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The U.S. Open as experienced from a base under the stars

Matthew Dufner, left, Ryan Gill and Gavin Volckmann,

Matthew Dufner, left, Ryan Gill and Gavin Volckmann, high school golf buddies, drove a 1999 Winnebago from New Jersey, parking it at Sears Bellows County Park in Hampton Bays. Credit: John Roca

Chad Dixon and Suzanne Hargreaves traveled all the way from Manchester, England, this week to visit the U.S. Open, but when it came time to plan for a place to stay for the week, a top-end Hamptons hotel was never in the cards.

Instead, Dixon rented an all-in-one drivable trailer in Bay Shore and drove it out to Hampton Bays to spend several nights at Sears Bellows County Park. It was no easy task for a man accostumed to driving a tiny car on the left side of the road.

“It’s the first time I’ve driven over here,” he said Thursday night, as the couple prepared to toast marshmallows at the sparsely populated campground. “It certainly is baptism by fire.”

Suffolk County Parks spokeswoman Kerry Albee said the department had set aside more than 350 campsites for fans to stay at four parks near the U.S. Open. Sears Bellows is the closest to the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, where the championship is being played.

Exact figures on the numbers of U.S. Open fans who took the county up on the offer were not available Friday.

“We’ve noticed an uptick in certain parks that wouldn’t be so busy this time of year,” including Sears Bellows and Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, Albee said.

A common thread among the handful of campers at Sears Bellows on Thursday night was the savings that came with roughing it.

Dixon spent $800 for the trailer for the week and $260 for a pair of U.S. Open tickets. The campground costs $29 a night for nonresidents. After spending three nights in Manhattan, the couple planned to visit area beaches on Friday, Splish Splash in Calverton on Saturday and the Open on Sunday. Takeoff time for the trip back to Manchester is 6 p.m. Monday.

The highlight of the trip for Dixon, a golf fanatic: “Seeing golf pro Sergio Garcia in an adidas store in New York City.”

When it came time for Gavin Volckmann and his two high-school golf buddies from New Jersey to plan a trip to the U.S. Open, they didn’t have to look far once they saw hotel prices ranging over $500 a night. Volckmann’s uncle had a 1999 Winnebago with just 30,000 miles on it.

So he, Matthew Dufner and Ryan Gill loaded the faded vehicle with food and assorted staples, a few golf clubs and practice greens, and started on the five-hour journey. They paid $42 to cross the George Washington Bridge and checked into Sears Bellows on Wednesday night.

All for the chance to spend a single day at Shinnecock, at $125 for entry, per person.

They took Uber and Lyft cars to and from the golf course.

“A lot of the hotels were crazy” overpriced, Volckmann said. Four nights at Sears Bellows comes to $116. “I wasn’t going to pay a lot for a hotel,” he said.

The trio got to see the first round of play. “It was awesome,” Dufner said. “The weather was perfect.”

The trio, all 19, played for the same high school golf team, and continue to play cheap courses near their home in Warren Township, New Jersey, about a half-hour from President Donald Trump’s private course in Bedminster.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Dufner said.

Randy Baltar has seen his share of U.S. Open traffic over the week, but none as a spectator.

He’s a cabdriver who, with his family, lives full time in various Suffolk campgrounds, this week at Sears Bellows. Monthly rent: $300. So far he’s had to make seven trips to the Open, he said, ferrying people to and from in sometimes dense traffic.

“It’s brutal with the traffic,” he said. He leaves the campground at 4:30 a.m. to start his day. “It’s a very stressful time,” he said. “You make a little more money, but it’s a lot of work.”

Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of Suzanne Hargreaves.

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