Jim Vernon's Speech From Annual Meeting
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. 

USGA Championship Committee Chairman Jim Hyler highlights the 2008 championship season Saturday. (John Mummert/USGA)
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.

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 locations.

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 experience.  

News From USGA Annual Meeting:

USGA President's Speech

USGA Executive Committee Appointments

USGA Women's Committee Appointments

Douglas New Leader Of
Women's Committee

Cherry Hills C.C. To Host
2012 U.S. Amateur

Lancaster C.C. To Host
2015 U.S. Women's Open

Annual Report

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 club's pro.

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 th 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 much. 

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 of play."

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.


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