The 117th US Open Championship will be played in a pop-up venue at Erin Hills, Hartford, Wis.
For one week in June, the United States Golf Association (USGA) turns an otherwise idyllic golf-course setting into a full-fledged venue, catering to the expectations of modern fans with a growing set of modern amenities. For this, the 117th US Open Championship, June 12-18, the USGA gives Erin Hills, Hartford, Wis., its first run as a US Open host, morphing a 652-acre property into a seven-day city and welcoming 35,000 patrons per day.
And it takes months to make it happen.
With a build starting March 15, it will take the USGA’s vendors three months to build for an event that includes the four-day championship and three days of practice rounds and then another two months for the tear-down and restoration process.
“It is pretty remarkable how quickly everything goes up,” said Eric Steimer, USGA 2017 U.S. Open Championship manager. “When you start to look at the bigger picture of what goes on outside the ropes, there are all of these pieces that come in to put on a championship of this size and scope and Erin Hills allows us a lot of great things because it is such a big piece of property.”
Relatively new in the golf world, Erin Hills didn’t even start forming until 2004 and has only been open for about 10 years. But that served to help the rolling hills design plans for a major championship by ensuring it had a plan for welcoming tens of thousands of fans while transforming into a venue.
“We can get the 18 holes right, but let’s think beyond the rope lines, how fans are going to navigate, where we are going to put them, how does that factor into how you design this golf course,” Steimer said. “It was all contemplated when it started in 2004.”
This June, the USGA will set up 400,000 square feet of tented space, 500,000 square feet of flooring, over 100 office trailers, 20 miles of fiber-optic cables and 15 miles of temporary fencing. The USGA predicts $120 million of estimated economic impact for southeastern Wisconsin with about $65 million for the greater Milwaukee metro area, as the course rests just northwest of the downtown area. The bulk of that economic impact comes from contractors setting up and tearing down the venue, as well as tourism-related spending by visitors.
Much of the temporary infrastructure rests in “fan central,” a location that includes the 39,000-sq-ft. merchandise pavilion at the main gate. At Erin Hills, fans will park offsite and a bus will drop them off at fan-central, meaning roughly 90 percent of traffic will come and go via one location. “It allows the vast majority of fans to walk through a centralized location and experience all the different activations we have onsite to optimize the fan experiences as opposed to having to walk to the opposite end of the course,” Steimer said. “It is all right there for them.”
Fan-central includes activation spaces for key sponsors American Express and Lexus, as well as a USGA member experience and golf-innovation tent. To handle the food and beverage needs, such as the estimated 100,000 hot dogs and 365,000 12-ounce beers, the USGA contracts with Levy Prom to manage all the fan concessions and then Ridgewells Catering for all corporate hospitality. “We break it up between the two companies,” Steimer said, “but both groups have to do a lot of local sourcing, whether a pretzel, bun or a hot dog.”
Every site sets up differently, but with the USGA returning to locations multiple times, dropping into a new course required “throwing darts at the wall to see what sticks” in terms of designing the pop-up experience.
With the fan-central location figured out, the USGA plans to dot the rolling hills with grandstands. “If we could build a grandstand around every green and some of the tees, that is the goal,” Steimer said. “We are able to get the vast majority of grandstands behind the greens.” Erin Hills will feature roughly 3,000 seats behind the 18th green, the pinnacle-finishing hole of the tournament. Another 1,200 seats will fit behind the par-three, ninth hole and expect anywhere from 400 to 1,500 seats at other locations.
The USGA plans to allow for about 50 percent of the anticipated crowd to be seated in grandstands at one time. “We are confident we could sell more tickets, but we are not about trying to maximize sales; we want it to be a good spectator experience,” Steimer said.
With a one-time event coming to Wisconsin, the USGA varies its ticketing options, everything from a $325,000 hospitality package a larger corporation may purchase for its own 40-foot by 40-foot tent to general admission fan tickets that allow access to the grounds and stands. In between, there is a bit of everything, from smaller, exclusive hospitality tents, shared premium tents, daily and weekly suites and tickets to the Trophy Club or 1895 club.
While most sports’ major events require a ramping up of sorts to pull off, the USGA moves its annual championship around the nation to courses in completely different terrains and regions, requiring planning based on specific course layouts. It all happens to turn 18 holes of golf into one of the nation’s premier pop-up venues.