U.S. Open organizers have agreed to build a temporary pedestrian bridge to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club so thousands of fans can get to the historic golf tournament in June, saving cash-strapped Suffolk $1.5 million, county officials said Wednesday.
The United States Golf Association made the offer to erect the 210-foot long span over County Road 39 in Southampton in December after meeting with Suffolk public works officials.
Since 1986, county taxpayers have paid for the bridge the last three times the event was held at Shinnecock. The offer came after Newsday, in August, disclosed public works officials budgeted $1.5 million to build a bridge that would be used for just a week — a dramatic escalation from the $200,000 cost in 2004.
“Obviously, the county was interested in having the Open out here and it was something we had to do to make it happen,” said Gil Anderson, Suffolk public works commissioner. “But they seem to understand the cost of building another bridge was high and they were open to building it themselves.”
Janeen Driscoll, USGA spokeswoman, would not comment on the issue and Charles Howe, tournament director, could not be reached for comment.
Suffolk, slow to recover from the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, continues to deal with a structural deficit of $150.3 million, legislative budget analysts say. But county officials also estimate the Open will generate a $120-130 million economic boost, including the booking of 8,000 to 9,000 hotel room nights, $25-40 million in direct USGA spending, and 3,600 to 4,000 temporary jobs.
The windswept links course holds a pre-eminent place in American golf as one of five original golf clubs that formed the USGA and the site of the second Open in 1896. The tournament, scheduled for June 14-17, will be the fifth at Shinnecock and the 10th time a U.S. Open has come to Long Island.
Suffolk absorbed the cost of the bridge for 1986 Open when the price tag was $80,000, and in 1994 and 2004, when the eight-foot-wide span cost $200,000. However, some lawmakers were highly critical when the cost jumped by seven times this year. “Oh my lord,” said Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) when first informed about increase. “Spending $200,000 on a small bridge might seem reasonable, but . . . a multiplier of six or seven times doesn’t make any sense.”
Told of the USGA’s decision, Cilmi, now GOP caucus leader, said, “We do derive an economic benefit from having the tournament, but it was a really big cost and I give a lot of credit to whoever stood their ground” to have the USGA cover the cost.
The USGA is also looking for legislative approval to lease up to 94 acres at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton for $70,000 to park 3,500 vehicles daily for the Open.
Fans will then be bused nearly 12 miles to a site next to the club where they will take the bridge to the course. The USGA has also made a $13,596 agreement with Suffolk County Community College to use three parking lots on the eastern campus near Riverhead to park 623 vehicles for those working at the event.
Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town is also planning to seek financial help from the USGA for added police overtime costs expected from the event for the department that has 100 full time and 20 seasonal officers.
Schneiderman said the town is also applying for aid from the federal Department of Homeland Security to help the town meet security needs at the high-profile event.