Jim Vernon's Speech From
February 7, 2009
The following is USGA president Jim Vernon's speech
at the Association's Annual Meeting Saturday night in
Newport Beach, Calif.:
Tiger - Rocco.
When I first started thinking about drafting this speech, I
thought I might just say those two names and sit down.
And as popular as such a short speech might be with all of
you, the fact is that to do so would not be fair to all those
USGA staff members and volunteers who did so many things so
well throughout 2008. When I stood before you last
year, I told you about the relentless pursuit of improvement
that had become the obsession of the USGA, and how you could
look forward to continuing examples of it in 2008. Now
let me give you a few examples of what we accomplished.
Tiger and Rocco made the U.S. Open Championship at Torrey
Pines one for the ages. And while it would be
disingenuous for the USGA to take credit for the unbelievable
show they (and their fellow competitors) put on for us, it is
fair to say that the USGA achieved its goal of making the
championship the most rigorous examination in golf. The
USGA's overriding goal is to provide a stage on which the
best golfers in the world can demonstrate their remarkable
skills, and on which one very special golfer can demonstrate
why he or she is better than all the rest.
Football fields, soccer pitches, tennis courts and basketball
courts all adhere to defined guidelines and
requirements. But every golf course is different and
every setup is unique, it is the USGA that must bring the
playing field to life. The magic at Torrey Pines proved no
exception. Utilizing our 14 point course setup
philosophy, the USGA is at the forefront of crafting the most
challenging and exciting golf course layouts for the best
professional and amateur players in the world.
|USGA Championship Committee Chairman
Jim Hyler highlights the 2008 championship season
Saturday. (John Mummert/USGA)|
Torrey Pines offered some unique opportunities to test shot
making, physical conditioning and mental toughness.
Our 14 point setup philosophy featured graduated rough and
alternate teeing grounds and corresponding variable hole
The players were offered a series of risk/reward options,
forcing them to think and make decisions in the heat of the
competition. This clearly applied philosophy and
technical expertise once again produced a truly unique test
to identify the best golfer in the world.
The 2008 Open provided another special experience for golfers
and the hundreds of thousands of fans who made it through the
gates in San Diego and the millions of web and TV viewers
from around the world. We will continue to use digital
technology to bring the best of the Open experience to
audiences inside and outside of the USGA. For example,
4.4 million fans watched the Open live on the Internet.
Monday's playoff was the largest live-streamed sporting event
in the history of the Internet.
Both inside the ropes and outside the ropes the USGA
Championship team achieved a best-in-class
While the USGA is best known for conducting our national
championships, the reality is that our activities are much
broader, and in 2008 the same relentless pursuit of
improvement evident at our championships also was emblematic
in many of those other areas.
There is no better example than at the USGA Museum. One of
the USGA's core functions is to preserve the history of the
game to help ensure the game's future. The USGA has a
pre-eminent collection of golf artifacts, golf publications,
photographs and film and video images of the game.
Unfortunately, the deteriorating condition of the physical
structure of the Museum, housed in a building that was not
designed for such purposes, was beginning to jeopardize the
collection. In 2005, the Executive Committee decided to
invest $20 million from our reserves to build a new structure
and to upgrade the existing one.
On June 3, 2008, the re-opening of the Museum and the
dedication of the new Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History
were celebrated in Far Hills. The new facilities are
spectacular and have received rave reviews. Rand Jerris
and his team designed and had built new multimedia and
interactive displays to tell the story of golf in the United
States through the USGA championships and the men and women
who competed in them. The result is a captivating tour
of golf history that is both educational and
entertaining. The new displays promote a greater
understanding of golf's cultural significance for a worldwide
audience. At the same time, our priceless collections
of artifacts, publications, photographs and videos are now
protected and will be available to future generations of
scholars, journalists and the public.
The experience does not end inside the Museum. Behind
the Museum we built the Pynes Putting Course, inspired by the
Himalayas Putting Course at St. Andrews. We are
indebted to noted golf course architect Gil Hanse, who
graciously donated his services to design and help construct
the course. It is spectacular and incredibly
demanding-and most importantly, it is FUN! Visitors to
the Museum now can go outside and use replicas of vintage
putters and golf balls to test their skills.
Since the Museum opened, its excellence has been confirmed by
a number of benefactors who have donated some of golf's most
iconic artifacts to the Museum, recognizing that they will be
properly preserved and honorably displayed.
I think everyone in the room has seen the picture of Arnold
Palmer tossing his visor into the air after holing out to win
the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. Well, five months
ago, that visor, which had not been seen in public since
Arnold gave it that memorable toss, was donated to the Museum
by the individual who picked it up that day-the nephew of the
Similarly, one of my most memorable moments last year was
traveling to northern California to accept the incredibly
generous donation of Lawson Little Jr.'s Sullivan Award by
his son and daughters. The Sullivan Award honors the
outstanding amateur athlete of the year. Only two
golfers have won it, both of them USGA champions-Bobby Jones,
and Lawson Little, Jr. Now both of those awards are on
display at the USGA Museum.
There have been other notable achievements at the USGA this
year. I am particularly proud of what was accomplished
at our handicap computing service GHIN.
This year marked an important milestone for GHIN as
agreements expired at the end of the previous year.
Kevin O'Connor and his staff have worked tirelessly not only
to improve the services provided to the GHIN subscribers but
to lower prices at the same time in what is a most
competitive market. In 2008, those efforts paid
off in spades. First, we were able to recruit and
successfully transition the Virginia State Golf Association
to GHIN. Jamie Conkling, an old friend and now Executive
Director of the VSGA is with us today, and I know he can
confirm how smoothly that transition went. The
Dominican Golf Federation also signed up, and finally six
different golf associations here in Southern California,
headed by the Southern California Golf Association, announced
that they all would move to GHIN. The GHIN staff has spent
countless hours responding to the needs of its clients and to
providing a world class computation service to the state and
regional golf associations.
As we prepare for 2009, like so many families and other
organizations, we must pause to reflect on the extraordinary
economic turmoil of recent months and prepare for more
uncertainty in the year ahead.
We recognize that while we are indeed the stewards of the
game, we must also be thoughtful managers of the resources
and assets of the USGA.
As the financial clouds gathered last year, it became clear
that the USGA faced potentially significant reductions in its
revenue sources. As successful as the Open was at
Torrey Pines, the reality is that the revenues generated
there did not reach our forecasts, due particularly to
reductions in corporate hospitality. As the economy
continued to deteriorate and as the financial services
industry imploded, we knew that we faced serious challenges.
In response, we undertook an aggressive strategic budgeting
program, asking each department within the USGA to reevaluate
its priorities and to focus on how best to fund those
priorities. Simply stated, the goal is to align our
budget with our mission. It proved to be a most
valuable exercise. Every department was affected, but
we are now confident that our reduced revenues will be spent
where they will do the most good.
Despite the economic challenges we face in 2009, I remain
unqualified in my belief that the USGA will deliver on its
core promises of hosting the best Championships in the game,
administering the Rules of Golf, assuring that skill and not
technology remains the most important factor in playing the
game, helping the less fortunate learn this great game and
continuing to partner with other golf organizations to grow
the game of golf. Please let me speak briefly about
some of those efforts in 2009.
First and foremost, we are going "Back to the Black"-we
return to the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in New York
for the 109
U.S. Open Championship. When the USGA first brought the
Open to Bethpage, it marked the first time that our national
open championship was contested on a truly public golf
course. That was a most memorable championship,
embraced by the citizens of New York and the country as a
whole--it was truly "The People's Open". The Black is a
magnificent golf course, one of A.W. Tillinghast's
masterpieces, renovated under the watchful eye of Rees
Jones. With Mike Davis and the rest of the team
utilizing our 14 point setup philosophy, the Black promises
to once again challenge the world's best golfers.
The inherent beauty and public nature of the golf course
bring us together in a way that no other golf course
does. We look forward to the returning to the site of
the "peoples' open".
Our commitment to introducing the game to others will
continue in 2009. I am happy to announce a new program
with the PGA of America supported by our grants and
fellows. I would like to acknowledge Jim Remy,
President of the PGA of America, and Joe Steranka, its CEO.
The USGA and The PGA of America are committed to growing the
game, and this initiative will provide new opportunities for
boys and girls to learn the game and get on the golf
course. We are dedicated to using our resources to
develop the next generations of lifelong golfers. We
look forward to our ongoing partnerships with the PGA of
America, the state and regional associations, other allied
stakeholders and the countless individuals who drive kids to
the course, teach them swing a club and show them the many
wonderful life lessons the game of golf has to offer.
Before I sit down, I would like to acknowledge the
representatives of the state and regional golf associations
who are here today. As I told you last year, the USGA
could not accomplish its mission without its partnership with
the state and regional associations. They share our
mission and are the ones who do so much for the game.
They conduct a majority of the qualifiers for our national
championships, bring the USGA Handicap System to millions of
golfers and conduct hundreds of course ratings every year
that are at the heart of our handicap
system. They promote the game on the local
level day in and day out. We continue our commitment to
the state and regional associations, including the important
P.J. Boatwright Intern Program, where, although trimmed
somewhat because of the financial conditions, we will still
spend more than one million dollars in 2009 to train and pay
interns to work with the associations.
The USGA recognizes that it is not alone in serving the game
of golf. We will continue to work with our allied
stakeholders-the Golf Course Superintendents Association of
America, the Club Managers Association of America, the PGA
Tour, the R&A and others to serve the game we all love so
I would like to thank each of you and the people and
organizations you represent. We know especially this
year the need to work together to get things done.
And of course, I want to once again thank all the volunteers
who give so much of their time for the game. Whether it
is helping us conduct our national championships, serving on
USGA committees, conducting state and local championships,
working at your club or developing the next generation of
golfers, or the many other activities by which you give back
to the game-THANK YOU.
I would like to make one final acknowledgement, and this to
someone who does not even play golf. I would not be
here without the unwavering support of my wife, Gail. Gail
has not fallen prey to the addiction to this crazy game, but
she nevertheless understands how important it is to me and
has been willing to make the countless compromises that allow
me to be standing here. Gail, thank you. Gail, thank you; one
down, one to go.
Last week, we lost not only one of America's most noted
authors, but someone who had a long love affair with the game
of golf. Fortunately for all of us who love the game,
John Updike used his considerable talents to document his
love for golf. He was a supporter of the USGA and
indeed delivered a memorable address at our centennial
celebration in 1994. Among his many essays on golf was one
entitled "The Spirit of the Game", which was the introduction
to the USGA's centennial book. I always struggle trying
to find a good way to end a speech. Recognizing my
limitations, I would like to share the last paragraph of that
essay with you as we conclude our Annual Meeting:
"Complexity and simplicity: in the tension between them
lies the beauty of the real. Golf generates more books,
more incidental rules, more niceties of instruction, and more
innovations in equipment than any other game, yet it has a
scoring system of divine simplicity: as all souls are
equal before their Maker, a two-inch putt counts the same as
a 250-yard drive. There is a comedy in this, and
a certain unfairness even, which make golf an even more apt
mirror of reality. But its reflection is a kindly one,
with some funhouse warps and waves in the glass, it is life
without the weight. Or so it has seemed to me, on many
a dewy morning and many a long-shadowed afternoon spent in
those pretty pieces of America set aside for this grand form
In that spirit we are together adjourned.
I hope to see you all again for next year's USGA Annual
Meeting at The Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst, North Carolina,
on Feb. 6, 2010.