On Dec. 22, 2014, the USGA celebrated its 120th anniversary as the national governing body for golf in the United States, its territories and Mexico. A lot of history has been made in the first 120 years and the Association continues to evolve in exciting ways. In that celebratory spirit, we are revisiting USGA milestones in a four-part series divided into 30-year increments. The final part reviews the years from 1985 to the present.
When describing the last 30 years at the United States Golf Association, one word comes to mind: growth.
Not only has the Association expanded from within – the number of employees has mushroomed from a handful to more than 300 – everything from the U.S. Open to the organization’s global reach has expanded.
The U.S. Open is no longer simply a major championship contested on Father’s Day weekend. It’s a weeklong celebration of the game that attracts an enormous international audience.
The game itself has also penetrated into new frontiers, places such as China, Russia and the Middle East. Need proof?
Since 1985, 81 foreign-born players have captured USGA championships. That list includes multiple winners such as Annika Sorenstam (Sweden), Ernie Els (South Africa), Retief Goosen (South Africa), Inbee Park (Korea) and Karrie Webb (Australia). The U.S. Women’s Open has produced the most international champions over the past 30 years with 15. The U.S. Open and U.S. Girls’ Junior are next with 11 apiece.
In 2014, Alice Jo (U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links) and Princess Mary Superal (U.S. Girls’ Junior) become the first USGA champions from the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines, respectively.
Team competitions that were once dominated by the USA have become much more competitive. In 1989, Great Britain and Ireland claimed the Walker Cup Match on American soil for the first time, at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta. The USA owned a 28-2-1 advantage before 1989, but GB&I has won five of the past 12 biennial competitions, including three straight from 1999-2003.
The USA claimed 13 of the first 18 Women’s World Amateur Team Championships, but it hasn’t won the Espirito Santo Trophy since 1998. Australia, Sweden and Korea have each won the biennial event twice in the past 16 years, while France and South Africa have also prevailed.
Globalization isn’t reflected just by those hoisting trophies. Players from non-traditional golf countries such as Iceland, Republic of Moldova, Latvia, Russia, Sri Lanka, Czech Republic, New Caledonia and Nigeria have qualified for USGA championships.
Global Outreach on Handicapping, Championship Fronts
The USGA has expanded its global efforts, and not just in a Rules-making capacity. The Golf Handicap and Information Network® (GHIN) is now utilized in India, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic and Hong Kong. The USGA’s Handicap and Course Rating Manual was recently translated into Chinese.
International Sectional Qualifying for the U.S. Open began in 2005, with sites in England and Japan. The first year of international qualifying produced an international champion, with Michael Campbell, of New Zealand, winning the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. The U.S. Women’s Open adopted international qualifying in 2014 with four sites, in China, Korea, Japan and England.
The U.S. Open cracked the 10,000 mark for the first time with 10,127 entries in 2014, and the Women’s Open has also experienced a steady rise in entries over the past decade. It topped the 1,000 mark for the first time in 2004 (1,097) and a record 1,702 entries were received in 2014.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior has also topped the 1,000 mark each of the past five years, including a record 1,118 entries in 2014.
International interest is certainly a factor in those increases, but USGA-supported initiatives such as LPGA-USGA Girls Golf and The First Tee have contributed as well.
The Latin America Amateur Championship will debut in January 2015 in Argentina, with the winner receiving an invitation to the Masters in April, as well as an exemption into the 2015 U.S. Amateur and British Amateur championships, and a spot in U.S. Open and British Open sectional qualifying. This championship is a joint venture between the USGA and its partners at The R&A and Augusta National Golf Club.
The ultimate goal of the Latin America Amateur is to foster interest in the game, in the same manner that the six-year-old Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship has in Australasia.
Golf will return to the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro for the first time since 1904.
Tiger Woods’ historic victory in the 1997 Masters helped to inspire a new generation of golf fans, but he initially made a name for himself with his remarkable run of six consecutive USGA amateur titles from 1991-96. He followed his unprecedented three-peat in the U.S. Junior Amateur with three straight U.S. Amateur victories, for a USGA-record 36 consecutive match-play wins.
Se Ri Pak, a relatively unknown 20-year-old from the Republic of Korea, had a similar effect on the women’s game when she defeated amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn in a 20-hole playoff in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run. The impact of Pak’s victory could be felt across Korea, where young girls were watching the broadcast from Kohler, Wis., in the wee hours with dreams of following in Pak’s footsteps. Korean-born players Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, Birdie Kim, So Yeon Ryu and Eun-Hee Ji have won six of the past 10 U.S. Women’s Opens. Park, who also won the 2002 U.S. Girls’ Junior, is currently the world’s No. 1 player.
U.S. Open Creates New Look While Honoring Its Past
The U.S. Open has undergone a significant metamorphosis outside the ropes, beginning in the mid-1990s.
Corporate hospitality tents and merchandise pavilions the size of football fields started popping up, giving the championship a similar feel to other major sporting events. The U.S. Open became an experience not just for the competitors, but also the spectators.
The 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club set a benchmark for merchandising when Mike Schultz, the club’s director of golf, decided to construct a 4,000-square-foot merchandise tent. Three years later, at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, head professional Bob Ford opted for two 8,000-square-foot tents near each of the two public entrances.
A year later, the USGA hired Mary Lopuszynski to oversee U.S. Open merchandising, and a 20,000-square-foot tent was constructed at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. By 2002, at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y., the facility had grown to 43,000 square feet. The 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines also set a sales record. Hats and visors remain the biggest sellers, averaging 100,000 per year. Merchandise sales at the U.S. Open have increased 300 percent since 1995.
Corporate hospitality also changed in 1995, when Mimi Griffin of MSG Promotions was hired. The number of corporate clients rose from 61 in 1995 to a high of 230 in 2008 at Torrey Pines.
In 2006, the USGA joined with corporate partners to create an improved fan experience, especially at its high-profile championships. Through partnerships with American Express, IBM, Rolex and Lexus, spectators now can take pictures with a replica U.S. Open Trophy, hit shots on a simulator and gain insights into the effect of science and technology on the game.
On the broadcast side, the USGA transitioned from longtime partner ABC to NBC for the 1995 championship season. That partnership with NBC lasted 20 years, through the 2014 season. Fox Sports will begin a 12-year partnership with the 2015 championship season.
Sites Both Traditional and New Host the U.S. Open
The USGA also has taken bold steps to return the U.S. Open to venerable venues. Shinnecock Hills, a site that had not held the championship in 90 years, hosted in 1986 and again in 1995 and 2004. The Open returns there again in 2018. Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., had not hosted the U.S. Open for 32 years before hosting in 2013.
New U.S. Open layouts have also been added, including Bethpage State Park’s Black Course, the first publicly-owned facility to host the championship. Many believed the A.W. Tillinghast design was U.S. Open-worthy, but the Black Course needed a facelift. And thanks to the vision of David Fay, then the USGA’s executive director, the U.S. Open came to the Long Island course in 2002 and again in 2009. Since then, three other public venues have been awarded U.S. Opens: Torrey Pines in 2008 and 2021, Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., in 2015, and Erin Hills in Erin, Wis., in 2017.
When the USGA celebrated its centennial in 1995, the Association took each of its three oldest championships – U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur – to one of its founding clubs. Corey Pavin won the Open at Shinnecock Hills, Tiger Woods won the second of his three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles at Newport (R.I.) Country Club and Kelli Kuehne won the Women’s Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
That celebration also included the addition of two USGA championships, the Men’s and Women’s State Team Championships, which were patterned after the World Amateur Team Championships. Initially proposed as a one-off competition for the centennial, the State Team Championships were so overwhelmingly popular that the USGA continued both competitions on a biennial basis. Today, the Men’s State Team is conducted in even-numbered years and the Women’s State Team in odd-numbered years.
Rules Change As Technology Evolves
Technology has played a vital role throughout golf’s history, whether it was steel replacing hickory shafts or metal-headed drivers replacing persimmon woods. And, of course, the ball has undergone several evolutions. The USGA’s guiding philosophy has always been to ensure that skill, not technology, is the prevalent factor in the game.
With titanium drivers infiltrating the market in the late 1990s, the USGA began testing and placing restrictions on “spring-like effect.” Terms such as coefficient of restitution (COR) and moment of inertia (MOI) became part of the golf lexicon. This highly scientific vocabulary might have been difficult for a layman to digest, but the engineers inside the USGA Research and Test Center are well-versed in the terminology and the effect this technology can have on golf. New guidelines were established, with drivers no larger than 460 cubic centimeters (cc) and a maximum COR of 0.830.
Rules changes regarding equipment are hardly a new concept. For example, in 1909, clubs with contrivances such as springs were banned, and in the mid-1950s, clubs containing any finish for the purpose of unduly influencing the movement of the ball were barred.
The most recent major Rule change came in 2013, when the USGA and The R&A proposed that anchoring a putter to one’s body was not a fundamental part of the game. While they weren’t proposing banning the use of long putters, the governing bodies believed that anchoring a club to one’s body provided an unfair advantage and did not constitute a legal stroke.
After lengthy dialogue and feedback, the proposed Rule 14-1b, which bans anchoring, was approved and will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
Social, Environmental Issues Effect Positive Change
Golf certainly isn’t immune to controversy, and 24 years ago, the golf world changed forever with the 1990 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., a club that didn’t have any African-American members. Diversity became a major topic in the golf community, and change occurred quickly. The USGA decided it would no longer conduct its competitions at clubs without diversified membership rolls.
Six years later, the USGA elected its first female president, Judy Bell, of Colorado Springs, Colo. Among the initiatives Bell produced as president was a full-time home for the USGA Foundation in Colorado Springs. During her presidency, the Joe Dey Award was created to honor an individual’s meritorious service to the game. Charles N. Eckstein was the inaugural recipient.
With water becoming a more scarce resource, the USGA and its Green Section held a Water Summit in 2012 in Dallas to discuss ways in which golf courses can preserve water without compromising the quality of play.
The renovation of Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2, which hosted the historic back-to-back U.S. Open Championships in June 2014, is a prominent example of how facilities can do more with less. Architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored the legendary layout to the original design intentions of Donald Ross, replacing all the rough with native sandy areas that require little irrigation. While the course looked different, the playing characteristics were not compromised.
With support from the USGA Green Section, more and more courses are following suit, especially in drought-stricken areas such as Arizona, Nevada and California.
Two venerable championships were retired in 2014, as the U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links were contested for the final time. Meanwhile, the USGA created the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championships, which will be held at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore., respectively, for the first time in 2015.
The response to the new events has been overwhelming, as more than 2,200 teams filed entries for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and more than 330 teams entered the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball.
In the past two years, the USGA also has focused on pace of play, on the competitive and recreational sides of the game. In November 2014, a second Pace of Play Symposium was held at Golf House to discuss issues and brainstorm solutions to one of the game’s biggest issues.
The USGA introduced its Play 9 campaign in July 2014 in conjunction with corporate partner American Express. The USGA is promoting Play 9 to encourage people with busy schedules to find time for nine holes when a full 18-hole round is not possible.
Originally founded to settle an 1894 dispute between two golf clubs seeking to host a national amateur championship, it’s astonishing to see how the USGA has evolved. It’s even more exciting to consider the possibilities for the next 120 years.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.