U.S. Open Treating Shinnecocks Poorly This Time Around

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Courtesy Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

The U.S. Open seems to be really messing up their longtime relationship with the Shinnecock Indian Nation. It’s too bad. There’s still time to make it right. I hope they do.

The fact is that the Shinnecock Nation was part of the founding of the golf course upon which this year’s Open is to be played next week. They physically built the course, caddied for the first members—this was the first incorporated golf club in America—and one of their number participated in an early U.S. Open there—and nearly won it. They have, for nearly 130 years, been greenskeepers and laborers for the course. The golf club’s crest is a profile of a Shinnecock Indian with crossed golf clubs.

In prior outings at the Shinnecock Golf Club—this, remarkably, is the fifth—U.S. Open officials have made the Shinnecock a part of the Open. The Nation’s pow-wow grounds and other spaces on the nearby tribal land just five minutes away have, in the past, served as parking lots for spectators and/or the lavish corporate hospitality tents. This arrangement has provided the tribe about $180,000 in those years.

This year, the U.S. Open has arranged for these tents and parking arrangements to be elsewhere. In its place, they offered the Shinnecocks a booth at a premium site on the golf course grounds itself where, presumably, the tribe would sell souvenirs. I spoke to one of the tribal trustees, Lance Gumbs, who said it was about four feet of table space.

“Our wives make beads,” Gumbs told me. “This offer was last minute. So we should choose one woman and her beads? She and her family would get the money. It won’t help the tribe. Also the forms we’d have to fill out to use this site say whatever is sold has to be golf related.”

The Open also arranged, Gumbs told me, for the tribe to get a cut if any golf simulator machines, being demonstrated by a NextLinks salesman, get sold. The company has already linked up with an Arizona tribe, the Ak-Chin, for a share of the profit. The simulators cost about $18,000. Of course, if nobody buys one, there’s no money to share.

According to Gumbs, there have been several meetings with the Open already about arrangements for this year. The tribe doesn’t get the parking. Instead, the Open—for traffic-flow purposes—is going to have private parking in a big lot in Westhampton, with fleets of busses bringing spectators the 15 miles to the Open and back.

The parking for those from the east will be at the Horse Show Grounds in Bridgehampton. The Tribe suggested they provide parking for people from the east, who don’t especially want to drive all the way to Westhampton to come back to Shinnecock. That was turned down.

The tribal council has no plans to boycott or demonstrate about their being left out of things this year. But some individual tribal members say they might do so. It would consist of burning sage, drumming and carrying signs.

It would be a shame if things come to this. As the tribe has been an active partner with the golf club for nearly the entirety of the club’s existence, what is going on? There are enormous sums of money that will be made by organizations in this area—so why is this 650-member tribe, officially recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and living simply on their 1.3-square-mile reservation, so clearly overlooked? The Nation has even suggested that the Open consider paying the tribe a fee for the use of their name and image.

The tribe might provide parking anyway. At the Masters Tournament in April, on its own, a nearby tribe offered premium parking on their grounds. It should be possible for the Shinnecock Nation to offer it—say, $50 a carload and you get to park at the pow-wow grounds, where a five-minute bus ride drops you at the entrance to the weeklong event—if village traffic police cooperate.

“We’re told that Arizona tribe raised $30,000 a day by providing parking with a bus shuttle,” Gumbs told me. “That might make up the whole loss we will suffer otherwise.”

Why wasn’t an executive at the Open assigned to see to it that the tribe, their friend, got a fair shake? There was another meeting about this Tuesday as we went to press.

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