Course operator to USGA: It's about time

The USGA announced Wednesday a "While We're Young" campaign to address slow play.

The USGA announced Wednesday a "While We're Young" campaign to address slow play.

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When the USGA unveiled its "While We're Young" public-education campaign last week to address slow play, many in the golf industry welcomed it with chuckles.

After all, the messaging – borrowing the iconic line from the movie "Caddyshack" – is funny, yet pointed, urging golfers to hasten their play for the benefit of all.

But Joe Munsch wasn't laughing.

The CEO and president of Eagle Golf, a Dallas-based operator of nearly 40 golf courses, appreciates the campaign. But he took issue with USGA president Glen Nager's announcement of it, which Munsch says placed the blame of slow play directly and unfairly on course owners and operators.

"I heard Mr. Nager say you need to call these golf course operators and tell them to widen their fairways and lower their rough," Munsch said. "It was almost like the USGA has finally woken up to the fact that golf needs to be fun, which in my (opinion), it seems everything they do tries to work the other way, and now, they're chastising those of us in the business…. Of course, I was offended."

As a rebuttal, Munsch drafted a letter – calling for greater cooperation among industry stakeholders and less finger-pointing – to Nager. The correspondence, including copies for Eagle Golf's consumers, were scheduled to be delivered Thursday. The USGA did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Said Munsch: "I'm not trying to lead any crusade against the USGA. I'm leading a crusade that golf needs to be fun."

Munsch says everyone in the industry shoulders some responsibility for the slow-play epidemic, and he acknowledges that course operators must do a better job of educating golfers before they play. But he insists far more needs to be done, including establishing two sets of rules: one for those who want to adhere to traditional play and another to encourage newcomers and recreational players.

It's a position that has gained some industry support but the USGA rejects flatly.

"People who want to play in sanctioned events and want to keep their handicaps, of course, they have to play by the same rules.… I'm not suggesting we open it up and everybody does whatever they want to," Munsch said. "But we have to have a fun aspect to this game. It's hard to learn and hard to have fun if you're not playing well. We could have different equipment for beginning golfers.

"Even the USGA agrees that we need a different paradigm," Munsch said. If not two sets of rules, he asks: "What exactly does that mean?"

The following is Munsch's letter to the USGA:

• • •

An Open letter to Mr. Glen Nager, President of the USGA

Mr. Nager,

I heard your interview during the US Open regarding the USGA “While We’re Young” campaign and, while I applaud the USGA for addressing the pace of play issue, I feel you have misplaced the blame regarding the pace of play issue in our game today.

As the president of a company that manages and operates golf facilities across the United States, we recognize that pace of place is one of the game’s biggest problems. I have been very critical of the USGA in the past because I think the organization is out of touch with the real world of golf and the need to grow the game and make it more fun. And, last Sunday, the ideas expressed in your interview further support my argument.

You said the game at the recreational level needs to be fun. You said golf course operators need to slow down green speeds, lower rough heights, widen fairways, and generally make the courses more playable. These comments suggest you have not recently visited a course that was not set up for one of your tournaments, because golf course operators have understood these issues and done these things for years.

You further stated that the professional game is not the standard for the recreational game and that the recreational level needs to have a different paradigm. Those thoughts are surprising coming from an organization that recently ruled to ban the anchored putter, created unnecessary controversy when Callaway introduced the “non-conforming driver” and often frowns on the improved travel distances of today’s golf balls.

I am left to wonder what exactly is the different “paradigm” sought by the USGA? Most, if not all, of the organization’s recent applicable rulings attempt to make the game more difficult and less fun to play.

Most disturbing to me was when you called for recreational golfers to visit your web site and unite with the USGA to send a message to the golf industry that the game needs change and become more fun.

Those of us on the front lines of the golf industry have understood this for years. Our courses don’t have six-inch rough, 530-yard par 4s, and 270-yard par 3s. The best golfers in the world were unable to break par at your tournament once again, and nothing about the course setup looked fun to me or to the golfers, based on their comments and on-course reactions throughout the week.

In the golf industry we fight, scratch, and claw to get golfers out to our courses. If they don’t have fun, they don’t come back. We have known for years that time is a factor. I am glad the USGA has finally come to this realization as well.

Welcome, at last, to the real golf industry. Here, the golf ball doesn’t go too far, short courses are not obsolete, the golf clubs are not too forgiving and even the recreational golfer enjoys an occasional birdie.

We’re thrilled for you to join the effort to grow the game and make it more fun.

But understand that course operators are not the bad guys here.

Moving forward, let’s all work together to make a difference in the game and the industry.

Joe R. Munsch

President and CEO

Eagle Golf

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