News & Opinion

USGA comes through pandemic in position to thrive

USGA Mike Davis 2020 U.S. Open
Mike Davis, the USGA’s chief executive, says the association listened to players when they said they want to go to the best sites for the U.S. Open and return there more often.

Golf recovers quicker than other sports as the USGA stands to benefit, and reuniting with NBC to televise the U.S. Open will help

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The global coronavirus pandemic has hurt just about everyone, unless you were invested in certain pandemic stocks such as Zoom. Then, you would be one of the lucky few to profit off of an infection that still is not under control.

Golf is in the unique position to have suffered early from the effects of the pandemic, when courses closed and professional golf went on a months-long hiatus. Remarkably, the game staged a comeback, with many recreational golfers either returning to the sport or being introduced to it.

Equipment sales have rebounded strongly, and courses are full of happy participants.

The major professional tours also experienced a resurgence, with the PGA, LPGA and European tours playing weekly and few positive COVID-19 tests amongst the participants.

The USGA, which administers this week’s U.S. Open here at Winged Foot Golf Club, is not in the same place as the major pro tours, but the association will enjoy support for its goals and objectives.

Generally, the revenue from U.S. Open week funds about 75 percent of the USGA’s annual needs. Though this week will generate considerable revenue for the nonprofit USGA through its domestic and international TV contracts and digital-rights fees, other significant revenue will be lost. Spectators will be banned from the grounds for the 16th consecutive event since the PGA Tour resumed play June 11.

“There's obviously millions [of dollars] from admissions. There's merchandise onsite, corporate hospitality,” said USGA CEO Mike Davis, listing some of the usual revenue streams. “And we won't see those this year. So, our revenues will indeed be down, but I will say this, that the USGA is very solid financially. We have always been conservative about our monies.”

Being a fiscally conservative organization does not make it any easier for the USGA to address the millions in lost revenue, but a decision earlier this year will position the USGA for a better future.

In June, Fox Sports opted out of its 12-year contract after having broadcast only five national opens. The USGA returned to NBC, its domestic broadcast partner from 1995 through 2014.

Though Fox eventually produced acceptable programming, it never had the same passion for golf that NBC showed over its two decades of expansive coverage.

That coverage not only enhanced viewership of the U.S. Open, but also of the USGA’s other professional and amateur championships as golf fans were treated to more comprehensive coverage of the lesser-known events.

The move gives the USGA a more supportive and innovative broadcast partner, an unusual benefit of the pandemic.

This week at Winged Foot, the 120th U.S. Open could be a turning point for the USGA.

With a solid broadcast partner and policy changes announced last week that established Pinehurst Resort as an anchor course in a future U.S. Open rotation, similar to what the British Open does, the U.S. Open faces a new trajectory. Pinehurst, the 10-course complex lauded as the “home of American golf,” will play host to five U.S. Opens through 2047.

“We just believe after talking to a lot of the players who play in U.S. Opens, a lot of our past champions, they communicated a consistent message, saying,We want to go to the best sites, and we want to go there more often,” Davis said. “And that really led the Championship Committee to make that decision.”

So, with the Winged Foot open starting Thursday (tee times), the USGA is on the move in a different and more promising direction. Though it’s impossible to navigate around every potential pitfall, such as the distance debate that will come to a head at some point soon, the moves in recent months will support the USGA.

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