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May 14, 2019
Farmingdale, New York
JULIUS MASON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm the PGA of America's Julius Mason. I'd like to thank you very much for joining us today in New York for the playing of the 2019 PGA Championship, and the first one to take place in May since 1949, when Sam Snead won the second of his three Wanamaker Trophies.
And before the best in the world tee off Thursday morning at 6:45 a.m., we want to make sure you have some quality time with the PGA of America president, Suzy Whaley; the PGA of America chief executive officer, Seth Waugh; and the PGA of America's chief championships officer, Kerry Haigh.
Suzy, let's begin with you. You grew up in the New York area, so we know this is a very, very special week for you. This is also a very significant week for you in the history of the PGA Championship as we shift dates. With that in mind, can you talk a little bit about how the PGA Championship being played in May does affect the PGA professional?
SUZY WHALEY: Thanks, everybody, for being here. So our PGA professionals, we're always seeking out platforms to advocate and support the great work they do in growing the game, getting golf clubs in people's hands.
And shifting to May was key for us at the PGA of America for our professionals because about 85 percent of our PGA professionals' season begins in May, and this gave us a tremendous opportunity to support the growth of the game programs they're doing through communications that we can do through the PGA Championship, we have onsite activations here where we have golf fun zones, we have instruction going on with our Metropolitan PGA Section professionals right here on the ground.
But also for our entire country. We have the opportunity throughout our partners at CBS and Turner to really showcase the great work our PGA professionals do each and every day, to have people enjoy their golf journey a little bit more.
I think the one thing that hasn't changed, though, is the pride we have in our 20 PGA professionals that will be competing in the field this week. We're really excited. We have five Metropolitan Section PGA professionals playing.
But those 20 PGA members who are competing at this level, in a major championship at Bethpage, one of the most iconic golf courses in the world, is something that's enormously special, not only to them but to all of those that are their customers, their members, their clientele and their family.
So for us at the PGA of America, Alex Beach leading the way as our PGA professional champion a couple weeks ago at Belfair, we couldn't be more excited to be here. We couldn't be more excited to support them in their endeavor this week. But also for all PGA professionals around the country, we want to get more clubs in people's hands, and this gives us the opportunity to do that.
JULIUS MASON: Seth, with the PGA Championship being played here at Bethpage in May, I have to believe that you really have a feeling that things are setting up quite nicely where we are right now.
SETH WAUGH: It was a brilliant move by me. (Laughter.)
You know, look, we couldn't have been more excited about the May date. I was on the board when we talked about it. Obviously these guys and Pete really drove the decision to a large degree.
But it was the right thing to do for the game, first of all, in the sense that the cadence of it is better if you think about it's now sort of a five-course meal, right? You start with THE PLAYERS in March, go to Masters in April, and then ourselves now filling the gap between Masters and U.S. Open, U.S. Open, and then obviously the British Open. So the cadence is great. The season ends when it should end, which is sort of Labor Day.
So we sort of did well by doing good in the sense of being really great partners with the TOUR and sort of how we thought about it. So the cadence is better for the players. We think it's better for the fans, and it's just the excitement is going to build.
To follow the Masters every year is terrific, and we have media partners that we'll be able to kind of lead us right into that in a terrific way.
Obviously this year is even more so. We knew it was a great move. Now it looks genius with Tiger having created the conversation for the last month. What usually is anticipation for a week or two has been nonstop really since Augusta.
It's helped -- obviously blew up our ticket sales immediately thereafter, and we were in good shape anyway, but it certainly helped, and more importantly just the focus on the game of golf. To Suzy's point, I know we're going to create huge momentum in the fan base, and now we hope that it will on the participation side, too, right?
When Tiger first came on the scene, that was the biggest growth we had from a participation point of view. I don't know that we could match that, but hopefully that momentum in the game is in a really good spot.
I just think this is a great moment in time for us, for the game. We feel momentum across a lot of ways, whether it be our junior league signups, which are up about 25 percent and what we think are participation levels up enormously around the world.
We're happy to bring the best field in golf every year to this incredible place. The players are gushing about it thanks to our friend on the far right who's really the MVP every year at the PGA Championship. I can't wait to see what he does with this place, sort of van Gogh working on a Michelangelo, if you will, in terms of the theater that no doubt will go on out there.
Look, I think this is one of the -- it's a home game for me, too. I live on Long Island, for many years, and I've caddied here more than I've played, thankfully, and it is just one of the great places on earth from a test and from a golf course perspective, but more importantly a story. It represents so much of what we care about. It's every man's country club. It's inclusive, welcoming, affordable, all the things that we talk about every day.
In terms of what Suzy is saying, we couldn't ask for a better platform or a better moment in time for this move.
JULIUS MASON: Seth, thank you very much, and speaking of our MVP, Kerry, I think most people in here know that you set up our PGA Championship golf courses all around the country, but this is the first time you've come to set up Bethpage Black here. Can you tell us maybe what the greatest golfers in the world can expect when they play here on Thursday?
KERRY HAIGH: Sure. Well, thanks, Julius. As Suzy said, Bethpage is truly a great golf course, and it's an honor and a pleasure for us to play our 101st PGA Championship here on this spectacular golf course.
With it being in May, one of the real positives for us is the conditioning of the golf course. As you can see or I'm sure some of the players have seen, the greens are just perfect. The fairways are beautiful. The rough is growing. And despite almost two inches of rain the last 48 hours, we could not be in a better position, I feel, with the forecast that we have moving into the championship here at Bethpage.
And certainly this does not happen without a heck of a lot of work from the staff here at Bethpage Black. Andrew Wilson, the superintendent, who oversees all the golf courses, and Michael Hadley, specifically for the Black course, he and their staff for the past two years that I've been dealing and working with them have done an incredible job to prepare it in really what was only a three and a half, four-week growing season since getting out of the wintertime.
Now they have been supported with 100-plus volunteers from all over the country, from the superintendents, from various clubs, various towns throughout the country and internationally, as well, to help support and put on what we hope and are trying to make the greatest PGA Championship ever played.
I for one can't wait to see 99 of the top 100 players in the world play on this spectacular golf course. The greens are going to be fairly receptive certainly the first couple of days, if not all week. Great opportunities to score, but you certainly have to hit the ball on the fairway to give you the chance for scoring opportunities.
Julius, I could not be more excited and can't wait for Thursday morning.
Q. Could someone please clarify who made the final decision on John Daly being able to ride a cart?
KERRY HAIGH: Yeah, I'll happily go through that process. On all of our entry information for all of our championships, we have a clause for ADA purposes in that any player who has an ADA concern or issue is allowed to apply and give the reasons for the exemption that he or she may want to apply for.
And in this case, John went through the process, sent in the information that we request of any and all players that this applies to. We have a committee that meet, which includes a medical expert, and they review the information, and it was agreed that it justified the use of a golf cart for the championship.
Q. So it was your decision, Kerry, in the end?
KERRY HAIGH: We have an ADA committee.
Q. Oh, the committee, okay. And is there anywhere he won't be allowed to take the cart?
KERRY HAIGH: Yeah, where the player goes all depends on the golf course and the conditions, and obviously with the rain we will -- I will meet with John and just talk through where he can go and can't go. Obviously there's some places on this golf course where you can't get a golf cart to. We try and use common sense, what's reasonable, what's fair for the protection both of the player and those issues as well as the playing of a major championship.
Q. Who is in charge of the cart? Who supplies it and who does it? And Seth, as someone who has caddied here so much, can you describe the daunting nature of walking this course?
SETH WAUGH: Yeah, I would have preferred to have a cart. Go ahead, Kerry.
KERRY HAIGH: So how he gets it, we supply the golf cart for him along with a number of rules of what they can and can't do with that golf cart -- it's a topless golf cart -- and, as I said, where they can and cannot drive.
It's fairly laid out, and we have done this at our Kitchen Aid Senior PGA Championship, we have done it at our Senior PGA professional championship for certain individuals, and it's an accomodation that's appropriate under the ADA.
SETH WAUGH: Yeah, that warning sign is for real. It's a big ol' golf course, and you've got to be ready for it. It's tackle football, both playing it and walking it. And when you have your son who is 6'5" and walks like a 22-year-old, it's particularly daunting trying to keep up because it's the only thing I have -- he expects of me.
But yeah, that last, climbing the 15th tee box after having walked -- excuse me, to the green on 15, having walked the rest of it, is a test for sure. You know, it's up and down, though I can't -- I've never been in a cart here, obviously, but I think it's one of those places where a cart is actually less convenient than walking. I'm sort of all about walking. I much prefer it. Obviously I'm not trying to make a statement about John. And so where the carts go will be interesting, right, because it's not set up that way.
But I can understand why he'd be daunted by trying to walk this. This is a proper golf course, right, and every hole essentially has elevation change. You might go from an elevated tee down to a fairway, back up to a green. There's parts of it in the middle that are fairly flat, but almost every green has significant elevation change. So it is a long walk and a beautiful walk.
Q. I'm not going to spare your blushes. Rory was in here half an hour ago and spoke very warmly of your ability to set up golf courses. He said you were the best at it. Could you tell us what your principles are in simple terms when you set out to set up a golf course?
KERRY HAIGH: Our philosophy is really, the championship is for the players, and our job is to be able to prepare beautiful golf courses for the best players in the world, and we do not need to be a part of that, other than preparing that beautiful test of golf for the best players in the world.
You know, each course is different based on the architecture, and we try and bring out whatever the architect had in mind for each specific golf course, but our number one aim is not to get in the way of the best players.
Let them showcase their skills, make it tough, make it fair, make it challenging, hopefully at times make it exciting, and hopefully make the players think because I think if any golfer is given the ability to think, then they enjoy their game more and they enjoy the challenge of that golf course more.
Q. Seth, given the cool temperatures we tend to have here in May, could it hurt down the road the chances of the Northeast getting the usual number of PGA Championships they seem to get here?
SETH WAUGH: Yeah, unfortunately any decision we make is going to take some courses out and put others in. And so August had the same problem. So we lost a lot of the country because of heat in the Southeast that we can now add in May. We're going to Rochester next week for the Senior, so we'll be testing that for sure.
But yeah, no question it'll reduce some. We think we're great here. As Kerry said, the players are gushing about the shape. Look, we play an outdoor sport, and I think they still play football in Lambeau in December, so a little bit of cold isn't going to do much.
I saw an interview from Jack talking at the Honda, actually, talking about the move to May, and he said, you know, every -- he thinks it's great that we're in May because actually weather may be a factor. So weather is a factor at Augusta most years, it's going to be a bigger factor certainly at THE PLAYERS in March than it was in May. British Open is obviously famous for weather, and the U.S. Open has had a little bit of everything.
You know, it's part of the sport, and we're going to take it to great golf courses, iconic places, and try to be smart about obviously where and how we do that. But I think we actually believe it adds more courses than it takes away, but it's going to hurt certain parts of the country, obviously.
Q. I love the analogy of van Gogh working on a Michelangelo. Kerry, I don't think any of us could have expected this much rain. What was the key to getting the course in shape with all this rain, and can you also talk a little bit about the rough and what you're expecting this week?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, sure. To answer the first very, Andrew Wilson and Michael Hadley. They're the superintendents who were doing the work and their teams, which is why I mentioned them at the beginning. Their passion for this venue, for their golf courses is second to none. Their aim for the past two years is to create Bethpage Black in the best condition possible, no matter what it takes.
We have certainly backed off the last two days with the rain, have not done a lot other than mow and roll the greens, and we're being patient based on the forecast, and we'll really get back at it tomorrow.
With regards to the rough, we plan to top the roughs tomorrow afternoon as they were last Saturday, so it should be a beautiful test of golf.
SETH WAUGH: You know, the amazing part about this place is obviously it's tuned up for a major championship, but it's like this all the time. The pride that goes on here, and again, I've caddied for my son in a number of things, played at -- it's never not in amazing shape. It's a miracle that it was built in the first place. To have this facility for the public is incredible. And for the State Parks Department to have preserved it for this long and cared for it and fed it and created it, and then curated it, if you will, it's nothing short of amazing and kind of a miracle that it's still what it is, and it's a gift to the game.
Q. Suzy, you were talking about the player development aspects and how helpful moving the tournament is towards those programs. With the junior league and many other things that are going on, Tiger in his press conference was saying one of the problems is kids have so many choices today, and he even commented that just, frankly, five, five and a half hours is a long time to keep kids entertained, so they're choosing other things. What's your vision? Where do you see we're going to be able to move to to keep kids playing golf through high school, college, and to keep our game healthy?
SUZY WHALEY: Yeah, thanks. I listened to that, as well, when Tiger stated it. And accurate for five and a half hours for anything that we choose to do today, not necessarily golf. But I can tell you that if we take PGA Junior League as an example, what's exciting about that in our current practices, which is really attracting youth, is the fact that our practices are even fast-moving. We have 10 stations instead of how I grew up playing the game, which was you had a bucket of balls, you hit them for 45 minutes, you got a few tips from your pro and off you went.
I happened to love that at the time, there's nothing wrong with that, but children today are used to much more activity in a much shorter time period, whether it's technology or whatever they're doing. So we've adapted to that, and our PGA professionals are trained to that.
We've come out with an ADM model for our professionals to become certified. We're embracing the fact that youth have a lot of options. We want them to have multiple sports within their repertoire because they become better whole athletes. Whether they're ever going to be elite and play in a major championship like we have here or the KPMG Women's PGA Championship or whether they want to play golf for the best experience as long as possible, we want to ensure that they have all those capabilities to really develop a longer opportunity to play the game.
So we're adapting right along with the times, and that's keeping us progressive. It's keeping people interested. We have 60,000 youth that participated last year. We're excited about that. Those numbers have dramatically increased. As Seth said, we're already up 25 percent.
What's really exciting to me, too, is the amount of young girls that are participating in PGA Junior League golf. That's our largest growing demographic among junior golfers, and those of different race, from a different background that are participating in junior league.
So we're making great strides. I'm not saying we don't have our challenges. We certainly do. But we're excited. And then we're excited to partner with allied associations, with Augusta, USGA, and Drive Chip & Putt, certainly you're all aware of what that is. But that's really getting the word out to the masses of what is possible, but that anybody can play the game.
And both of those programs invite anyone to be a part of it. Meaning, you don't have to be an elite golfer. 80 percent of our PGA Junior League golfers, their parents describe them as new to the game, and for us, that's incredible.
The PGA of America has partnered with Nextgengolf, which is a company that's diving into the high school space and is already involved in a grand way in the collegiate space for club golf. We want that next step, and we want to make sure we have PGA professionals on that journey along the way, so that they come out of college, whether they want to keep competing at a high amateur level or a club level or whether they want to just play with their friends, we're embracing that.
And then we're also embracing it doesn't have to be 18 holes to be a golf experience. We think being at a putting green with your family, with a grandchild for a half an hour is a putting experience. Going to Topgolf, another one of our partners, is a golf experience.
What we're striving to do, though, is to create those experiences and make those that are having those experiences want to participate with us more, and that's really what we're looking to do as we go forward. It's not just about getting new people to play the game or keeping our current customer happy. We want to retain them and deliver the best experience possible for as long as possible.
SETH WAUGH: Thanks for the question because we do this one week a year, we do that 52 weeks a year. Hopefully, first of all, I hope golf is three and a half to four hours, not five and a half, but that's not going to solve everything. And as Suzy said, there's so many good signs in the game.
For junior league, we've made it fun, we've made it inclusive, we've made you part of a team, you get a uniform. As a result, it's blown up. Topgolf, as Suzy mentioned, is growing 25 percent a year. GolfTEC, which makes it very accessible where it's sort of a pop-up sort of way to go hit balls and get a lesson and where people work and play, that's grown 20 to 25 percent a year.
We're showing that people want to play, we've just got to figure out how to do it, and I think we've historically measured it improperly by 18 holes because I don't think that is the right measurement. I don't know what it is. I'm not trying to cheat and change the yardstick, but I think we have to measure it in different ways. As Suzy said, putting with your family or hitting balls or swinging in front of a mirror, I think that's golf.
So we want people to do kind of all of those things. So we also -- one last little thing we've done internally is we now have a chief innovation officer, and that's about kind of the state of mind and embedding that in our DNA as PGA, to have a place where ideas go to live instead of die and that you can -- we realize that we've got to kind of move from sort of protecting our grandparents' game to making it our grandkids' game in a lot of variety of ways, and there isn't one silver bullet. It's going to be a lot of different things that do that, and we want to think about how to do that every day.
That's our mission, and we want this game -- because of all of its lessons, right, we want this game to be more relevant for our kids' kids than it has been for us.
And if we can make the game look a little bit more like the world, maybe we can make the world look a little bit more like the game. That's really our goal. Thank you for the question.
Q. Seth or Suzy, for this year and the last couple years, amongst the 20 professionals there's been a life member, someone necessarily not affiliated with a club or teaching or running a club, et cetera, getting through. Are you comfortable with that? Is that any type of an area you could shore up so that the 20 who have qualified are kind of the essence of what a professional does?
SUZY WHALEY: Absolutely, and thanks for the question. For us at the PGA of America, we have different classifications of membership, one being a class A professional, which is a member, and then we have lifetime, active professional, we have retired professionals, all of whom we're proud to say are PGA members and PGA professionals. And in fact, many of the PGA professionals that are TOUR members are also PGA professionals.
And so in the case that you're speaking of, he went through the process, pays dues, does his education, goes to the MSRs that the rest of us go through, and is eligible to play in our PGA professional championship, thus giving him the opportunity to compete and play here if he qualifies, or she qualifies for KPMG, for example.
So for us, this came up last year, as well, and the year before. It went to our annual meeting as a resolution, which did not pass, and so we're excited to have him in the field. We are proud of all of our PGA professionals that are competing this week and cheering them all on.
Q. Kerry, I wondered if you can speak to getting a course like this ready in -- I think you said it was three and a half weeks of growing season. That sounds like a short amount of time. Were there all-nighters or were there people out here sweeping snow around? How did this do they?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, sort of Mother Nature, I think, to answer the question. The last two springs we came and visited and sort of went through the process before we -- the date change was announced so that we knew sort of what happened when it happened. We adjusted our agronomic plans that normally are done in the spring, moved some of those to the fall and didn't do some of the things you normally do in the spring knowing that it was such a short period.
Now, you asked me three and a half weeks ago, you always think, is spring ever going to come and are the trees going to bud and is the grass going to grow? Thankfully for all of our lives, that's happened, and hopefully will continue to do so.
Q. Kerry, everybody always refers to Bethpage Black as a great golf course. Through your trained eye, can you give me two or three aspects of Bethpage Black that make it great?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, I think to the point that we've talked about earlier, the terrain for one certainly allows any -- the architect in this case, but any architect, if you have sort of rolling terrain as we do, that is a huge advantage. The design, the grandeur of it -- the bunkering is unbelievable -- eight acres of sand on a golf course is an incredible amount of sand, and you look there at 17, you drive, and the side of those bunkers. Some of the gallery ropes, we never have to take them as wide as we have here because the bunkers are so grand.
Part of the golf course mystique is it's just so big and it's grand and it's -- stout is a word that -- there's six stout par-4s out there, at least six, but that play really tough and really difficult. All those factors combined make it a beautiful test of golf.
That's why the people's country club, thousands of people come out here and enjoy what is a great golf course every time, the people of New York. I wish I lived close enough to play myself.
SETH WAUGH: You know, and the interesting thing is nobody ever says it's unfair. They say it's a great test, and it's a happy place. It is hard, but it's fair and it's in front of you and you understand it. You can't beat it but you can understand it.
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