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Friday, June 14, 2024

U.S. Open Is Making Changes On and Off the Course

  • The third men’s golf major championship of the year is headed to Pinehurst, N.C.
  • Luxury ticket sales and TV partners are breaking new ground.
USGA/John Mummert

The best players on the PGA Tour and LIV Golf were not playing together over the weekend, but this week, they will all be making their way to Pinehurst, N.C., for the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday. The tournament will mark the 1,000th championship hosted by the United States Golf Association, so it’s fitting that the event will bring new ways to watch golf, both on and off the course—if you can afford it.

Cost of Doing Business

When the famous Pinehurst No. 2 course last hosted the U.S. Open in 2014, there were no luxury suite boxes or other hospitality build-outs on the course; all the premium offerings were built around the driving range. That’s not the case this year, as 11 such areas are scattered throughout the 18 holes, resulting in the second-most-ever corporate hospitality sales for a U.S. Open, behind only last year’s record tournament at Los Angeles Country Club.

A source tells Front Office Sports those sales will total just over $23 million. Large companies with strong contingents in nearby Raleigh and Charlotte are responsible for most of those incoming dollars, but organizers are also benefiting from the growing trend of some golf fans becoming more and more willing to spend ultrahigh dollar amounts on premium tickets. 

The USGA this week is rolling out its highest-end product available to the public, the 1895 Club. Entry into the 400-person space next to the 18th green costs $2,500 per day during tournament rounds. For that price, buyers receive all-day gourmet dining, a top-shelf open bar, and complimentary golf cart shuttle service for entrance onto the grounds. Sales of 1895 Club tickets would bring in $1 million per day if completely sold out, which is already the case for Thursday and Friday.

The new premium ticket follows a similar concept launched at the Masters this year. Augusta National unveiled its first official hospitality experience, Map & Flag, priced at $17,000 for a weekly pass, equating to about $4,428 per day.

Some Odd (and Even) Changes

For golf fans watching the U.S. Open from home, the coverage from NBC Sports will look, and especially sound, different than years past. After moving on from former lead golf analyst Paul Azinger, NBC has rotated its top color commentators during PGA Tour events this season. 

At the U.S. Open, the network is deploying two lead announcing teams: Dan Hicks and Brandel Chamblee will have the call on the even-numbered holes, and Mike Tirico and Brad Faxon on odd ones. There will also be alternating hole announcers, utilizing NBC’s full arsenal of commentators, during the non-prime hours of the tournament.

It’s certainly a unique idea, and could be perceived as a temporary stopgap while NBC searches for a permanent replacement for Azinger. During a preview call for the U.S. Open, FOS asked NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood if this approach could be a permanent one. “We’re big fans of it at this point,” he said. “So, we’ll look forward to a long future with it.”

The same strategy will be used for coverage of the Open Championship next month, but former world No. 1 Luke Donald, an Englishman, will step in for Chamblee’s duties. NBC has USGA rights for two more seasons under its current 12-year, $1.1 billion contract that it took over from Fox in 2019.

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