Ben Kimball, 32, is the director of the U.S. Amateur Championship and U.S. Women’s Open Championship. He joined the USGA in 2005 after working for the American Junior Golf Association. He sat down with the USGA’s Ken Klavon and explained what motivates him, some of the challenges he encounters and more.
Where were you before the USGA?
Kimball: Before the USGA, I was with the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA). I actually interned and got hired before I finished college.
What were your responsibilities there?
Kimball: When I came in I was a tournament director, responsible for overseeing about five events per year. After two years I was promoted to director of tournament operations. I continued to oversee championship operations in addition to managing the intern recruitment program.
When did you start with the USGA?
Kimball: In July of 2005. I left an AJGA event in San Antonio and went directly to the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in Longmeadow, Mass., where I worked on the Rules Committee that week.
My duties have evolved over the past six years with the organization. Initially, I served as the staff person in charge of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and the USGA Senior Amateur Championship. I ran the Girls’ Junior for two years and the Senior Amateur for six years. In 2008, I took over the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship and ran the Junior Amateur for three years. My roles changed again in 2011 to manage all inside-the-ropes activities at the U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Amateur.
What kind of challenges have you encountered in your new role?
Kimball: The golf course setups are a little more complex, but really it’s just adding more machines and more labor to ensure a solid test of golf for the players. Sometimes managing a larger maintenance crew presents some challenges, but it also allows us to have increased flexibility with how we set up the golf course.
Working with the television broadcast component was challenging for me this year, mainly because of the consistently inclement weather we faced during championship season. There are a number of factors to consider when a championship is being televised live to an international audience along with the paying attendees. Decisions on suspensions and delays can be highly scrutinized because of the implications that they have on all of the partners involved, but it’s just a balancing act that has to be managed.
The storms in Colorado during the U.S. Women’s Open probably weren’t what you had hoped for. Can you talk about that?
Kimball: The course was right where we wanted it coming into the championship and we honestly didn’t expect that Mother Nature would decide to change things so radically. Each morning we were able to commence the golf as scheduled, but almost every afternoon we would see the ominous clouds and lightning hovering over Cheyenne Mountain, which caused stoppages of play.
How much sleep did you get that week?
Kimball: I actually slept better than most people might think, albeit the “mornings” come quickly in this business after a full day battling the elements. After the first few days of afternoon weather, we knew what to expect but that still doesn’t help you rest any easier.
What would you say you averaged sleep-wise? Because it’s known you’re up early and late to bed.
Kimball: By the time you get announcements to the players, ascertain the next day’s schedule, spend time with the media and regroup with the championship staff, it is already late in the evening. I try to retreat to the hotel, grab a bite to eat and touch base with my family. Sometimes it is midnight by the time your head actually hits the pillow. During championship weeks, I am usually out the door by 4 a.m. There is no oversleeping in this business because everyone is waiting for you to lead the way and of course the boss has to be there when the sun comes up.
When you first started, one of your innovations was to add player photos on amateur championship websites. How did that come to fruition?
Kimball: There had been some discussion about enhancing our live scoring pages by adding pictures of players. It was something we were doing at the AJGA, and the families who couldn’t travel really enjoyed being able to connect with the championship from afar. They could see their player’s face or check out their opponent during match-play situations. Just a great added feature to our website.
We implemented the player photos at the 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and it’s been done every season since. It is nice for the spectators to come to the public board and reference who is playing. Once they get on the golf course they can identify players visually.
What do you like most about your job?
Kimball: What I like most is that I have a desk that I never sit behind. There is quite a lot of travel required, a lot of days away from family, a lot of holidays missed. But I like the flexibility and the change in pace that we get. I do get spring fever and want to get back on golf courses and visit with clubs. That’s where I feel most comfortable.
What motivates you?
Kimball: There are a few things that continue to keep me passionate about my work and life. First, there’s something to be said about guiding host clubs or players through their first major championship experience. This process is invigorating because each site brings its own unique obstacles and opportunities.
Second is the respect that I have for the game. In the USGA Museum, there is a plaque for Louis Lee, USGA Senior Amateur Champion at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va. I can reflect that I had a part in putting that name up on the wall in the Hall of Champions. Knowing that I was involved with our national championships … that’s pretty special to me.
And lastly, for the longest time I’ve always tried to follow in the footsteps of my father. He is an amazing individual – successful, family-oriented, loyal and compassionate. He is the role model I try to emulate in both my personal and professional life.
Have you thought about what you’d ultimately like to do at the USGA?
Kimball: When I came into the USGA as a 25-year-old kid, never did I think I would have the opportunity to run multiple national championships. I was just thrilled at the opportunity to be in charge of one! How many people get that opportunity? Honestly, I’m just concerned about doing the best I can with the role I am in.
What have you learned since coming to the USGA?
Kimball: I came in at a young age and hadn’t really proven myself in the golf industry. There were USGA committee members working championships longer than I had been alive. I had to learn how the USGA operates and communicates. It was vital to learn how to manage the relationships between host clubs, committees and a much larger staff.
Can you talk about the players dinner at Bremerton, Wash., for the U.S. Junior Amateur? How did that come about?
Kimball: In 2009, we were fortunate to host the players dinner for the U.S. Junior Amateur on the grounds here at Golf House, primarily showcasing the newly renovated USGA Museum. The future site, which was Gold Mountain Golf Club, was present at that dinner and really loved the idea of utilizing a unique venue to showcase their community when it was their turn to host in 2011.
Bremerton, Wash., is a Navy town. The golf course (Gold Mountain Golf Club) was built by a lot of guys who worked in the Navy shipyard. They are proud of their heritage and wanted to create a special experience for the players aboard the U.S.S. John C. Stennis, a nuclear Naval aircraft carrier. The local committee approached the Navy and we spent easily two to three years trying to navigate the proper channels to get the event approved.
I think I was more excited about the event than some of the players. The venue evoked such patriotism and gratitude for the men and women who serve this country. I can only hope that some of them walked away with a better sense of the sacrifices made by the individuals in our military. The Navy was so hospitable and a pleasure to work with. It is something I will never forget.