ERIN, Wis. – In 1999, when Pete Kowalski started with the communications staff at the U.S. Golf Association, the organization gave out 1,500 media credentials to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No.2.
The media scene has changed a lot since then. These days, most local newspapers no longer employ dedicated golf writers. The local sports columnist, who might have traveled to cover the major championships, for the most part no longer does, for budgetary or other reasons.
And yet, at this week’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills, Kowalski said he and his team still handed out 1,500 media credentials.
“Everything sounds likes it’s dwindling, but we still have 900 people here. We credentialed 900. Fox [the USGA’s TV broadcast partner] gives out 500-600,” Kowalski said. “So, there are still 1,500 media people from around the country and around the world at the U.S. Open.”
Obviously, in the past 18 years, the mix has changed.
“You’ve got social media, you’ve got Internet sites, and a lot of the Internet sites that are worth reading are from people who used to be full-time golf writers,” Kowalski said.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is here with three sportswriters, including one intern, a couple of editors and one news reporter. In 2004, when the PGA Championship came to Whistling Straits in nearby Kohler, the paper covered it with seven sportswriters.
Erin Hills is a 2½-hour drive from downtown Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s golf writer is here, but no columnist. And the Tribune is covering for the L.A. Times, as they share a common owner. The Chicago Sun-Times also assigned a writer but no columnist.
The legacy golf publications, including Golf Digest and its digital affiliates, Golf Magazine and Golfweek, sent multiple writers, but the number of staffers at those publications has decreased.
National newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post are here along with USA Today, and some overseas newspapers. So is the New York Post and Newsday. But no seats are assigned to papers from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cincinnati or Dallas.
Perhaps San Diego would have sent a writer to follow hometown product Phil Mickelson if he were playing. San Diegans would have had a bonus story with Xander Schauffele, the former San Diego State player who is only five strokes off the lead going into today’s final round.
A placard reserves a spot for a writer from The Robesonian, a newspaper from Lumberton, N.C., home of contestant William McGirt. But no one occupied that seat Saturday. With McGirt out of contention, it’s unlikely there will be anyone there today.
So, who is taking their places?
Online publications such as Morning Read, which didn’t exist last year, is making its U.S. Open debut. Other websites such as pgatour.com, golfchannel.com and espn.com have multi-person crews covering the Open.
In addition, like most big-time college and pro sports teams, the USGA has its own media crew generating content for its website.
“We’re a web-based, news-generating site,” said Kowalski, whose crew operates usga.org.
Stephanie Wei, a social-media pioneer and former college golfer, started her “Wei Under Par” social-media community several years ago. She is one of the new-media types here. Since 2010, she has been a blogger and a tweeter, operating mostly on her own.
“I brought my Flip camera and started doing some YouTube videos and made it my life,” she said.
Today, she travels to fewer tournaments, but kids coming out of school view her as a role model.
They don’t want to work for newspapers anymore – even those that are left.
Barry Cronin, a former golf writer with the Chicago Sun-Times, is media director for the John Deere Classic and head of Cronin Communications. He lives in Park Ridge, Ill. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org