USGA annual meeting looks toward the game’s future

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USGA annual meeting looks toward the game’s future

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USGA annual meeting looks toward the game’s future

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The U.S. Golf Association managed to make the ritual of an annual meeting interesting.

When the organization bestowed its annual Herbert Warren Wind Book Award to Dr. Lane Demas, a history professor at Central Michigan University, for his volume, “Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf,” it was tacitly acknowledging a long-overlooked dimension of the game.

More celebratory was the USGA’s embrace of veteran female golfers. This year sees the kickoff of a new national championship – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill, July 13-16. To promote that event, the USGA put on a rousing display that included the unveiling of a new trophy for the event and announcement of $1 million purse. Among the Hall of Famers in attendance were Amy Alcott and Pat Bradley.

“Golf doesn’t stop at 50,” Alcott said. “We want an arena to showcase our talent and now we really have one.”

The new championship, to be covered live by Fox Sports as part of its long-term deal with the USGA, is but an element of a multi-pronged effort to advance the game. Another initiative entails international coordination of handicapping methods and algorithms to create one, universal system rather than the current patchwork system. The program is intended to be operating on Jan. 1, 2020.

Rand Jerris, the USGA’s senior managing director of public services, outlined a program of player engagement and industry stewardship under the rubric of a long-term research and policy program known as Driving Golf Forward. Efforts include an access pipeline for a new, more demographically diverse player base that includes juniors, women, minorities and the disabled as well as conventional golfers. According to Jerris, the USGA is now working with industry leaders to develop a set of metrics to quantify player engagement and satisfaction – to find out what really works and what does not.

“A business model needs to be developed,” he said.

The emphasis on best practices and working solutions rather than traditional industry anguish and soul searching has led the USGA to develop a GPS-based database called Resource Management. The program helps course managers and decision makers to measure inputs such as electricity, fertilizer, water and labor. Plans call for a working version of the program to be made available to individual golf courses. It’s a key tool in what the USGA hopes to be measurable savings in golf course management, all intended to reduce golf’s environmental “footprint” without compromising play.

In his keynote address, USGA executive director and chief operating officer Mike Davis noted the considerable progress already made: “A 22 percent drop in irrigated water usage, and a 40 percent drop in nutrients over a recent 10-year period.”

The USGA is focusing on the link between environmental sustainability and economic viability.

“Here in the U.S.,” said Davis, “one in four golf courses is not making money. It’s obvious that can’t continue.”

The link between sustainability and viability appears in another context for the USGA, this one involving distance and the inevitable stretching of golf courses to accommodate the play of premier players.

“We do not think increased distance at the elite level is good for golf,” Davis said.

The concern here has to do with land costs, maintenance and labor. All of which, Davis thinks, need to be addressed if golf is to remain healthy moving forward. With the USGA’s third report on distance measurement expected to be published in the next few weeks, this presages something of a brewing disagreement between the USGA and some equipment manufacturers. By taking a stand in terms of long-term industry prospects, Davis and the USGA hope to avoid a direct confrontation. Gwk

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