David Fay, who has been executive director of the USGA for more than two decades, is retiring at the end of this year. Whatever his other accomplishments or faults, I am certain that Fay’s legacy with the USGA will be bringing the US Open to public courses. Prior to Fay’s tenure, the US Open was the domain of private clubs—the 1972, 1982 and 1992 tournaments at Pebble Beach being the sole exceptions. Under Fay’s watch, the US Open has been played at Pinehurst #2, Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach. Indeed, five of the last ten, and seven of the last 12 US Opens have been at public courses. Future US Opens at public courses are scheduled for Pinehurst (2012), Chambers Bay (2015), Erin Hills (2017) and Pebble Beach (2019).
For Fay, I offer my best wishes in retirement. While in my retirement, I plan to play a lot of golf. I can’t imagine, however, what the retirement dreams would be for someone who has spent his whole career in golf. Fishing, perhaps.
As for the next USGA executive director, my hope is that the institution finds someone who continues the trend toward “democratization” – and not only in the selection of championship courses. The USGA should be reminded that the pros constitute a very small minority of its potential constituents and that the country club set seems certain to occupy an ever-decreasing position. For the USGA to remain relevant in the twenty first century, rules, procedures and equipment regulations need to accommodate a new brand of golfer: masses of weekenders who don’t have a “home course”; who play with a rotating cast of partners and; are strapped for time and money. To that I might add that their courses are different, too. The tracks of the majority of golfers are public courses, tightly packed with sub-optimal conditions.
Several potential issues come immediately to mind. First, I think the USGA also has to find a way to fix the handicap system, which I regard as largely broken. What worked when golf was dominated by clubs where people played in regular groups under the attentive and familiar gaze of a handicap committee simply doesn’t work in today’s environment.
Another is the equipment question – such as the new rules regarding grooves or potential future ones rolling back ball or driver performance. The USGA should not be in the business of making golf more difficult for the 99.99% who don’t play top flight tournament golf. If they persist, the USGA should add the word Competitive to the acronym – the USCGA – and open the door for an alternate association for everyone else.
One rule I’d like to see the new USGA revisit is the stroke and distance penalty for a ball out of bounds or a lost ball. I don’t know anyone who actually uses that rule; instead, they simply drop at a location that everyone deems amenable and add a stroke. On a crowded public course, to go back to the previous spot after searching for five minutes is an invitation to a melee with the trailing foursome.
Another: that golfers should get a free drop from damaged areas through the green, provided the playing partners agree it’s damaged.. Most of us don’t play on the grass carpets that pros and country clubbers enjoy. From the midpoint of the season, many of the courses I play on look comparatively like the surface of the moon, with chili dip craters, large patches of dead grass and swaths of rock hard fairway.
And there are so many more. Best of luck to the new USGA Director.