IAGA Conference - State of the Game & State of Mind

By: Tom Cade

The International Association of Golf Administrators (IAGA) held its 46th Annual Meeting in mid-November at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz.

If you're asking what the IAGA is, you're most likely not the first to ask. It's a rather dry term to denote a body of golf administrators representing the world's amateur golf associations. There are over 100 golf associations represented in the IAGA, and other allied groups include the United States Golf Association, Golf Canada, the PGA of America, National Golf Course Owners Association, Club Managers Association of America, American Society of Golf Course Architects, National Golf Foundation and many other professional organizations.

The IAGA serves as a medium for golf administrators to exchange information, techniques and other knowledge related to the game of golf and to establish channels of communication among the world's golfing fraternities.

Basically, the annual three-day conference is a meeting of the minds. And on the morning of the first day of this year's conference, a few good minds gave opening speeches in the General Session.

After some introductory remarks by Joe Sprague, IAGA President (and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Golf Association), Mike Davis, the Executive Director of the USGA, took the podium and said for the first time in its 118 years the USGA will be implementing a strategic plan for the years 2013 through 2017. This seems to be another example of Davis taking the lead in creating a USGA that is more in tune with the current state - and future - of the game. "We will always stick to our mission (as a governing body)," he said. "But we recognize that the game evolves, and we want to address that to ensure the game remains healthy."

Davis has been in his position less than two years, rising from the rank and file, and is someone who likes to be in the field, get his hands dirty and maybe, truly, is someone who understands the game from the ground up.

The USGA's strategic plan, said Davis during his presentation, will consist of six core strategies: Strengthening the delivery of the USGA's functions (i.e. presenting better to the golfing world what the USGA does); enhancing the experience of their championships (for those who attend, and for those who compete); enhancing the game's sustainability, from an environmental standpoint (addressing the concerns and issues of water usage and course maintenance) and by making the game more enjoyable (by having courses be playable for professionals and high-handicappers alike - he actually used the phrase "reducing the need for longer and longer golf courses"); recognizing the USGA's own global relevancy (with its continuing relationship with the R&A); keeping healthy the GHIN Handicap system and Course Rating and creating sustainable business plans for state and regional golf associations, which are the arms of the USGA, and the more immediate contact with the world's core golfers; and maintaining the economic well-being of the USGA with the introduction of sponsors into the association's mode of thinking.

Davis presented a lot of material in a short amount of time, which bodes well for the future - cutting through the red tape and chatter, and getting down to the business at hand.

Several USGA staff members were in attendance, including Regional Affairs Director Emily von Doehren and John Bodenhamer, Senior Managing Director of Rules, Competitions & Amateur Status.

Following Davis at the podium were Diane Dunlop-Hebert, the 109th (and second woman) President of Golf Canada, and Scott Simmons, who's been the Executive Director of Golf Canada since 2007. Simmons spoke about the need for more communication among golf associations in Canada. "There are 68 different golf associations in our country," he said. "That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless we don't realize the common goal we have, which is to promote the game."

Other featured speakers during the first day's General Session included Joe Beditz of the National Golf Foundation, who announced that rounds played in the U.S. were up 7.4 percent in 2012. How did this happen? "There were 8 percent more playable days during the year, weather-wise," said Beditz. "And consumer confidence - and spending - was up a little bit as well, which is why golf-product sales were also up."

Other factoids from Beditz and the NGF: only 17 new courses opened in 2012 (the high point of course openings was 2000), and 158 courses closed during the year. The natural correction, it would seem, is continuing.

Rich Richeson of the PGA of America spoke about Golf 2.0, which may need some freshening up. He showed some commercials that had aired during the year, and Golf 2.0 and the "Get Golf Ready" initiative are starting to gather some momentum.

Later, the USGA's Green Section took the stage. Jim Moore, Green Section Education Director, comically and pointedly explained the difference in maintenance between the lush Greenbrier Country Club in Virginia and the sunbaked and jeans-wearing public Greenbrier Golf Club in Moody, Texas, and whether one was better than the other, and how each was suited to its particular location. And Kimberly Erusha, Ph.D., the Green Section's Managing Director, spoke about the increased importance of the continued educational efforts of her department.

Breakout sessions, food, private conversations, golf on TV, emails and phone calls, and a little golf in the warm Tucson desert air. All this followed over the next three days.

The golf world continues to turn.

Among its other initiatives, the IAGA developed the International Golf Network (IGN), which allows participating associations' members the ability to post scores when outside their home areas and to have those scores transmitted back to their home association. For more information, visit www.iaga.org.

Tom Cade is the editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, published by the Pacific Northwest Golf Association. He is also the current president of the Northwest Golf Media Association, for which he served as managing director in 2005-06.