PGA concerned anchoring ban could hurt game’s growth

Peter Bevacqua is the new CEO of the PGA of America.

Peter Bevacqua is the new CEO of the PGA of America.

NEW YORK -- Ted Bishop, the new president of the PGA of America, is in the middle of a whirlwind month.

No sooner did Bishop, the golf professional and general manager of The Legends Club in Franklin, Ind., become head of his profession’s 27,000-member trade association than he found himself in the middle of an industrywide debate about anchoring the long putter. Then, he had to conclude a search for a new CEO. Next up is naming the captain of the American Ryder Cup team – an announcement that will be made Thursday on NBC’s “Today Show.”

At an informal news conference Tuesday in Manhattan, Bishop wasn’t about to tip his hand on the captain’s name. But he was there to share the stage with the PGA’s newly appointed CEO – Pete Bevacqua.

Bevacqua, a lawyer, spent four years as the chief business officer for the U.S. Golf Association before spending two years as head of global golf for CAA Sports, a division of the Creative Artists Agency. He’s a golfer and golf fan to the core, having started in the game as a 10-year-old caddie at Bedford (N.Y.) Golf and Tennis Club.

Appropriately, the gathering took place at the Radisson Martinique Hotel at 32nd Street and Broadway, in the same hotel where the PGA was born in 1916 – as a plaque at the front door attests. Back then, the average golf professional had little standing and an uncertain income. Nowadays, a club pro has some considerable regard, though there’s also considerable unease about where the golf industry is going and what role the head pro will play.

While the average head pro in the U.S. earns $62,000 annually, according to Bishop, many assistant and aspiring professionals who are PGA card-carrying members will be lucky if they reach the ranks of head pro. Which is why Bishop and Bevacqua affirmed the importance of educating members to enhance their value to course owners and boards. And it’s why the PGA is intent on promoting such grow-the-game initiatives as Get Golf Ready, which includes discounted entry-level lessons.

It’s precisely the concern to grow golf that led the PGA to send a letter to the USGA when the anchoring ban was announced two weeks ago. The PGA was not making some knee-jerk response. In the run-up to the joint USGA-R&A announcement on Nov. 28, the PGA board already had been privy to behind-the-scenes discussions with the USGA about the impending decision.

Just before Thanksgiving, the PGA quietly polled its members and found 63 percent opposed to the ban – which goes into effect in 2016. The move, said Bishop, developed out of the concerns to grow the game and not make it look like golf’s ruling body was denying everyday golfers access to equipment that might make the game more rewarding.

The PGA isn’t dead set against the ban. But the association is concerned enough that it will conduct an open forum on the subject during next month’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. Preliminary plans calls for inclusion of the PGA Tour and the USGA.

When asked whether the concern about anchoring signifies a deeper breach with the USGA, Bevacqua was quick to point out that, “Our common interests outweigh any differences by a mile.” In the case of the anchor ban, the PGA is taking what Bevacqua termed a “populist” position. But even then, he said, “we do not have an argument with the USGA, but we do want to have a seat at the discussion.”

If the full impact of the proposed anchoring ban on grow-the-game initiatives is not clear, Bishop did take a less ambiguous stance on talk that has been quietly circulating around (and outside of) USGA Golf House of possibly rolling back how far the golf ball goes.

“I can’t think of anything that would be more detrimental to the game at the amateur level than messing with distance,” Bishop said.

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