Hyler secured Pinehurst's place in U.S. Open
Pinehurst, N.C., is the little village that could.
Fifteen years after hosting its first U.S. Open, the Sandhills resort community has helped transform the national championship into a significant moneymaking event for the U.S. Golf Association. As Pinehurst prepares to host its third U.S. Open this summer – the week before the U.S. Women’s Open visits the resort’s same celebrated No. 2 course – the financial structure has changed dramatically.
Raleigh’s Jim Hyler, who would become the USGA’s president in 2010, was among a visionary, influential group that delivered the first Open to tiny Pinehurst.
“Getting the U.S. Open was kind of like a dog chasing a car,” said Hyler, invoking a touch of country humor. “Now that we’ve caught it, what do we do?”
Ultimately, they turned the village (pop. 13,124) into one of the premier U.S. Open destinations. “It is a cornerstone among U.S. Open sites,” Hyler said. “It is one of four or five venues that can say that.”
That fate hardly could have been foreseen in 1984, when ClubCorp bought the resort, which dates to 1895, out of bankruptcy.
Don Padgett I, a former PGA of America president, served as Pinehurst’s director of golf in the 1990s. (His son, Don II, will retire as Pinehurst’s president and chief operating officer this fall after the Opens.) The elder Padgett was close to then- PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who steered the Tour Championship to Pinehurst in 1991 and ’92. The success of those events – won by Craig Stadler and Paul Azinger, respectively – helped Pinehurst land its first Open.
For the 1999 Open to succeed, Pat Corso, Pinehurst’s former president and chief executive, knew he needed the involvement of North Carolina and its business community.
That’s where Hyler came in. As president of First Citizens Bank, he knew most of the state’s political and business leaders. He chaired the President’s Council, designed to enlist support for the Open.
“I don’t think anybody ever did it quite like we did,” said Hyler, 66, now an executive with Raleigh-based Investors Management, which owns and operates a variety of businesses, including the Golden Corral restaurant chain. “Pinehurst is such a unique venue. There is such a small population and such a very small corporate base. We had no choice but to reach out to the entire state.”
For the ’99 U.S. Open, Hyler and his lieutenants sold a then-USGA-record 50-plus sponsorship tents.
“It was a watershed event for us and, to some extent, for the USGA,” Corso said. “Pretty soon, people were calling us the American St. Andrews. It just gained a life of its own. Suddenly Pinehurst owned its place in the game.”
ClubCorp and its founder, Robert Dedman Sr., paid $16 million for Pinehurst in 1984. The ’99 U.S. Open – memorialized on the grounds with the fist-pumping statue of its champion, the late Payne Stewart – turned an undisclosed profit. “I will say only that it far exceeded our original plan,” Corso said.
The USGA, witnessing the efforts of Hyler, Corso and the Pinehurst gang, eventually hired Reg Jones away from the resort to serve as U.S. Open championship director and revised the contract structure for future Opens.
Today, the USGA relies heavily on TV revenue (it recently signed a 12-year deal with Fox for approximately $1.2 billion that begins in ’15) rather than championship operations. Plus, the USGA keeps the bulk of ticket and corporate revenue.
“You might say we helped show them the way,” said Corso, 63, executive director of a private/public alliance that promotes business in the Pinehurst area.
Corso recalls the attributes that Hyler brought to the Pinehurst effort: “He knew everybody, yet he didn’t force himself on anybody. He tried to be a consensus builder. He had to coalesce a bunch of egos into playing ball together, and he did it.”