The U.S. Open tees off Thursday at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in New York, and so far, the big story around the tournament has been, well … the traffic around the tournament. Waits of up to three hours to get to the course aren’t uncommon, the course is almost devoid of galleries early in the day, and that’s leading to the question of whether the traffic might impact the tournament itself. Let’s dive in.
The traffic’s bad at a golf tournament? Why should I care?
Well, unless you’re a player or a fan going to the event, you really shouldn’t. It has no impact on your life. But if you are a fan going to the event, you should have left your house yesterday. And if you’re a player, matters could get very tricky. You miss your tee time by more than five minutes, and you’re done.
“There are a few guys so far this week have said it’s taken them from the hotel 2 1/2 to 3 hours, and, you know, there’s a good chance that someone might miss their time,” Tiger Woods said Tuesday. “You get a little traffic, you get maybe a little fender bender, it’s not inconceivable someone could miss their time.”
Woods, of course, is staying on a $20 million yacht, so he’s not affected. Of course.
Fine, everybody’s backed up. So what’s the problem?
Geography. Shinnecock sits at the eastern edge of Long Island, which is not named Wide Island, and there are only two continuous roads that head there from New York City and other points west. You can see how the water pinches the land just west of the course here:
As anyone who’s ever tried to get anywhere knows, red is bad. And the above map comes from Wednesday morning, comprising about six miles’ worth of gridlocked traffic. Local police say they’re taking steps to reduce gridlock, but we’re still in the pre-tournament stages.
It’s reminiscent of the apocalyptic jams that backed up for three hours heading to the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in South Carolina … which, in an absolutely amazing coincidence, is also a golf course located on the far end of a narrow island accessible only by a very few small roads.
Has anyone ever missed a tee time because of traffic?
Surely someone has, but the most notable nearly-missed tee times involved bad planning, not bad traffic. Dustin Johnson missed getting disqualified by six seconds at Riviera back in 2011 when his caddy told him the wrong tee time; DJ was on the driving range when he was supposed to be at the first tee box. (If you’re even an instant late to your tee time, you get docked two strokes; if you’re more than five minutes late, you’re DQ’d.)
More notably, Rory McIlroy almost missed his Ryder Cup tee time back in 2012 at Medinah when he didn’t realize that his tee time was listed in Eastern Time, but Medinah is in the Central time zone. McIlroy needed a police escort, and just barely made his match with Keegan Bradley. (McIlroy won 2-and-1, for the record.)
Could this affect the choice of future major venues?
You’d think that maybe golf’s governing bodies would factor in access to courses, considering that many in the major tournament rotation were built years or even decades before traffic concerns existed, but given that Shinnecock is getting another U.S. Open in 2026 and Kiawah another PGA in 2021, well, ease of access is clearly lower on the list of priorities. We’re certain that the fact that most players and decisionmakers shack up in homes virtually adjacent to the course has nothing to do with those kinds of decisions.
After all, not everyone can be Jason Day, who’s posted up in an RV just outside the club’s gates. “I’m 30 seconds away from the parking lot,” Day said Tuesday, “which is nice.”
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