Jun 11, 2024 - Business

Inside the USGA's growing presence in Pinehurst

The U.S. Golf Association's offices in Pinehurst

The U.S. Golf Association's testing center and administrative offices in Pinehurst, building on the left, and the World Golf Hall of Fame, right. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

This week's U.S. Open in Pinehurst is not just a showcase of the best golfers in the world. It's a peek into the village's growing influence on the game since becoming the U.S. Golf Association's first "anchor site."

Why it matters: Beyond developing the official rules of the game and regulating the handicap scoring system, USGA's researchers and experts, many of whom are now based in Pinehurst, influence the future of the sport itself.

The big picture: The village has long been a hallowed totem of the golf world thanks to its famous Pinehurst No. 2 course and its golfing community.

  • It has never been more entwined with the USGA than it is now.

Catch up quick: In 2020, North Carolina legislators passed House Bill 807, which gave the U.S. Golf Association a $25 million incentive package to open an office in Pinehurst and make the No. 2 course a host for the U.S. Open every five to six years through 2047 — the most of any course.

Zoom in: In addition to the incentives, the Pinehurst Resort, which owns No. 2, donated seven acres to the USGA and gave the association a 150-year lease on the property.

  • On that land, the USGA has built a campus, designed by Raleigh architectural firm Clearscapes and finished months before the U.S. Open, that is home to 70 employees and the World Golf Hall of Fame, which moved to the village in May from St. Augustine, Florida.
  • The World Golf Hall of Fame has gotten 8,000 visitors in four weeks, according to a USGA spokesperson. The museum it operated in New Jersey got 4,100 visitors for the entire year.

Yes, but: The USGA's Research and Test Center and Green Section lab, also on the land, are where Pinehurst's influence on the game could grow even more.

The Test Center is responsible for ensuring all new golf equipment conforms to the standards of the game, with each manufacturer sending its equipment to the lab for testing.

  • It's where the USGA is now testing how to limit the distances that golf balls are allowed to travel — an issue that has arisen as courses struggle to expand to meet the capabilities of modern equipment.

The USGA's Green Section is a lab that researches how to manage courses more sustainably through turf grass innovation and promotes the use of native plants that use fewer resources. The USGA is the largest contributor to turf grass research in the world, Jordan Booth, a senior director at the Green Section, told Axios.

  • Pinehurst No. 2 has become a leading example of this, reducing its water usage significantly by changing the type of grass it uses and planting more native plants throughout the course.
  • The lessons from the research it funds will be shared from the Green Section throughout the golfing world and taught to students at Sandhills Community College's new USGA Greenkeeper Apprenticeship Program.

What they're saying: "Between our research programming being based here, our education program being based here, we're really taking [innovations found here] to the field," Booth said of the Green Section.

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