Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Family,
Thank you for this wonderful honor. I am both delighted and humbled by the trust you have placed in me. As we recognize Tom for his exemplary leadership, I am mindful of just how much time and effort Tom, and in fact, all of our previous leaders, invested in the USGA, and how wisely they did their jobs. I look to them for guidance as I begin.
I am also very excited to continue working with a talented group of colleagues on the Executive Committee, with Mike Davis and his management team, and with all of you who represent this wonderful game either as loyal volunteers or dedicated industry professionals.
Let me share with you a personal anecdote that may explain why I am here. In my office there is an old, scarred, MacGregor four-wood with a steel shaft and a slick, old-fashioned leather grip. Across the top is script that reads “Ben Hogan.”
That is one of the few artifacts I have from my father and I cherish it deeply. Although he died when I was an infant, I hold onto the image of a young man from England, coming to America as a coal miner and eventually an executive who spent all of his free time with this game that he had learned to love, across the Atlantic. Fortunately for me, my brother learned the game from Dad and made sure that I also came to know the joy of golf and so, that little four-wood is precious.
It symbolizes the allure and the joy of a game that has endured for six hundred years, spanning continents, while constantly evolving.
Nearly every person in this room has a story about golf and its wonderful impact on our lives, but more about that in a few minutes….
We have learned – through playing golf, watching it, or both – that a positive attitude is a greater asset than the most rock-solid swing. On the golf course, the notion that if we simply
- Keep our spirits up
- Keep our faces toward the sun
- And keep our minds open,
Then something good will happen – is true, more often than not. Sure, we know the next shot may end up in the bottom of a barranca, (where nothing bigger than a jackrabbit has ventured for a very long time), or it may end up four inches from the hole! Again and again, a good attitude carries the day and no matter what the scorecard reads, we walk away remembering our best shots and looking forward to our next round.
And yet, in recent years, there seems to be more gloom hanging around golf than the sport deserves. A rapidly changing world has forced golf to confront changes in the way people spend their leisure time, and in how they get their information.
The balance seems tilted between the serious challenges of modern life and the pure pleasures of games, of fellowship, of competition, of fresh air and the joy of spending a few hours…unplugged.
Although golf will always face challenges, the great golfers; such as Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus; and my dear friend Louise Suggs had one trait in common: they were optimistic about their games and THE game. It is a time for all of us, together, to be positive about golf and act accordingly.
Our purpose, as defined in our mission statement, is to promote and conserve the true spirit of golf as embodied in its ancient and honorable traditions. We act in the best interests of golf for the continued enjoyment of those who love it and play it.
I would like to review what the USGA is doing to move that mission forward with the help of technology, while giving golf vigor and enthusiasm from the perspective of three key relationships:
- The USGA’s relationship with golfers
- Our relationship with the dedicated people who run golf facilities, and
- Our relationship with our friends in the game.
To be sure, there are many more and varied relationships, but much of what we do is devoted to efforts on behalf of these three groups.
Let’s begin with golfers. At the USGA, we think of them as our best customers. How do we serve their needs?
For years, the USGA has worked with many – maybe most – of you, through state and regional golf associations to serve the game. SRGAs provide key services at the grass roots. To list a few: handicapping, championship qualifiers, and Rules education. The SRGA community’s contributions are critical to the present and future of golf, especially in driving engagement at the local level.
We have an opportunity to build on these relationships through a new Member engagement initiative. While the details are still being designed, we are working on a way to deliver greater value to golfers through a closer collaboration between the USGA and SRGA’s, whereby golfers could enjoy local, regional, and national benefits through a unified, membership program. Basically, get one-stop shopping; join once and become members of both.
We also want to strengthen the connection between the golfer and the governance systems that bring important structure to the game. With The R&A, we continue to think about rules and handicapping as dynamic programs that must stretch and grow with the game as it is played around the world, while making the game easier to understand.
Together with The R&A, we are committed to a fundamental review of The Rules. Collaboratively, we are examining the Rules and how they are applied at all levels of the game. Where do they work well? Where could they be more clear and understandable? Do they enhance the golfer experience? How can they support broader initiatives, such as improving pace of play and enhancing environmental stewardship?
Naturally, we do this to some extent through our standard Rules review process every four years. But what we contemplate here is broader in scope.
Rules review groups comprising passionate experts from both organizations are now working on the challenge, and we hope to have preliminary recommendations to share with the golf community in the next year or two.
Similarly, handicapping must mature to serve a global community. Golf’s popularity worldwide, sure to be driven higher by the Olympic Games, will give us opportunities to provide these benefits to more people in more places. Also, the wider availability of international travel brings with it the happy opportunity to take one’s clubs along.
And if you can get a fair game in San Diego, why shouldn’t you be able to get one in Singapore? In collaboration with the world’s five other handicapping authorities, as well as The R&A, work is underway to build common principles and procedures so that your index could be useful worldwide.
No sport has a better, easier- to- use equalizer than golf---it is an advantage we should maximize.
Second, our critical relationship with golf facilities can continue to be enhanced through research, science and innovation.
Walk the halls of Golf House, stroll through the laboratories of the Research & Test Center, follow along on a Course Consulting Service visit and you will hear a consistent theme: research, science and innovation.
These principles reflect a renewed emphasis on holding ourselves to a higher standard in seeking solutions that will lead to a better game. Our Green Section has been spreading state-of-the-art best practices in turf management for 96 years. Our Research and Test Center, opened in 1984, has tested clubs, balls and every variety of golf equipment for conformance, continuing a dedication to that function that began in the earliest years of the 20th century. Last year alone, we tested more than 2,000 pieces of equipment, and more than 1,200 brands of golf balls for conformance. But we are not stopping there.
Later this year we will introduce a new Resource Management Tool. It is a data management program that allows golf course superintendents to optimize their consumption of water, energy, labor and other significant resources in order to create a better experience for their golfers, while at the same time reducing the expense and environmental footprint of the game.
You may also have heard about the USGA’s new Flagstick Tool. This innovative technology will enable facility operators to monitor more precisely the locations of every group of players on the course. When a group putts out and the flagstick is back in the hole, facility operators can tell whether the group is playing on pace, or holding up other groups. Fact replaces opinion or speculation. As it becomes widely available, it will facilitate the implementation of effective pace-of-play management programs.
In our work to support golf facilities, we also look for ways to be stronger through collaboration. Hence our groundbreaking multi-year research agreement started last fall with the University of Minnesota, one of the world’s premier research universities. Together we will study everything from turf and environmental impact to economic models and consumer behavior. If it affects golf and can be understood using science, research and innovation, any challenge is fair game for this collaboration to turn it into an opportunity.
Why all the emphasis on studying the scientific aspects of the game? Let me share some good news with you. Together with our friends at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, we have been measuring golf’s use of water for several decades and recent data document significant progress in our efforts to reduce water consumption. The results of the latest research show a nearly 22 percent reduction in water use, industry-wide, since 2005. This equates to a $150 million annual savings for U.S. golf facilities.
How did this happen? Through outreach and cooperation based in research, science and innovation, and an insistence on delivering measurable outcomes. The spread of best management practices through our
Green Section and its boots-on-the-turf approach has led to substantive turf reduction at many facilities – the removal of acres of grass that needed water, but got little or no traffic from actual golf play. Eliminating those thirsty acres was – and continues to be – just one way we work to help find solutions to resource management challenges. The enthusiasm of superintendents in meeting us halfway on this and other initiatives convinces us we are on the right track.
We choose to lead, but not always to walk alone. With our friends in the game, we combine energy, enthusiasm and resources to make the game better, year by year.
These friends share our passion and optimism. They include industry associations and those who direct and serve them; legions of volunteers who give their time and effort generously to help run, one, two, a dozen championships (many who actually plan their annual vacations around volunteering for the USGA); teachers, coaches and professionals who pass on what they know not only as a career, but also for the sheer love of doing so – and just about everybody in this room contributes. In a game that encourages and cherishes friendship, the USGA has been blessed with plenty of them.
And they work with us, frequently and fervently. We have been unified with The R&A on governance for more than 60 years, ensuring that the ability for all golfers at all levels to play under one set of Rules remains one of the game’s enduring attributes. For 2016, The R&A joined us in creating a co-branded Rules of Golf book for the first time, expressing to the world our unity in governance and emphasizing that golf is indeed one singular game, wherever it is played.
With The R&A and The Masters Tournament, we are off to a great start with the Latin America Amateur Championship. The second edition just finished up a few weeks ago in the Dominican Republic with Paul Chaplet, a worthy young man of 16, from Costa Rica, winning the trophy. More than 60 high school students for the area were introduced to golf as our walking scorers, while local superintendents participated and learned some “best practices” in course setup.
The strong response we have seen in the region confirms Latin America’s hunger for more golf at all levels. Whatever we can do with our friends in the game to feed that appetite for inspiration can only help golf around the world.
With The Masters Tournament and the PGA of America, we support Drive Chip & Putt, the marvelous program that invites children into the game with fun skills competition and a chance to play in the national finals at Augusta National Golf Club. The smiles on their faces – and those of their parents and friends – are ample evidence that they come for more than just trophies. Oh, they do love the trophies too! When Gary Player congratulated one pre-teen for removing his cap as he received his trophy, all other boys in the group promptly followed suit. Courtesy, etiquette; those are bonuses in that competition.
With the American Society of Golf Course Architects, we are providing pro bono advice to publicly accessible golf facilities that need to upgrade to best serve their communities. In some instances, these may be courses that otherwise could not afford the architectural plan or fully developed agronomic profile that would convince a spending body like a city council to fund an upgrade. The first beneficiary of this effort will be Canal Shores, a unique golf course hugging the North Shore Channel, a former industrial canal that runs through Evanston and Wilmette, Illinois on its way to Lake Michigan.
Let’s not forget the important role of SRGAs. As we have discussed, state and regional golf associations remain stalwart friends in the game. Working with them on the Member engagement strategies I mentioned earlier, we can improve our delivery of value to SRGAs, and together we can provide more value to the golfers they serve.
For example, we have begun upgrading the technology platform that supports the current GHIN service. It is our goal not to simply rebuild GHIN, but to build a technology infrastructure that will enable sophisticated integration in real-time of handicap and playing data for the golfer. The result: for every golfer, opportunities for deeper understanding about their game through technology.
All this effort is paying off. I can’t be anything other than optimistic about all the time, resource and energy that we are investing to make golf a better game. But as I said at the beginning, we all have a story and I want to close with a request to all of you:
Think for a moment of when you were first introduced to golf…where, how and by whom….?
Now I would like to invite you to join me in committing to an important task for this year: let’s call it Plus One.
It is simple: reach out to someone this year and introduce him or her to this great game. Someone who may look different than you, who may be interested in watching golf and understanding the challenges that are not obvious to a non-golfer; or learning how to hit a golf ball or play a few holes; or reading about the courage and competitive spirit of Ben Hogan and Babe Zaharias who overcame incredible adversity yet still were champions of the game; or volunteering at a championship; or learning how to caddy; or discovering how science is a significant part of the game; or ingraining integrity, honesty, sportsmanship through golf….
Our USGA world itself offers so many likely opportunities to recruit a Plus One candidate. Encourage a younger golfer to apply to become a P.J. Boatwright intern. Visit Golf House and take a tour of the Jack Nicklaus room. Check out our online Water Resource Center and introduce a non-golfer to golf through the lens of this powerful tool about our world’s most precious resource. Come to this year’s U.S. Open in Pittsburgh and check out the “Learning Science through Golf” exhibit at the Heinz Museum. Ask any one of us: we’re here to serve as a foundation, resource or guide, and we’ll get you what you need to get your Plus One target what they’ll love.
“Plus one” in handicapping refers to a stellar player. Most of us will never own a plus one Handicap Index, but all of us can be a Plus One in helping to promote and conserve the true spirit of the game.
Share with us your story of that one person you introduce to the game. Plus One times 1000 equals…well, you get the idea.
Golf is just too great a game not to be shared…
Ironic, isn’t it, that this most individual game requires the shared responsibility of the golf community to thrive? That is what we do at the USGA---work with our great community of friends to advance the game.
And that work energizes us all. But we know that realistically, there is no straight line to success. We can always do better and we are not immune from mistakes. But just as we smile standing over that ball that can end up in the barranca or at tap-in range – we stay positive and persevere like true champions.
The members of the Executive Committee, who are both my friends and mentors, share a commitment to making sure that the game stays true to the course. As a group, we are dedicated to both the future and the fun of golf. We are very serious about protecting it, and at the same time passionate about advancing its best interests.
So as I close, I want to thank my predecessor and good friend, Tom O’Toole Jr. for his service, counsel, energy and commitment. Golf is better because Tom is in it.
And finally, I want to thank all of you. Thank you for what you have done for golf thus far, thank you for your support and thank you for joining me in celebrating the greatest game!