To Renew Or Not To Renew (My USGA Membership) That Is The Question

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.”



5 thoughts on “To Renew Or Not To Renew (My USGA Membership) That Is The Question”

  1. Right there with you bro.  I sent my USGA money to the NRA this year over the putter fiasco.  I played my belly putter a very short time and it is now cut to 36 inches – but the handling was horrible in that case.  The announcement on the eve of the PGA Championship was idiotic. 

    Another thing was the USGA shutting down the handicap app “Diablo Golf”.  This little app would do your handicap entries to GHIN and show your handicap.  The app that the USGA came out with later is flawed (the course handicap calculator is off) – AND the GHIN system goes down WAY to often. 

    All that said, I am probably going to have to join for 2014.  I want the hat for Pinehurst – but more than that, I will probably be on the board of our mens association, so I need to be a member.

  2. Tough call but I am sticking with the “membership” for now.  I choose to remain a “member” so I can send the USGA advice as a part of their organization. Yes, an increasingly littler part but still a part for now.

    The USGA is starting to look more like a typical Wall Street corporation than a non-profit.  Their revenues far outstrip their spending and they have a massive $350,000,000 net worth.  What the heck do they need $350,000,000 when every year their revenues exceed expenses by a wide margin?  Seems to me the board is acting too much like a corporate board; hoard money and grow bigger to squash any competition.

    Ultimately I would like to see the USGA actually become an organization of individual members rather than an incestuous cabal of private club elites.

  3. I’ve stopped, simply because I’m not seeing much for me.  If they’d been serious about regulating equipment for the “good of the game” they would have kept tight control over the ball.  That would have kept the costs of golf courses down and taken the pressure off other equipment.  Baseball, football, basketball, hockey, field hockey etc,  nobody lets the players’ chose (juice) the ball.

    I liked they’re walking initiative a few years ago, and the current pace-of-play project seems good.  I think the agronomy section is useful, but I think the PGA of America could easily do the same work.

  4. I’ve pretty much exchanged golf for cycling (road and off-road), so I don’t have a stake in this. But as someone who has studied a bit of sociology and business, I’d have to say we have a principal-agent problem here of a serious magnitude.

  5. @Dave … as for agronomy, major research universities, such as Michigan State have turfgrass research centers. Don’t know why the USGA just doesn’t ride on their backs.

    @Grays … I am shamed that I didn’t frame it as a principal-agent case. I will next time I rail against the USGA.


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