Who is the USGA and Why Are They Taking Away My Belly Putter?
By bkuehn1952 on 10/19/12
The man needs no introduction by now, but at oob we believe those who deserve to be recognized should be recognized. Therefore, it's is my greatest pleasure to share with you Brian "bkuehn1952" Kuehn's latest submission. And in case you missed any of his 35 previous posts, I've linked them out here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Enjoy!

There has been a great deal of speculation about a pending Rules change related to long and belly putters and/or the technique of anchoring the putter to some part of one's body. The decision will be rendered jointly by the USGA and the R&A. So just what is the USGA and who is going to make this decision?

The history of the USGA begins in 1884. Two separate "National Amateur Golf Championships" were held at Newport Country Club and St. Andrews Golf Club (NY). Charles B. MacDonald, perhaps a sore loser, advocated the formation of a national association to govern golf in the USA and conduct a single recognized national championship. The Amateur Golf Association of the U.S. (soon to be re-named the USGA) was subsequently formed on December 22, 1884. Perhaps not coincidentally, the first winner of the USGA's Amateur Golf Championship was none other than Charles B. MacDonald in 1895.

The original members of the USGA were the Newport Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, The Country Club, St. Andrews Golf Club (NY) and the Chicago Golf Club. At the time, there were really no public access courses so one could say the USGA was the creation of private golf clubs. These clubs essentially saw a power vacuum and created a solution. As time passed, in the absence of a rival organization, the USGA took upon itself the responsibility of rules, handicapping and equipment standards in addition to their original purpose of holding a recognized national golf championship.

The USGA, created by private clubs, is ultimately run by its member private clubs. Public access courses and/or other golf facilities may be members but voting is restricted to clubs (i.e. private clubs). No private individuals vote for the USGA board members, just clubs. Typically the board will approach a person known to them and ask them to consider joining the board. If the individual consents, the member private clubs are presented the selected nominee for subsequent election.

Many of us oobers likely are "members" through the USGA Members program. This "membership" program started in 1975 and originally we were more accurately called "associates." The "membership" provides no voting rights or playing privileges but one does get a nifty hat. Other gifts are given in relation to the size of one's donation.

The USGA is a charitable, tax exempt, 501(c)(3) organization. As charities go, it is fairly large. The USGA reported revenue of $264,436,913 in 2010, the last year for which I have access to data. Revenue exceeded expenses by $33,294,663 in 2010 and the organization had assets of $300,810,069.

Currently there are 16 board members. Thirteen are male and three female. All are leaders in the legal and business world. Most are pretty darn good golfers, too. Of the members I could look up, ten sport single-digit handicap indexes (the low being 0.2). The highest index, belonging to one of the ladies, is 17.3. Unless your index is under 12.2 you will be getting strokes from any of the other board members.

None of the 14 board members records I could access is a public course player. One maintains a handicap at both a private and a public course. The rest are strictly private clubbers. The board averages 2.4 memberships each with a couple holding 4 to 5 memberships at private clubs. The clubs that claim these people as members include Cypress Point, Cherry Hills, Oakmont, Merion and Baltusrol.

So you can see, the people making the ultimate decision on long or belly putters and the technique of anchoring the putter are just regular golfers like you and me. Sure, they may seem like a bunch of stuffed shirts but certainly they won't take away our over-sized putters, will they?

Okay, my fellow British oobers, how about one of you giving your American cousins a little background on the R&A!

This was written by Brian Kuehn, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.

Have an idea for a guest column? Send it here!

Image via Flickr, Keith Allison

[ comments ]
Torleif Sorenson says:
Brian, 1000 points for some excellent research and for teaching me a few things I never knew about the USGA board.
Matt McGee says:
Interesting article. I learned some things, as well. It doesn't really surprise me, though, that the board is made up of mostly high-brow private club players. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with Billy Beerguzzler from the local par-3 course making USGA decisions.
joe jones says:
Brian, Thank you for a very well written article. Much of the info was unknown to me. The main problem I have with the USGA bigwigs is, being rich doesn't make you immune from being as dumb as a box of rocks.
DougE says:
Good work Brian, as always.
BrettAvery says:
A few clarifications should be noted:

—The USGA was formed in 1894, not 1884.

—While the five original clubs were private, quite often municipalities themselves blunted efforts to grow "public" golf. Boston, for example, denied initial applications for a course in Franklin Park, although it did allow a one-day "experimental" nine-hole layout in Dec. 1890. Once the USGA was born the park had an official nine-hole layout by spring 1896. It hosted 40k rounds in 1900. "Public" golf quickly grew larger than the number of private players and clubs and has remained that way.

—The USGA is an organization of member clubs, courses and facilities, the vast majority of which are municipal or daily fee (public). A nominating committee offers an annual slate for the USGA's Annual Meeting. Any member club has the power to vote against the slate and there are provisions for alternate nominations. The custom, however, is that the slate is unopposed and the secretary ultimately casts one vote for the slate.
bkuehn1952 says:
@Brett - thanks for the clarification on the dates. I originally had it as 1994 and further screwed it up when I tried to fix that typo.
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