How does a town handle a daily influx of 25,000 spectators — double its population — all headed to the USGA’s 2013 U.S. Open? With streets surrounding the venue closed to traffic and no on-site parking, Ardmore, Penn. — a suburb of Philadelphia and home of Merion Golf Club, had a major ally to help move the masses — the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).
Fortunately, Ardmore and the course are easily accessible by public transportation. Merion Golf Club is nestled alongside SEPTA’s Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) — the Ardmore Avenue Station is adjacent to the course’s 12th hole (entrance gate 3 for the U.S. Open). On a normal day, the stop has approximately 100 customers. During the championship rounds of the Open, that total grew to 10,000 passengers a day, or roughly the regular daily ridership total of the entire 22-stop NHSL.
Spectators and volunteers were also able to take SEPTA’s Paoli/Thorndale Regional Rail Line to the Open, disembarking at Rosemont Station and boarding free shuttle buses for a 10-minute ride to the links. Rosemont, which has a daily ridership of 340 commuters, was the transit hub for 5,000 people during each of the tournament’s final rounds.
“There were 25,000 tickets per day and we carried more than half of those ticketholders to Merion,” said SEPTA Assistant GM of Operations Ron Hopkins. “The USGA also had a remote parking/shuttle bus system in place for spectators, but it was clear as the tournament progressed that the proximity of SEPTA stops and the ease of making connections to the golf course via public transportation were vital in getting the public and volunteers to and from the venue.”
Given Merion Golf Club’s location in a residential neighborhood, the USGA knew it would need to rely on SEPTA and worked with the agency for over a year in advance of the tournament.
“We had consistent contact with USGA representatives throughout the planning stages and during the tournament,” said SEPTA Chief Officer of Surface Transportation Mike Liberi. “In addition to offering expanded schedules to accommodate the thousands of golf enthusiasts and our regular customers, we also collaborated with the USGA on the construction of a temporary pedestrian bridge over the NHSL tracks that would bring Regional Rail passengers from the shuttle bus drop-off to the course.” SEPTA employee ambassadors were positioned at the agency’s key transit centers and stations to direct passengers unfamiliar with the system to their trains.
Service preparation also needed to include weather contingency plans — although no one was anticipating the torrential rain and severe thunderstorms that hit at the beginning of the championship round’s first day.
“When the USGA closed the gates to spectators because of the lightning, we were able to keep the public on our trains and take them to our stations where they waited for the all clear,” said Hopkins.
The 2013 Open is an example of how public transit can be used as an asset for venues attempting to attract large events — sporting, entertainment, political or otherwise — to their facilities. Such events not only have a financial impact, but often also introduce public transit to new audiences.
“The U.S. Open brought over $100 million to the local economy and allowed us to showcase our multi-modal system,” said SEPTA GM Joseph Casey. “Hopefully the success at Merion will draw similar events to the Greater Philadelphia Region and the SEPTA service area.”
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