Over the past couple of months, I’ve received quite a few emails and letters from the USGA asking me to renew my membership. The latest offered me—for the good of the game—to chance to renew for the low, low price of $10.
Yet still I hesitate.
The truth is that I’m not at all sure about the USGA or its motives these days.
My doubts began with last year’s letter from the USGA president to the membership touting all the wonderful things they have done. Mike Davis began with two paragraphs celebrating the organization’s “elite championships,” then casually mentioned the First Tee and LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, touted cooperation with the R&A on the rules, and finally closed with the idea of sustainable golf.
There wasn’t much there for me. I’m not an “elite” golfer (nor is anyone else I play with), and while the First Tee is great, it is not solely a USGA initiative (founding members include the USGA, PGA, PGA TOUR, LPGA and Masters) . Cooperation with the R&A on the belly putter was a fiasco. And if you queried a hundred weekend golfers on the game’s biggest problems, I’ll bet sustainability takes a back seat to pace of play, cost, and overly complicated rules.
In short, I have real doubts that the USGA represents me—the mid handicapper who plays on public courses. My growing suspicion is that the USGA is not as much “for the good of the game” as for “the good of elite golfers playing in high end, cash generating championships.”
And yet, given the importance of those championships, in his year-end letter, Davis managed just half a sentence mentioning the volunteers who make them possible. Having attended two USGA championships as a media member, the thing that most impressed me was the vast legion who volunteered their time and money (they pay for the uniforms) to make those cash generating championships possible.
I am disappointed that the USGA this year decided to end the US Public Links Championships. In my mind, that just pushes the USGA further toward “elite golfer” status. Evidently, it wasn’t making enough money to justify its existence. I question, however, why the enormous sums of money generated by the US Open couldn’t have been used to cover the Public Links. It is true that the USGA replaced the Publinks with Four Ball Championships, but surely there was enough money to pay for both.
The USGA is a non-profit, right?
The belly putter ruling is another sticking point for me. I’ve never used the long stick, and frankly have no use for it. But I know people who do, and for whom it makes the game more enjoyable. As with the elimination of the Publinks, I see this as a reduction of opportunity for ordinary golfers.
I found it telling that while the USGA and R&A were all-in on the ban, two of golf’s other major organizations, the PGA of America and The PGA TOUR were less than enthusiastic. The PGA of America in fact opposed it outright, stating correctly that it would not help to grow the game.
The comment period on the belly putter ban was a farce. The ruling was a done deal from the moment the USGA and R&A signed the pact. The comment period was simply a smoke screen so that the rules makers could say that it was done with public input—even if the input was ignored.
I am increasingly finding that the most relevant organization in my golfing life is not the USGA, but the PGA of America. I never see one of the USGA’s suits at my courses; I see the PGA professional each time out. As an aside, I’d love to see the PGA of America have a membership option for amateurs—some sort of associate arrangement to support the work that they do for the good of the game.
Given the PGA of America’s opposition to the USGA on the belly putter, I found myself wondering if the timing of the USGA’s new television contract announcement—in the middle of PGA Championship week—was deliberate revenge for having had the gall to oppose the USGA. A warning shot across the bow, so to speak.
Mike Davis of the USGA maintains that they had to make the announcement because of contractual obligations, but I don’t think anyone actually believes that. Methinks he doth protest too much. I have absolutely no doubt that the USGA has lawyers who could have told them how to get around that out of respect for its “sister” organization.
Davis also said that they made a phone call to the PGA of America to warn them of the impending media bombshell:
So we contacted the PGA of America ahead of time and said listen, this is anything but we want to do is announce on the eve of your championship, but we must do that.
That’s hard to reconcile with the reaction of PGA President, who expressed shock at the timing.
Even if the snub was not deliberate, the announcement’s timing shows a lack of class and awareness on the part of the USGA. Mike Davis’s slamming of long time partners NBC/Golf Channel in initial press release—where effectively called them old school—displayed a similar tone-deafness.
Golf has always been about class. I wonder what happened to the USGA’s.
There’s even more about the new USGA-FOX deal that disturbs me, however. According to Ron Sirak of Golf Digest, NBC/Golf Channel’s package offered twice the number of hours of coverage as FOX, but at $20 million less per year.
Twice the coverage. Twice the opportunity to bring high level golf to the people. Twice the opportunity to grow the game. For the good of the game.
So of course, the USGA went for the money.
Here’s what Davis said on Matt Adams’ Fairways of Life show:
the USGA “didn’t feel like we quite got there with the offers on the table so we went to the open market and ultimately Fox came in.”
NBC apparently was unaware of the USGA’s move to FOX until it was too late. NBC insiders said that they would have been willing to increase their offer if given a chance, although they could not have matched FOX.
Nothing but money at stake here, folks. Twenty million less in revenue is in my mind is justified as an expenditure made by the USGA for the good of the game. It would only cost them $20 million to get twice the coverage. A clever organization could make up the money in other ways.
I’ve nothing against FOX, per se. But TWICE THE COVERAGE.
I think that the USGA has seriously lost its way, and before I send them any money, I I need some evidence that they have righted their moral ship and are truly doing what is “good for the game” and not “good for the USGA and its suits.”