USGA On High Ground With Millennials

Top of the Hill beer garden area draws younger demographic at U.S. Open

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: June 20, 2018

Views during last week's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills of the Top of the Hill area, which was a hit for the U.S. Golf Association. (Courtesy U.S. Golf Association)

The U.S. Golf Association is pleased with sales of a new premium group space at the U.S. Open and will look for similar opportunities at future tournaments.

The Top of the Hill ticket allowed fans attending the tournament June 11-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island, N.Y., access to beer garden-style surroundings atop a hill overlooking the No. 12 green and No. 13 fairway. The space sold out for every day of the four-day championship and both the practice rounds.

“Because we had this nice location, it gave fans a view of Shinnecock Hills and the (Long Island) sound and really creates a space that was an upgraded experience,” said Katie Bynum, head of partnerships and championship experiences at the USGA. “It was targeted at that social, fan-friendly person who likes to gather with large groups of people, that younger demographic who likes fan activation.”

Bynum said the tickets were capped at 1,000 a day and marketed by the USGA digitally and on social media, aiming to attract millennials. The open-air space had food and beverage for sale, but also had a bar, shaded seating and televisions.

Sponsor activation was also made the space more than just a hospitality experience, Bynum said: Michelob Ultra and Anheuser-Busch created special commemorative beers available only in the Top of the Hill. And to further the millennial vibe, Barstool Sports broadcast live from the site for two days. 

The first level of premium at the U.S. Open was previously the Trophy Club, an air-conditioned indoor space with televisions and food and beverage for purchase. The high-end 1895 Club offered food and beverage as an inclusive package. Both options sold out multiple days. The Top of the Hill — announced in spring, well after the main run of U.S. Open ticket sales — came as a $45 upgrade option to a $145 gallery ticket, sitting between the gallery and Trophy Club options. 

“Anecdotally, we captured that younger millennial demographic,” Bynum said. “Millennials like experiences, and the partnerships with the brands we had in that space and the focus on experiential was perfect for that generation.”

Top of the Hill sold out for the four-day championship ahead of the event, but also used on-site mobile upgrades to sell out the $20 upgrade during the practice rounds. It was the first time the USGA has used on-site mobile upgrades. Mobile commerce and ticketing tech firm Experience handled the on-site upgrades.

“I think the notion of on-site upgrades, while we haven’t made that decision yet for the future, has benefits for a golf event when perhaps someone may not know (the product) based on location,” Bynum said. “Once they are able to see it, they know it. They saw the Top of the Hill and wanted to go in there. The more we can facilitate those types of opportunities in the moment, the better.”

Bynum said the USGA may not replicate the Top of the Hill exactly in the future, as each golf course will offer a different opportunity based on setting and space, but she sees an interest in more options, upgrades, social spaces and experiences. “The venue is going to dictate what we are able to do, but we were certainly pleased with the concept and beer garden environment,” she said. “We will look to integrate it in future years when it makes sense.”

Tickets for the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in California went on sale this month, with gallery and Trophy Club tickets available. There will be no 1895 Club for the tournament; instead a Lodge Premier option allows the USGA to sell weekly tickets to a lodge at the site.

But that doesn’t mean a Top of the Hill-type ticket won’t still come. “It is OK to roll it out later,” Bynum said. “If we did introduce something, the notion of an upgrade gives us some flexibility and gives fans some flexibility. It is OK to introduce certain product later on, if it is the right product.”

With each site different, don’t expect everything to look the same, including the Top of the Hill name, an obvious tie to the Shinnecock location. While the USGA uses consistency in the Trophy Club and 1895, Bynum expects success in celebrating unique aspects of each venue, understanding what makes them special and working those attributes into the name.

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: June 20, 2018