Last week, I received my initial membership packet from the USGA, which included my bag tag, hat, and slightly warped copy of the Rules of Golf. As I gleefully unwrapped my new toys, the question of why had I joined the USGA bubbled to the forefront of my mind. At first, panic crept up on me as I wondered if I had become the lowly sheep, blindly and joyful consuming a slick marketing campaign that appealed to my need to belong, to be important, to be “in.” Good God, I wondered, had I in fact become the prototypical moth-to-the flame, microwave attention span American that I used to mock so smugly?
Then, my blood pressure began to subside as I remembered that I joined the USGA because I love the game of golf. It’s that simple. I will display my snazzy new USGA bagtag and wear my 2014 USGA Member hat proudly, not because they confer any sense of superiority or because they’re particularly flashy accessories, but because I care about the game of golf and the golfing community.
I enjoy watching the PGA Tour Pros compete each weekend on television as much as the next guy, and I can recite the names of some of golf’s great champions and legendary golf courses. Sunday at Augusta National is the official beginning of spring in many parts of the country, and one would be hard pressed to get me off the couch that afternoon, as I envision myself walking those majestic Georgia hills. But as I grow older and realize I’m not going to win a U.S. Open, I find myself drawn to our local stories about our Lexington area golf courses, tournaments, and champions, because I don’t have to work hard to manufacture a personal connection to many of those tales. (For instance, I had the pleasure of meeting Gay Brewer Jr.once at the University Club, and now the golf course that bears his name is my home course, filled with his press clippings and memorabilia.)
I joined the USGA because I do believe in what the it stands for at its core, preserving and growing the game. I didn’t discover golf until after high school, until my baseball “career” had come to an unceremonious close. Baseball was my first love, a game that maybe more than any other sport is steeped in rich tradition and history. Likewise, I believe, the game of golf can’t be fully savored without an appreciation for the history and evolution of the game. It is the USGA that is charged with making sure that the game’s history and traditions are preserved. It’s the men and women making sure that the game remains fair, that golf’s basic rules apply in a logical way to the touring pro and the weekend hacker alike.
I joined the USGA because I enjoy keeping a handicap. The USGA Handicap Licensing System makes that possible for muni-course hackers like me, just like it does for members of the most exclusive country clubs. Also, admittedly, I’m a golf nerd, and after checking out the lengths of the Par 3’s, the very next thing I look at on a scorecard is the slope and course rating, which is largely made possible through the USGA Course Rating and Slope Database.
I joined the USGA because Gary McCord is right. In a recent interview with Golf.com, McCord gave a wonderfully blunt assessment about the state of golf. Said McCord, “Golf is in a tenuous situation with the current socioeconomic climate. I’m at the end of the baby boomers. We supported all these clubs, and now there’s nobody to tap us on the shoulder and take over our memberships because the game is too expensive, takes too long, and is too hard. People can’t invest so much energy into something that’s not giving them much in return. So how do you fill these clubs that are being depleted? That’s a problem.“
The Tiger Woods effect has crested and receded, as his popularity amongst many casual and would-be golfers took a nose dive after his extracurricular activities came to light and he stopped winning majors. It’s as if on some level, the night Woods wrecked his SUV into that tree was what Hunter S. Thompson described in Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas as, “the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” I’m afraid that the game of golf may be heading back to an exclusive game for old, white, wealthy men and their families. I don’t want that to be the future of the game, for golf to become competitive sailing or thoroughbred racing.
Nobody is perfect, and neither is the USGA. I’m sure there are politics, inside baseball, fiefdoms, and waste at the USGA, just like any other large organization. The USGA leaders may very well be pompous and autocratic. I don’t have a strong opinion on banning anchored putting or any of the other relatively recent “controversies” at the USGA or the R&A. It’s hard enough to keep all the existing rules of golf straight now, so I don’t think golfers need a new list of regulations to keep up with every few years. But I do believe that, at its core, the USGA looks out for the best interests of golf.
I joined the USGA because I want there to continue to be amateur championships, junior golf events, and flighted tournaments for golfers of all skill levels. I want my kids to take up the game of golf one day. I want to play golf with my grandchildren some day. I joined because I’m a golfer and there is no other game like it.
If you’re a golfer, too, please consider joining the USGA today.