2011 Annual Meeting, Phoenix
“It’s About the Game”
In my remarks at our Annual Meeting in Pinehurst last February, I issued a challenge to the Association and to the broader golf community. Citing environmental concerns that cannot be ignored, as well as the worldwide economic downturn, I suggested that many of the standards by which we construct and maintain our courses have become unsustainable, and I argued for a long-term strategy to confront some of the deeper issues impacting the game. I have to admit that I did not anticipate a strong reaction to one thought I expressed last year – the notion that we need to understand “how brown can become the new green.” But I’m proud of the reactions this statement evoked and the discussions it sparked. For I continue to believe in the fundamental truths that underlie this statement – that the issue of greatest concern to golf’s future is water, and that golfers must re-set the way that we expect courses to look.
As it turns out, 2010 was a trying year that brought record heat and drought conditions to many parts of the country. And while many golf facilities continued to struggle with declining revenues, we saw many course managers move toward a more sustainable and less expensive approach in managing their operations. As we have stressed in our communications over the past year, a focus on playability rather than lush conditions and overindulgent cosmetics can ultimately improve turf health, enhance drought resistance and reduce the impact on the environment, while realizing savings in fuel, energy and labor costs.
Over the past year, we utilized many outlets to communicate the advantages of firm and fast playing conditions, but it may have been the selection and setup of courses for our own championships that most helped bring the concept to the fore. As demonstrated by the wonderful shot-making at Pebble Beach and Chambers Bay, firm and fast conditions enable players to use the contours that the architect provided, as well as their own creativity, to expand their options and to incorporate more of a ground game. Looking ahead to our 2011 championships, we will do all we can to have firm and fast conditions for our three Opens. And you can expect really firm, fast and even brown conditions for this year’s U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills which has fescue grass.
Of course, our commitment to the environment extends beyond our championship course preparations. We have also worked to make our operations more sustainable, beginning with a full energy audit of our campus in Far Hills. We have also taken our own advice and reduced the amount of land that we are watering and maintaining. There are now prominent portions of the USGA campus that have been developed into naturalized areas and include nesting locations to encourage the development of bird colonies. In my address last year, I also spoke about the need to develop and encourage best practices for sustainable turfgrass management. We have spotlighted this topic in our championship publications and broadcasts. We have developed a series of discussion questions on environmental and economic sustainability that are available on our website. And, more than ever, we have encouraged superintendents, club managers and golfers to look to USGA Green Section agronomists for assistance.
We can certainly be proud of all that we have done over the past year to encourage a healthier relationship between the game and the environment, but let us not forget that this is simply the beginning. Simply stated, far too many golfers continue to believe that their courses must be as lush and green as the courses they see on television each week and we must continue our initiative to reset expectations regarding course maintenance in ways that are more responsible environmentally and economically. We’ve made progress, but there’s still a long way to go. Still, I hope that everyone gathered here today in Phoenix takes pride in the important leadership role that the USGA has taken when it comes to the relationship between the game and the environment.
And it is on this note that I’ll transition my remarks to look forward to 2011. For it is this concept of leadership in the game that I would like to highlight as my challenge to all of us as we look toward the coming year. This remains a critical moment in time for the game, but also a critical moment in time for our organization. And I feel that it is imperative that the USGA both recognize and embrace the role that it must play as a leader in golf both nationally and internationally. As I noted in my inaugural remarks in Pinehurst last February, the time has come to reaffirm the essential mission of this organization, to protect the ideals that our forefathers like Richard Tufts celebrated, and to work with a renewed emphasis on the game itself. Through the years, our service to the game has been most clearly expressed through our dedication to our core functions. We are strong leaders when we focus our energies and attentions on the Rules, on equipment standards, on our handicapping and course rating systems, on the environment, and, of course, on our championships.
There is a story that is, no doubt, familiar to almost everyone in this room: On Dec. 22, 1894, representatives of five American golf clubs met at the Calumet Club in New York City to form the nation’s governing body for the game of golf. The game had finally become established in the United States beginning in the 1880s, but it lacked clear organization and it lacked strong leadership. The fledgling organization charged itself with three responsibilities – conducting national championships, implementing a uniform code of rules by which those championships would be played, and promoting the interests of the game.
However, the representatives gathered at that first meeting did more than simply articulate the functions of the new association. They also made a clear leadership statement when they articulated the philosophy that would guide their governance of the game. “The five charter clubs were unanimous on one point,” wrote Charles Blair Macdonald, our first amateur champion and in many respects the singular driving force behind the creation of the USGA, “that we should play the game of golf as it was played in Scotland.” Which is to say, they revered and respected the game’s ancient traditions, customs and values, and they stepped forward to provide the leadership to govern the game in accordance with these principles.
Much has changed in the years since that first meeting. Today, the USGA comprises more than 9,000 Member clubs and courses and more than 700,000 individual Members. More than 35,000 golfers representing more than 80 countries submit entries to play in our national championships each year. The Association maintains course rating and handicapping systems that are used on six continents in more than 50 countries, and also provides handicap computation services to more than 70 national, regional and state golf associations through the Golf Handicap and Information Network. And more than 2 million golfers carry a USGA GHIN handicap card.
If one considers the totality and reach of the USGA’s core activities, it is clear to see that we have assumed a responsibility to lead the game both nationally and internationally. We do this best by executing our primary functions. But we also provide strong leadership simply by respecting the game’s traditions and values. There is a reason we do what we do and it’s quite a simple one: it’s about the game. When we fulfill the same mission that was embraced by those who came before us, we keep the USGA vibrant and relevant. When we work to ensure that all of our core functions are executed in the most professional manner, we ensure that the USGA will remain, in all respects, a healthy, thriving and sustainable organization that is a strong leader in both the national and international golf communities.
As we remember the many wonderful moments and accomplishments of 2010, we also look forward to 2011 and our key initiatives for the year. We start, of course, with our championships – our must visible and must fundamental responsibility. We’re thrilled to see the U.S. Open return to Congressional Country Club, the U.S. Women’s Open to The Broadmoor, and the U.S. Senior Open to Inverness. All three venues promise to deliver exciting golf and produce compelling champions, but we must also excel on our end of the equation and deliver the very finest championships, both inside and outside the ropes – including, of course, delivering a world-class experience to a worldwide audience through USOPEN.com.
2011 is also a critical year for the Rules of Golf, and we’re already off to a strong start with these efforts having concluded a very successful Quadrennial Rules Conference with The R&A in St. Andrews just a few weeks ago. In the coming months, we’ll be working closely with our partners in Scotland to finalize changes to both the Rules and Decisions books. On a similar schedule are updates to the Amateur Status code, as well as our handicapping system, both due for revisions in 2012. And this is even an important year for our relationships with our corporate partners. At the PGA Show just two weeks ago, we were pleased to announce a multi-year renewal of our partnership with Lexus, which since 2006 has provided a great service to the USGA by providing the automobiles for our championships, as well as enhancing the on-site experience for the many fans who attend our championships. At the same time, we also announced a new relationship – this with Polo – who for the next five years will be the official apparel outfitter for the USGA and the U.S. Open. Last, but certainly not least, we remain strongly committed to enhancing our relationship with our most important partner internationally, The R&A. Today we announced that we are joining with The R&A to support the World Amateur Golf Rankings for men and women, and will now look to incorporate these rankings in establishing exemption criteria for our amateur championships; and as Dick Rugge just mentioned, we have formalized our long-standing work with The R&A in the area of equipment standards through the creation of a Joint Equipment Standards Committee, paralleling our work together for decades through the Joint Rules Committee. Together, our two organizations have governed the game worldwide for decades and we look forward to strengthening this relationship as we look to the future.
In the closing days of 2010, we learned that we would be bidding farewell to the USGA’s longtime executive director, David Fay, who announced his retirement after 32 years with the Association. David will be missed, but his legacy will long remain. His tenure as the sixth executive director in Association history was characterized by his passion both for the game and for the people and the mission of the USGA. But his lasting legacy may well be his strong leadership of the effort to bring the U.S. Open to Bethpage State Park on Long Island in 2002.
As David leaves, the USGA is in excellent shape to begin a new decade. In fact, in financial terms, the Association enjoyed its most successful year ever in 2010. It is imperative now that we find a strong leader to sustain the many positive changes and advances in the organization. The search committee that has been assembled to identify our next executive director understands and appreciates the significance of the important work it has undertaken. We have a committee of five people from inside and outside the Executive Committee who will review applications and interview candidates – both internal and external – over the coming weeks. It is our hope to conclude this process and announce our next executive director within the next 60 days.
In addition to David, four people I have had the pleasure of working with on the Executive Committee are retiring – Jay Rains, Pat Kaufman, John Kim and Joe Anthony, who has served as the Association’s general counsel for the past two years. We are all truly grateful to them for their dedication and their leadership. I look forward to working with the incoming Executive Committee members – Skip Gist, Ed Michaels and Diana Murphy, and general counsel Mark Newell.
Before closing my remarks, I’d like to pause to extend my sincerest thanks to two people in this room. The first is Mike Butz, for his willingness and professionalism in assuming the role of Interim Director following David’s departure. And the second is to my wife, Natalie.
For more than 116 years, the USGA has revered and promoted the essential values of the game – sportsmanship, fair play, honesty, integrity, equity, generosity, camaraderie and the spirit of competition. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the members of the USGA family – volunteers, staff, competitors, Members and fans – who gave so freely of their time, talents and energy in 2010 to ensure that we fulfill our fundamental mission of giving back to the game. I look forward to working with you in the coming year as we once again, with passion and dedication, pursue excellence in all we do as leaders of the game.