Why the USGA is Turning to Social Spaces at the U.S. Open

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The USGA is getting creative with their offerings. (Image via USGA)

Whether you are a team, league, or association, finding creative ways to drive your fans to attend your event has become paramount in our social-first world.

While steeped in tradition, the 118th U.S. Open Championship will be home to a different kind of golf watching experience come this June thanks to the USGA and their new “Top of the Hill” ticketing option.

Located on one of the highest points on the property and situated amid the first four holes of the closing nine, “Top of the Hill” will offer fans an open-air facility in a beer garden-style atmosphere with a panoramic view of Shinnecock Hills.

As part of the perks of buying a ticket in this area, fans will be treated to a lively, sociable atmosphere with open-deck seating and a large-screen broadcast of live championship coverage. Included with the ticket will be access to a variety of local culinary options and full bar service with local craft beer and wine offerings available at an additional charge, as well as the convenience of executive restroom facilities.  

“One of the great things about having this type of micro-experience  is that it is driving demand because people know it can go away.” – Dave Aznavorian, Senior Director of Marketing for the USGA

Along with the “Top of the Hill” option, the USGA has teamed up with PrimeSport to create one-of-a-kind fan trips to the U.S. Open.

“We are always evaluating ways to innovate and elevate our fans’ U.S. Open experience,” said Sarah Hirshland, USGA senior managing director for Business Affairs. “If we’re able to create more social and convenient options for fans, we’ll do it, and we feel these new ticket offerings provide just that.”

As events look to target millennials, social experiences are being put first when it comes to new ticketing initiatives.

From the Oakland A’s building a Treehouse to the St. Louis Cardinals removing seats in place of a deck, just one look at what multiple Major League Baseball teams have done over the course of the past few offseasons and its rather obvious that owning the experience has become paramount to any sports property hosting a live event.

For Jeff Lapsansky, Director of Ticket Sales & Marketing for the BMW Championship, these types of spaces allow for fans to enjoy the action of the event with amenities that are closer to what they would find at home.

“Many of today’s golf fans want something more than just access to the golf course grounds. They want to get into the impressive hospitality venues that tournaments are putting up all across the country. They want access to nicer restroom facilities and premium food options. Some of them want to brag about the perks they’re enjoying by posting on social media.This social atmosphere appeals to not only the golf enthusiast but also their friend or spouse who may not be a golfer or traditional golf fan per se. By creating new avenues that are appealing to different potential customers, naturally more household financial decision makers are intrigued by the event.”

Not only has the move been praised by fans, but also by other industry professionals who see the shift as a way to embrace new fans as well as the culture around attending an event.

“It’s certainly exciting to see coming from an organization steeped in tradition, especially when it comes to the production of their tournaments,” said Bill Decker, former Marketing Director of The Honda Classic now overseeing Consumer Marketing for IMG Tennis. “I applaud their continuing efforts to diversify the event experience and connect with an audience beyond the golf-centric fan-base.”

For the USGA, “Top of the Hill” represents a micro-experience that they feel can be replicated and capitalized on.

“When it comes to event marketing, I’m big on creating a bunch of micro-markets,” said Dave Aznavorian, Senior Director of Marketing for the USGA. “Especially when you have an outdoor event that is wide and expansive and you can break it into smaller parts, recognizing that those smaller parts can be driven towards specific groups, specific fans, and specific experiences.”

Still a few months away, interest in the “Top of the Hill” section from not only a fan perspective but a sponsor prospective has heightened and Aznavorian is excited about its potential not only this year but going forward as well.

“I think people look at the US Open and see it as an open and approachable experience, but what can we create that would make it feel more a little bit more like a place to gather. We want to continue to do this, or a version of it, for years to come.”