Mary Lopuszynski well remembers when she became interested in golf. “I was a kid taking swimming lessons at the Rye Golf Club,” said the native of that Westchester County community some 30 miles north of New York City. “The driving range was by the pool, and I looked over there one time and thought that the game looked like a lot of fun.”
The next thing Lopuszynski knew, she was signing up for golf clinics. One of four siblings, she never came to play as well as her brother Mike, who went on to make a career as a PGA club professional. But Lopuszynski nonetheless found a way also to earn a living in the game. She started by working in the golf shop of legendary Winged Foot head professional Tom Nieporte during her high school and college years. After graduating from Rollins College in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, she took a full-time position as a buyer for another PGA professional of note, Jim McLean, first when he held the top job at nearby Quaker Ridge and later when he assumed the same position at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club up the road in Scarborough-on-Hudson. After eight years with McLean, Lopuszynski joined the United States Golf Association and began overseeing its U.S. Open merchandising operations.
Her first national championship for the association was at Shinnecock Hills in 1995, when the USGA was beginning to take over all merchandising operations for the tournament. And she demonstrated quite quickly that she was the right person for the job, more than doubling the size of the U.S. Open merchandise business in less than 10 years. Today, it is a massive business enterprise that produces millions of dollars in revenues each year it is held.
This week, Lopuszynski is working her 27th Open, at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. And she says she is as excited about the 2022 championship as she was for the very first one.
In the latest installment of the GGP/Biz 19th Hole, Lopuszynski discusses her career in golf and her role as the lead U.S. Open merchandiser. The following comments were made during a call from her makeshift office in Brookline as she prepared for this year’s tournament.
So much has changed over the years, and so much has stayed the same. One constant is that the Open still takes us all to the best tournament venues in the world and lets us watch the best golfers in the game compete. And it continues to produce great champions, from Corey Pavin in that first U.S. Open I worked to Jon Rahm at Torrey Pines last year.
But so much is different. The scope and logistics of the entire operation is so much bigger, for example, and these days, we are building a small city for each U.S. Open. Our merchandise pavilions have been as large as 42,000 square feet and generally averaged between 36,000 and 39,000 square feet, with about 20,000 square feet of that what we call “back-of-the-house” space. And each pavilion has state-of-the art air conditioning and electrical systems and back-up generators. We will also have loading docks on the on-site warehouse that can accommodate as many as 20 18-wheelers as well as a couple of satellite tents for storage and three trailers that serve as our offices.
Regardless of the size of the pavilion, we can count on completing about 120,000 individual transactions during the tournament, which explains why we employ 45 different point-of-sale terminals.
Things at Brookline are smaller than usual. The Country Club has a small footprint, and our merchandise pavilion, which is set up on the member’s driving range between the first and 18th holes, reflects that. It is only 24,000 square feet. That means we will sometimes have to close the front door if things get too crowded inside. And that is bound to happen because part of the experience of attending a U.S. Open is taking a piece, or better yet several pieces, of the championship back home. People may have to wait at times, but we work very hard to make the merchandise experience a good one while ensuring that if there are any waits, they are very short ones.
Regardless of the size of the pavilion, we can count on completing about 120,000 individual transactions during the tournament, which explains why we employ 45 different point-of-sale terminals. And we will sell roughly 500,000 items, from framed prints to ball markers. The vast majority of those will carry the 2022 U.S. Open logo. Hats are our biggest category, and we typically sell about 100,000 during a U.S. Open.
Overall, we worked this year with 48 different vendors, many of which are very well known to golfers. Another change is that we try to bring in local artisans from the area. At Chambers Bay, for example, we sold pieces from a Tacoma, Washington, glass blower. It adds a special flavor.
Fans visit the merchandise tent Monday during a U.S. Open practice round in Brookline (click on images to enlarge).
We have seen a big difference in the fabrics of the pieces we are selling, and the technologies. Once, our shirts were all cottons, and on hot days, the people wearing them looked like they had taken a shower with their clothes on. Most everything now is made of performance-type fabrics that wick moisture and are much more comfortable.
Our vendors are also much more concerned about sustainability and how they manufacture their products.
As for the products themselves, we certainly did not carry hoodies when I first started. But they have become really popular. T-shirts, too, especially the ones made out of softer, really comfortable, really wearable materials. And we find that some old favorites come back in style. Like bucket hats, and we have stocked a lot of them. Also, for the longest time, people loved stripes in their shirts, but colors and prints are back.
We always look for colors that are popular in an area. With Oakmont being outside Pittsburgh, for example, we do a lot of gold and black, which are the colors of both the Steelers and the Pirates. And we research the local markets to see what different golf shops are selling and what different people are wearing, talking to vendors who know that area well and also PGA professionals. That’s important, because some 80 percent of those in attendance at a U.S. Open come from that region. We take climate into consideration as well. A place like Shinnecock can still get cool in June, so we will stock more sweaters and wind shirts than we would for, say, Pinehurst, which can be pretty warm that time of year.
Of course, the size of our staff for a U.S. Open is much bigger. We will have 12 people, including me, who work full-time on merchandising and licensing for the championship. And that is augmented by 20 to 21 college-age interns who help us out for the actual tournament, another 250 people employed by the different vendors and as many as 1,100 volunteers.
Merchandising for the U.S. Open is pretty much a year-long enterprise. We started planning for this year last summer, right after the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Mugs, shirts and more items stuff the 24,000-square-foot merchandise tent at the U.S. Open (click on images to enlarge).
The pavilion at Brookline was fully built by April, and actual merchandise started arriving in early May, by which time I was on site for the duration. We are actually open for business for 11 days, and that includes a four-day period for pre-championship sales, and then the seven days of the practice rounds and the tournament.
Do I ever get a chance to watch any of the championship? It’s only happened one time, and that was at Winged Foot in 2020, during the pandemic, when there was no merchandise tent. I ended up working as a walking scorer and was with the last group on Sunday with Bryson (DeChambeau) and Matthew Wolff. Otherwise, things are just too busy.
As for a favorite Open venue, I have so many. Pinehurst is very special, and I loved the back-to-back men’s and women’s Opens in 2014 and am already looking forward to 2029 there. Chambers Bay and Erin Hills were great, and also Oakmont and Merion. Again, I love the differences of each site and their individual characteristics and getting a feel for the various communities. Olympic is wonderful, too, and Shinnecock, of course, which was my first, and which I have worked several times.
But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Winged Foot. It goes back to my first job in golf there, working for Tom Nieporte, who was my mentor and friend. And to my growing up nearby, in Rye.
Truth be told, I have really liked them all. And there is nothing quite like the feeling when it all comes together, and the fans are having a great experience, at the tournament and in our tent.
Photos: Courtesy USGA
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