They’ve been subtle, but signs that one of golf’s biggest championships is returning to Southampton have been popping up in recent months.
The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club will host the 118th U.S. Open Championship in less than a year—it will run from June 11 to 17, 2018. Shinnecock Hills will welcome the world’s best male players for the fifth time in the club’s 126-year history.
The United States Golf Association, which runs the tournament, set up shop on Main Street in Southampton Village more than a year before the 2018 event, and USGA employees have been responsible for making preparations for the week-long tournament. They’ve also taken the U.S. Open Championship Trophy around town in recent months: The trophy made an appearance at the July 4 parade in the village and was most recently on display at the Hampton Classic.
For local golf fans, anticipation of the return of one of golf’s four major tournaments to the area is already building. But for the rest of the general public, the imminent return of the championship is just starting to take hold.
The club and the event have always been closely connected: Shinnecock Hills, founded in 1891, hosted the second-ever U.S. Open in 1896, when James Foulis of Scotland won the $150 purse. It did not host it again until 1986, but the tournament returned to the club in 1995 and again in 2004. In addition to 2018, the USGA already has announced that the Open will return to Shinnecock Hills in 2026.
A lot has changed since 2004. Adapting to change—or, perhaps, remaining relevant in the face of it—is something the historic course and its stewards over the years have proven they can do extremely well.
Charles Howe, the USGA’s championship director for the 2018 Open, says Shinnecock Hills has appealed to the USGA time and time again because it is one of a handful of courses that is perfectly suited to hosting a major tournament.
“The course has stood the test of time,” he said, adding that there isn’t much pressure for drastic physical changes to provide a challenge for the world’s best golfers. He compared Shinnecock Hills to Oakmont, the western Pennsylvania course that was built in 1903, and Winged Foot, built in 1923 in Mamaroneck, New York. Oakmont has hosted the U.S. Open Championship nine times, more than any other course, while Winged Foot has hosted it five times. “They’re pretty much in championship condition all year,” he said of all three.
That’s not to say that Shinnecock Hills has been frozen in time. Over the last four years, plenty of length has been added to the course. The par-5 16th hole is now 70 yards longer, and the course will play significantly longer than it did last time it hosted the Open. It measured 6,996 yards in 2004, and will measure 7,439 yards for next year’s Open.
The added length will bring some bunkers back into play, and some other subtle changes made in recent years will give the course a bit of a new look for the players who competed there in 2004.
For those players who were in the mix on the final two days of the 2004 Open, there is one memory that likely has not left them: the conditions of the greens on the final day of play. Controversy erupted over the USGA’s treatment of the greens on the last day of the championship, when they were left to dry out and became virtually unplayable. The 7th green, in particular, became a source of frustration for many of the players.
Fears that final scores would be too low because of a lack of wind prompted the USGA to take drastic measures to make the greens play faster, but the consensus was that they’d gone too far. The USGA recognized the mistake and has vowed not to let it happen again.
While course preparations seem to be well under way and under control, the USGA also is busy preparing for what will be epic numbers of people descending on the course next year. According to Mr. Howe, more than 200,000 people are expected to visit Shinnecock Hills over the course of the week, including fans, volunteers—of which there will be 5,000—and members of the media.
The big question that follows is how the USGA plans to accommodate that number of people in terms of transportation.
According to Mr. Howe, the USGA is still in the process of working on locations for offsite parking. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton was the parking site in 2004, with buses used to shuttle people back and forth to the course each day. The USGA typically looks for parking sites roughly 25 to 30 minutes from the venue, to lessen the traffic impact on the community. The USGA expects roughly 15,000 vehicles daily for the four days of championship play, slightly less for the days when practice rounds are held.
One notable change for spectators who attended in 2004 and plan to attend next year is that mobile devices now will be allowed on site. The USGA changed that rule in 2015, and even has a U.S. Open mobile app, which gives spectators access to weather update, hole information and the leaderboard, among other features. For those who can’t make it to the course, FoxSports1 will provide more than 40 hours of television coverage, and the tournament will be broadcast in 180 countries.
Local golf fans who want a more in-depth experience at the tournament can still apply to be volunteers. While the USGA has already recruited the majority of its volunteer staff, it is still seeking volunteers to be marshals and also in the merchandise department.
Tickets for the 2018 Open Championship are on sale as well. Kids under 12 are admitted free. To buy tickets, visit usga.org/tickets.