So you go hear a concert, have a beer, place some bets on your iPhone, hit the golf simulator, maybe play a little cornhole, and run some putting games against your buddies. Typical Tuesday night at Dave & Buster’s, right?
Nope. A typical Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Senior Open.
That’s right. The stodgy USGA is going to have a party zone called the 19th Hole in the middle of the most important stretch of the golf course at Saucon Valley Country Club near Bethlehem when the Senior Open begins next week. They’ve built a $350,000 complex in the middle of holes Nos. 16, 17, and 18, with a stage, a bar, a Jumbotron, and nearby grandstands for fans who want to watch the finale of each day’s golf.
At the two previous Senior Opens and the U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley, the area was used for big-ticket hospitality structures, but those businesses now want their elbow-rubbing to happen closer to the action. Now, they’re located on specific holes on the course. That left 660,000 square feet of prime real estate unoccupied.
“We decided we would turn this area into a festival in the middle of a major championship,” said Mimi Griffin, the Open’s executive director.
Tickets for the 19th Hole cost $50 for each practice round Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and $70 for each of the four tournament rounds Thursday through Sunday.
You won’t see controversial superstar Phil Mickelson, but you’ll see things you’ve never seen before at a USGA event.
At the 19th Hole, there will be “social gaming” via an app developed by Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem, on which fans can “bet” in real time about which player in the current group on the 16th tee will launch the longest drive, which player will be closest to the pin on the par-3 17th, or how many players will make par on No. 18. “Bettors” can accrue points for merchandise and food on the day(s) they attend the 19th Hole and can continue to bet from home for grand prizes.
The betting instantly makes a player like Argentine star Mauricio Molina as relevant as defending champion Jim Furyk.
“I think this is what makes everyone the most nervous,” Griffin said.
If you want to try your luck against the best of the over-50 crowd, the 19th Hole will have golf simulators on which you can play the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes that surround it.
There’s music, too.
Martin Guitars will present concerts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons, featuring local troubadours the Craig Thatcher Band. Former PGA Tour winner Jason Gore, now the USGA’s director of player relations, plays guitar, and so do several of the Open participants. Who knows? You might witness some post-practice jams early in the week.
Yuengling is running the bar, and in the middle of it all sits a 9,000-square-foot putting green. It was installed two years ago, so it mimics the conditions Ernie Els will face — less slope, of course, but the same surface.
Rich Levy, marketing director of Lehigh Valley Medical Network which is sponsoring the 19th Hole, stressed that the 19th Hole will be an open-air area for anyone concerned about COVID-19 transmission.
“I think it’s going to be the signature of this entire championship,” Griffin said, “and the thing people talk about long after the last putt clinks.”