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PGA CHAMPIONSHIP MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 30, 2019
Farmingdale, New York
JULIUS MASON: Good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us today. We are just is of days till the first round of the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York.
We thought it was a good idea now for to you get some quality time with The PGA of America CEO, Seth Waugh, and Chief Championships Officer, Kerry Haigh.
So Seth, let's begin with you. With the Championship being played in May for the first time since 1948 and the excitement coming out of the first major of the year, there seems to be some unprecedented excitement for what is now golf's next major championship.
Do you have some thoughts about that?
SETH WAUGH: Yeah, we've been excited. Welcome, everyone and we look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks, and we couldn't be more excited both about the timing and the venue and kind of where the game is, I guess, at this point.
We were very excited about the May change before Tiger made his fireworks in Georgia in the sense that we think it's just a better cadence for the whole season, as well as for ourselves.
It obviously helps out Jay and the Tour to finish a bit early, and we think there's always been sort of too big a gap between the Masters and The Open, and we've filled that really nicely.
We really look forward to every year having the same momentum, or I don't know if we could have the same momentum and count on him forever, but that momentum from the Masters into the PGA is extraordinary, particularly as we change our broadcast partners to ESPN next year; so that you're going to have the same team, CBS, ESPN kind of rolling into our event immediately after.
We always felt there was this excitement that happened in April and then a bit of a letdown from the golf calendar. As you get people excited to play, and from a fan's perspective, there was this big gap, so we're excited obviously about that.
We're also excited about our mission, right. It's to grow the game and help our professionals with their businesses, and this speaks to it, right. A May date is kind of right in the heart of -- 85, 90 percent of our professionals around the country, it's right in the heart of their season.
So it's a great kind of advertisement to kick the game off, if you will, in terms of people -- I don't know about you guys, but watching the last putt at the Masters, I-can't-wait-to-go-out-and-hit-some-7-irons-in-my-backyard-kind-of-thing, because you just kind of get the bug. We think this will really feed into that in a huge way. We're excited about it.
Obviously Tiger, you know, he has impact, sort of the moon landing. It's not golf; it's where were you when, kind of stuff.
So the impact immediately afterwards was extraordinary in terms of ticket sales. We were basically sold out for the weekend, but the requests just poured in across the board in lots of ways. So we really expect to have an amazing Championship at an amazing place and couldn't beat a better kind of story, Every Man's Country Club, Tiger, with his history, where he came from, obviously having won there, as well.
So I think Bethpage is one of those kind of amazing miracles. First of all, that it was built in the first place, and secondly that it's been preserved by the State as well as it has. Really, a national treasure from a golf perspective. So excited about that.
We absolutely now know that the fan base will be cranked up and we hope that it will have the same effect that he had his first go-around on participation, as well, right. Like that's really what we're all about, and hopefully we can ride not only the wave and excitement about watching him play, but others, you know, wanting to play.
Hopefully that knock-on effect has a long-term effect. Couldn't be more excited. We think we made a great decision, but we'd rather be lucky than good, as well, in terms of what he did in the Masters, and we're excited to be -- it looks like -- we thought it was smart; it looks brilliant, now. We're excited.
JULIUS MASON: Thanks very much.
Kerry, I know we caught you in Bluffton, South Carolina with the third round where the 52nd PGA Professional Championship is being played today. Interestingly enough, there are two Met Sectionals in Alex Beach and Danny Balin that are leading the Championship at 8- and 7-under, respectively.
That said, Kerry, I think the majority of the people on this call want to know what the best players in the world are going to see when they arrive at Bethpage.
KERRY HAIGH: Yeah, well, thanks, Julius, and good morning, everyone.
As Seth mentioned, we are extremely excited looking forward to the up coming PGA Championship at Bethpage and as we all know, Bethpage is a wonderful test of golf. We've come through the winter very well from a conditioning standpoint.
Obviously the next two weeks are important in terms of leaves on the trees and grass growing, which is exactly what we knew and anticipated the past two years when we have been monitoring conditioning into this new date.
We're very excited where we are. Andrew Wilson, the superintendent and Mike Hadley, the Black Course superintendent, both are feeling very positive about the overall conditioning. Just need a few warmer days the next 10, 14 days, and I think the golf course will be in just outstanding condition for the 101st PGA Championship.
Obviously we're excited about the date change from a conditioning standpoint in that the grasses will be -- the cool season grasses will and should be a lot healthier. They will be sort of improving, as opposed to in the August date previously, we were sort of more on a hanging-on, keeping-the-grass, the-cool-season-grasses-alive mode. Whereas the spring temperatures are likely obviously to be more temperate and easier, cooler temperatures, which I think everyone will enjoy. But also more likely, and possibly have more chance of wind and probably tougher playing conditions.
So with that said, can't say more how excited we are to come to New York and see the best players in the world, the strongest field in golf, play on what is truly a great golf course.
Q. Couple of technical questions. In perfect world, how thick or how high do you anticipate the rough being, and how narrow the fairways?
KERRY HAIGH: Good morning, Doug. The fairway widths we have not adjusted at all since the last events that have been played there.
So they are very similar, the exact same as they were then, other than hole 18. That is the only fairway we sort of recontoured and that was really more to make the shot from the tee, you know, the player has more options now from the tee, whereas it used to be sort of an hour glass fairway is more of a reasonable width fairway throughout the lens.
So a player could still hit a an iron off the tee or a hybrid or a 3-wood, or can now even hit a driver. So that's the only fairway change since I think the '09 Open that I'm aware of.
In terms of the rough, a lot will depend on how well it does grow the next couple of weeks, but our plan is for it to be 3 1/2 to 4 inches long, and again, the anticipation based on what we saw the last two springtimes is that it should be pretty healthy and growing fairly quickly.
So it will be a challenge, and it will be pretty tough if you get into it.
Q. And secondly, just curious from a big picture standpoint, what have you found to be the biggest challenge going to a May date thus far?
KERRY HAIGH: Nothing that we didn't expect. I think certainly the preparation on the front end, we started construction early February, and any time you start your construction that early, then, you know, you do have snow. You do have frost.
You do have some challenging conditions for the vendors to build the media center, you know, build the main entrance, etc. That, we knew, and certainly planned for. Thankfully this winter wasn't as bad as some winters have been, and that has been a challenge.
From the agronomic standpoint, we certainly sort of revised our plans from what the club would normally do in the springtime. Did a lot of it in the fall. So that hopefully by this spring, there's little, few items that are in recovery mode. It's more just letting the grass grow and come into the championship in good condition.
They are primarily the main changes.
SETH WAUGH: He's too humble to say it, but I would say the other problem is sleep, because you know, at the end of the day, we started this week with the PPC, and then we go to our collegiate works championship, which is our minority event and collegiate event, then to the Championship, then the Seniors and then two weeks later to the Women. We're all out.
Kerry and his crew are killing themselves for the next eight weeks or so. That's his biggest challenge. He'll never tell you that; he never shows any pain.
Q. As long as you're getting sleep, Seth.
SETH WAUGH: Yeah, no, I sleep like a baby, Doug, knowing Kerry's on it.
Q. PK has been knowing for always having the pairing of the three some of the year's major champions. Will you still try to pair the three previous major winners together, or will you have any kind of interesting pairings for the first two rounds?
KERRY HAIGH: Craig, good morning, yes. We did talk about it and are continuing our process of having the last three major champions paired together.
So that would be Koepka, Molinari and Tiger Woods. So we're certainly excited for the prospect of that, assuming that is what it ends up being.
And again, I think we've had our former champions, we tend to pair those together, and that will continue, as well as some other exciting groupings, and they will be released the Friday afternoon of the week prior as normal.
I think with the strength of the field, being such a strong field, I would say just about every pairing will be a great pairing.
Q. Seth, I'd like to get some of your thoughts on how exciting this is for you personally. You've had a lot of accomplishments, a lot of achievements in your career. What has this job done for you and meant for you so far?
SETH WAUGH: Well, thanks, Mark. Look, I'm very flattered and honored to serve. I feel like I've been given a gift to try and give back to something that's given me so much.
You know about Clancy, my son, who by the way -- I've played the Black a fair amount, and caddied it more in a few events with him, and I'm better at walking than I am at hitting. That's the good news.
Yeah, so in terms of the job generally, look, I feel like we have a chance to impact 29,000 lives in hopefully a very positive way, and if we can do that, we can really impact millions of lives by extension, right. We have the best army and the biggest army in the game. We have our mission is to really try to figure out how to move the game from kind of protecting our parents's game and our grandparents game, and really making into our grandkids' game and adapting so that; so it's as relevant today or more relevant in the future than it is today, and certainly has been.
I sort of view it as a holy mission to a certain degree of what we've done. I just feel like the game is such an engine for good in terms of its life lessons and relationships you can build, the charitable component of it, the health benefits, sort of this virtuous circle of the game, and to have that opportunity to affect it and give back has been one of the great gifts of my life to have a chance to reinvent myself at this point.
I'm excited about that and very hopeful and six months into it, I feel like we can do even more than I had hoped we could do with the game and sort of for the world. We have this thought that if we can kind of make the game look a little bit more like the world, by making it more inclusive, more welcoming, maybe more fun, that at the end of the day, maybe we can make the world look a little bit more like the game and all the things that we care about it.
In a general sense, you know, again, a real -- I couldn't be happier to be in this seat or more flattered, frankly.
In terms of Bethpage, you know, it's near and dear to my heart, right. I lived in Garden City for a long time right in the shadow of Bethpage, if you will, and have a business up there, as well, in Islip and home in Long Island. This is a homer for me in a great way, and there's just -- I have wonderful memories of the place.
Clancy was Low Am at the State Open at Bethpage when I was on his bag back when he was still in high school, and a number of other great memories, playing against the Irish in the Kerry Cup.
For me, it's going to be an emotional week, set at an amazing place that just has so much history. It's obviously one of the great golf courses and tests on earth, but the story is even cooler, right, in terms of what it is. It's an example for us all.
It will be an emotional week for me and I'm excited about it.
Q. One thing to follow up on that. What's the best you and Clancy have done on the Black?
SETH WAUGH: Well, he almost won the State Am, I'm trying to remember what year. I think he was a sophomore in high school maybe, and might even have been a freshman. He did win Low Am, I'm trying to remember. Dobbins might have won it that year. I'm trying to remember.
But he was in the last group on the last day going into it and didn't quite get it done, but had a great week. So I'd say that.
He also went 3-0 in the Kerry Cup. Beat a Walker Cupper in the final in the singles. I think he was, again, maybe a sophomore in high school at that point, but he's had a bunch of good success there in the Open, and the Hebron is No. 1, he finished second there once or twice. So he's had some great success.
I don't know that I've ever broken 90 there, but he's done well.
Q. What will the premium be on for these players in terms of driving, approach shots, putting, etc.?
KERRY HAIGH: Hank, yeah, good morning. As we've already said, it's a fantastic golf course.
I think to Doug's point, the fairways are not overly wide or generous, so I think there's certainly going to be a premium on keeping the ball on the fairway and keeping it straight from the tee and then obviously good iron play into the greens, and the greens themselves, they are generally not over-severe. I think the slopes are, I would say, sort of middle to, from a slope standpoint, not -- other than two or three greens have some significant moment. The rest of the greens have more gentle movement, more subtle movement, which we allow for possibly quick speed of greens, will be probably pretty quick.
So overall, just like most other weeks, you're just going to need a good game. But I think there will be certainly more of a premium on driving than some other venues due to the fairways and due to the health of the rough.
Obviously with the bunker play and other such huge bunkers. There are, you know, 76 bunkers and every time I go there, it's almost eight acres of bunker sand to rake every morning. So to keep out of the bunkers is certainly something you want to do. Otherwise your green-side bunker shots are pretty long bunker shots. We all know a long bunker shot is certainly more difficult than a shorter bunker shot around the greens, and they are probably the main aspects.
But as usual, our aim is not to be -- just to set the golf course up so the best players in the world can show their skills on what is truly a great golf course.
Q. In terms of setup, do you have any options for, say, moving tees around or changing distances on some of the par 4s?
KERRY HAIGH: There's certainly options. I'm not sure if you're specific to a drivable par 4. I'm not sure I'm anticipating doing any or making one, but certainly drivable.
The golf course is just a solid golf course. We plan to play it from the tees. You know, I think the par 5s, 13 would be one that we may look to move forward, so depending on the wind direction so that on one or more days, players can at least think about going for it in two. But in our day, 608 yards is reachable for some, for some of the players, but certainly not all of the players. I think they probably would be the main items.
As you know, there are some very strong and very stout par 4s out there that will be great tests of golf.
Q. And if you were a spectator, pick a hole out. Where would you sit to see some of the action?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, if I wanted to have a great view of the best players in the world, I would go to the far end of the course on 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, which is, as you know, a mile, two miles from the clubhouse, and you will get a great view of every player in the field out there.
Certainly around the clubhouse holes, on the clubhouse side of the road, it will be extremely busy and your viewing experience will be a little more crowded and congested than it will out on the far end of the course.
To answer your question, any time you want to see the best players in the world, if you go out to the far end of the course, you will see every single one of them up close and pretty personal.
Q. Had a question for each of you. Kerry, going to May, I had not really thought about this, but how critical is pace of play, and presumably, having a shorter window of daylight than you would in August.
KERRY HAIGH: Doug, that's the good news for us. We actually have more daylight in May than we do in August. June 21 is the longest day, so we're 3 1/2, 4 weeks from the longest day.
Just as we do this week here at the PGA Professional Championship, it's nice to have a little more daylight to accommodate anything that may come up.
So we're excited about that change, and we think that's a positive, as well.
Q. So the message here is that players can take as long as they want now?
SETH WAUGH: We're hoping all the juniors are watching (chuckling). I guess you weren't a math major, huh, Doug?
Q. Not even a math, or not even an English major. More of a broad injury question for you as it relates to Tiger. Is there any sense that golf tried to grow too big, too fast, after the first big wave of Tiger Mania, and do you think there was any lessons to be learned for this time around?
SETH WAUGH: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it wasn't so much that it was a conscious decision to grow. Just every vote was risen and people thought that sort of trees would grow to the sky, kind of thing, I think, and so it definitely got over built, and I think that was, you know, the industry was probably guilty of it and people outside the industry were, as well, in the form of real estate, right.
I think, I hope, people have learned that lesson, and it's true, and you can name any industry. My old industry, the banking industry, is obviously guilty of that from time to time, as are a lot of industries that think whatever sort of bull market is going to go on forever, and obviously they never do.
So I do think that people learned a lot from it. It's a little bit like the oil boom, or again, any example you want to use, and I do think there will be more prudence to it. I think the model of kind of building golf courses to sell real estate is a tricky one, right.
And most people, once you've gone through a cycle or two, you forget it a little bit, but you learn from it. So we'll be sort of more cautious.
Well, I sure hope as I said in my intro, we hope and we expect that we'll get a participation bump here, which we've been waiting for for a while, right, and hopefully we can ride it into something beyond him and do it in, again, a prudent, but in a growth way.
I feel like this has been the capstone -- there's no question that participation is up in the game. We've got Top Golf growing at 20, 25 percent a year. Junior League signups are blowing up, as well, in a great way.
So there's just lots of -- it's not so much 18 holes, the classical measurement of it, is flat-ish. But we think participation and kind of interest, and a lot of those kind of growth indicators were already signaling kind of a good market, and we hope that this will, you know, turbocharge it a little bit.
JULIUS MASON: Thanks to Seth and Kerry for your time today, gentlemen, and for those of you calling in, thank you very much, and we look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks at Bethpage.
SETH WAUGH: Thanks, everyone.
KERRY HAIGH: Thank you, everyone.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports