U.S. Open Experience grows at Pinehurst
The U.S. Golf Association is taking its national championships to the people with an array of events during its men’s and women’s tournaments in Pinehurst, N.C.
“We have a real desire to open up the U.S. Open for everybody beyond the gates,” said Sarah Hirshland, the USGA’s senior managing director of business affairs. “When you look back, the U.S. Open experience has been limited to those on the golf course, inside the gates. At Pinehurst, you’re going to see a blend of the U.S. Open and just a celebration of golf in general, so that we can provide a great experience for everyone away from the course as well.”
|The stage at Pinehurst will feature multiple music and film events.
During that span, organizers will create a variety of programming throughout the days and evenings in Tufts Park, in the center of the village. That space is across the street from Pinehurst Country Club, where the tournaments will be played in June.
The USGA experimented with the U.S. Open Experience concept last year for the first time in downtown Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. While the U.S. Open was being played 30 miles away at Merion, the USGA created a space in the mall with a merchandise tent, video boards that carried highlights, putting greens, historical exhibits and swing simulators.
It went well enough that the USGA decided to build it into a bigger and more expansive fan fest and entertainment zone in Pinehurst.
This year’s U.S. Open Experience, which will be free to the public, will feature a 9-foot-by-12-foot LED board showing live action and highlights from the tournaments, vendors selling a variety of food, rocking chairs and picnic tables for seating, and umbrellas for shade. A merchandise tent will sell U.S. Open gear and a putting green will be available for the visitors.
The big difference this year will be the exhaustive programming. The stage at the Experience will provide a platform for the North Carolina Symphony, a screening of the Ross Greenburg-produced documentary “1999 U.S. Open: Moment in Time,” the 82nd Airborne choir from nearby Fort Bragg, and other local entertainment.
One of the biggest changes will be moving the annual Bob Jones Award ceremony to the Tuesday before the Open and making it accessible to practice-round ticket holders that day. The award is the USGA’s highest honor and will be given posthumously to Payne Stewart, who won the 1999 Open at Pinehurst. Previously, the award has been given during the USGA’s annual meetings.
“We made the decision to make the ceremony more accessible by having it in a public venue,” Hirshland said. “Our brand promise is to service the game and golfers, and we want them to feel like they’re part of our organization. This is an extension of that mandate.”
Hirshland said it remains to be seen if the Experience will become another space for sponsors to activate. The USGA’s corporate partners are Chevron, Rolex, American Express, Lexus and IBM.
Leading up to the back-to-back Opens will be a new program called the Drive to Pinehurst. Starting next month, Lexus will sponsor a program to take the U.S. Open trophy to different locations in the region “to build buzz and energy in local markets,” Hirshland said.
The trophy will visit sites that have some kind of connection to golf, and videos of those moments will be captured and turned into an episodic series. That three-part series will run in late May and June on usopen.com.