Nonconforming Driver Reaction: A Business?

driver.jpgThere is a lot to consider in Chris Millard's Golf World cover story on the USGA and Walter Driver, and over the next few days I'm going to try and flesh out a few of the points. The one missing component of the piece (and not Millard's job in my view), is an explanation of what all of the various shenanigans have to do with the governance and betterment of the game.

I think some of the early comments from readers fairly question whether the story was a little too focused on Driver and not hard enough on the Executive Committee as a group.

However, I would counter that it's the Driver's of the world who, along with the Reg Murphy's of the world, have taken the USGA down a path that has it running away from its core mission ("For the good of the game") while becoming obsessed with the bottom line, corporate shilling and self-aggrandizement.

The groupthink mentality that started at the top with the likes of Fred Ridley, has continued under Driver's reign and has crept into the thinking of past presidents, is captured nicely in this early passage.

Proponents of Driver say he has single-handedly shaken the USGA out of a slumber induced by the influx of cash the USGA fell into when it reconfigured its television rights contracts in 1994. They say he has tried to inject into a bloated USGA some badly needed business principles (the title of Driver's speech at the USGA's annual meeting in San Francisco last February was "The USGA As An Organization And A Business"). Detractors, many of whom see the USGA as a charitable organization first, say Driver has imposed his will on its culture and that his administration has disenfranchised everyone from Golf House staffers (those who work at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.) to equipment manufacturers to the organization's once-revered past presidents.

"I would say his effort to instill a new level of business-like procedure at the USGA has been important," says Reg Murphy, USGA president in 1994-95 and the man who authored the association's lucrative TV move from long-time partner ABC to NBC in 1994. "He's tried to create a more business-like organization. There are people who resist that idea, by the way, that the USGA ought to operate like a business."

Asked if some of those steps have rattled the culture, Murphy replies, "There's not any question about that."

Okay, so let's say the business side of the organization was not well run and needed tidying up? (Because Lord knows, the course setups were so good over the last decade.)

Then how does this explain the news first revealed on this site by Frank Hannigan, and later confirmed in the USGA Annual Report, that for the first time that anyone can recall, the USGA lost a lot of money. That's $6.1 million in this new, leaner, meaner Driver led operation.

Well you say, there were buyouts of bloated contracts and unnecessary staff, right?

Uh no.

So it seems that the only thing "business-like" about the USGA is that the leadership takes on unnecessary perks, they cut staff benefits and in general, leaves messes behind for the next regime to solve.