2014 USGA ANNUAL MEETING

Remarks As Prepared By USGA President Thomas J. O’Toole Jr.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014  

 

Past Presidents, Committee Members, Representatives of USGA Member Clubs, members of Allied Associations, guests, friends and family:

Let me say first how excited and energized I am today to assume the leadership of such a magnificent and noble organization as the USGA. More importantly, let me also acknowledge how humble and how grateful I am that you have bestowed such trust in me to do so. I can assure you that I am keenly aware and quite mindful of the profound responsibilities that accompany the magnitude of this role.

I want to congratulate my colleagues on the 2014 Executive Committee for all they have achieved, and all they will achieve over the coming year. Thank you for your support and I look forward to working with each of you to build a stronger future for our Association and for the game.

To Gary Stevenson, I am sorry your business commitment to Major League Soccer causes you to leave our Board early.  Personally, I will miss your counsel and support, but most importantly, I will miss your friendship.  Your time here left a significant mark; you will be sorely missed.  Thank you for your contributions, my friend.

I also would like to thank the gentleman who each and every day leads the USGA staff from his heart and whose sole motivation is the betterment of the game, Executive Director Mike Davis. Mike, thank you for your friendship and for your support; know that you and your talented team of professionals have my unequivocal support, and, I know also, the support of the entire 2014 Executive Committee.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you something about me: I love this game and I love the United States Golf Association.  Having served the USGA for many years, I consider it the privilege of a lifetime to accept this assignment as its 63rd president. To have a chance to be involved in governing a game that I began a love affair with as a young boy, I am so very blessed. I also consider this a remarkable opportunity to give back to the game that has given so very much to me. From my earliest exposure to golf, I have been acutely aware of the power this game has to transform lives – mine included. And so…to follow in a line of USGA leaders who have so generously given their time and talents to fostering the traditions, character and values of the game is a responsibility that I cannot and will not take lightly.

Each time we gather to elect a new USGA President, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our organization and its role in the game. We embrace anew the mission that was adopted by the representatives of the five founding American golf clubs on that cold December evening in New York City in 1894.  Where it was decided, in addition to that mission, that our charge would be to:  a) conduct national championships; and b) write and interpret the Rules.  We affirm that today this mission and these core responsibilities still bind us together; and we are reminded that what makes the USGA exceptional… is our collective, unwavering allegiance to this singular, fundamental mission, which is:

“The United States Golf Association promotes and conserves the true spirit of the game of golf as embodied in its ancient and honorable traditions. It acts in the best interests of the game for the continued enjoyment of those who love and play it.” 

Tonight, we again renew our absolute commitment to fulfill that mission that was first elevated almost 120 years ago, and to continue the work that bridges the meaning of those words with the challenges and opportunities that the game and golfers face in 2014. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the real and important work of today’s USGA.

We undertake this work and do so by jointly governing the game world-wide with our partners at the R&A. This partnership embraces all facets of governing the game, and most importantly our joint and collaborative Rules-making functions. I firmly maintain the belief that we must continue to strengthen our relationship with the R&A, a relationship that has never been better, so that together we can demonstrate strong conviction in our governance for the game and golfers around the world.

In recent years, the USGA has made genuine progress against the core strategies that we have embraced in our strategic plan: a) to conduct the best in class and the most exemplary championships in golf; b) to provide worldwide excellence in governing the game; and c) to enhance our critical services that support the game and those who play it. Our efforts and investment in these three core strategies are critical to maintaining a game that is vibrant and sustainable, as well as a game that is consistent with the character, tradition and challenge that define golf and that have made it such a compelling, enjoyable game for more than six (6) centuries. Building on the considerable efforts of our predecessors – both volunteer and staff – we must continue to strive for a game that is affordable, environmentally responsible, in balance with modern lifestyles, and – maybe most importantly – welcoming and accessible to all who wish to play. Failure in any of these areas could constitute a significant threat to the game’s current and future health.

Securing the game’s health is indeed a critical role that the USGA plays within the golf community. The golf industry is vast and multifaceted, and it comprises countless dedicated individuals… who possess the skills, experience and drive to grow the number of golfers participating in the game. Growing the game is not our primary responsibility; rather, it is to ensure that the game they are marketing and selling to consumers is consistent with the very spirit and principles of equity upon which the game was founded. If we fulfill our mission to provide a strong nucleus for the game, by being concerned with the game’s health, we optimize the chance for the golf industry that surrounds it to grow.

With that said, let me make one point perfectly clear; I and the entire 2014 Executive Committee and staff are staunchly committed to those core missions that were identified in that room in New York City in December of 1894. And equally committed to those governance responsibilities that have been vested in us since that time! But if we are not also committed to the services that support the game’s health, it begs the question will we have a game to govern?

Whether it is clarifying permissible golf strokes in Rule 14-1b and in so doing eliminating a controversial issue from the game, or developing exciting new National Amateur Four Ball championships, or working with our partners across the game to identify and advance effective solutions to pick up the pace of the game…WHILE WE’RE YOUNG…the USGA is working hard to sustain the game’s health.

Today’s USGA is poised to guide the game into the next remarkable era in its history. From Asia to Latin America and beyond, the return of golf to the Olympic Games in 2016 has spurred expansion around the world, and in some countries golf is growing at a rate not seen since the early 20th century. With our second century of service well underway, the USGA is committed to lead golf into the future, bringing out the very best the game has to offer and opening up the game to new players and new cultures here at home and throughout the world.

I personally can relate to that, and I would like to underscore the importance of this concept.  Like many of you, I have the deepest respect for those dedicated individuals who have spent a lifetime working to open up the game so that others could share in its values, its beauty and its enjoyment. I share their personal commitment to making the game more open and more accessible. This resonates with me because this mindset grew out of my early years in the south section of the City of St. Louis where I first learned the game. Back then, I could not help but notice that most of my friends in the diverse Jesuit high school that I attended did not play the game. Moreover, as I competed in junior events and regional competitions, I could not understand why they were closed to public course golfers.

As an adult, with the understanding and passion to try and make a difference, my love for golf has inspired me to attempt to open up the game.

In 1991, I, with others, established the first St. Louis Metropolitan Amateur Golf Championship (now known as Metropolitan Amateur Championship), which allowed public course and private club players to compete against one another without regard to race or socio-economic background. One year later in 1992, and building upon the path that was paved by that championship, we founded the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association, the first association in the region to welcome public facilities as members and service all golfers without discrimination. Within its first four years, the MAGA expanded its tournament schedule to include not only men’s and women’s championships, but also championships for juniors and seniors. We grew to include 110 Member Clubs. And we elected the first African-American to serve on the MAGA Board of Directors and the first in the region to serve the game in a leadership role. Today, the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association is one of that region’s largest state and regional golf associations, serving the golf community in mid Missouri and central Illinois.

I recount these experiences not to simply list accomplishments. Rather, I reference them to underscore the much greater point that opening up the game of golf – making it more accessible and more welcoming – is not done merely for the benefit of feeling good, or fulfilling an expectation, or even just “doing the right thing.” Opening up the game of golf is good for the game; period.  In other words, opening up the game to EVERYONE is good for ALL of us who play and love this game.

Opening up the game is why we were honored to join with Augusta National Golf Club and the PGA of America in 2013 to create the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship for tens of thousands of kids across America. Just two months from now, 88 young men and women will gather at Augusta National for their chance to realize a dream. Opening up the game is also why later this year we will launch qualifying for the inaugural National Four-Ball Championships for men and women, and bring to our family of exemplary national championships the format of play that is enjoyed every weekend by millions of golfers on courses across this country.

Fostering a vibrant game worldwide is why we are proud to partner with Augusta National Golf Club and The R&A to create the new Latin America Amateur Championship, with the goal of expanding interest, participation and access to the game in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Opening up the game is also why, for the past two years, we fielded a team of young men and women who represent the finest in American junior golf to compete against youth from China in an international friendship match that has helped forge stronger ties between nations and their respective golf communities. And as a demonstration of our commitment to elevate the U.S. Women’s Open as the premier championship for women’s golf worldwide, we are proud to be expanding qualifying outside the United States for the first time ever in 2014, when we will conduct qualifiers in Great Britain, Japan, Korea and China.

This spirit of building an inclusive and more welcoming game worldwide has become pervasive across many of our core functions beyond our championships. For the past two years, the Rules Department has been engaged in the development of a Basic Rules Education program that aims to demystify the complexity of the Rules of Golf and thereby make the game more accessible to beginners. Our Handicap and Course Rating Systems are already utilized in more than 50 countries, on six continents. Nonetheless, our Handicap and Course Rating Department, along with our Executive Committee and the R&A, is pursuing an initiative to create a truly global handicap system that, if successful, will enable golfers the world over to compete fairly against one another with one unified handicap system. With the establishment of the African-American Golf History Archive, the USGA Museum is leading the way in collecting and preserving the stories and artifacts of the pioneers who envisioned and brought about a more inclusive game. I frankly cannot think of a more noble project or one that is more emblematic of our commitment to tackle inclusiveness in the game.

While all of these efforts are critically important, they are simply a start. The game has a significant legacy of exclusion and elitism that we must collectively work to overcome. We must take responsibility for our own shortcomings as an organization, both past and present, but we must not be limited by who we have been. The opportunity – no the obligation – exists for us to make a difference, and we must embrace and seize each and every chance for us to do so.

It is for this reason that the USGA will commit significant resources and energy in 2014 toward the creation of a comprehensive strategy for the Association to help open up the game to audiences that have historically been underserved by our industry. We are formulating a task force comprising Executive Committee and staff leaders, thought-leaders from across the golf industry, and thought-leaders from beyond golf, to identify and prioritize the best opportunities for opening up the game and enabling greater participation by minorities, women, juniors and golfers with disabilities. We applaud the efforts of so many groups who have committed their energy and talents to these same audiences; and we do not seek simply to supersede their efforts with an abundance of new programs or initiatives. Rather, it is our goal to identify the best practices and most impactful programs against which we can leverage our considerable collective resources and influence to build a more welcoming environment.

For us to succeed in providing meaningful leadership for the game our mindset must be inclusive; and we must allow this mindset to influence the way that we conduct our business; the way we engage with our constituents; and the way that we build strong, impactful relationships throughout the game. We are better when we are united; we are stronger when we uphold the best interests of all of our diverse constituents. This is how I intend to lead our organization, and I ask each of us – I challenge each of us – to identify opportunities to demonstrate this same spirit in not just our words… but more importantly in our actions.

This is an exciting time for the USGA. Our organization is strong – in fact, it is stronger financially than it has ever been in our history.  We must leverage the strengths of our considerable assets to further our strategic agenda. That agenda, as I have stated here tonight, and reiterate again, comprises three central strategies: a) to improve continuously our world-class championships; b) to provide, together with the R&A, a clear and strong governance for the game worldwide; and c) to enhance services to support the game by making the game faster to play, more affordable, while opening the game to new audiences. And for anyone who is wondering… this is where we will dedicate our resources.

As golf grows around the world, the questions we face are profound, but the opportunities are immense and inspiring. What will the game look like for our children and our grandchildren? What will the game look like as it continues to expand around the world?

These are the questions that we must ask ourselves every day with the conviction to fulfill the mission that our founders launched in that room in NYC more than a century ago.

Tonight, I look at you, the passionate men and women of the USGA, and I ask the threshold question. “What more can we do to ensure that the game remains strong for the next one hundred years?”

With your help, with your vision and imagination, and with our collective resolve by fulfilling that mission we will answer these questions.

*****

As I close, please indulge me as I extend some special notes of appreciation:

To my friends… who traveled here and took time away from their families, businesses and their own lives to be here with me. Thank you for your efforts and, most importantly, thank you for your friendship.

You cannot make your way to this place in an organization without champions. I had many champions along the way – and yes I probably needed more than most. To those who were my champions you know who you are, thank you for standing by me because without your committed support I would not be here tonight.

All of us as volunteers, without regard to the level of our service, we simply cannot do what we do without a patient, generous, loving and understanding support group. As for me, I can tell you that I would unequivocally not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my family, of course beginning with my lovely wife, Julie.  Julie, you are the rock of our family and the love of my life.  Thank you for what you have sacrificed for my journey! To my sons, Zach and PJ, I love you both so much, and look forward to growing our passion for this game that binds us. And Zach, you have such an important stewardship with your little brother, PJ. Not that he has to have the passion for the game that you possess, or that he must play with skills as wonderful as yours. But rather, you will have taught him the very important attributes that golf has instilled in you: integrity, sportsmanship and a respect for others. 

I would also especially like to thank my parents who molded me to who I am today, who reared me in a faith-based, Catholic home that introduced me to this game at age 5. Mom and Dad, I love you and thank you for sending me on this wonderful life journey. My debt to you both is immeasurable.

To all of you, I appreciate so much this honor – and it is an honor and a privilege – to serve the USGA in this capacity and represent all of you who devote your time, passion and skill to our Association – all in the service of the game.

So many years ago, I was just a kid from the neighborhoods of South St. Louis. And this game – golf – has taken me places I never could have imagined. Along the way it has taught me profound lessons about the importance of integrity and sportsmanship. It challenged me to carry on in the face of adversity. It blessed me with friendships that will endure a lifetime. And it gave me the courage to believe in myself.

I stand before you tonight with the full confidence that golf has made me a better person. And I stand here with the strongest of convictions that we, as leaders of the USGA, as leaders of the game, are obliged to pass along these same gifts, these same blessings, to the next generation. We must always ensure that the USGA remains strong, so that our commitments to the game – for the players of today and tomorrow – will continue to flourish.

So, allow me now to leave you with my heartfelt and sincere promise…I am so blessed to have this opportunity, and am fully aware that it requires humility. Please know I will endeavor to give my very all back to the game that has given so much to me. And I challenge each and every one of you to join me in this effort. Why; for the good of the game.

Thank you so much. May God bless you all and may God watch over the United States Golf Association.

 

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The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.


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Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.



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IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

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Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

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Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

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