By Michael Bamberger
Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Some good news: the USGA is not laying off anybody. The organization, which has 300 employees, most of whom work at the headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., has not had to make any cuts even though the economy is slinking along with the needle almost on empty. David B. Fay, the USGA's longtime executive director, is grateful for that. There are benefits, he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, "to being a not-for-profit."

\n The USGA endowment, invested in a wide-range of stocks and bonds, has taken a significant hit in the past year, down roughly 30 percent and hovering at around the $200 million mark. But the big four corporate backers of the USGA — American Express, RBS, Lexus and IBM — have not had to renegotiate any of the terms of their commitment to the USGA, which promotes and administers the game in the United States and Mexico and runs the various U.S. Opens, for men and women and seniors, and the national titles for amateurs. The purses for all the 2009 professional championships are expected to be at least the same as they were for 2008, Fay said, and every player in each of the professional championships should be able to get use of a Lexus for the week. (Tour players, accustomed to courtesy cars week in and week out, are preparing themselves for life without free rides plastered with ads for most run-of-the-mill events.)

\n The USGA's various TV contracts, most notably with NBC, run through 2014. The U.S. Open, to be held this year at Bethpage Black, part of a state park on Long Island, is the only money-maker of the various USGA championships. Fay says that this year's Open might make less money if the sluggish economy hurts merchandise sales. But despite the dire financial condition of the State of New York, Fay said he had recently heard from Governor David Paterson, who said that the state fully expected to fulfill all its obligations to the championship.

\n For the past decade or so, because of the robust returns on Wall Street, the USGA has become a major participant in golf philanthropy, giving away as much as $10 million some years to programs including The First Tee and Play Golf America. (Fay noted that the USGA gives more to The First Tee than the PGA Tour.) With the downturn in the market, Fay said the USGA's ability to support various organizations would be curtailed, maybe significantly. He could not say to what degree. But the core services provided by the USGA — running championships and testing equipment and advising on turf management and explaining the rules — will not change.

\n "When a guy calls and says, `What's the rule if I my ball finishes on a cart path?,' we don't make any money from that," Fay said. "But that's what we do."

\n Fay expects that there will be private clubs that turn into public courses and that many courses will find ways to get by with diminished use of water, pesticides and fertilizer. He doesn't think there will be large numbers of courses simply closed due to lack of business. For one thing, Fay noted, what are course owners going to do with their land? It's not like developers are gobbling up unimproved land for housing projects.

\n The USGA will continue to promote the game, and itself, through the public service announcements it runs during the U.S. Open and other championships. The organization is not likely to spend a lot of money making new ones, but Fay said they may make the spots newsier. For instance, Mike Davies, the USGA official who runs the championships, could do something live about course conditions and setup. In any event, Fay said, "we can always trot out the one where the kid makes the hole in one."

\n In good times and in bad, a hole in one is perfection itself.

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