Creating A Legacy: With A Bold Vision, LACC, The SCGA And The USGA Have Come Together To Invest In The Future Of The Game In Southern California
Los Angeles is a city with countless gorgeous vistas, both man-made and natural, and Gene Sykes has a view from his office that ranks right up there with the best of them. From the 26th floor of a skyscraper on Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City, he peers north, and literally across the street is the vast green expanse of The Los Angeles Country Club (LACC). It could be torture for an enthusiastic golfer to be close enough to seemingly touch some of the finest 36 golf holes in America, but Sykes is fortunate enough to have been a member of LACC for more than 20 years.
And from his perch, Sykes admits with a chuckle, he can pull out a pair of binoculars and check on his friends to see who’s taken the day off or to monitor the pace of play. He’s kidding, of course. “They all seem to be on their good behavior today,” Sykes says.
This is the most opportune time to have that view, because there has never been more to see at LACC than in 2023. The club has experienced an increased flurry of activity as it prepares to host the biggest tournament ever staged on the grounds — the 123rd U.S. Open — in June, and Sykes is more than just a happy member looking down on the proceedings. He happens to be LACC’s current president, and it’s under his literal and figurative watch that the 112-year-old facility and its North Course will soon be seen and celebrated by millions around the world.
“This is a defining moment for our club,” Skykes says.
An Investment In The Game
There are many layers in that statement. Yes, LACC wants to produce a memorable national championship for the city, which is hosting this professional major for the first time since 1948. It wants to show off a uniquely spectacular setting that combines a rugged layout that could have been plucked out of a National Park with the thick confluence of cars and glass towers and people in one of the busiest hubs in the second-largest city in America. It wants to display all that is great and bountiful about the region.
In the eyes of Sykes and many of the 1,500 members, that is still not enough. A lasting legacy, they contend, will only be established if they create ways for golf and the entire community to merge well into the future.
To that end, LACC, the USGA and the SCGA have established the FORE Youth: 2023 U.S. Open Community Legacy initiative. Led by LACC member Fred Terrell, the initiative is trying to raise $18 million, which will go toward the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation’s efforts to expand programming and services for thousands of more kids in the region and toward opportunities to invest in facilities that will ensure access and opportunity for kids who otherwise may not experience or participate in golf.
An initiative of this breadth and expense may be unprecedented in the history of the U.S. Open, and it is being championed by a country club that in the past didn’t seem to have much interest in providing a public glimpse of its treasures.
“There have always been a few (members) who said, ‘Do we really want to allow the rest of the world to come in and see this?’” Sykes admits. “But that has been massively overcome and overshadowed by this sense of pride and responsibility to share what we have in the best possible way.”
In an inspired move, the Legacy group secured the support of one of the most recognizable young faces in pro golf, Collin Morikawa. The multiple major champion, who grew up in La Cañada and honed his game at junior events around the region, said he was thrilled to be named as the honorary chair.
“What makes it so special is that we’re in L.A.,” Morikawa said. “This is where I’m from. To know that you’re going to be helping kids to not only fall in love with golf, but to also learn the lessons that golf represents and teaches, that’s the biggest thing.”
The USGA awarded the 123rd U.S. Open to LACC in 2014, three years before the club hosted the amateur Walker Cup between the U.S. and Great Britain & Ireland. It was the success of that event that began to stir anticipation for the upcoming national championship. As with all Opens, a championship committee was formed, and discussions began about the larger impact that the event could have.
Junior golf was identified as an area of interest, and just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, a meeting between LACC members and SCGA representatives was held to discuss the possibilities.
“We are going to make an investment in golf in this city,” said Legacy Chair Fred Terrell. “If the game is going to be healthy 50 years from now, we must give opportunities to kids from every corner, kids who don’t have the resources. They will learn to play the game and love the game, and they’ll be professional players, recreational players and instructors in the future.”
Full Steam Ahead
In the spotlight on the SCGA’s side was Kevin Gigax, the executivedirector of the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation. Now in his 16th year with the SCGA, Gigax laid out the enormous growth that the Foundation has enjoyed over the last decade, and he also discussed the programs that serve 2,000-plus kids annually at nine facilities in Southern California.
“The thing I’m most excited about,” Gigax said, “is that very few people know what the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation does. This will give us more visibility, and it creates more opportunity for people to join us in the mission of our work.”
Currently, the Foundation employs 23 full-time staffers and another 45 part-timers, the majority of whom work as coaches in the field to not only instruct kids in golf, but to be role models and mentors who create a culture of positive youth development.
As LACC member Dick Shortz, a co-chair of the U.S. Open Committee, and fellow member John Chulick said, “We were very impressed with the SCGA. We were impressed with the quality of their work in the lives of kids.”
The idea of the Community Legacy initiative was eventually solidified, and the Foundation brought into focus its goals: to expand the programming to 16 facilities and 10,000 kids; to provide financial support to “level the playing field” for juniors who would like to reach a higher level of competition but don’t have the funds to do so; and for the Foundation to become more sustaining through relationships with donors.
A renovation of the par-3, nine-hole Maggie Hathaway facility, with renowned golf architect Gil Hanse working up designs free-of-charge, is another priority of the initiative. There are both practical and symbolic benefits for a project at the course named for an African American woman of many talents, including writing and golf, who fought for diversity in the game. Sykes says the LACC board had a retreat at Hathaway in early 2023, and the members were quite taken with both the potential for the facility and the volunteer leadership of Glen and Mary Porter. The Porters run the Southern Area Youth Program, Inc., which has operated junior programming at Maggie Hathaway for more than three decades.
“It’s an important effort that we are all investing in golf in Los Angeles, golf in the community, golf for kids who wouldn’t have thought they’d have much access to this game,” Sykes says. “That’s the mission, and we’re starting down that path.”
There is still much money to be raised, and the LACC membership is full of powerful businesspeople who make big things happen in the city. Sykes is the former CEO of Los Angeles’ successful bid to host the 2028 Olympics, and last summer he was named chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. In the current FORE Youth fundraising, Sykes says several donors have contributed $1 million each, while some high-profile local companies that are purchasing hospitality for the championship have also committed to providing funds for the Community Legacy causes.
“There’s a tremendous amount of attachment to Los Angeles and a Southern California pride in this place,” Sykes says of the LACC membership. “When people are asked to do something that is really worthwhile, they respond.”
In other words, from that office window that overlooks The Los Angeles Country Club, the view has probably never been better.