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Shinnecock Indian Nation, USGA at odds over U.S. Open plans

An aerial view of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

An aerial view of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on May 7. Credit: All Island / Kevin P. Coughlin

Talks between the Shinnecock Indian Nation and the U.S. Golf Association over the tribe’s participation in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills have broken down over what tribal leaders called the association’s offer of “scraps” to the tribe.

New tribal trustee Lance Gumbs said tribal members were “livid” over the USGA’s decision not to use a large area of the tribe’s powwow grounds for overflow parking for the event, which takes place June 11-17.

Instead, Gumbs said, the tournament will use parking as far away as Westhampton, and bus visitors in.

Gumbs said the tribe could offer parking for up to 5,000 cars for the event, a prospect that could have been worth at least tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, for the tribe.

Also, former tribal trustee Nichol Dennis-Banks said she and several members of the tribe, including John Machiste Andrade, are planning rallies at the golf tournament to protest the lack of inclusion of the tribe.

Craig Annis, a spokesman for the USGA, said the organization has “deep respect for the Shinnecock Nation and their contribution to nurturing the golf course from its inception.”

He said the association has had “regular conversations with tribal council leaders over the past year” to develop opportunities to “meaningfully celebrate their contributions, honor their heritage, engage them in our championship, provide economic opportunities, and donate goods that they have benefitted from in the past.”

Officials last week sent the tribe a series of “specific opportunities to engage with us during our championship, but we have yet to receive a response,” Annis said. He called it “premature to comment on any outcomes until we hear from the Shinnecock Nation directly.”

Annis said the tournament has not parked cars on Shinnecock territory since 1995.

That’s primarily to “reduce any traffic congestion directly in the Town of Southampton and create as little disruption as possible to residents, while safely and smoothly diverting more than 18,000 vehicles and 30,000 people to ample land capable of managing the increased traffic,” Annis said.

Dennis-Banks said rallies during the tournament will highlight “injustices” by the golf club against the tribe. She cited the “blatant disregard by the golf club to honor the agreements that were made when the land was leased to them.”

Asked if tournament organizers were prepared for protests, Annis said, “It would be unfortunate if the Shinnecock Nation chose to protest instead of celebrating with us as they have in past years, but if they choose to it is their right and we will respect that.”

He said the USGA has “every confidence in our security plan and work with local law enforcement, should anything occur at the championship, just like any other sporting event.”

He said the USGA in its first offer to the tribe proposed that nation members “sell locally made items in our merchandise tent with premiere placement at the point of purchase.”

The USGA also offered the tribe the opportunity to place a golf-putting simulator at the championship site.

“We offered to make this happen in a very high traffic area,” Annis said. “It is our understanding that the Shinnecock Nation has an agreement with an external vendor to share profits on sales of simulators and that this could be very financially beneficial to them.”

Gumbs called the offers “a pittance.”

“They’re using our name, they’re using our land,” Gumbs said, referring to the Shinnecock golf club’s former ownership by the tribe, which helped build the course decades ago. “Our ancestors are buried there and you’re not going to recognize the tribe?”

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