U.S. Open brings boost to Laurinburg

By Mary Katherine Murphy

April 30, 2014

LAURINBURG — Tourism officials and business owners are looking forward to the second and third weeks of June as “a very big fortnight” for Laurinburg, even for the city’s normally busy summer season.

When the U.S. Open golf championship begins on June 9 at Moore County’s Pinehurst Resort, up to 55,000 spectators per day are expected to flood the course — more than can be accommodated in Pinehurst, Southern Pines, and Aberdeen.

For the first time in its history, the tournament will be immediately followed by the U.S. Women’s Open, also at Pinehurst No. 2, on June 17, which is expected to attract half the number of spectators as the men’s championship.

According to Scotland County Tourism Development Authority Director Cory Hughes, many hotels in the immediate Pinehurst area have been booked by the U.S. Golf Association and sports media outlets, leaving tens of thousands of spectators searching for places to sleep elsewhere.

“We’re expecting it to be a busy time for Laurinburg, which is a good thing,” said Hughes.

With most of Laurinburg’s hotel rooms reserved during the men’s tournament, more than 1,000 U.S. Open spectators are expected to lodge here in the two-week period. On top of that, some 100 overflow workers from the golf championship will be lodging in the residence halls at St. Andrews University for the duration of both tournaments.

Ron Riggins, owner of Laurinburg’s Hampton Inn and Scotland Inn, said the 100 rooms comprised by both of his hotels have been reserved for nearly a year — at rates 50 percent higher than normal.

“You can draw a 75 mile circle around the U.S. Open and you’ve got people fighting for rooms,” Riggins said. “When you’ve got way more people wanting rooms, you’re going to get a premium price for the rooms.”

He estimated that, for each person staying at a hotel, $65 to $80 per day is injected into the local economy. During the week of June 9-15, 70 percent of his bookings are U.S. Open spectators.

“It’s a pretty good economic impact on any area.”

Laurinburg hotels began receiving reservations from golf enthusiasts last July, but Comfort Inn manager Michael Taylor said that 40 percent of his hotel was booked in late January and early February.

“Communicating with the folks in Pinehurst and working with the U.S. Golf Association we’ve gotten some group bookings that are going to stay straight through both weeks,” Taylor said.

Only a handful of the Comfort Inn’s 80 rooms have yet to be reserved on June 11-15, the weekend of the men’s tournament, at double the usual rate. Taylor said that, for at least a week, the hotel will be staffing well above its usual levels at the front desk and in its laundry department.

As of last week, the Holiday Inn Express only had three rooms left to sell. Manager Crystal Paige said that the summer is typically the busiest season for the hotel, which is convenient to those travelling on U.S. 74. In anticipation of increased demand due to the U.S. Open, the hotel is charging a premium rate and has implemented a three-night minimum for guests.

With the city’s hotels at 100 percent occupancy, Paige predicted based on past experience that the rest of Laurinburg will also benefit.

“I think it’s going to be a lot busier than usual just for the simple fact that we’re going to have all of these people from out of town who are going to want to have something to do not during the Open,” she said.

“We ask them what they’re interested in and kind of go from there to recommend outdoor stuff, biking trails, or the John Blue House.”

Hughes said that Laurinburg is also likely to see traffic from those travelling to Moore County from I-95 and the Charlotte airport via U.S. 74 and U.S. 501, picking up revenue from gasoline and fast food sales. Though not expansive, the city’s restaurant trade is also expected to reap rewards from those lodging here.

“One of the things they found in Pinehurst last time they did this was that the restaurant business did very poorly,” Hughes said. “Roads were closed off and it was just a pain to get around, so the surrounding areas did very well.”

Riggins expects a 30 percent boost in business at Champ’s Fine Foods and Spirits, adjoining the Scotland Inn, during the first week of the U.S. Open. Taylor is similarly optimistic about McDuff’s, near the Comfort Inn.

“A lot of folks are not going to wait in line in Pinehurst for an hour or two hours just to eat. I think a lot of them staying here are going to eat here as well,” Taylor said.

“I think we’re going to benefit a tremendous amount from this thing.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.