Golf’s greatest layover: Inside the airport lounge that caters to golfers

The putting green and a simulator at PGA MSP Airport.
The putting green and a simulator at PGA MSP Airport.

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s a few minutes past 9 a.m. on a recent Monday at the PGA MSP Airport lounge, and business is starting to hum.

A woman sips coffee on a cushy black chair as another man settles in on a leather couch with a tap beer, his laptop and Golf Channel. Behind him sits a newly decorated Christmas tree and a mural commemorating the 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team’s victory, “The Miracle at Brookline.” Justin Leonard’s outstretched arms are unmistakable from across the room.

Big screen TVs (17 in all) plaster the walls, but they aren’t nearly as expansive as the putting green anchoring the middle of the room, or the six giant simulator screens scattered about the 12,000-square-foot lounge.

Welcome to the PGA lounge at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. It’s a golf fan’s dream layover.

“People have never seen anything like this before,” said Ryan Rindels, the facility’s director of golf. (Yes, it even has its own DOG.) “The comments are phenomenal.”

A putting green is the centerpiece of the PGA MSP Airport.

A putting green is the centerpiece of the PGA MSP Airport.

PGA MSP is centrally located at the Lindbergh terminal’s north checkpoint, the nucleus of all gates. More specifically, it’s at the far end of the mall, across from the iStore, next to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, around the corner from one of the smallest Starbucks you’ll ever see and above the French Meadow Bakery. If you’re heading to Concourse E you’ll walk right under it. You can’t miss it. It has signage galore and a glass facade overlooking the crowded concourse. A few of the simulators and more than a half dozen staff bags are strategically displayed.

“People see it,” Rindels said. “If people have time to kill, they find us.”

Some of the hitting bays at PGA MSP Airport.

Some of the hitting bays at PGA MSP Airport.

PGA MSP opened in 2015, the brainchild of the PGA of America and Wexford Golf, a golf-development firm in Minneapolis. The golf lifestyle facility is still the only golf experience of its kind in any U.S. airport. It’s free for anyone with a Priority Pass, otherwise it runs $15 for lounge access. (Yearly memberships are also offered.) The lounge includes business class Wi-Fi, a putting green, charging stations, private restrooms, comfortable couches and TVs aplenty (golf, of course, is usually on). Need a quiet conference room? You can book one of those, too. It’s just beyond the photos of past PGA champions. There’s no shortage of golfy decor.

Not to be forgotten, there’s a full bar with food service whipped up downstairs at Ike’s Food and Cocktails — one of the Twin Cities’ most respected restaurants — where the breakfast quesadilla and burger remain personal favorites. (PGA MSP is currently building its own kitchen to take over food and beverage service.)

Before catching an early flight, a few travelers relax in the PGA MSP lounge.

Before catching an early flight, a few travelers relax in the PGA MSP lounge.

If you’re looking to take some swings, you can pay to use the range simulator ($25 for 30 minutes) or select from 54 courses — including Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town — on a golf simulator ($60 for an hour). Your $15 lounge fee is credited toward either option. For those looking to shave some strokes, there are PGA-certified teachers and a certified club-fitter on staff.

Rindels says anywhere from 200 to 500 people pass through on a given day, the majority of guests flashing a Priority Pass. There’s also a pro shop with golf gear, much of it Minnesota-centric, that anyone can access.

For security reasons, only rental clubs are allowed in the lounge and simulators, but there are plenty of options on site, including different shafts, makes and models.

A look at the putting green at PGA MSP Airport.

A look at the putting green at PGA MSP Airport.

As a tour of the massive space comes to a close (I had a flight to catch, too), foot traffic in the concourse below is swelling. Thanksgiving travel is picking up.

In the hallway overlooking the busy ground floor, a bartender turns the corner hauling three overflowing draft beers. He hustles past an autographed Bubba Watson Masters flag that hangs above Watson’s replica gear near the entrance. Then he breezes past a handful of Ping bags loaded with shiny new clubs. He’s headed to one of the two curved, panoramic simulators, where a group of golfers is preparing to bang some balls — and perhaps even hopeful for a flight delay.

A collection fo photos inside PGA MSP Airport.

A collection of photos inside PGA MSP Airport.

The PGA MSP Airport sits right about Concourse E.

The PGA MSP Airport sits right above Concourse E.

PGA MSP, in the top right of the photo, is in a high-traffic area.

PGA MSP, in the top right of the photo, is in a high-traffic area.