Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Family,
It is an honor and a privilege to be here with you this afternoon. Having the opportunity to work with so many of you during this past year has been a deeply rewarding experience. After seeing so many of the positive developments in the golf industry over the past 12 months, I believe the game’s health is strong and I have never been more confident in its overall direction. It is with that optimism … and great humility … that I look forward to serving as president of the United States Golf Association for a second term.
I want to thank everyone for their guidance and support during my first year in office, starting with my colleagues on the Executive Committee … Mike Davis and the incredibly talented USGA staff … and all the dedicated volunteers and industry professionals who share a deep respect for this game. It wasn’t always easy … but together, we have made a lasting and positive impact on the game.
What I have observed in the past year is a community of golfers who are passionate about the game and who want it to be even better. You care about making the golf experience more enjoyable for all those who love and play this game.
Last year I asked you to join me in launching “Plus One” … not to become an elite “plus one” Handicap golfer, but to introduce someone new to the game. The idea was to share the joys of playing golf, the drama and excitement of watching it, and the principles of honesty, integrity and sportsmanship … the very foundations of the game. Let me tell you about some “Plus Ones” I saw in my travels.
The father in Colorado who took his 7-year-old daughter to the driving range for the first time … and his joy when she hit one solidly and rewarded dad with an ear-to-ear smile. The grandparents who drove six hours to bring their grandsons from Ohio to Pittsburgh for the U.S. Open … and their look of amazement when they saw Dustin Johnson raise the coveted championship trophy. The couple in Tennessee, who volunteered for their first USGA championship … and enjoyed it so much that they made a pact to do it every year. The scene in Rio … where two USGA champions, Justin Rose and Inbee Park, won Olympic gold. And the celebration in St. Simons Island … where hundreds of people from the community greeted Matt Kuchar as returned home with the Bronze Medal.
I have heard your stories and I have listened to your feedback about how we can make golf even better. We’ve all done our parts … and now it’s time to do it again. Because none of us working alone will be able to accomplish the collective goals that lay before us.
2017 will be a year of action for the USGA. For several years, we have been working towards four major initiatives that we believe will help to transform the game:
Rewriting the rules of golf so they are more easily understood …
Bringing our research efforts from the lab to golf facilities…
Creating a stronger partnership with the SRGA community …
And developing a single handicap system for the world.
Let me talk a little bit about the impact of each and why we’re so excited about this year.
One of the most transformative initiatives … in collaboration with our friends at The R&A … is modernizing the Rules of Golf. Re-imagining what they should be … how they’re communicated … and how they can help make golf a more enjoyable game.
Why now? Because we’re listening … and we have heard your concerns. In our efforts over the years to be thorough, the Rules have become too lengthy, and overly technical. The goal of this project is simple: to make the Rules easier to understand and apply. We will also ensure that the Rules are relevant to the way people learn and consume information today … while making certain that the game itself – the game we love – is still guided by the unwavering principle of “play the ball as it lies and the course as you find it.”
Since the first efforts to write down the Rules of Golf in 1744, continuous revision and updating of the game’s Rules has been one of the enduring traditions in golf. Regular changes have typically occurred every four years, but there are also times when we need to step back to look at the Rules from a broader perspective. We believe strongly that this is one of those times. We will have more information in the weeks ahead.
We are also working to advance the game through research, science and innovation. For decades, the USGA has funded research that has produced results: turf that recovers faster, needs less water and chemicals, and is more resistant to heat and drought.
At next month’s North American Golf Innovation Symposium in Vancouver, we will be unveiling an interactive resource management tool … a fancy name for creative, new software. This will help facility operators evaluate the impact of changes in labor, water usage, and chemical application.
Imagine a superintendent in Arizona using this app to reduce water consumption by 25%, saving $75,000 per year? By reallocating resources and improving efficiency, we can help deliver a better golf experience … at a reduced cost.
Another way we are advancing the game is through a new model for working with State and Regional Golf Associations. We call it Golfer Engagement. Year-over-year impact on the game could not be created … and would not endure … at the community and regional levels, were it not for the dedicated support and commitment from SRGAs across the country. We are trying to deepen and strengthen that partnership through the Golfer Engagement program.
How are we doing this? We just released USGA Tournament Management … a modern technology platform that will deliver a high-quality event management program to more than 13,000 golf facilities through our partner SRGAs. Simply put, it will be easier to use for golfers … and more reliable for golf clubs and facilities.
We also believe there is considerable value in the concept of a universal handicap and course rating system that allows golfers to compete anywhere in the world on an equitable basis. Reliable handicapping is one of the game’s chief attractions … no other sport has figured out how to allow players of such varied skills to compete on a friendly basis.
Today, more than 32,000 clubs and 15 million golfers in more than 80 countries enjoy the benefits of a handicap and course rating system. But in their current state, the handicap systems in use around the world produce different outcomes. Together with The R&A, we are preparing to roll out a World Handicap System that will enable you to play with anyone, anytime, and anywhere … and know it means the same thing across continents.
But Rules and Handicaps don’t mean much without people actually playing golf. We support all those who love and play this great game … and annually conduct championships that are widely regarded as the ultimate tests in golf. They are played on the game’s grandest stages, and determine the world’s best and most complete players, all while inspiring a next generation to pick up this game of a lifetime.
This year, we are excited to visit a relatively new grand stage for golf … Erin Hills … which will host the 117th U.S. Open Championship in June. This will be the first time the U.S. Open is played in Wisconsin … and we are thrilled to once again take it to a daily fee, public course.
Erin Hills is a true “field of dreams” in the heartland of America … one that will amaze you with its natural beauty, but one that will also provide a comprehensive examination for the game’s finest players. Having opened a little more than a decade ago, it may be young compared to some of the other courses where the U.S. Open has been played, but this American original has plenty of character. It will provide a blank canvas for the greatest players to imagine and create history. I invite all of you to join us at Erin Hills this June for what promises to be a captivating week of major championship golf.
Including Erin Hills, we have 15 exceptional venues set to host USGA championships this year, all carefully selected to offer a world-class test and experience. They represent thriving, passionate, “golf-charged” communities across the country … from the Four-Ball championships in the Carolinas … to the Women’s and Senior Opens in the Northeast … to the Juniors in the Midwest … to the Amateurs and Walker Cup in Southern California. We believe that conducting our championships on the greatest golf courses offers what the players and fans deserve … and whether you are a competitor or fan, we will stop at nothing to deliver a first-class championship experience.
We have also developed programs to enjoy learning and playing the game. For three years, we’ve advocated PLAY9 as a simple solution for golfers who are pressed for time … and many of you have joined in our call to action. In 2016, one-third of all rounds played were 9 holes … and 40% of golf facilities saw an increase in the number of 9-hole rounds played.
The LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program has also shown incredible growth … from reaching just 5,000 girls in 2009 to more than 60,000 in 2016. And that has a direct impact on our own events. In 2016, 128 past or present Girls Golf participants competed in a USGA championship.
Some of golf’s other future stars have been introduced to the game through Drive, Chip & Putt. The number of juniors who have participated in a local qualifier last summer almost tripled since the inaugural event four years ago.
And it’s not just kids the USGA is seeking to support through the game. We are reinforcing our commitment to make the game more accessible through supporting disabled golfers in a more meaningful way. We have given community grants for many years, but it is the right time to expand that support into a deeper review of modifications to the Rules of Golf and equipment rules for disabled golfers. We are also looking to celebrate their achievements through a national championship, and although we have a lot of work to do, we welcome the opportunity to work with other organizations to realize this goal.
Through our ongoing contributions to these organizations and programs, we are making the game more accessible and building the next generation of golf’s ambassadors, who will support the traditions and character of the game … expand its reach … and lead it forward.
In addition, and no less important to how we celebrate and support this game, is how we honor its champions and volunteers. Tonight we will recognize the contributions of our Service Award recipients.
And earlier today, we announced the USGA’s highest honor, the Bob Jones Award, will be presented to Bob Ford, the long-time head professional at Oakmont and Seminole, in a ceremony this June during the week of the U.S. Open. Bob has been a mentor to more than 100 golf professionals, instilling in each of them a passion and respect for the game that he has promoted during his four decades serving golfers across the country.
And finally, in the spirit of honoring golf’s great champions, no individual was more legendary in this game … or a greater ambassador for golf … than Arnold Palmer. Mr. Palmer touched every corner of the golf community. He won dozens of tournaments … but more important than what he did was how he did it – with passion, purpose and humility.
We loved the way he played the game … daring and bold, and always with confidence. He made golf cool and propelled its popularity to new heights. Arnold made everyone he met feel special, whether they were world leaders, celebrities, kids, or the throngs of spectators who became affectionately known as “Arnie’s Army.” He left an impact on the game that is truly unmatched.
So let’s honor Mr. Palmer’s legacy by turning our sentiments into action. No one loved the game more than Arnold. So please go out and spread some of the joy and enthusiasm that he brought to the game … and to life. Make a pledge to do something … even something small … that benefits the game in your community. Introduce someone new to the game … volunteer or donate to an organization you feel passionate about … encourage a young golfer to apply to become a P.J. Boatwright intern … visit the USGA Golf Museum and walk through the Hall of Champions … or get out to PLAY9 with your son or daughter … your father or mother … a close friend or co-worker. Spend time with them on the golf course and connect with them in the way similar to how Arnold connected with all of us.
In closing, I want to thank all of you … for your personal support over the past year … for what you have done thus far … and most importantly, for what you will do, as part of the shared effort to lead golf into the future. The greatness of this game does indeed bring out the best in all of us.