for the Open such as clear, transparent bags and portable chairs. Saturday was the best day of the weekend…I think it was a mix of the great weather, the advertising and promotion with the Sidewalk and Arts and Crafts Fair, and possibly from the U.S. Open. Sunday was quiet, but again that could be attributed to the beach weather and it being Father’s Day. However, sales were higher than a normal Sunday in June.
“Overall, I think the success of all the events that keep Sag Harbor in the news are always helpful to business,” she added.