There’s just a single two-lane road that winds from U.S. 17 southeast from the Charleston, S.C., area to Kiawah Island.
It’s a narrow 14-mile stretch called Betsy Kerrison Parkway, slithering between huge oak trees cloaked in Spanish moss, and it’s the most direct route to get to this week’s PGA Championship.
That’s made the idea of getting more than 20,000 people on the island and off each day during the tournament a source of considerable angst for planners.
|Kiawah’s seaside location and sand dunes led the PGA to limit tickets to about 25,000.
Sterba has been around. This is the seventh PGA that he’s either run himself or had a hand in running, and no previous venue has required the attention to traffic flow and parking logistics that this one has.
Typically a behind-the-scenes guy who makes sure the shuttles run on time and the budget balances, Sterba has taken to the airwaves to help educate the fans. Videos of Sterba talking about parking and transportation issues began showing up earlier this year on the KiawahResort.com blog site.
Sterba for the last year and a half has studied the history of traffic flow and parking trends at other PGA Championships to prepare for an influx of cars coming down that shoestring of a country road.
“There are a limited number of ways to get here. We get that,” Sterba said. “So we’re doing a lot of things that we might not do at other championships.”
Those preparations began 18 months ago when Sterba and Roger Warren, the former PGA of America president and now president of the Kiawah resort, assembled a committee of 35 state and county officials who know the roads and are experts on traffic. That group met monthly to devise a plan for traffic flow based on previous PGA Championships and a survey Sterba sent to fans who had bought tickets.
Because the PGA moved tickets so quickly — 94 percent of all the available tickets were sold by early 2011 — Sterba’s team had time to survey where the fans were staying and where they would be coming from. About 8,000 of the 23-question surveys came back from the nearly 17,000 fans and volunteers who got them.
The surveys showed that only a quarter of all the people coming to the tournament would be staying on the island, which is made up of mostly single-family homes. The other 75 percent will be traveling onto the island each day.
Determining that roughly 30,000 people will be on the course daily, PGA officials mapped out their strategy. Most major championship sites will host 40,000 or more fans a day, but Kiawah’s unique design next to the ocean led the PGA to limit daily tickets to about 25,000, which will help Sterba’s team manage traffic. The other 5,000 represent volunteers, media, military guests and other officials.
Based on studies of the previous 10 championships, Sterba determined that 85 percent of all cars are in the parking lot by 11 a.m. each day. With 100 acres cleared for parking just outside Kiawah’s lone entrance point, PGA officials anticipate parking 10,000 cars each day. With the majority of them coming in prior to 11 a.m., they expect to park 8,500 cars between the hours of 5 a.m., when the lot opens, and 11 a.m., or more than 1,400 cars an hour.
Sterba’s team can park 1,600 cars an hour through the two access points at the parking lot near Kiawah’s entrance, meaning the volunteers parking cars will have to be at peak efficiency to prevent backups onto Betsy Kerrison Parkway. Once there, fans will then be shuttled about 15 minutes to the course.
“It’s a very scientific approach,” Sterba said. “This isn’t anything like your normal PGA. But the expertise of the local officials and traffic engineers are what makes us confident it will work. And it will work.”
On the hospitality front, the PGA has sold out its allotment of hospitality passes on the 18th hole and has just a few small packages available on the 17th. A 100-person chalet goes for $280,000, while a 50-person chalet costs $140,000. That’s $2,800 per pass to be in the hospitality village.
With the PGA’s general tickets already sold out for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the remaining handful of hospitality passes on the 17th are the only way to attend the weekend rounds.