President’s Address: 2010 USGA Annual Meeting
“An Unparalleled Experience”
Feb. 6, 2010
Uniqueness of the game
In 1902, Harvard historian and essayist William Garrott Brown, penned a modest dissertation on the game that he titled simply, “Golf.” He wrote of golf and other American pastimes:
“Not the fiercest rally at tennis, not the longest and timeliest home run at baseball, not the most heroic rush at football, requires a more rigid concentration of thought and energy, than the flick of a putter that sends the ball crawling on its last little journey across the putting green, when the putt is for the hole and the hole means the match. There is not a quality of mind or body – I will not except or qualify at all – no, not one, that life itself proves excellent, which a circuit of the links will not test.”
But Brown was well aware that golf provides more than just an exceptional test of nerves, intelligence, and physical skill. He also recognized that golf affords unparalleled opportunities for social interaction that set it further apart from other sports. Reading again from Brown:
“I am inclined, in fact, to set a match at golf above any other known method of beginning an acquaintance…The number of such acquaintances that ripen into good fellowship and friendliness, or even into friendship, must be very great. One of our veterans tells me that the very best thing he wins are not cups and medals, but friends.”
These sentiments that Brown offered up 108 years ago ring true today thanks to the work of the visionaries, leaders and volunteers who came before us and who were passionate about golf and believed deeply in its core values. In short, these sentiments ring true because of the men and women of the United States Golf Association who have worked tirelessly to promote the best interests of the game.
There is little doubt that golf in the 21st century is a multifaceted industry. The game today is played in more than 120 countries by more than 50 million people and is now an Olympic sport. But for all the complexities of the modern golf industry, the core values of the game have changed little since the late 19th century, when golf became established firmly on American soil.
In his 1962 book, “The Scottish Invasion,” Pinehurst’s own Dick Tufts wrote with deep respect about the early leaders of the game: “Its early champions were men of great integrity and character, and its first officials were true sportsmen who developed the game in the pattern of a great amateur sport. We must recognize our debt to them and do our best to protect the ideals which they so wisely built into the game.”
I am both honored and humbled to serve as a steward for the game and for this Association. Like so many who are gathered here today, I, too, believe deeply in the ideals that Tufts invoked. I hold a deep respect for the game, for its long history and lasting traditions –a game that teaches so many lessons through its Rules and code of conduct and celebrates the value and importance of integrity.
I also have profound admiration for the great administrators of the game who came before us, as well as our Presidents who have followed in more recent years – people here this afternoon like Will Nicholson, Bill Campbell, Judy Bell, Reed Mackenzie and Jim Vernon.
But it all comes down to this: I love this game, first and foremost, because golf offers an unparalleled experience. Like me, I am sure that everyone in this room has experienced the moments that in special ways capture the very essence of the game:
When you head out to play nine late in the day, when the sun is sinking, the shadows are stretching, and every feature of the course is bathed in a golden light.
It’s the way you feel on the first tee of every round, that nervous twitch in your stomach that comes just from thinking about the possibilities ahead.
It’s the opportunity to be outdoors, to walk the course in all kinds of weather, challenged by all kinds of conditions.
It’s calling a penalty on yourself when nobody else is looking.
It’s the birdie on 18 to win the match.
It’s a round with close friends.
It’s playing with your father, your mother, your brother, your daughter.
That’s why we play golf. That’s why we love it and why the work of the USGA is so important.
As Arnold Palmer once noted: “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated. It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”
If the game itself provides an unparalleled experience, then it should be the goal of the United States Golf Association to do all we can to provide an unparalleled experience for all golfers. This has been our charge and our mission since 1894 – to work in the best interests of the game for all who love and play it.
In recent years, the USGA has rightly, and necessarily, focused considerable efforts on improving our operations. We had reached a time when it had become essential that we address important issues that were preventing us from becoming the best servants to the game and to the ideals that Tufts invoked. So we focused our time, talents, and energies to address some deficiencies in our operations. We have made improvements in our budgeting processes, refocused our volunteer efforts, re-energized our staff, and pushed our business operations into the 21st century. Change for an organization is never easy – and let’s face it, the USGA is no exception. But the changes that have come in recent years have been real, they have been significant, and they have succeeded in pushing us toward a future that is strong and bright.
The time has come to refocus on the essential mission of this organization, to protecting the ideals which our forefathers like Dick Tufts celebrated, and to work with a renewed emphasis on the game itself
Through these years, our service to the game has come most significantly in our dedication to our core functions. We improve the ways we serve the game when we focus our energies and attentions on these important activities: Championships, Rules, Equipment Standards, Environment, Handicapping, and History.
I’d like to spend a few moments focusing on two of these important functions: the U.S. Open and the environment.
It is no small statement to say that the U.S. Open is super critical to the operation of the USGA. It is our most prestigious championship and our most valuable and visible asset and branding opportunity. So much of what we are able to accomplish each year happens only because of the financial resources that we derive from the Open through broadcasting revenues and merchandise, ticket and corporate hospitality sales. It is essential to our future that we understand and appreciate just how critical the U.S. Open is to our operation, and that we strive to preserve and enhance the qualities of this championship.
We all appreciate the “specialness” of the U.S. Open. From the qualifying process, where nearly 10,000 players compete each year in local and sectional events; to the selection of courses, which include the very best tests of golf this country has to offer; from the on-course experience, which presents a test of golf that is unmatched by any other championship in golf – hard but fair; to the spectator experience, so richly enhanced in recent years by the contributions of our corporate partners. The U.S. Open offers an unparalleled experience for all involved, from the players to the volunteers, from the media to the spectators.
For these, and many other reasons, we must be prepared to take the steps necessary for preserving and enhancing its specialness. We will continue to challenge ourselves to improve our operations in every regard, both inside and outside the ropes, to insure that the U.S. Open remains among the most prestigious championships in the world. The USGA will thrive when the U.S. Open is at its best, and it is our obligation to make this happen.
Let me talk now about the environment…. We can all be proud that the USGA has been an industry leader for more than three decades in promoting a healthy relationship between the game and the environment. Through the activities of our Green Section, our advocacy of responsible turfgrass management practices, and our funding of research into the development of new cultivars, we have supported a vision of the game that is environmentally responsible. Unfortunately a lot of this work is our best kept secret. That will be changing.
With the recent economic downturn, our focus on these critical issues has sharpened. If we are not careful, high construction costs, soaring maintenance budgets, and declining membership rosters will threaten the survival of many courses and clubs. In my opinion, many of the standards by which we construct and maintain our courses have become, quite simply, unsustainable. While there may be short-term solutions, what we need to seek is a long-term strategy that confronts some of the deeper issues plaguing the game.
When it comes to the issue that is perhaps of greatest concern to golf’s future – namely, water, we must re-set the way that we look at golf courses. As we have for the U.S. Open, I believe that our definition of playability should include concepts of firm, fast, and yes, even brown, and allow the running game to flourish. We need to understand how brown can become the new green. Our maintenance expectations must be realistic, promoting a more relaxed approach that allows us to reduce our consumption of clean water. A more natural game that is sustainable can be promoted as a more responsible philosophy for maintaining golf courses anywhere. It is certainly not our aspiration to become the game’s environmental police, but we can and will develop and encourage best practices relating to sustainable turfgrass management for all clubs and courses to consider.
Before closing my remarks, I must say a few words about the place where we have gathered today for this Annual Meeting. Pinehurst is indeed a special place, and to accept this role here has profound meaning for me.
Through the years, I've attended many business meetings in Pinehurst – probably 100 – with so many great memories. My spirits are always lifted, without fail, every time I drive into the Village, turn the corner and see the green and fairway of the second hole on #2.
I’ll never forget my experiences with the 1999 U.S. Open. I was so fortunate to be able to work with the Pinehurst team and to engage the business leaders of North Carolina to support the championship and deliver a successful U.S. Open. To have been a part of an effort that was so important to North Carolina is an accomplishment I will always treasure.
What I remember most clearly, however, is the first time I played Pinehurst #2. It was the Fall of 1976, I was here for a business meeting, and I arrived early for the very reason that I wanted to play #2. It was the first experience I had playing one of the world's great courses, and I can vividly recall the excitement and nervousness I felt standing on the first tee. I was thinking of all the greats of the game who had stood on that tee.
I feel the same emotions as I stand before you this afternoon – excitement, nervousness, to be sure – wondering just what I’ve gotten myself into. As I stand on the first tee of my first year as USGA President, I think of all the Presidents who came before me, and I’m humbled to be a part of such history.
I would not be here, however, without the support of my family. And I’d like to recognize them being with me today and throughout my life: My daughter, Lori, and her husband, Paul Potter. My son, Brad, who was a good junior and college player, and also qualified for the 1998 U.S. Amateur at Oak Hill. I caddied for him there – an experience that was the truly the highlight of my golf career. And of course I must recognize my wife, Natalie, whose steadfast support and patience have allowed me to pursue this special opportunity.
“Since the days of its formation,” wrote Dick Tufts, “the United States Golf Association has been fortunate to enlist the services of many sincere and devoted servants of golf. It has been characteristic of these men [and women] to give their service in an atmosphere of anonymity, without recompense and paying for their own expenses…the officials of the USGA consider themselves members of a team which operates as a unit to serve the best interests of golf with no thought of individual glory or personal reward.”
I, too, would like to acknowledge and thank each and every person who has been involved in this wonderful organization.
I plan and hope as President to be an advocate for the game. I am here to serve the USGA, which means that I am here to serve golf. I bring with me to this post a simple approach: the realization that the game is what matters. We serve the game by carrying out our core functions as consummate professionals, and we will continue to build on our recent operational improvements in ways that are efficient and responsible. Improvement comes when we challenge ourselves every day to do what we do better.
Golf, for me, will always be that unparalleled experience….
Jim Hyler, USGA President