Letter From Saugerties

From the former Executive Director of the USGA: 

Dear Geoff:  

I applaud your exposure of USGA JetGate.    

Don’t stop.   A revolt, with blood in the streets, is needed.  If you can’t become the Danton of that upsurge you could at least play Woodward and Bernstein.     
Flying members of the USGA Executive Committee hither and yon in leased jets, while it may so far have cost what you estimate to be  $340,000, is not about the money.  To that institution, whose investments have a street value of  about $300 million, leasing a jet equates to tip money.

What matters is the change in motivation for those aspiring to reach high office in the USGA. In our society there are two things that get many people of wealth off. One is appearing on television. The other is private jets. Having forced NBC to put them on television during USGA championships years earlier, they have now gone 2 for 2.

As far as I know, it is not above the law for entities labeled 501c3 for tax purposes to have their officers soar in the wild blue yonder on leased jets, but it’s something some people might want to think about when asked to contribute to the USGA members program. Signing on, of course, makes them a member of nothing.

The USGA says that JetGate is entirely open and above board. They point to an audit committee to approve jet travel – the audit committee consisting of themselves. Apparently it was nothing but an oversight that the signing of a lease for private jets was not put up on the USGA web site.  The answer to who has flown where is, “it’s none of your business.”

The argument posed for private jets seems to be there are new and terrible demands for the time of Executive Committee members, coupled with the USGA’s proclivity for scheduling events in citadels of the remote, e.g., Prairie Dunes in Hutchison, Kansas.

I’m afraid what it boils down to, besides the hubris, is that it was too much to ask outgoing president Fred Ridley, who lives in Tampa, to change planes in Chicago.

USGA officers travel more and spend more nights away from home because they get a kick out of it.  It makes them feel good.  Playing USGA is a delightful contrast with the dreary things they have to do to make a living.

As for travel time, I recall that the most important and successful USGA president in history was Richard S. Tufts,  who ran Pinehurst.  How long do you think it took Dick Tufts to get from Pinehurst to Union Station in Los Angeles by train prior to a US Open at Riviera?     Three and a half days, that’s how long. Then he had to get back too.

Wait. The USGA says there is also a hue and a cry for its officers, especially its president, to speak at dinners. Never mind that Fred Ridley is neither Daniel Webster nor Barack Obama. The demand for his presence and words, they say, exists.

Here’s what the USGA should do.  Like their brethren of the R&A  in Scotland they should create the position of  Captain, a person with no power who is garbed in a red jacket and goes about  making speeches. Nobody would object if the Captain’s expenses were paid.  The Captain might even go out with an iPod secreted in his sternum which would bleat out phrases like “We love this game”, “the ball does NOT go too far,” and “Michelle Wie most certainly was an amateur golfer.”

Ridley and Walter Driver, who will succeed Ridley at the USGA annual meeting on Feb. 4, have been the dominant USGA figures of the last l0 years.  If Queen Elizabeth was doing analysis for The Golf Channel she most term it the USGAs “decadus horriblus.”   The failure to regulate equipment ranks highest among the failures, but it is not isolated.

Look, an entity like the USGA definitely needs a governing board, but one that is focused on matters of grand policy, not on hole locations for the US Open. The most important thing the USGA executive committee does, by miles, is to name an executive director, the head of staff.  Absurdly, they try to function under the myth that the president is “the chief executive officer.”

There are 3 meetings of the Executive Committee per year.  They run a couple of days. In truth, to serve on an the executive committee requires only a showing up at those meetings IF the member reads what is sent to him and is capable of using a phone and E Mail. They are not needed at US Opens. If not one of them showed up at Winged Foot next June no one would notice the difference.

Sadly, they have become more surreptitious. It used to be true that changes in the by-laws were presented in writing for approval by the member clubs. That provision was struck down not long ago so that the committee itself could change the by-laws without dvising the membership in advance.

Soon they liberalized the expense compensation policy for themselves and then upped the ante in 2004 to jets.

When I pointed out in public that there was a by-law provision whereby any five USGA clubs could run a rump slate against the establishment slate they jumped the number to 20.
The senior staff knows better. Some of them cringe. But to cry out could mean that their kids might not be able to go to four year

I got a big kick out of executive director David Fay’s explanation to you of why the jets are needed.  He mused about the time away from home issue and then allowed as how, who knows, there could be a president who would come along and change all that.

Geoff, my man, that’s what is known as wishful thinking.


Frank Hannigan