An Open Legacy: Ensuring A Future For The Game of Golf
GOLF PUT ON A GREAT SHOW DURING U.S. OPEN WEEK IN L.A., with Wyndham and Rory duking it out until the 72nd hole. The Los Angeles Country Club gave us a venue worthy of the artistry of the world’s top pros. All the while — before, during and after the Open juggernaut rolled through town — the USGA did what it does so well: It honored the game of golf by contributing to the host community.
Giving back, in fact, is why the USGA exists. Unlike other pro sports organizations such as the PGA Tour, NFL, NBA, etc., the USGA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Everything they do and every dollar they raise is in support of the game. That means supporting the communities wherever they visit, and extending the reach of the game to embrace all those who love it — including underserved and overlooked segments of the population.
As USGA CEO Mike Whan put it: “Year-over-year, host communities welcome the U.S. Open, and we recognize the importance of investing back into them to leave a legacy that is felt beyond our game. We are fortunate to have partners like the SCGA and LACC who believe in the power that golf can have on a community and will continue to collaborate on initiatives that create more opportunities for people to work, play, experience and enjoy the game.”
Those initiatives also include a vision for the future of golf — what golf will look like 20, 30, 50 years from now — and ensuring that the game will continue to thrive in the face of a changing climate.
So while most of the hubbub during Open week was centered around the competition on the course, the USGA was focused on its four-part Community Engagement Program.
Community Giveback: Maggie Hathaway
Each year the USGA identifies and contributes to a single project that elevates accessible, affordable golf in the area around the host community. This year’s USGA giveback came in the form of a $1 million donation toward the restoration of the Maggie Hathaway GC. The nine-hole, par-3 county course in South LA makes golf accessible to thousands of inner-city golfers, and particularly to juniors.
Not only will the course be renovated under the direction of architect Gil Hanse, who is donating his design services, but it will also involve building a learning center and expanding programming for LA-area juniors. The project is a joint effort known as Fore Youth, spurred by the SCGA, LACC and LA County, among other organizations and donors, whose goal is to raise $18 million in support of junior golf throughout Southern California.
The Maggie Hathaway project epitomizes the USGA’s commitment to supporting and expanding the game. The course hosts an average of 20,000 rounds a year, and a significant percentage of its players are juniors and people of color. The course is named for Maggie Mae Hathaway (1911–2001), the African- American actor, singer and activist who championed equality in golf.
A kickoff event at the start of Open week brought together Whan, key community groups including the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation, Southern Area Youth Program, Inc., the Tee Divas and Tee Dudes Golf Club, the Latina Golfers Association and APGA pro Aaron Grimes. “Growing up playing Maggie, I didn’t think something like this would happen,” said Grimes. “It’s long overdue. Golf is a game for everyone to play. It teaches you about core values. When the local kids get involved, their lives start changing for the better.”
Supporting DEI: Pathways Internship Program
As part of its commitment to support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in host communities, the USGA created the Pathways Internship Program, devoted to introducing underrepresented college and graduate students to career opportunities within the $102 billion golf industry. This year’s immersive program ran from June 10–19, bringing together 20 paid interns to participate in hands-on training and the opportunity to shadow USGA team members in such functions as broadcasting, communications, corporate hospitality, merchandising, ticket sales, agronomy and course setup. Half of the student participants were from the LA area. Said SCGA Junior scholar Stephanie Fernandez, “I loved receiving a behind-the-scenes look at the USGA community and all the numerous ways we may navigate our careers and perspectives. I [also] met and interacted with an incredible group of peers who genuinely made this experience memorable.”
Reducing Carbon Footprint: Green Team and More
As a signatory to the UN Sports for Climate Action program, the USGA is committed to reducing the climate footprint of its championship events. Building on last year’s Reduce, Renew and Reinvest program, which eliminated more than 700,000 single-use plastics, this year’s Open featured aluminum cups, aluminum water cans and water refill stations. (Aluminum is more readily converted into new products than single-use plastics.) Ubiquitous signage and a Green Team of UCLA student volunteers helped guide spectators to dispose of their vessels and compostables into the appropriate receptacles. Partnering with Waste Management, the USGA measured the event’s climate footprint for the second year following significant waste diversion, energy reduction and water conservation planning.
2023 Leadership Initiative: USGA Water Resilience Project
Each year, the USGA connects one of its priority initiatives with the local host site. This year’s initiative rings relevant to all Southern Californians, even after our wet winter: the USGA Water Resilience Project. The project commits the Association to a $30 million investment in practicable solutions for golf courses to reduce their water use by as much as 45 percent over the next 15 years.
The initiative has profound relevance in ever-thirsty Southern California, and some of its most promising research is coming out of our region. UC Riverside is leading the way in developing new turf varieties — notably, Bermuda and Kikuyu grasses that are both drought-resistant and retain their color in winter. The USGA is among the supporting sponsors of that research.
The project extends well beyond research to promote solutions that can help ensure a future for golf: reducing irrigated acreage, using sensors to inform greenkeepers and using reclaimed water. Eight of LA’s municipal courses already irrigate with reclaimed water.
Of course, a major part of the Water Resilience Project amounts to consciousness-raising — educating golfers to appreciate firm playing conditions versus ultra-lush and green. That’s fitting, because consciousness-raising underlies all the USGA initiatives on display during Open week, from reducing carbon footprint to showcasing career pathways to renovating a beloved municipal course. They all represent USGA values dedicated to ensuring a bright future for the game of golf.