Our guest this episode is Jason Mengel from the PGA of America. Jason is the director of the 2015 PGA Championship which takes place August 10 – 16 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. For the latest news and ticket information, visit PGAChampionship.com.
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 15:31
Click here to download an MP3 file.
Walter Lis: Jason, can you tell me a little about some new things you have planned, like a new entrance plan. You’ve also got a new spectator transit experience. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things you’ve been working on?
Jason Mengel: We’ve actually had an office open here at Whistling Straits since July 2013, so even though we’re just now getting into the year 2015 we’ve been at it for really a year and a half and we’ve got a staff of seven of us now who are focused on making sure that next year goes off without a hitch. But we’ve had PGA championships at Whistling Straits which is great because we do have that field reference that we can look back on and say, “Okay, this went well. This is an area we could improve on,” so a number of those things you mentioned are going to be a little different this time around.
I think the most visible way that a golf fan attending the event may notice a difference is the overall site plan. All of our infrastructure, our hospitality, our Wanamaker Club, all that has been brought much closer to the action, so the Wanamaker Club, for instance, that’s our upgraded ticket venue. That is now in a location just to the right of the Straits Course. That is maybe the best location we’ve ever had at any PGA championship. Then with our hospitality venues, we’ve been able to bring our marked LA product, our Champions Club and Sarazen Suites, right next to the action on a number of holes but also very close proximity to the great views of Lake Michigan that the Straits course provides. That’s another way.
So from the time that somebody arrives at the championship, we want to make sure that we were looking at that experience. So we’ve got a whole new entrance plan so the golf shop is in a different location and our patron activation is in a different location. It’s really streamlined the number of steps effectively that it will take somebody from the time they exit their vehicle to the time they get out to see the action.
WL: So you’ve got a number of different things that, I would say, going for your tournament, in addition to all these things that you’ve been working on and obviously the planning and everything since 2013, but I think one of the things that I think probably is hitting home, obviously after 2004 and then after 2010, is the fact that this is a beautiful golf course especially on TV and I think me, the viewer, have never been there but I think I’d love to go just for the fact that it looks so gorgeous, so how do you kind of balance between, you know, doing all these things to get the patrons closer yet still preserve the beauty of the course and, you know, not corrupting it so it still looks as gorgeous as it is?
JM: Sure. That’s a great question, and no matter what we do, it won’t take away from the beauty of that course. You know, it’s really a unique venue when you look at the overall kind of rotation of the PGA championships that seems to be on right now. It’s much different. You mentioned on TV the views of Lake Michigan, you know, I think if you were just flipping the channels and you tuned it you wouldn’t know if you were looking at Lake Michigan or if you were looking at the Atlantic Ocean. It really is that kind of beauty, and then, you know, just the great design of Pete Dye and certainly the vision of Mr Kohler to design something out of an area that was essentially used as an airport landing strip. I think they were testing bombers there in advance of World War Two, and so everything you see there is really basically the imagination of Pete Dye and Mr Kohler coming to life, and what they’ve created is one of the finest golf courses in the world.
WL: So, then, another thing that you’ve got going for you, and I was thinking about this last year, is the resurgence of Martin Kaymer on the PGA tour. Obviously he was playing some great golf, winning the U.S. Open last year in 2014, so what are the things that you think, you know, having the guy who won the last time there and kind of seems like he took a couple of years retooling his game and now he’s right back at the hunt, you know, it’s got to really help the fact, and I know we’re still waves away from the tournament, but it’s got to really help the fact that you’re going to have hopefully a lot of the big guns will be all stacking the decks leading up to your event in August.
JM: We’ve definitely seen that the last two PGAs here both ending in playoffs because that’s the sort of play the Straits Course can bring out, but, yeah, if you look at kind of the final kind of top five in 2010 you had obviously Martin Kaymer who we were talking about. He’s gone on to do some great things, you know, kind of going back to his performance at the 2012 Ryder Cup which golf fans in Chicago will recall, and he really used that as a bit of a springboard. He went on to win the Players Championship in demanding fashion. He’s won the U.S. Open in demanding fashion. He’s riding a great wave of golf right now but then the remaining top five, you know, Bubba Watson was in the playoff with Martin Kaymer in 2010 and he’s gone on to win the Masters a couple of times and become really one of the superstars of the sport.
Then you had Rory McIlroy and Jason Dufner both had the top five in 2010 as well. We all know what Rory’s done since then and Jason was our 2013 PGA champion. Then of course we have Dustin Johnson and obviously everyone knows what happened at the end of the championship with Dustin in 2010 and I think he’s working his way back. We should see him back on in the tour this year and what a great story would it be, you know, for him to be in the mix again in 2015 so, you know, with the drama Straits Course brings out and the best field in golf I think we’re looking for another fantastic competition, and everyone looking to get their hands on the Wanamaker trophy again next August.
WL: So then, in terms of your planning for 2015 and, more importantly, the connection to Whistling Straits, how does the fact that that course is going to be hosting the 2020 Ryder Cup, how does that affect you or does it? Is there any kind of connection that you’re kind of using to plan for that?
JM: Yeah. It’s more, it won’t affect playing necessarily inside the rope so I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for Kerry Hague, who’s our championships officer and he’s the one who sets up the golf course, but I don’t know that he’ll be thinking about 2020 when he’s placing hole locations, for instance, for the ’15 PGA, but certainly outside the ropes everything that my team and my colleagues at PGA headquarters are working on always has an eye on 2020, so our site plan changes, we’re definitely geared towards, not only improving ’15 but looking to see what we can do going forward to ’20.
We’ve been able and fortunate enough to tie a number of things this time around to 2020 because we know we’re coming back, so ticket holders have the opportunity to purchase an ultimate foursome package which will allow them four Wanamaker Club tickets and then bypass the lottery in 2020 and we’ve sold that package out. Volunteers who complete their three to four shifts in 2015 will be first in line for volunteer packages in 2020, and then corporate hospitality clients who purchased a chalet in 2015 will actually have the right of first refusal to on course locations in 2020, so it’s affording us the opportunity for a lot of fun things connecting the two events together.
(To Be Continued)