Over Memorial Day Weekend, I was at the beach with my wife and we were talking about her schedule for the upcoming month. She told me that she had a layover in Madison, WI on June 17th but she was going to try to swap another employee for a different trip. The wheels in my head immediately started turning knowing the U.S. Open was in Wisconsin this year. I immediately googled how far of a drive it was from Madison to Erin Hills- just a little over an hour. Next I looked to see if I could even get a ticket to the U.S. Open. I checked out the USGA main page and saw that I could still get a one-day gallery pass. This plan was coming together pretty easily. I went ahead and bought a ticket- 142 bucks after taxes and convenience fees. All I had to do was book a hotel and a rental car for the weekend and my plans would be set, assuming that there was an open seat on an ATL-MSN flight.
I had thought about going to the U.S. Open before I found out my wife had a layover but it was never a serious consideration until I knew I had a guaranteed hotel room Saturday night with her. I knew I could fly to Milwaukee or Madison but once she had a Madison layover on her schedule, the decision was made for me. I looked for a Hyatt near Madison so that I could transfer some credit card rewards points from Chase to my Hyatt account. The Hyatt Downtown Madison was available for 8k points so I booked it straight away. Next was a rental car, which cost me 55 bucks for the weekend. So far I had a ticket to the U.S. Open, a hotel room in Madison booked, and a rental car for the weekend and had only racked up a tab of 200 dollars. For this plan to fall into place, I still had to make my flight on June 16th or risk losing 200 dollare as none of my reservations were refundable.
The entire week leading up the tournament had me glued to the weather app on my phone. It was calling for storms in the beginning of the week and severe storms on Saturday, my only day. I probably checked it 15-20 times a day to see if it was going to change. On Thursday night, I packed my raincoat and got my head right for spending all Saturday with wet clothes and soggy shoes. I had the same experience when I was soaked at Royal Troon in Scotland for the better part of the day, so I felt like a seasoned spectator. I also already made up my mind to go straight to the merchandise tent to buy an umbrella to help stay somewhat dry while walking the course. A club level ticket would be really nice if it started raining but those were completely sold out (I’m not sure I could have pulled the trigger for $295 anyways). All I could do was pray that it was only rain and not the severe storms they were calling for. After all, I had already been rained out of the first major of the year.
Friday came and I was packed up and ready to leave straight from work. I left work around 5:45 and headed to the airport. It would take me about an hour to get the airport, which would get me there in plenty of time to enjoy a few drinks in the Sky Lounge before my 9:40 flight.
It’s hard to beat free Sweetwater draft beer and free Wi-Fi. I got some snacks and a beer and put the remaining coverage of the U.S. Open on my iPad. I was a little bummed to see the players that wouldn’t be around for the weekend. I always enjoy watching the big hitters play and I knew at least three of them would be there (Jason Day, Rory, and DJ). The time came to head to the gate and hopefully get a seat assignment. The flight turned out to be pretty empty and I was given the last seat in first class- always a bonus. Jack and Coke zero is my go- to on the plane, so I enjoyed one of those as I made my way to Wisconsin.
I landed and went to pick up the rental and head to the hotel to check in. Once in my room, I went over my itinerary for the morning drive. I checked my GPS to see how long it would take me to get to the parking lot and figured out what time I needed to leave by. I set the alarm for 7:00 and went to sleep- not before checking the weather one last time. 60% chance of storms all day long, typical…
I woke up and left Madison around 7:30 after having some breakfast, complimentary at the Hyatt Place. It took me around 40 minutes to get to the parking lot where I would get on the bus to ride out to the course. The traffic into the lot was backed up further than I anticipated. It ended up taking me almost an hour to drive 1 mile into the lot. I then had to stand in a 30-minute line to go through security and to get onto the charter buses. Once I was on board, I sat next to a patron that had a weekly pass and got some tips about seeing the course. He first told me to check out the American Express tent to pick up the earpieces they were giving out which allowed you to listen to what was going on around the course. He also highly recommended on the club level tents where the drinks and food were included….I unfortunately only purchased a daily gallery ticket. When I bought my ticket, all the hospitality tickets were sold out anyways, but if I were going for more than one day I could definitely see the value in purchasing a more expensive ticket.
Finally, we pulled up to the venue and I headed to will call. I purchased my ticket too late to have it shipped to me but was able to get my ticket at the booth without any complications. I passed the spectator area where the sponsor’s tents and the merchandise shop were located as I was pretty eager to get to the course.
The course is a long walk from the entrance and the amount of people who were already there was astounding. I immediately grabbed a tee sheet and headed up the first fairway.
The first fairway was very crowded, so after a photo down the 1st fairway, I opted to make my way to the second fairway. I would have liked to go behind the 2nd tee but it was tucked away where spectators could not go. After seeing the first two holes, I could immediately tell this was unlike any other course that I had seen in America. I know there are links style courses around the country but there aren’t any that I know of around metro Atlanta. I know that the designers don’t consider this a “links style” course but with tall grass where the fairways end paired with a lack of water and tree, it’s pretty dang close to a links course.
I walked down to the third fairway and onto the 4th where I caught up with Patrick Reeds group. I crossed over the 4th fairway and made my way up to the 4th green where I could watch a few groups hit approach shots and putt. I have found that one of may favorite things to do at tournaments is crossing the fairway because you have the opportunity to look down the hole and experience it the same way at the pros. I always try to take a quick picture but it rarely turns out, as was the case this time. There was a hill on the backside of the 4th green that I found to be one of the better spots on the course to watch players come through.
I crossed back over the 4th to grab a beer from the concession stands. The food and beverage prices were more expensive than the Masters but that should be expected considering the Masters is notorious for keeping their prices low. I grabbed a lite beer for 7 bucks and a burger for 10- reasonable for any sporting event. I went from the 4th hole over to the backside and bounced back and forth between 14 and 17 watching different groups come through. I stayed there for a long time before heading up towards number 10 and eventually out to the merchandise tent before leaving.
The merchandise tent did not disappoint. I wanted to get a pullover with the U.S. Open logo but in the end I settled on a hat and a flag. So far I have been able to get a hat from every major except the PGA Championship, but if all goes to plan that will change this year when I got to Quail Hallow.
Overall, this spur of the moment trip was everything I could have hoped for. The rain held off and all of my standby flights went flawlessly. One major takeaway that I learned from this experience is that it is more fun to watch golf with your buddies. It’s definitely different sending pictures of the course to your friends, instead of discussing the course in person. All that being said, it still more fun to experience a golf tournament than not go at all.