USGA Executive Director David Fay kindly returned my call (from the PGA Show in Orlando) to follow up on the USGA's enrollment in a private jet travel program and the committee's private aircraft policy that was first reported here.
Regarding the issue of Executive Committee purchasing 100 hours of flight time at a cost of at least $340,000, he responds:
I don’t see the issue. Compared to when I started when the likes of [Sandy] Tatum or [Harry] Easterly were president, the role of president has been expanded rather dramatically in terms of the amount of time that he or she has to spend. “Has to” might not be the right phrase for that. You’re talking about [a situation] somewhat like the PGA of America officers in terms of the amount of days on the road.
As for the reasons one might need to use the jet:
If a club is interested in a US Amateur or a US Open or Senior Open, perhaps they want to have the chairman of the championship committee go. Sometimes these places are not exactly on the beaten path.
As an example take last year, because I was just in meetings with Mr. Finchem on equipment, and he wanted to meet in Far Hills. The night before, Fred Ridley, Peter Dawson and myself were in Toronto for the RCGA centennial dinner for the Canadian Open. The dinner ends late. The only way you could get back. First of all, we wouldn’t have been able to have that meeting if that plane wasn’t available. So the three of us got on the plane and got into Morristown airport at something like quarter to twelve at night, got to the hotel, and we were able to start the meeting the next morning at 8. Those are the types of trips. I could give you some examples of the trips. I can’t come up with all of them because I don’t know what they all were.
Does it ease the travel? Sure. Does it make it easier for the president to say, "yes I’ll go to speak at the American Society of Golf Course Architects annual meeting." They’ll say fine, because I think if you didn’t have that it would be easier, particularly when they have a day job, to pass on that. Particularly in this post 9-11 era, it’s just a pain to get from point A to point B. Particularly if you are living in an area where maybe it’s not a hub.
As for the accountability issue and in particular the idea of the Audit Committee reporting to the president (who controls access to the jet):
Not just the president's expenses, the full committees’, are reviewed by everyone on that committee. You could say well, now it’s just the committee reviewing their own, but since you aren’t getting any stock options for being on the Executive Committee, there are independent thinkers and if they saw something that was suspicious, they would flag it.
Examples of trips that Mr. Fay could recall:
[Ridley] went to a First Tee oversight meeting in Kennebunkport, Maine. That’s probably a good one to use the plane on. I think Hutchinson. Never Bandon, Oregon. Because realistically you would have to stop a couple of times anyway. I don’t know what the type of jet it is, but I don’t believe it’s one that you could go from the west to the east coast without refueling.
Mr. Fay clarified that if the plane has to make stops for refueling, then the time saved is usually minimal and the cost was likely too prohibitive to okay a trip.
There was an issue with Paul Caruso, who is one of my favorites. There was a bank issue. He’s a banker. He had to be there for it. He made an inquiry into whether he could use the plane. The answer was yes, you can. In this case he wasn't going to save any time by using it because he'd have to make stops.
And regarding the question of "need" and the role of the USGA president in today's game, Fay had this to say.
It’s a more active role. Not to compare it to the old days, but the number of days that a Sandy Tatum or a Will Nicholson or a Jim Hand or a Bill Campbell or Bill Williams spend on the road paled compared to a Ridley, or MacKenzie or Bell or Holland and maybe Driver now. You never know. There may be a day that a USGA President that says no to all of this.
Mr. Fay kindly offered to provide more (but not all) examples of the trips taken and what USGA business they involved.