June 08--CARTHAGE -- The Moore County Airport is ready to make a good first impression for visitors flying in during the historic consecutive U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open over the next few weeks.
The airport has been remodeled with upscale decorations and high-end furnishings to go with recent renovations that expanded the runway and upgraded the terminal. Air traffic controllers in a temporary tower are handling planes and jets that might be tenfold the usual number.
Officials with the U.S. Golf Association say as many as 400,000 people might attend the two championships, which are being played at Pinehurst Resort's No. 2 Course. It's the first time the two tournaments are being contested back-to-back at the same site.
Airport officials expect 2,000 to 4,000 flights over the two weeks. That's about 10 times more than a usual two weeks in June.
A temporary control tower is in a trailer near the terminal. It will be run by Airboss Inc., which was scheduled to start operating Saturday. George Cline, the company owner, said the five air traffic controllers who will work during the tournaments are retired from the FAA and have a total of 169 years of experience.
Cline said the tower will operate like one run by the FAA.
"We do the same work," he said.
Cline said he worked at the airport during the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens, when the FAA operated a similar temporary tower. The controllers had no problems dealing with planes when the airport was especially busy during the 2005 tournament, he said.
"In '05, it was Katie bar the door, one after another, in and out," he said.
Several top players flew in last week to play practice rounds. Luke Donald, player of the year on the PGA and European tours in 2011, arrived Thursday morning on a Cessna Citation jet.
Steve Borden, executive director for the Moore County Airport, said players who come in this week will come through the airport before getting into cars provided by the USGA.
The players and other visitors will see a plush terminal interior that includes furniture, fixtures and rugs, and artwork by Bob Timberlake.
"Everybody will come through here," Borden said. "We want to hit them with a wow factor and a great big welcome to Moore County."
The airport has other sponsors for the championships, including Flexjet, Shell Oil and Acura. EarthStone built a custom stone patio at the main entrance from recycled material.
The Whispering Pines Garden Club helped landscape the airport property.
Pinehurst Resort is setting up a shop to sell shirts, caps and other items with the resort's logo.
Kirk Tours and Limousine has the contract to provide transportation from the airport.
Marva Kirk said her company provided similar services on an informal basis at the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens, which were both in Pinehurst. The company already has about 60 reservations for this year, she said.
Local drivers will pick up people at the front of the airport, Kirk said.
"They know the area," she said. "It's important to us because our name is on the vehicles."
Jared Kirk, the transportation director, said the company wants to give riders a hometown feeling and personal touch.
"We want to give them that great feeling they won't get in the bigger city," he said.
The temporary enhancements at the airport for the championships add to a recently completed $9 million expansion and renovation that lengthened the runway by 1,000 feet to 6,500 feet, expanded the aircraft apron area and renovated the main terminal building and conference room.
The airport now can park 70 to 100 aircraft based on size and arrival frequency. Added space allows the airport to handle nearly twice as many medium-sized business jets as before the expansion.
Borden said that during the tournaments volunteers trained by the airport will load bags, shuttle passengers from planes to the terminal and answer visitors' questions.
"We're proud of our gateway image," Borden said. "We take seriously our responsibility to be a gateway to the county."
Staff writer Steve DeVane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3572.
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