New USGA President Tom O’Toole Jr. challenges golf leaders to strive for a game that is welcoming and accessible to all who wish to play at USGA Annual Meeting held February 8th at Pinehurst Village, NC.
As an adult, with the understanding and passion to try and make a difference, my love for golf has inspired me to attempt to open up the game.
In 1991, I, with others, established the first St. Louis Metropolitan Amateur Golf Championship (now known as Metropolitan Amateur Championship), which allowed public course and private club players to compete against one another without regard to race or socio-economic background. One year later in 1992, and building upon the path that was paved by the championship, we founded the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association,. the first association in the region to welcome public facilities as members and service all golfers without discrimination. Within its first four years, the MAGA expanded its tournament schedule to include not only men’s and women’s championships, but also championships for juniors and seniors. We grew to include 110 Member Clubs. And we elected the first African-American to serve on the MAGA Board of Directors and the first in the region to serve the game in a leadership role. Today, the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association is one of that region’s largest state and regional golf associations, serving the golf community in mid Missouri and central Illinois.
I recount these experiences not to simply accomplishments. Rather, I reference them to underscore the much greater point that opening up the game of golf – making it more accessible and more welcoming – is not done merely for the benefit of feeling good, or fulfilling an expectation, or even just “doing the right thing.” Opening up the game of golf is good for the game; period. In other words, opening up the game to EVERYONE is good for ALL of us who play and love this game.
Opening up the game is why we were honored to join with Augusta National Golf Club and the PGA of America in 2013 to create the Drive, Chip, and Putt Championship for tens of thousands of kids across America. Just two months from now 88 young men and women will gather to Augusta National for their chance to realize a dream. Opening up the game is also why later this year we will launch qualifying for the inaugural National Four-Ball Championship for men and women, and bring to our family of exemplary national championships the format of play that is enjoyed every weekend by millions of golfers on courses across this country.
Fostering a vibrant game worldwide is why we are proud to partner with Augusta National Golf Club and The R&A to create the new Latin America Amateur Championship, with the goal of expanding interest, participation an access to the game in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Opening up the game is also why, for the past two years, we fielded a team of young men and women who represent the finest in American junior golf to compete against youth from China in an international friendship match that has helped forge stronger ties between nations and their respective golf communities. And as a demonstration of our commitment to elevate the U.S. Women’s Open as the premier championship for women’s golf worldwide, we are proud to be expanding qualifying outside the United States for the first time ever in 2014, when we will conduct qualifiers in Great Britain, Japan, Korea and China.
This spirit of building an inclusive and more welcoming game worldwide has become pervasive across many of our core functions beyond our championships. For the past two years the Rules Department has been engaged in the development of a Basic Rules Education program that aims to demystify the complexity of the Rules of Golf and thereby make the game more accessible to beginners. Our Handicap and Course Rating SYstems are already utilized in more than 50 countries, on six continents. Nonetheless, our Handicap and Course Rating Department, along with our Executive Committee and the R&A, is pursuing an initiative to create a truly global handicap system that, if successful, will enable golfers the world over to compete fairly against one another with one unified handicap system. With the establishment of the African-American Golf History Archive, the USGA Museum is leading the way in collecting and preserving the stories and artifacts of the pioneers who envisioned and brought about a more inclusive game. I frankly cannot think of a more noble project or one that is more emblematic of our commitment to tackle inclusiveness in the game.
While all of these efforts are critically important, they are simply a start. The game has a significant legacy of exclusion and elitism that we must collectively work to overcome. We must take responsibility for our own shortcomings as an organization, both past and present, but we must not be limited by who we have been. The opportunity – no the obligation – exists fur us to make a difference, and we must embrace and seize each and every chance for us to do so.
It is for this reason that the USGA will commit significant resources and energy in 2014 toward the creation of a comprehensive strategy for the Association to help open up the game to audiences that have historically been under served by our industry. We are formulating a task force comprising Executive Committee and staff leaders, thought-leaders from across the golf industry, and thought-leaders from beyond golf, to identify and prioritize the best opportunities for opening up the game and enabling greater participation by minorities, women, juniors and golfers with disabilities. We applaud the efforts of so many groups who have committed their energy and talents to these same audiences; and we do not seek simply to supersede their efforts with an abundance of new programs or initiatives. Rather, it is our goal to identify the best practices and most impactful programs against which we can leverage our considerable collective resources and influence to build a more welcoming environment.
For us to succeed in providing meaningful leadership for the game our mindset must be inclusive; and we must allow this mindset to influence the way that we conduct our business; the way we engage with our constituents; and the way that we build strong, impactful relationships throughout the game. We are better when we are united; we are stronger when we uphold the best interests of all our diverse constituents. This is how I intend to lead our organization, and I ask each of us – I challenge each of us – to identify opportunities to demonstrate this same spirit in not just our words… but more importantly in our actions.
This is an exciting time for the USGA. Our organization is strong – in fact, it is stronger that it has ever been in our history. We must leverage the strengths of our considerable assets to further our strategic agenda. That agenda, as I have stated here tonight, and reiterate again, comprises three central strategies: a) to improve continuously our world-class championships; b) to provide, together with the R&A, a clear and strong governance for the game worldwide; and c) to enhance services to support the game by making the game faster to play, more affordable, while opening the game to new audiences. And for anyone who is wondering… this is where we will dedicate our resources.
Click here to view a short video of O’Toole speaking at the 2014 Annual Meeting: USGA President Thomas O’Toole Speech