2014 USGA ANNUAL MEETING
Remarks As Prepared By USGA President Thomas J. O’Toole Jr.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Past Presidents, Committee Members, Representatives of USGA
Member Clubs, members of Allied Associations, guests, friends and family:
Let me say first how excited and energized I am today to assume
the leadership of such a magnificent and noble organization as the USGA. More
importantly, let me also acknowledge how humble and how grateful I am that you
have bestowed such trust in me to do so. I can assure you that I am keenly aware
and quite mindful of the profound responsibilities that accompany the magnitude
of this role.
I want to congratulate my colleagues on the 2014 Executive
Committee for all they have achieved, and all they will achieve over the coming
year. Thank you for your support and I look forward to working with each of you
to build a stronger future for our Association and for the game.
To Gary Stevenson, I am sorry your business commitment to
Major League Soccer causes you to leave our Board early. Personally, I will miss your counsel and
support, but most importantly, I will miss your friendship. Your time here left a significant mark; you
will be sorely missed. Thank you for
your contributions, my friend.
I also would like to thank the gentleman who each and every
day leads the USGA staff from his heart and whose sole motivation is the
betterment of the game, Executive Director Mike Davis. Mike, thank you for your
friendship and for your support; know that you and your talented team of
professionals have my unequivocal support, and, I know also, the support of the
entire 2014 Executive Committee.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you something about
me: I love this game and I love the
United States Golf Association. Having
served the USGA for many years, I consider it the privilege of a lifetime to accept
this assignment as its 63rd president. To have a chance to be
involved in governing a game that I began a love affair with as a young boy, I
am so very blessed. I also consider this
a remarkable opportunity to give back to the game that has given so very much
to me. From my earliest exposure to golf, I have been acutely aware of the
power this game has to transform lives – mine included. And so…to follow in a
line of USGA leaders who have so generously given their time and talents to
fostering the traditions, character and values of the game is a responsibility that
I cannot and will not take lightly.
Each time we gather to elect a new USGA President, we bear
witness to the enduring strength of our organization and its role in the game. We
embrace anew the mission that was adopted by the representatives of the five
founding American golf clubs on that cold December evening in New York City in 1894. Where it was decided, in addition to that
mission, that our charge would be to: a)
conduct national championships; and b) write and interpret the Rules. We affirm that today this mission and these core
responsibilities still bind us together; and we are reminded that what makes
the USGA exceptional… is our collective, unwavering allegiance to this singular,
fundamental mission, which is:
States Golf Association promotes and conserves the true spirit of the game of
golf as embodied in its ancient and honorable traditions. It acts in the best
interests of the game for the continued enjoyment of those who love and play
Tonight, we again renew our absolute commitment to fulfill that
mission that was first elevated almost 120 years ago, and to continue the work
that bridges the meaning of those words with the challenges and opportunities that
the game and golfers face in 2014. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the real and
important work of today’s USGA.
We undertake this work and do so by jointly governing the
game world-wide with our partners at the R&A. This partnership embraces all
facets of governing the game, and most importantly our joint and collaborative
Rules-making functions. I firmly maintain the belief that we must continue to
strengthen our relationship with the R&A, a relationship that has never
been better, so that together we can demonstrate strong conviction in our
governance for the game and golfers around the world.
In recent years, the USGA has made genuine progress against
the core strategies that we have embraced in our strategic plan: a) to conduct
the best in class and the most exemplary championships in golf; b) to provide
worldwide excellence in governing the game; and c) to enhance our critical
services that support the game and those who play it. Our efforts and
investment in these three core strategies are critical to maintaining a game
that is vibrant and sustainable, as well as a game that is consistent with the
character, tradition and challenge that define golf and that have made it such
a compelling, enjoyable game for more than six (6) centuries. Building on the considerable
efforts of our predecessors – both volunteer and staff – we must continue to
strive for a game that is affordable, environmentally responsible, in balance
with modern lifestyles, and – maybe most importantly – welcoming and accessible
to all who wish to play. Failure in any of these areas could constitute a
significant threat to the game’s current and future health.
Securing the game’s health is indeed a critical role that the
USGA plays within the golf community. The golf industry is vast and multifaceted,
and it comprises countless dedicated individuals… who possess the skills,
experience and drive to grow the number of golfers participating in the game. Growing
the game is not our primary responsibility; rather, it is to ensure that the
game they are marketing and selling to consumers is consistent with the very
spirit and principles of equity upon which the game was founded. If we fulfill
our mission to provide a strong nucleus for the game, by being concerned with
the game’s health, we optimize the chance for the golf industry that surrounds
it to grow.
With that said, let me make one point perfectly clear; I and
the entire 2014 Executive Committee and staff are staunchly committed to those
core missions that were identified in that room in New York City in December of
1894. And equally committed to those
governance responsibilities that have been vested in us since that time! But if we are not also committed to the
services that support the game’s health, it begs the question will we have a game
Whether it is clarifying permissible golf strokes in Rule
14-1b and in so doing eliminating a controversial issue from the game, or
developing exciting new National Amateur Four Ball championships, or working
with our partners across the game to identify and advance effective solutions
to pick up the pace of the game…WHILE
WE’RE YOUNG…the USGA is working hard to sustain the game’s health.
Today’s USGA is poised to guide the game into the next
remarkable era in its history. From Asia to Latin America and beyond, the
return of golf to the Olympic Games in 2016 has spurred expansion around the
world, and in some countries golf is growing at a rate not seen since the early
20th century. With our second century of service well underway, the USGA is committed
to lead golf into the future, bringing out the very best the game has to offer
and opening up the game to new players and new cultures here at home and
throughout the world.
I personally can relate to that, and I would like to underscore
the importance of this concept. Like
many of you, I have the deepest respect for those dedicated individuals who
have spent a lifetime working to open up the game so that others could share in
its values, its beauty and its enjoyment. I share their personal commitment to
making the game more open and more accessible. This resonates with me because
this mindset grew out of my early years in the south section of the City of St.
Louis where I first learned the game. Back then, I could not help but notice
that most of my friends in the diverse Jesuit high school that I attended did
not play the game. Moreover, as I competed in junior events and regional
competitions, I could not understand why they were closed to public course golfers.
As an adult, with the understanding and passion to try and
make a difference, my love for golf has inspired me to attempt to open up the
In 1991, I, with others, established the first St. Louis
Metropolitan Amateur Golf Championship (now known as Metropolitan Amateur
Championship), which allowed public course and private club players to compete
against one another without regard to race or socio-economic background. One
year later in 1992, and building upon the path that was paved by that championship,
we founded the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association, the first association in
the region to welcome public facilities as members and service all golfers
without discrimination. Within its first four years, the MAGA expanded its
tournament schedule to include not only men’s and women’s championships, but
also championships for juniors and seniors. We grew to include 110 Member Clubs.
And we elected the first African-American to serve on the MAGA Board of
Directors and the first in the region to serve the game in a leadership
role. Today, the Metropolitan Amateur Golf
Association is one of that region’s largest state and regional golf associations,
serving the golf community in mid Missouri and central Illinois.
I recount these experiences not to simply list
accomplishments. Rather, I reference them to underscore the much greater point
that opening up the game of golf – making it more accessible and more welcoming
– is not done merely for the benefit of feeling good, or fulfilling an
expectation, or even just “doing the right thing.” Opening up the game of golf
is good for the game; period. In other
words, opening up the game to EVERYONE is good for ALL of us who play and love
Opening up the game is why we were honored to join with
Augusta National Golf Club and the PGA of America in 2013 to create the Drive,
Chip and Putt Championship for tens of thousands of kids across America. Just
two months from now, 88 young men and women will gather at Augusta National for
their chance to realize a dream. Opening up the game is also why later this year
we will launch qualifying for the inaugural National Four-Ball Championships
for men and women, and bring to our family of exemplary national championships
the format of play that is enjoyed every weekend by millions of golfers on
courses across this country.
Fostering a vibrant game worldwide is why we are proud to
partner with Augusta National Golf Club and The R&A to create the new Latin
America Amateur Championship, with the goal of expanding interest,
participation and access to the game in Central and South America, Mexico and
the Caribbean. Opening up the game is also why, for the past two years, we
fielded a team of young men and women who represent the finest in American
junior golf to compete against youth from China in an international friendship
match that has helped forge stronger ties between nations and their respective
golf communities. And as a demonstration of our commitment to elevate the U.S.
Women’s Open as the premier championship for women’s golf worldwide, we are
proud to be expanding qualifying outside the United States for the first time ever
in 2014, when we will conduct qualifiers in Great Britain, Japan, Korea and
This spirit of building an inclusive and more welcoming game
worldwide has become pervasive across many of our core functions beyond our
championships. For the past two years, the Rules Department has been engaged in
the development of a Basic Rules Education program that aims to demystify the
complexity of the Rules of Golf and thereby make the game more accessible to
beginners. Our Handicap and Course Rating Systems are already utilized in more
than 50 countries, on six continents. Nonetheless, our Handicap and Course Rating Department, along with our
Executive Committee and the R&A, is pursuing an initiative to create a
truly global handicap system that, if successful, will enable golfers the world
over to compete fairly against one another with one unified handicap system. With the establishment of the African-American Golf History Archive, the USGA
Museum is leading the way in collecting and preserving the stories and
artifacts of the pioneers who envisioned and brought about a more inclusive
game. I frankly cannot think of a more noble project or one that is more
emblematic of our commitment to tackle inclusiveness in the game.
While all of these efforts are critically important, they are
simply a start. The game has a significant legacy of exclusion and elitism that
we must collectively work to overcome. We must take responsibility for our own
shortcomings as an organization, both past and present, but we must not be limited
by who we have been. The opportunity – no the obligation – exists for us to
make a difference, and we must embrace and seize each and every chance for us
to do so.
It is for this reason that the USGA will commit significant resources
and energy in 2014 toward the creation of a comprehensive strategy for the
Association to help open up the game to audiences that have historically been
underserved by our industry. We are formulating a task force comprising Executive
Committee and staff leaders, thought-leaders from across the golf industry, and
thought-leaders from beyond golf, to identify and prioritize the best
opportunities for opening up the game and enabling greater participation by
minorities, women, juniors and golfers with disabilities. We applaud the
efforts of so many groups who have committed their energy and talents to these same
audiences; and we do not seek simply to supersede their efforts with an
abundance of new programs or initiatives. Rather, it is our goal to identify
the best practices and most impactful programs against which we can leverage
our considerable collective resources and influence to build a more welcoming
For us to succeed in providing meaningful leadership for the game
our mindset must be inclusive; and we must allow this mindset to influence the
way that we conduct our business; the way we engage with our constituents; and
the way that we build strong, impactful relationships throughout the game. We
are better when we are united; we are stronger when we uphold the best
interests of all of our diverse constituents. This is how I intend to
lead our organization, and I ask each of us – I challenge each of us – to identify
opportunities to demonstrate this same spirit in not just our words… but more
importantly in our actions.
This is an exciting time for the USGA. Our organization is
strong – in fact, it is stronger financially than it has ever been in our
history. We must leverage the strengths
of our considerable assets to further our strategic agenda. That agenda, as I
have stated here tonight, and reiterate again, comprises three central
strategies: a) to improve continuously our world-class championships; b) to provide,
together with the R&A, a clear and strong governance for the game
worldwide; and c) to enhance services to support the game by making the game
faster to play, more affordable, while opening the game to new audiences. And
for anyone who is wondering… this is where we will dedicate our resources.
As golf grows around the world, the questions we face are
profound, but the opportunities are immense and inspiring. What will the game
look like for our children and our grandchildren? What will the game look like
as it continues to expand around the world?
These are the questions that we must ask ourselves every day with
the conviction to fulfill the mission that our founders launched in that room
in NYC more than a century ago.
Tonight, I look at you, the passionate men and women of the
USGA, and I ask the threshold question. “What more can we do to ensure that the
game remains strong for the next one hundred years?”
With your help, with your vision and imagination, and with our
collective resolve by fulfilling that mission we will answer these
As I close, please indulge me as I extend some special notes
To my friends… who traveled here and took time away from
their families, businesses and their own lives to be here with me. Thank you
for your efforts and, most importantly, thank you for your friendship.
You cannot make your way to this place in an organization
without champions. I had many champions along the way – and yes I probably
needed more than most. To those who were
my champions you know who you are, thank you for standing by me because without
your committed support I would not be here tonight.
All of us as volunteers, without regard to the level of our
service, we simply cannot do what we do without a patient, generous,
loving and understanding support group. As
for me, I can tell you that I would unequivocally not be standing here tonight
without the unyielding support of my family, of course beginning with my lovely
wife, Julie. Julie, you are the rock of
our family and the love of my life.
Thank you for what you have sacrificed for my journey! To my sons, Zach and PJ, I love you both so
much, and look forward to growing our passion for this game that binds us. And Zach, you have such an important
stewardship with your little brother, PJ. Not that he has to have the passion for the game that you possess, or that he must play with skills as
wonderful as yours. But rather, you will
have taught him the very important attributes that golf has instilled in you: integrity,
sportsmanship and a respect for others.
I would also especially like to thank my parents who molded
me to who I am today, who reared me in a faith-based, Catholic home that introduced
me to this game at age 5. Mom and Dad, I
love you and thank you for sending me on this wonderful life journey. My debt to you both is immeasurable.
To all of you, I appreciate so much this honor – and it is an
honor and a privilege – to serve the USGA in this capacity and represent all of
you who devote your time, passion and skill to our Association – all in the
service of the game.
So many years ago, I was just a kid from the neighborhoods of
South St. Louis. And this game – golf – has taken me places I never could have
imagined. Along the way it has taught me profound lessons about the importance
of integrity and sportsmanship. It challenged me to carry on in the face of
adversity. It blessed me with friendships that will endure a lifetime. And it
gave me the courage to believe in myself.
I stand before you tonight with the full confidence that golf
has made me a better person. And I stand here with the strongest of convictions
that we, as leaders of the USGA, as leaders of the game, are obliged to pass
along these same gifts, these same blessings, to the next generation. We must always
ensure that the USGA remains strong, so that our commitments to the game – for
the players of today and tomorrow – will continue to flourish.
So, allow me now to leave you with my heartfelt and sincere
promise…I am so blessed to have this opportunity, and am fully aware that it
requires humility. Please know I will endeavor to give my very all back to the
game that has given so much to me. And I challenge each and every one of you to
join me in this effort. Why; for the
good of the game.
Thank you so much. May God bless you all and may God watch over
the United States Golf Association.