Habicht at the Open: Players arrive, begin practice for tournament

Published 9:05 am Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Monday is practice round day and some of the field is not out on the course as they are just arriving, some having travelled quite far as international players and some who just finished the latest PGA event, the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee.

It’s a good day to miss, as it was very hot and muggy, with severe weather warnings being posted all day.

Local Wisconsin favorite Steve Stricker is popular and drew a big following. It didn’t hurt that Jordan Spieth joined him for the round. Together, they outdrew other high profile players like Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but perhaps if they had played together they would have been competition for crowd size.

The United States Golf Association-run U.S. Open is considered one of the top tournaments in the world on a year in, year out basis. 178 of the best players in the world are here, including PGA tour players, international players, and amateurs who have qualified.

Starting with 37,000 applications from non-tour professional and amateur golfers around the world, the USGA holds a series of qualifier events to competitively shape the player invitations for the U.S. Open Championship.

Having previously been to the course before they started transforming it into the U.S. Open site, I was surprised by the magnitude of the infrastructure put in place to facilitate a significant golf event. Although I think they could easily accommodate more, the U.S. Open is limited to 35,000 ticket holders a day.

There is a concentrated effort to provide a quality fan experience, as there are several air conditioned corporate sponsor tents from the likes of Lexus and American Express, with interactive fan events and displays.

There are food concession locations spread across the course, and numerous grandstand set ups containing seats for hundreds of fans, and not the plain bleacher type seating but ones with backs and arms.

The center of the concourse just inside the main gate contains many of the tents, but the hallmark is the 40,000 square foot Merchandise Tent, a climate controlled and tasteful retail space containing U.S. Open apparel, mostly the design of Ralph Lauren’s Polo collection.

The course itself is immense. It could actually play at up to 8,000 yards for an 18 hole round, but that won’t likely happen. The Erin Hills site is more than 600 acres and is largely carved out of the natural terrain of the Kettle Moraine area in south central Wisconsin.

In building the course, which opened in 2006, very little dirt had to be moved as the designers chose to utilize the remnants of the last glacier recession, routing fairways through natural pastures and placing greens on plateaus created 10,000 years ago as the ice moved out. It has almost no trees, utilizing a links course design reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland, even taking on an Irish motif and name.

The USGA selected Erin Hills for the U.S. Open because of these attributes, describing its tremendous diversity in size and landscape as the opportunity to set up the course for each round of the tournament so that in the end players will have played 72 separate and distinct holes with constantly changing pin and tee placements.

Today I was working as a volunteer assisting ticket holders with downloading and using the U.S. Open fan experience website. Nearly everyone who stopped by had previously downloaded the link, and I helped them set up an account to use as they experienced the fan experience opportunities all along the Fan Central concourse. Tomorrow, I am assigned to the practice range.

Looking forward to that, as I will spend five hours up close and personal with the best golfers in the world as they warm up for their practice rounds.

I just hope the temperature will be less than the 92 we registered today.


Rob Habicht is one of hundreds of volunteers who are working at the 2017 U.S. Open a Erin Hills in Erin, Wisconsin.