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Travel: Wisconsin Wows with Its First U.S. Open of Golf – And Milwaukee Proves It Is a Fantastic Summer Vacation Spot, Too

Milwaukee's skyline on a gorgeous summer day. Photo courtesy Visit Milwaukee.

By Jenny Peters

Who knew that Wisconsin would put on one of the most exciting U.S. Opens in recent memory? I sure didn’t, but when the invite to visit that legendary golf tournament, being held in Wisconsin for the first time since its inception in 1895, came across my desk, I was intrigued.

For Wisconsin was one of the few states I had never visited, despite having a grandmother from there (who was a rabid Green Bay Packers fan) and loving good cheese. So why not take a quick trip (Southwest Airlines flies nonstop from LAX) to Milwaukee, check out Cream City and then head out to the countryside to the Erin Hills Golf Course to see what kind of show the U.S. Open puts on, in the third century since its inception?

Milwaukee certainly knows how to put on a show during the summer, for when the weather turns warm this city perched on Lake Michigan and crisscrossed with three rivers (the Milwaukee, the Kinnickinnic and the Menomonee) is all about getting outside and having fun. There’s even Bradford Beach, a popular lakeside beach, where crowds form to surf, play volleyball and just hang out in the sun.

The spectacular Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo courtesy Visit Milwaukee.

When I visited in June, the festival season was in full swing. The Polish Festival was rockin’ on the lakefront, as was the massive Lakefront Festival of Art held at the spectacular Milwaukee Art Museum. And Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary in late June/early July, at the Henry Maier Festival Park situated right on the lakefront.

Speaking of art, there’s currently a terrific installation of 22 sculptures lining Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee’s main drag. The one-mile stretch of Sculpture Milwaukee will be on display (and for sale) until October 22, 2017; the brainchild of businessman Steve Marcus, it will be an annual event every summer. Follow the sculptures and you’ll end up at the Milwaukee Art Museum, with its world-class fine-art collection and iconic Quadracci Pavilion, Santiago Calatrava’s architectural wonder with a moveable “sunscreen” wingspan. Don’t miss it when you visit. And don’t miss the Harley-Davidson Museum, either, for even if you are not a big fan of motorcycles, this is one fascinating museum.

The Harley-Davidson Museum is a must-visit place in Milwaukee. Photo courtesy Visit Milwaukee.

Summer also means coffee and concerts by the lake at Colectivo Coffee’s Lakefront outpost, where that hugely popular local hand-roasted coffee place hosts their annual Florentine Opera and Musica del Lago outdoor music series. They serve beer there, too, just like countless other places; try Lakefront Brewery for some of the city’s best locally brewed beers and a laugh-filled brewery tour in this city built by breweries. Often called “the beer capital of the world,” Milwaukee has been the home of Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, Best and Blatz, all built by German-American immigrants – no wonder their Major League Baseball team is known as the Brewers!

The Brewers play in another architectural gem, Miller Park, with its fan-shaped convertible roof that retracts to let in the sun and closes up to keep out summer storms. It was wide open when I visited, saw them beat the San Diego Padres in 10 exciting innings and had one of the best pulled-pork sandwiches ever.

But back to the U.S. Open, where there was so much excitement it was hard to believe. From Justin Thomas’ record-setting 9-under 63 on Saturday (the lowest in U.S. Open history in relation to par) to Brooks Koepka’s 16-under-par win on Sunday, which tied the record set by Rory McIllory in 2011. Huge crowds made the trek out to Erin Hills Golf Course, out in the farmland 45 minutes west of Milwaukee, where the 10-year-old golf course known for its wide fairways, windy conditions and fescue grass was transformed into a world-class tournament venue.

Pro golfer Brooks Koepka on his way to winning the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin. Photo courtesy U.S. Open. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

“With the U.S. Open Championship, it’s almost like you are building a small city,” explains David Aznavorian, Senior Director of Marketing for the United States Golf Association. “And this small city has never been built in the state of Wisconsin. We felt it was really important, as a golf-loving state, to be able to take this championship here.”

Part of the “small city” included experiences created for the fans, sponsored by major companies including American Express, Lexus, Deloitte and Rolex. “Everyone’s coming here to see their favorite players, to see the golf course and to have a day where they can have a great day of golf. But we want to give them even more – food that’s local to the community, for example.”

Huge crowds came out to Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin to witness the 2017 U.S. Open. Photo courtesy U.S. Open. (Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes)

And a place to shop, too, with a mind-boggling 39,000-square-foot “Merchandise Pavilion” stocked with lots of Polo Ralph Lauren (the official outfitter of the Open), but also chockablock with logoed Erin Hills souvenirs ranging from a ball marker to posters, paintings, handmade dishware and (of course) clothing from every imaginable athletic wear company, all emblazoned with the U.S. Open’s shamrock logo created just for the tournament.

The massive Merchandise Pavilion was a popular spot for fans at the 2017 U.S. Open at the Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin. Photo courtesy U.S. Open.
(Copyright USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

“We start the buy for the next year immediately after the Open concludes,” says Mary Lopuszynski, Senior Director of Merchandising and Licensing for the USGA, “and pretty much everything has the logo. People are coming to a special event and they want to take home a piece of the championship.”

Fans at the 2017 U.S. Open at the Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin made sure to shop – and to grab autographs from their favorite pro golfers. Photo courtesy U.S. Open. (Copyright USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

Now that the 2017 U.S. Open is in the record books, folks visiting Wisconsin (and Milwaukee) can put playing a round at Erin Hills Golf Course on their list of fun summer things to do; the public course’s 18-hole greens fee is currently $280. And if golf isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to keep you busy on a summer vacation to The Badger State.

 

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About Jenny Peters (147 Articles)
Jet Set Jen is the brainchild of Jenny Peters, a longtime freelance journalist whose career has spanned everything considered "Lifestyle" reporting, from movies and celebrities to fashion and fast cars, with plenty of food, wine and travel thrown in too. She currently contributes regularly to USA Today's 10Best.com, AARP.org, New York Magazine, Coast Magazine, Bask Magazine and numerous other newspapers, magazines and websites worldwide. She is a founding and voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (www.criticschoice.com), which annually honors the year's top films with the Critics' Choice Awards. Jenny and her crack cadre of reporters at Jet Set Jen offer up opinions, suggestions and insider scoops on the best that the world has to offer, to keep you on the cutting edge of that ever elusive pursuit of life, liberty, happiness – and fun, fun, fun.