2017 U.S. OPEN
Like Christmas for Golf Lovers
Merchandise tent opens at Erin Hills

By NICHOLAS DETTMANN - Conley News Service

June 9, 2017

A stuffed cow with an Erin Hills scarf on display  Thursday morning at Erin Hills in the Town of Erin. The practice rounds 117th U.S. Open Championship are scheduled to begin Monday with the championship scheduled to start Thursday.
John Ehlke/ Conley News Service

TOWN OF ERIN — For the last several weeks, anyone who drove past Erin Hills Golf Course would likely have seen an enormous white tent being constructed.

At almost precisely 10 a.m. Thursday, hundreds of golf fans and even non-golf fans found out what was inside that big top with the opening of the merchandise tent for the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills.

“Incredible,” said Chris Kowalski of New Berlin, adding he was nervous to walk in because he was afraid he’d spend his entire paycheck.

For golf fans, it’d be easy to do.

Mary Lopuszynski, senior director of licensing and U.S. Open merchandising for the USGA, said there are about 400,000 items for sale with the 2017 U.S. Open logo on them. The tent containing those items is more than 38,000 square feet.

For the championship, which starts with practice rounds Monday through Wednesday and the championship rounds Thursday through June 18, Lopuszynski estimates more than 100,000 hats and 50,000 shirts will be sold.

Lopuszynski has been working with the USGA and its merchandising department for more than 20 years. Still, each year at the U.S. Open, she and her staff get excited for the opening of the merchandise tent, saying it’s like Christmas Day.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” she said. “We’ve been building for this for years. And I know the people of Wisconsin are excited.

“It’s like Christmas times 10. It’s really exciting.”

‘It brings the whole area to life’

This massive structure, which is air-conditioned, coupled with the championship being in Washington County has caught the attention of non-golf fans including Slinger’s Marie Gnas. She admitted there is curiosity about what it means to have the championship in her community, both now and in the future.

“When does something like this ever come to a small town?” Gnas said. “I’m pretty much excited that something of this magnitude is here because it brings the whole area to life.”

Like Kowalski, Gnas was amazed with what she saw when she walked through the doors of the tent. She said her first impression was, “Oh my gosh. Wow.”

A collection of hats on display for sale on Thursday morning in the merchandise tent at Erin Hills. John Ehlke/ Conley News Service

Just about anything one can think of is available for customers at the merchandise tent, anything to help them collect a piece of golf history.

Kowalski bought a ball marker with the championship logo on it. Gnas was buying merchandise for friends who are golf fans, but can’t attend the tournament. Others filled their bags with polo shirts, hats, pins, shot glasses, pin flags, towels — and on and on and on.

The tent is staffed by 10 USGA employees, 19 college interns and more than 1,300 volunteers. Through Sunday, the tent is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and a ticket for the championship isn’t required. Starting Monday, though, in order to reach the merchandise tent, customers will need a ticket. The hours during the championship are 7 a.m.-8 p.m. each day.

Parker Genz, 2, of Richfield peers over a fence to look over Erin Hills on Thursday morning in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/ Conley News Service

Tickets for the championship will no longer be sold after Wednesday, said Janean Driscoll, public relations director for the USGA.

“For people that are in the area, it’s the best time to come shop,” Lopuszynski said, adding the USGA has opened the merchandise tent ahead of the championship for more than 20 years to help pedestrian flow through the tent.

She said the best times to shop during championship week are early in the week and early in the day. During the afternoon rounds and once the championship officially begins, capacity is often reached in the tent and the doors are temporarily closed. In addition, availability of merchandise goes down significantly by the end of the championship.