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June 17, 2009
FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK
BETH MURRISON: Good morning. Thank you for being here at the 2009 U.S. Open USGA press conference. We're happy to have you here today.
I'd like to introduce the three gentleman here on the dais: Jim Vernon, the president of USGA, Jim Hyler, vice president of USGA and chairman of the championship committee, and to my immediate left here is David Fay, executive director of the USGA.
I'd like to turn it over to Jim Vernon who has a few comments of introduction.
JIM VERNON: I can't tell you how excited we are to be back here at the Black Course at Bethpage State Park.
To start with, I just want to thank the State of New York, the citizens and residents of Long Island and the State for inviting us back for the 109th United States Open Championship.
It's hard to believe it's been a year since that magic at Torrey Pines last year. I'm not sure that we can duplicate that drama, but we certainly have every bit of golf course in the stage set so that the best players in the world can demonstrate why that's exactly what they are.
By the end of this year, the USGA will crown 13 National Champions. We'll also have a Men's and Women's State Team Championship, and in the fall we will have our Walker Cup team defend the Cup at Merion. It's going to be a great year for us. But, of course, starting off the championship season is our premiere most visible event, the U.S. Open championship.
In 1996, the USGA took that historic step of announcing that we would conduct the 2002 U.S. Open here at Bethpage Black Course. The first time we would be conducting a National Championship, the U.S. Open National Championship on a truly public course.
It was only fitting that Bethpage be the first site that would have as a municipal facility or state-owned facility conduct the U.S. Open Championship. Back when the Black Course was established and built, AW Tillinghast, of course, was the primary designer, architect, working on the course. Tillinghast had a very important role, both here and around the country afterwards, in promoting and recognizing the importance of public golf. He devoted a considerable amount of his time after his work here to building and helping build public facilities around the country.
And it is only fitting again then that we recognize that by being here at Bethpage. And, of course, the USGA is firmly committed to public golf, and our conducting the Championship here is one example of it.
Since we were here in 2002, of course, we had another great U.S. Open on another municipal facility at Torrey Pines last year.
In addition, we've announced that we will be taking the 2015 U.S. Open to another public facility, Chambers Bay, up in the Pacific northwest, in Washington. Again, our continued commitment to public golf.
Of course, we can go to public facilities and we hope to go to public facilities around the country. There is nothing like conducting a National Championship here in the New York area.
We saw in 2002 what came to be called the "People's Open" and although the U.S. Open, we consider really especially because it's truly an Open. This year we only have 72 exempt players into the field. The rest of the field played their way into this Open; from 9,000 entries we ended up with our field of 156.
That's what the Open's all about. Combine that with, again, New York and the fans here, this is really something special. We saw it in 2002, and I'm pretty confident we'll see it again this year.
As good as the Open was in 2002 here, and as great as the Open was last year, every year we try to make the Open Championship a little bit better. Jim Hyler will be talking about a few refinements that were made to the golf course itself and what we hope to accomplish by that.
But inside and outside the ropes every year we want to make the experience a little bit better, not just for the players, but for everybody who comes out here and watches this Open.
And even for those who can't make it out here, those who are in the office or at home, we're trying to provide platforms digitally, and of course with our broadcast partners, so everyone can be a part of this United States Open Championship. If you go to www.usopen.com, there's a lot of ways you can really enjoy the golf course, get to know about the golf course and follow the action there, as well as with our broadcast partners.
One of the other things that we've done that we are going to do a little bit differently, not here at Bethpage, but on Monday we announced that for the very first time we would conduct the U.S. Open in the United States women's Open back-to-back on the same golf course at Pinehurst No. 2. We are really excited about it, and judging from the reactions we've seen in the media and from player reactions, there are a lot of people who are pretty excited about it, as well.
It gives us a great opportunity to showcase the women golfers, in particular, and the Women's Open. But it's going to be a great experience one week to the next, men and the women; it's a great opportunity for us.
And I would like to thank Bob Dedman and Don Padgett from Pinehurst who are here today. Thank you for being here. We're really looking forward to extending the partnership we've had with Pinehurst. It's going to be a great 2014.
Final note before I turn it over to Jim Hyler. No secret that we're having difficult economic times. Everybody in this room, I know, is familiar with it. We all are.
But it is, therefore, really important, I think, to stress a couple of things. First of all, the United States Open is going to bring a lot of financial benefits to the Long Island area and to this regional area; a number of different economic studies have been performed, and I'm certainly not expert in any of those.
But I do know last year, for example, at Torrey Pines, the numbers were as high as $140 million of positive economic impact brought to the San Diego area last year. And I would expect that the number this year, both in Long Island and in the regional area, which should be just about as great here. So this is a great benefit to the people of New York and others in surrounding states, as well.
The golf industry is having a tough time. We certainly have felt the effects here and some of the revenue streams we would expect, particularly with corporate hospitality.
But what I'm particularly concerned about, and just my last comment, and some in this room have taken this up themselves, and I appreciate it and thank you for doing so -- golf is a great sport.
There are so many positive things that go along with the game of golf. The values, the people who play, the camaraderie. This is a great sport. And we are thankful that corporations find it to their advantage to be associated with the game of golf.
We are thankful that they do so, because the net economic effect, again, for the industry of golf, is $61 billion part of our economy. Millions of jobs. Charities last year benefited to the tune of estimated $3.5 billion because of golf tournaments and championships like this one here at the United States Open Championship.
I can tell you the United States Golf Association is itself a nonprofit. We are the regulatory body of golf here in the United States and Mexico, and many of our programs spend money; they don't generate money, the vast majority do. And we need revenue streams in order to perform and conduct our operations and to accomplish our mission.
So the game of golf is great. It does a lot of good things. Let's not forget that.
And so, once again, thank you all for being here. Thank you state of New York, people of Long Island and the state. It's great to be here. We're looking forward to having an absolutely great week. Jim.
JIM HYLER: Thank you, Jim, and ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It's nice to see all of you here. We have some nice things to talk about.
Before I get into comments about the 2009 Championship and Bethpage Black, I want to make an announcement relating to three future championships.
First, the 2011 Amateur Public Links and Women's Amateur Public Links will be played simultaneously at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. Those dates are June 27th through July 2nd.
These will be the third and fourth USGA Championships conducted at Bandon Dunes; the 2006 Curtis Cup and 2007 Mid Am was also previously held at Bandon Dunes. We're excited this wonderful golf resort will host these Public Links and give our public course players a chance to really experience a great setting. We've not decided which courses for which championship yet, but that will come.
Then for our third announcement, we're very pleased to announce that the 2016 U.S. Open will be held at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. This will be the record ninth time an Open will be staged at Oakmont.
Also, there have previously been 14 USGA Championships conducted at Oakmont, and next year the 2010 Women's Open will be at Oakmont. So we have a great partner in Oakmont, and certainly 2007 we had a very exciting U.S. Open Championship won by Angel Cabrera.
I'm pleased to note that Bill Griffin, the president of Oakmont is here, and members of his team. I'd particularly like to recognize Tom Wallace, general manager; Bob Ford, head golf professional; and John Zimmers, superintendent. We have a great relationship with this team and we're really looking forward to 2016.
On to the Black. I'm going to make a few comments about the golf course. We'll get into a little bit of detail about changes from 2002 to 2009, and then we'll open it up for questions.
Earlier in the week, the world's No. 1 called Bethpage Black a "brute," and that probably says it all. It's a big golf course. It's a wide golf course. Right now it's extremely soft. Obviously the rain, the weather has not been our friend. It's rained in this area something like 30 of the last 45 days. Dave Catalano, who has been here 40 years, said he's not seen weather like this. So we have an extremely wet golf course out there. Bethpage would play long in any condition. But particularly with the softness, it will play longer.
Players here will have to hit driver on a lot of holes due to the length. Bethpage is an aerial game. You have to hit the ball high here, particularly on your approach shots, because the greens; the majority of the greens are guarded by rough or bunkers. And even if we didn't have the soft conditions, it would still be very difficult to run the ball up on the green on most of the holes.
A unique feature about Bethpage is there are several blind shots here where the players cannot actually see the drive zone landing area or the putting green itself. Generally on the approach shots, players can see the flagstick, at least the top of the flagstick with No. 9 being possible exception to that.
If the drive winds up left of the fairway down by the bunker, then you do indeed have a total blind shot to the 9th green. The bunkers here are wonderful, Tillinghast bunkers that Reese Jones has renovated. They're large, they're deep. They're very difficult.
As we like to do at an Open, we think bunkers should be hazards, and we try to soften the sand in the bottom of the bunker so that the players will get a little bit less spin on the ball, and we'll endeavor to do that this year as best we can, given where we are with the weather and what the forecast is.
And I'm going to talk a lot about the weather and sort of our plans to deal with the weather at the end. But 2009 Bethpage's maximum length will be 7,438 yards; that's 224 yards longer than 2002. There were seven new teeing grounds built since 2002.
These teeing grounds give us a lot of flexibility. And we will not play the golf course at 7,438 on any given day. We'll play it shorter. Every day we'll be using shorter teeing grounds on certain holes.
But these new teeing grounds do give us quite a bit of flexibility as we determine where to play from. Putting green speeds: We were hoping to get the greens around 14 to 14.5. The weather has impacted that quite a bit, as we've said, and will continue to say the greens are very soft.
This morning we were at about 13.5, and we hope we can maintain that speed throughout the week. Again weather will possibly impact that.
I will comment that the 15th green, for those who have been out there, you know it has a pretty severe cant from left to right, and we'll treat that green a little bit differently than the others. It will be a little bit slower. All of our hole occasions will be in the back part of that green, and we have informed the players that we will treat this green differently than the others.
We will use a graduated rough concept this week. The first primary cut of rough will be two and a half to three inches. The second cut of primary rough will be four inches.
We look at 2002, really the major differences would be the graduated rough. We didn't have that in 2002. The rough will be slightly less dense than 2002. We really worked hard with Craig to make the rough less dense so players have more options to play out of that first primary cut.
I notice from some of the player quotes the first couple days that that's been recognized and a number of them have said that first primary cut is very playable and you have a good chance to get a good lie and advance the ball toward the green.
The new teeing grounds that I mentioned, there's obviously a difference from 2002, and then believe it or not the fairways will actually be wider, generally speaking, in 2009 than 2002 generally running two to three yards wider. But in one particular case, hole No. 7, that fairway is some 50 yards wide on the right side of that drive zone. So here's the case where you have a U.S. Open actually widening the fairways from what we had in 2002.
We have new bunker complexes in the drive zone on 9 and 13. These were added, and I think really adds a lot to those holes. They're terrific bunker complexes.
Let me take just a couple of minutes and run through some specific hole comments. Again picking up on the theme of changes from 2002. I'm going to start with No. 3. We have a new tee there. That hole will play 232 yards to the center of the green. So that will be our longest par-3 for the week.
Hole No. 4 we made a subtle charge there. It's a par-5 where the back of the green we've removed all the trees. We softened the closely mown area, we bellied it up, and now in 2009 players can have a good chance to go for the green and know if they go long that the closely mown area will keep the ball there.
In 2002, if a player went over the green, the ball would go down to the bottom of the hill and was likely a double bogey. So I think you'll see a lot more people trying to go for that green in two. A clear risk/reward opportunity.
Hole 5, we added a new tee. Added 25 yards to that hole. It brings a cross-bunker more into play.
Hole 6, another subtle change. Relatively short hole here at Bethpage at 408. In 2002 from the drive zone down the hill that was rough. So the drive zone ended sort of at the top of the hill there. This year we've made that a fairway down the hill and we hope that some players will take driver over there and try to knock it down the hill to set up a very short approach.
Happened to hear Phil's press conference this morning. He talked about No. 6. He said he hit a couple of drivers down there. But the risk of the left side, if you miss it left there, you're dead. Very, very tall rough. So it will be interesting to see how the players attack No. 6.
No. 7, we've added a new tee. That hole plays 525 yards, the longest par-4 in Open history. That's the hole where we have a 50-yard wide fairway along the right side of the drive zone. And we think it plays okay as a par-4, and it's longer than the par-5 4th hole by about 10 yards, a little bit unusual there.
But if you look to the 4th hole, it's an uphill hole and certainly lends itself to be a par-5. And the way we look at par is an expert player, how many shots does it take them to get on the green in 2-putt, and we think 5 makes sense as a par 5 and 7 as a par 4.
7, you can't run the ball on the green, it's one of the few open. You can run it on but the wet conditions might impact this week.
No. 8, a major change there. We've brought the green down closer to the water. We looked at the old photographs of the course and shaved the bank down to the water. We will definitely have front hole location there on at least one day. That teeing ground also gives you about 100 yards of difference in how you play the hole. The back tee could give us a hole of some 230 yards. The front tee of some 130 or 135. So quite a bit of variety there.
Hole No. 9, the big change, bunker in the drive zone. Added a new tee that's 40 yards back. There's been some comments about this hole, and we're going to carefully evaluate the conditions and determine where we put the tee. Because we really want players to challenge that bunker. If they successfully negotiate the bunker, they'll be left with a wedge to the green.
Hole No. 10, a lot of comments in 2002. We had a lot of players on Friday or some players, I should say, that couldn't carry the rough, couldn't get to the fairway. This year we brought the fairway back some 35 yards. So that should not, hopefully not, be an issue for anybody.
No. 12, we moved the fairway over closer to the bunker. We also removed the rough behind the fairway bunker so now if the player challenges the bunker they'll be in the fairway, as opposed to 2002 when it was rough behind the bunker.
13, new tee. Added 60 yards. Plays 605. We think back there that the cross-bunkers will come into play on the second shot. A couple of days we will play it up at 550, and a couple days back at 605.
Then the last comment on holes, changes from '02, No. 14, the par-3, Bethpage expanded the green there. Expanded it a lot. The reason this was done was really to give Craig and his team more hole locations for day-to-day play.
What it's done for us is given us an opportunity to get some hole locations along the back tier of that green and on the front there's an interesting lobe and we plan to go down there one day with a hole location, and it will be really a risk/reward opportunity; if a player really is trying to make a 2, they've got a spot about as big as this cup to hit the ball to, but they can easily hit it past the hole and putt down for 3. But we think that will be an exciting hole location for No. 14.
This year we have no drivable par-4s. That's something we tried to do the last few years at the Open. Bethpage Black does not lend itself to have a drivable par-4 so we won't see that feature.
Risk/reward holes. There's still plenty of things out there, plenty of opportunities to take a risk and be rewarded. Holes 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, all offer a lot of risk/reward opportunities.
Let me talk a little bit about the weather and sort of where we are with that. I'm sure you've all seen the weather forecast. You know that rain is forecasted to begin tonight and into tomorrow. It could be as much as half to an inch of rain. If we get an inch of rain, it will definitely impact what we do. We certainly hope the thunder and lightning stays away. We can certainly play in the rain.
The issue is the golf course and how much more water it can take and continue to play. Our plan to approach this is that we will have volunteers at every green with squeegees. We have roughly 80 squeegees on site. So there will be people out there on the greens to be able to handle water that puddles on the greens.
We have nine water hogs that we either have or have brought on site to help us remove water. Water hogs a big sponge that soaks up the water and moves it elsewhere. So we have that resource available to help us with the greens.
We have roughly 220 people committed and working on the crew. Craig has about 65 permanent people. There are about 150 or so volunteers, so you can see we have over 200 people who will be dedicated to keeping this course playable and as dry as possible.
The area of most concern is the 18th fairway. That is built on a swamp. And it is a swamp, I guess that's the best way to say it. It is a swamp. It does not drain very well. It's very, very wet.
We have dry wells there that are constantly being pumped. We've actually taken the greens rollers down there and tried to roll that fairway to move water. So we'll just have to watch that very, very carefully but that's the highest area of concern with regard to the weather.
As far as setup is concerned and how weather might impact it, we are very carefully watching the forecast and we have some ideas, but we really want to wait until tomorrow morning and see what the situation actually is, and so we'll be making some decisions early tomorrow morning about where we put certain tees.
I will tell you we will not put any hole locations in low areas of the greens, but the teeing grounds will be decided in the morning based on what is happening in the morning and forecast for the rest of the day.
As far as our weather monitoring processes, we actually have two meteorologists here on site. And these guys are watching the weather every minute. They're in constant communication with Mike Davis, with our operations people, the state of New York, state troopers are also monitoring the weather.
And if we get any hint of lightning, thunder storms coming this way, we're very aggressive to put notices up in the grandstands so that spectators can get out of the grandstands. If lightning is imminent, we actually can order a mandatory evacuation of the grandstands and will not hesitate to do that.
Safety is very, very important to us, and we're not going to push anything to the edge with regard to moving spectators out of the grandstands.
If looks like we're going toward a suspension, the players would be the last group to leave the course, because we really want to give the spectators a chance to get out of the weather.
So we're very much concerned about the forecast. We're trying to take contingency plans, put in place contingency plans to help us deal with it, because we really want to play all the golf we can tomorrow and Friday.
Okay. To wrap up, I want to recognize four people. First of all, Carol Ash. Carol is back in the back. Carol is Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation. Carol, thank you for being here.
Secondly is David Catalano, director of Bethpage State Park. Dave is over here. Many of you know him.
Thirdly, is Craig Currier, golf course superintendent not only for the Black, but for the entire park.
Really give huge kudos to Carol, Dave and Craig for their support in helping us put on the Open, help us plan it, execute. Craig and his team have done a fantastic job with the golf course. It's in great shape. And he will likely -- we will all likely be to the test over the next few days, but he's on top of it and will be a great resource for us.
And then lastly I want to recognize Reg Jones. He's over here. Managing director of the U.S. Open. Reg manages and is responsible for all the outside-the-ropes activities at a U.S. Open. You all know Mike Davis, who is inside the ropes, but Reg is an unsung hero for the U.S. Opens and toils in the background to make sure the transportation plan works, that we get mulch and gravel out on the golf course tomorrow; that we do the things that we need to do to have a good spectator experience.
So, Reg, thank you for what you do, and Carol, Dave and Craig, thank you.
So with that, we'll open it up for questions.
Q. In light of the weather forecast, the current softness of the course and the likelihood it's going to be a lot softer, can you envision any circumstance in which the players will be allowed to lift, clean and replace?
JIM HYLER: No.
Q. So if they can't do that, you're prepared to take this tournament into Monday or Tuesday?
JIM HYLER: If it gets to the point where -- we're not going to play lift, clean and place. We'll suspend. If we can't play it, if it's not fair to be playing the ball as it lies, we'll suspend play. We'll stay here until we get a champion.
Q. Do you recall any other championships -- and this is for David as well, I imagine -- in which the USGA has allowed that method of play?
JIM HYLER: Lift, clean and place? No.
Q. On the subject of future U.S. Open sites, how important is geographic diversity? Do you consider Oakmont to be part of the Midwest? And are you strongly considering something, a course in Chicago or Wisconsin, for 2017?
JIM HYLER: Oakmont is sort of Midwest, sort of East Coast. So it's certainly not East-East Coast.
But we have a number of invitations from courses and clubs to host the Open. We, over the course of time, we try to add some geographic diversity. And we will see what the future brings. We really don't talk about future sites beyond that.
Q. Some of the manufacturers have been indicating that they may have trouble implementing with the new groove rules and having enough clubs prepared, and they're lobbying the PGA TOUR to reconsider their support. How will that affect the USGA's stance on the groove rule change that takes effect in 2010?
JIM VERNON: As you know, Jeff, the implementation of the new groove regulations include a condition of competition for elite play, such as the PGA TOUR.
PGA TOUR will make its decision at some point as to whether they will implement that condition of competition for 2010. It is likely that if they were not to adopt it for 2010, we certainly would not adopt it for the U.S. Open either.
Q. Have you given any consideration to a Senior Women's Open? You've talked about pairing up the men's and the women's open, but what about the Seniors? At the moment the women don't have a Senior Open.
DAVID FAY: It's been proposed, Chip, but the reality is we've taken a look at the possible field, and since it's an Open, it would have prize money. And we're not there yet. Economically, we just aren't there yet in terms of putting on something and putting on a purse that would be appropriate.
Q. I wanted to ask about a future site by looking into the past a little bit. I don't know how many years ago it was that you announced that Pebble Beach would be hosting a U.S. Women's Open. It looked like '14 might be the best opening. You're booked now through '15. Can you give us any kind of an update on what's going on there, and how much of it is Pebble maybe just not wanting to give up a week that close after the U.S. Open?
DAVID FAY: Thanks. I've had conversations with them. They remain interested in having a Women's Open. That interest is sincere, but the date was never set in stone. It was speculation, and that's great. But I can tell you that they remain interested in a future Women's Open. No set date.
BETH MURRISON: Thank you all very much for being here. Gentlemen, we thank you very much.
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