U.S. Open brought energy, business to Oconomowoc
Exact impact event had on area still unknown

By Jake Meister - Enterprise Staff

June 22, 2017

 Fans by the thousands attended the U.S. Open at the Erin Hills golf course from June 15 to June 18. Busses by the dozens transported attendees from various spots in the surrounding area including the parking lot created on the west side of Wisconsin Harley Davidson in Oconomowoc.
Sue Boyer/Special to the Enterprise

OCONOMOWOC — While the Sunday ending of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills makes it difficult to discern how much of an impact the golf tournament had on Oconomowoc, there is no doubt the event did indeed have a positive influence on local businesses.

As the executive director of the Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce, Katie Miller had already communicated by Monday afternoon with a few business that had been influenced by the presence of the tournament. Most of those businesses told her they saw some increased traffic they can probably attribute to the U.S. Open.

The abundance of patrons wearing golf wear served as a fairly simple hint.

“Overall, I think there was most certainly an impact on our local community,” Miller said.

Sherper’s at 225 E. Wisconsin Ave. saw a healthy boost in sales due to the U.S. Open, said manager Sarah Scherper.

While the first player didn’t tee off until June 15, Scherper said the store began to reap the benefits of the tournament’s massive draw as early as two weeks before its start.

The U.S. Open had come out with a specific list of items that could be brought into Erin Hills golf course and Scherper said she noticed this list being carried around by customers.

 A long line of busses wait to transport fans attending the U.S. Open golf tournament Saturday morning. The buses took people to and from a parking lot created in the field adjacent to Wisconsin Harley Davidson in Oconomowoc to Erin Hills golf course.
Sue Boyer/Special to the Enterprise

Due to restrictions on containers, clear 20 ounce water bottles sold well. The heat also drove patrons to purchase hats, sun screen, bandanas and other products related to cooling and protection.

Sherper’s biggest draw was foldable camp stools or chairs of the like. These items sold well because the U.S. Open was not permitting people to lug in chairs with armrests.

While foldable camp stools sell well for the store every year, Scherper said the item moved so fast the last few weeks that the store had to bring in those same chairs from its Hales Corners location.

“It was a happy surprise,” Scherper said.

While customers weren’t wearing any type of wild name tag that indicated where they were from, Scherper said her observations led her to conclude both locals and out-of-towners were coming to the store for the popular items. Some customers were recognizable, while others called Sherper’s asking for these items, as well as directions from Interstate 94 to the store.

The importance of pamphlets and brochures

In addition to leading the Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce, Katie Miller is also a member of the recently formed Oconomowoc Bureau of Economic Development & Tourism Commission.

Both the chamber and the commission had worked to better promote the city during the U.S. Open. However, Miller said this promotion was a bit hamstrung by the fact the tournament put a limit on the promotional items that could be distributed at the parking lots where people congregated before heading to the tournament — one being the temporary lot the United States Golf Association created off of Interstate 94 in Oconomowoc, near the southwest corner of Highway 67.

Miller said one could understand why the people affiliated with the U.S. Open would want the event attendees to stay at Erin Hills and not take their business too far elsewhere.

Despite this difficulty, Oconomowoc Economic Development Director Bob Duffy helped the cause by getting the U.S. Open to allow the distribution of a commission-produced brochure at a hospitality tent at Erin Hills.

Simple and to the point, the brochure provided a map from downtown to the Highway 67 area and I-94 and to Highway 67. It also demonstrated the location of City Beach, Fowler Park, Roosevelt Park, Veterans Memorial Park, as well as shopping centers and a few hotels. Duffy said the brochure was put together in connection with the hotels, specifically Hilton Garden Inn at Pabst Farms, Staybridge Suites and Olympia Resort and Conference Center.

The 2017 Oconomowoc Community Guide was also distributed at the temporary parking lot off of Interstate 94.

Duffy said it’s likely people who parked at nearby lots to attend the tournament and then returned home spent money only at Erin Hills. The people the brochure targeted, he said, were those who were staying in area hotels because it was likely that they would be dining or shopping in the area.

Duffy said it might take some time before the exact impact the U.S. Open had on the Oconomowoc community is known. He said there were more vehicles in the area during the event, which creates more opportunities for customers to be around the city.

It is possible the U.S. Open could have an influence on Oconomowoc that extends beyond 2017. Duffy said any event like the U.S. Open is a great opportunity to get the word out about a small community, especially one, he jokingly said, might be hard for out-of-state patrons to pronounce.

Email: jmeister@conleynet.com