Is it worth it for prestigious clubs to host U.S. Open?


MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Stewardship is what inspires iconic clubs to host prestigious national competitions. There’s a legacy of protecting and promoting the game. Ego is what motivates these golf landmarks to open the gates to the public. There’s a longstanding desire to show off a little, as well.

Winged Foot is beginning to get camera ready for another U.S. Open.

There was some animosity here after Geoff Ogilvy claimed the championship in 2006 because it took longer than anticipated to restore the East Course, which supported most of the USGA infrastructure. Members declined an invitation to host again in 2015.

It was hard to blame them.

Why in the world would any golfer who pays dues religiously volunteer to give up access to a historic club at the height of the summer?

See above.

“It’s right there in our charter,” said Bryan Marsal, who is the club’s chairman for this year’s U.S. Open, which will is scheduled to be held at Winged Foot Sept. 17-20. “The club was formed by a group of guys who decided they wanted to have 600 members and two golf courses and they wanted Winged Foot to be a place where championships would be played. … I’ve been a member here for 40 years and I view myself as a steward in a long line of stewards that have carried on that tradition.

“Now, the other side of that is the fact that I’m proud of Winged Foot and I like to showcase the place, especially to people who love golf.”

It’s a common theme.

“There are privileges of being a member, but there are also responsibilities of being a member,” Baltusrol Golf Club president Rick Shea said. “We host tournaments on all levels and I think there is a broad acceptance of the responsibility to be part of the game, to maintain a championship venue and make the course available from time to time for the greats of the game to come and be tested.”

Of course, the clubs are compensated for hosting a major. Renovation projects and capital improvements are not cheap, so the revenue usually overshadows the inconvenience.

Hosting adds prestige, too.

While there is financial risk hosting some of the amateur championships, there is competition among clubs to land those events.

“The interest level, I’ve seen it ebb and flow a bit, but never to a point where we’ve struggled to find willing hosts,” USGA managing director of championships Mark Hill said.

A quick compliment from a weary competitor is often thanks enough.

Members are generally eager to see the best players in the world playing their course from the tips and typically swell with pride when the headliners get tangled in the rough or humbled on the greens.

“We’re following in the footsteps of members who in the past believed it was important to host these tournaments,” said former Oak Hill Country Club president Tim Thaney, who oversaw the recent restoration of the East Course. “It adds prestige to the club. It generates a lot of interest from the community, helps the economy. Oak Hill is a fun place to be when these things are in town.

“Now, it was a little disappointing when Jason Dufner shot a 63 on a soggy course during the PGA Championship in 2013. He made it look a little too easy.”

The value of status

With a high concentration of Top 100 courses in New York and New Jersey, competition for members can be fierce. There is no better marketing campaign than one punctuated with a slice of golf history.

“Jack Nicklaus won two U.S. Opens here,” Shea noted of Baltusrol.

Look what Tiger Woods did for the renowned Black Course at Bethpage State Park. A once tired public course quickly became a destination when he won the U.S. Open there in 2002.

Westchester Country Club is scheduled to host the U.S. Women’s Amateur next summer. The club was once a well-known stop on the PGA Tour, but stepped away from the spotlight after 2007 when membership balked at the growing demands of hosting. It will be the first national event played on the West Course since the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2015.

And the plan is to remain in the conversation.

“We’re proud to be associated with championship golf,” said Mary Ann Sullivan, who along with Peter Knobloch will be chairing the U.S. Women’s Amateur. “Hosting a tournament every few years is something we’d like to do in order to remain relevant in the public golfing world. We have a strong class of members who have joined in the last five years. A lot of them grew up in the area, have an interest in golf and know about us from watching The Barclays on TV.”

The replica trophies from past championships are eye-catching when prospective members tour the grounds. Highlighting a demanding course on television during a championship telecast also pays dividends.

Over the years, Winged Foot has played host to the U.S. Open (1929, 1959, 1974, 1984, 2006), PGA Championship (1997), U.S. Amateur (1940, 2004), U.S. Senior Open (1980), U.S. Women’s Open (1972, 1957), Walker Cup (1949) and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball (2016).

Baltusrol has been the site for the U.S. Open (1903, 1915, 1936, 1954, 1967, 1980, 1993), PGA Championship (2005, 2018), U.S. Women’s Open (1961, 1985), U.S. Amateur (1904, 1926, 1946, 2000), U.S. Women’s Amateur (1901, 1911) and U.S. Junior Amateur (2018).

Oak Hill has stayed on the radar with the U.S. Open (1956, 1958, 1989), PGA Championship (1980, 2003, 2013), Ryder Cup (1995), U.S. Amateur (1949, 1998), U.S. Senior Open (1984) and Senior PGA Championship (2008, 2019).

“I’m a golf nut and I think we have a disproportionate number of members who love the history of the game,” Shea added. “I’ve watched the 1967 telecast of the U.S. Open and there’s an epic moment on the seventh hole on Sunday when Palmer hits driver, 1-iron to 10 feet and Nicklaus hits driver, 2-iron to about 30 feet on the fringe. Nicklaus makes the putt for birdie and Palmer misses. You could argue the kingship of American golf was passed from one man to another right there. There was going to be a moment between those two guys and the fact that it happened in that round is something that is really cool. From where I sit, I think we want more of that in our history.

“I’m not sure I can quantify it in terms of new members, but there is no doubt it helps. I grew up in Massachusetts and remember watching the 1980 U.S. Open so this certainly became an aspirational spot for that young golfer.”

History is a handy trump card when a member grumbles.

“We have no problems with the membership,” Marsal added. “We have a waiting list. We have a waiting list because we have the finest golf course in the New York area. We’re a healthy club financially and we’re in demand. Part of that is because we’re a place where championships are played.”

The nuts and bolts

Getting the attention of the USGA or the PGA of America usually requires a fair amount of pedigree. Whether the course was designed by a Golden Age icon or a modern contemporary, it must have a reputation for providing a quality test.

“It usually begins with a club reaching out to us and expressing an interest,” Hill explained. “The golf course is certainly a big part of it, a key and integral part of it. That’s where it starts.”

Knobloch got the ball rolling for Westchester in 2016.

“He was over at Winged Foot watching the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and mentioned to the USGA, ‘This would be great at Westchester,’ ” Sullivan said. “They suggested writing a letter and we were quickly in talks for 2021.”

To land a marquee event, clubs often have to have a dress rehearsal.

“We saw a lot of enthusiasm at Ridgewood (N.J.) Country Club when they hosted the U.S. Girls Junior in 2016,” Hill said. “We stayed connected with the people there and it’s probably obvious now since they are hosting the U.S. Amateur in 2022.”

The financial details are well-guarded even from the general membership, but a club stands to bring in millions from a major championship. According to New York State estimates, the regional economic impact of the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black was $120 million.

Winged Foot is going to be in a unique situation with limits on attendance likely in place.

The majors come with infrastructure that requires months to build and remove. The amateur championships take up far less square footage and only interrupt member play for 7-10 days.

“When we hosted the PGA Championship in 2013, our practice range was shut down virtually the whole season because that’s where the entrance and merchandise tent were,” Thaney said. “The build-out takes almost the entire summer. We had a smaller build-out for the Senior PGA last year in May, but we still took the driving range out of play until the Fourth of July. That’s a big inconvenience for the members, but we do get a financial reward. We actually did quite well financially. I can’t get into the details, but we have a different contract for the 2023 PGA Championship that kind of guarantees the club a certain amount of money for the honor and inconvenience of hosting a major.”

The USGA provides a stipend for hosting its amateur championships, but the clubs are responsible for raising funds to cover most of the operating expenses. It’s not a small investment. The budget for next year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur was north of $500,000.

“When a club makes a commitment to host a championship, they agree to take on certain responsibilities,” Hill said. “Volunteer recruitment and management is one of them. There are social functions, too, at the club. There are expenses that come with the championships.”

In the past, corporate sponsorship and outings helped cover the cost.

“Considering the environment we’re dealing with right now, it’s not going to be an easy haul,” Sullivan explained. “We took a look at the number a few weeks ago and we’d like to bring the cost down. So yes, it’s been over $500,000 and we’ve made the membership aware, but we have to work to pare that number down. We’re confident we’ll still be able to present a wonderful championship, but hopefully, without overdoing it. We’ve had a lot of support from the members so far, but going forward, it’s understandable we probably won’t get the same level of support.”

In most cases, the grind is quickly forgotten.

There are moments from each championship at Winged Foot that have remained vivid as time passes. Some include trash cans. Some include rainbows.

“Every member here has wonderful stories of the championships they’ve been to,” club president Brendan Boyle said. “We have a long history of supporting and volunteering. It’s part of the DNA of Winged Foot and our members.”

Mike Dougherty covers golf for The Journal News/lohud.com, part of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at mdougher@lohud.com or on Twitter: @lohudgolf.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *