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Shinnecock’s hill has Open fans on top of social media

A view of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

A view of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club 16th green in the foreground and 17th hole in the background for the 2018 U.S. Open on May 21, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Every sports entity wants to keep young people interested, golf more than most, given that they are not a traditional constituency.

That, in part, was the motivation for a new feature on the U.S. Open landscape, which the USGA has branded “Top of the Hill,” as in the hill overlooking the 11th green and 12th fairway at Shinnecock Hills.

The idea is to charge a relatively modest premium over the base entry fee for a beer garden-style space to give fans a chance to socialize and, more importantly for many, take pictures of themselves doing so to share on social media.

Such areas are part of a trend in sports, including at Yankee Stadium, which last year tore out bleacher seats to make room for “party decks.”

Dave Aznavorian, the USGA’s senior director of transformational initiatives, said while standing on the deck on Thursday, “We looked at what we’ve done historically, recognizing that a lot of fans come to see the golf, but a lot of fans come to socialize.

“The beauty of this space, this footprint, is that you have some real estate that you can work with to do stuff that you can’t otherwise do at another venue, and this was where we ultimately landed . . . This is an opportunity to take a break from golf and have a panoramic view.

“A lot of sports properties are looking at relevance to a younger audience and saying, what are the criteria that a younger audience cares about? A lot of what it is is saying, this is a place to congregate and this is a place to have fun.”

Prices for access to Top of the Hill, which can accommodate up to 1,000 fans per day, were $165 for Thursday and $185 for Friday through Sunday. (Limited tickets for Sunday are available on-site.) That is $40 more than the general “gallery” fees but less than areas that are at higher premiums, the Trophy Club and (especially) the 1895 Club.

Fans must pay for food and beverages, with a beer selection featuring products under the corporate umbrella of Anheuser-Busch, a sponsor. That includes Patchogue-based Blue Point Brewery, which made a special brew for the occasion called “Hills Pils.”

In keeping with the vibe the USGA was after, Barstool Sports, the irreverent, young-skewing media company, has set up shop at Top of the Hill, and was to do live SiriusXM Satellite Radio shows from there from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.

As founder Dave Portnoy and his colleagues prepared to record an interview with amateur Matt Parziale on Thursday, Barstool CEO Erika Nardini said, “We were excited to partner with the USGA. We have one of the top golf podcasts called ‘Fore Play.’ . . . We have a bunch of huge golf fans, and we cover golf the way only Barstool Sports does.

“We have very young fans. Barstool Sports reaches 51 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds daily, so we’re a good partner to bring a lot of energy and interest to the sport.”

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