BETHESDA, Md. – As The Masters ushers in spring, the U.S. Open is the gateway to summer.
Think East Hampton oasis. A cool summer white cottage, set upon crisp grassy green hues, a sandy beach in the backyard, the Atlantic glistening shades of sapphire. This classic, iconic, chic American summer scene awaits patrons at the U.S. Open Championship.
The U.S. Golf Association has found the perfect retreat for its weeklong visit to the nation’s capital for one of the year’s preeminent golf championships. A few steps away from the ropes near the 18th tee box at Congressional Country Club a 39,000-square-foot white merchandise pavilion tent, in uniform with the other structures on the course, opens its doors to its visitors.
Two feelings strike the senses when you enter: cool and serene. It’s an escape from the on-course competition, but at the same time, central to U.S. Open action.
This is the first of a five-year agreement that the USGA has with Polo Ralph Lauren, an American classic and leader of premium lifestyle products for apparel, home, accessories, and fragrances, as the official outfitter for the U.S. Open.
Seventy Ralph Lauren employees and volunteers work the impeccably designed room that has been orchestrated, shall we say, to the tee.
“One of the USGA’s primary goals is to conduct the best championships in golf,” said Mike Butz, the USGA's senior managing director of Open Championships and Association relations. “We are very excited about partnering with Polo Ralph Lauren, given their creativity and the quality of their apparel, to help take our championship experiences to a new level of excellence.”
The space is nothing like the traditional merchandise tents of the other domestic major championships that shop their wares to the masses in a claustrophobic setting more akin to a T.J. Maxx, where shoppers push their way through, spastically thumbing the racks, to get in and get out as quickly as possible.
At the USGA’s Polo Ralph Lauren designed new retail shop, patrons are encouraged to stay, relax, and shop. Everything from the unique and carefully selected furniture accents in upholstered rich navy fabrics to the brilliant white wooden structures and gazebos that decorate and serve the open crisp space, welcome shoppers into a classic American summer scene representative of the U.S. Open.
“We want to ensure that everyone who participates – from players to officials to spectators – realizes they are part of something that is very special,” Butz said.
The inspiration for the décor and setup also wasn’t hastily thrown together. A Ralph Lauren team of designers took a trip to USGA headquarters to visit the museum. There, they researched images to inspire their design by studying the rich heritage of the game. The goal: to represent golf in pure form.
After a year of developing ideas that began from sketches, the design came to life at Congressional. The general layout of the shopping space features brands and lines from many different designers but all given the same look and treatment in their display. In addition, uniformly designed banners hang from the sky-high tented ceiling each with photographs of iconic U.S. Open champions of the past who are dynamic for both golf and fashion style history.
Polo Ralph Lauren also designed and outfits all of the USGA committee members and staff, as well as more than 5,000 volunteers at the U.S. Open. The marshals’ uniforms were inspired from the 1960s Joe Dey Jr. days of the USGA where committee members wore armbands as designators to appear official.
The look works on the course, but will not be the exact same next year when the U.S. Open is staged at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. That’s because it’s Ralph Lauren’s philosophy that the environment is key for clothes to come to life. This applies not only to the shop setting, but especially to the setting where the clothes will be worn. Ralph Lauren is one of the best at creating and tailoring everything for the appropriate locale.
The northern California climate is completely different from the summer heat in the D.C. area. It’s misty, foggy and expected to be much cooler. So next year the Ralph Lauren U.S. Open team – which consists of fewer than 10 designers and is led by Lauren himself – will create water-resistant outerwear to outfit those working the course.
The shopping space and structure, however, will remain the same for all five years of the relationship between the USGA and Polo Ralph Lauren. That’s why that familiar American summer destination feel evocative of the classic U.S. Open is integral to the design, and made to travel. So whether it’s D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pinehurst, or Seattle, Ralph’s idyllic U.S. Open summer world is a perfect fit.