3M Open Teeing-Up 5th Anniversary
By Judd Spicer
Though a 5th anniversary is traditionally recognized by the gift of wood, incarnation number five of the 3M Open may instead be marked by water.
Lots and lots of water.
Readying to make its annual PGA TOUR splash at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, the 3M Open (July 27-30, 2023) has earned a continued rep as one of the wettest events on the TOUR schedule. To wit: At the 2021 tournament won by Cameron Champ, the TPC saw a TOUR-topping 317 balls in the water; across last year’s event captured by Tony Finau, the 3M led all TOUR tourneys with 303 balls dunked in the drink.
In concert with the grounds’ unique, prairie-style and marsh-laden layout, TPC Twin Cities’ penchant for the “Blaine Breeze” and water hazards on 13 holes has annually kept scores in check.
“When looking back through our previous four tournaments – and considering the changes made to the course in 2018 and after the event in 2019, which certainly made it harder – comparing them to what you see week in and week out on TOUR for non-majors, it’s right in the middle of the pack,” says Mike Welch, tournament director of the 3M Open. “This is a shot-makers course, and if somebody isn’t sharp, they’ll see why we’ve led the TOUR in water balls the past two years. And especially when the wind kicks-up, it really is a very hard golf course.”
Sporting a 2023 field led by the likes of Cameron Young, the TOUR’s reigning “Rookie of the Year,” 2021 Masters’ champion Hideki Matsuyama, rising stud Ludvig Aberg of Sweden, and Finau, now the world’s 16th-ranked player, version No. 5 of the 3M is finding continued adhesive of play and party.
“The 3M Open is more than a golf tournament,” continues Welch. “At its root, golf is what we do. But this is an event. We’re always asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to attract a wider audience?’ Since the pandemic, golf has continued to boom, especially with a more diverse group of people and players. We love that, and we’re just trying to do things every year that speak to the game’s growing audience.”
Pivoting from the former Fan Dome fan space in lieu of a new Fan Hub, this year’s 3M, will feature a host of new fan activations to compliment action inside the ropes.
“We’re really excited about the Fan Hub, powered by 3M,” enthuses Welch. “What we’re doing this year, it’s something that I saw at the President’s Cup at Quail Hollow; inside the Fan Hub, we’ll have about a dozen fan activations, some of which are club in-hand. For example, there’s a long, 32-foot putt from First Tee of Minnesota, which is a replica of the 18th hole (at TPC Twin Cities). If you make the putt, it’s a $100 donation to the First Tee of Minnesota.”
Along with the tournament’s annual donation of over $1 million to area charities via the 3M Open Fund, an ongoing sponsor and event theme of technology ensues.
“There’s also science and robotics at the Fan Hub, which includes a new activation called ‘PuttView.’ Guests will put on AR goggles, which reads the green for you, shows you the breaks. If you’re like me,” laughs Welch, “there will be no excuse to miss that putt, but you still will.”
The event’s festivities extend from new innovations to fresh libations.
“We’re constantly working to attract that new demographic; I call them the ‘Golf Curious,’ people who are event-seekers, those who are intrigued by golf but might not play that much,” Welch continues. “This year, we’ve built a new STILLY Party Deck on the 18th hole, which, from the view of the tee box, is to the right of the water. We found a great local sponsor (out of Stillwater) in STILLY, which is a ready-to-drink canned vodka cocktail.”
Along with the party deck DJ’d by from iHeart Music (Thursday – Sunday, from Noon-5:00 p.m. each day), adjacent food trucks, cornhole and other games, a pool party ensues with another new feature on the renowned, lake-laden par-5 18th.
“With 3M Consumer, we’ve created a ‘Water Ball Wall,’ kind of like at a ballgame when fans put up ‘K’ signs for each strikeout,” explains Welch of a home hole that saw 67 water balls in 2022. “Here, on the wall, we’ll put up a ‘W’ made of oversized Post-it Notes each time a ball goes into the lake. And it’s not to poke fun at players who hit into the water, but rather to celebrate what the area is and have some fun with it.”
In concert with the field headliners, those further seeking to avoid the “W”’s includes TOUR vets Sungjae Im, Tom Hoge, Billy Horschel and Gary Woodland.
Additionally, this year’s 3M will scorecard an engaging roster of young guns. Led by Aberg, two-time winner (2022, 2023) of the Ben Hogan Award, the scorecard of newcomers also includes: Sam Bennett, who played in the final pairing at The Masters this year; Justin Suh; Fred Biondi (runner-up in the PGA TOUR University standings); former Minnesota prep state champions Frankie Capan III of Stillwater and Derek Hitchner of Minneapolis; and Thomas Lehman, son of MN legend (and course consultant/renovator) Tom Lehman.
“We’re really excited about these young guys, and the sponsor exemptions,” says Welch, “it’s a lot of ‘Who’s next’ on the PGA TOUR.”
Played in 2023 as the TOUR’s second-to-last regular season event before the onset of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the 3M looks to benefit from the TOUR’s new postseason model, which limits the second-season to the top 70 players.
“Yes, we’re the week after the British Open, which creates some natural challenges in scheduling,” acknowledges Welch, “and, sure, there are some folks who don’t want to fly over and play right away. And we get it. But, we love the position that we’re in; there’s so much at stake.”
With top-70 outsiders-looking-in (Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry and Adam Scott pre-tourney are examples), the 3M’s present position on the TOUR slate may well result in a few final (if not desperate) big-time names seeking needed points in the standings, along with some compelling shot-for-shot points jockeying.
“When you look at the FedEx Cup and see the players hovering around that top-70 number, there are guys who need those points who haven’t yet committed to the 3M,” Welch concludes. “And then, the second playoff event is the top-50 guys, which provides exemption in the huge, designated events for next season; so, we look at our placement as an opportunity for guys not just aiming to make the playoffs, but also to reach that top 50.”
Across a TOUR calendar featuring 44 regular season events, the 3M’s commitment to stick is further traction as the tourney achieves its fifth anniversary.