Early Saturday morning, notebook in hand and comfortable shoes on his feet, Mike Davis set out on a six-hour, solo walk around the composite course at The Country Club. As executive director of the US Golf Association who would be the special observer for the next day’s championship match, Davis was simply doing his due diligence at the 113th US Amateur.
But he was also taking plenty of notes and making his own observations, fueling speculation that the next time a USGA event is brought to the Brookline club, it just might be the US Open.
It’s been 25 years since the US Open was last held at The Country Club, and venues are booked through 2020, so it wouldn’t happen any time soon, if ever. Still, Davis could barely contain his enthusiasm when asked about the possibility.
“My view, because I get asked all the time, in terms of the US Open: There is zero doubt this golf course is good enough for an Open. Zero,” Davis said. “There’s so much history to The Country Club, this is one of the USGA’s five founding clubs, arguably the greatest US Open of all time with [Francis] Ouimet in ’13 was played here. And listen, we try to move the event around geographically, and we haven’t been to New England since ’88.
“Ultimately, the biggest challenges about an Open here have always been how do you make it work logistically?”
True, there are logistical obstacles — How to transport spectators to the site? Is there enough room on the property for the corporate and merchandise tents that come with the tournament? Where would the practice range be? — but if both sides wanted it done, it could be done. It wouldn’t be the first time the US Open was brought to a venue that was a tough puzzle to put together; Merion certainly was this year.
As was the case in 1988 (and also 1999 for the Ryder Cup), the club would need the assistance of the Town of Brookline and make it a worthwhile partnership, especially financially.
That’s all hypothetical, and premature. If the US Open ever returns to The Country Club, the first step needs to come from the membership, which would need to decide that it wants to hold the event and make a play for it. With nearly 1,000 members, that might not be a slam dunk.
“I think it’s premature to predict what championships might be best for the club, and I think both the club and the USGA will probably spend some time over the next couple of years trying to get a handle on the logistical obstacles to holding an event here,” said Sandy Tierney, who served as chairman for the US Amateur. “The club and the USGA have a very close relationship, and I’m pretty confident that after 16 USGA championships being held [at The Country Club], that there will be a 17th, and an 18th.”
Proper protocol calls for a club or course to formally invite the USGA to bring the US Open to the site. That might never happen at The Country Club, but with Davis standing on the 15th green Sunday, less than an hour after the conclusion of the US Amateur, he was asked how he’d react if an invitation did come from Brookline. Would The Country Club be in the mix for a US Open?
“I would say this: The answer’s yes, but between the club and our operations people, they would have to come up with a plan,” Davis said. “They’ve expressed interest in the past, but the club and I think the USGA in a lot of ways have been on pause the last couple years, because we knew [the US Amateur] was coming.
“From walking around it, I couldn’t have been more impressed. In some ways I reacquainted myself with The Country Club. I’ve been here many times, but I just didn’t remember it being this good.”
With perfect weather, better-than-expected merchandise sales, and attendance for the week topping 31,000, the US Amateur at The Country Club couldn’t have gone better, unless you wanted an American winner (or semifinalist, actually). The course certainly stood up to the world’s best amateurs. In 312 stroke-play rounds, there were only six scores under 70, and the scoring average was 76.429. Those are definitely US Open numbers.
. . .
When the USGA announced it had reached a 12-year agreement with Fox Sports to televise its championships, including the US Open, it wasn’t the new broadcast partner that made it so newsworthy. It was the timing.
The deal was announced on the eve of the PGA Championship, which in the opinions of many violated a sacred, not-so-secret code against making news of your own during someone else’s major championship week. Davis knew his organization would take plenty of heat, but said there was little the governing body could do.
“If the golf world thinks we could have sat on that [news] for five or six days, they’re clueless,” Davis said. “The last thing we wanted to do was announce it on the eve of the PGA. Believe me, we didn’t want to do that, but we couldn’t sit on it, either, because it was going to get out.”
Once the exclusive negotiating window between the USGA and NBC expired Aug. 1, it created an open market, which Davis said resulted in three publicly traded companies submitting bids with time deadlines. Once a decision was made, Davis said, the USGA owed it to the winner — and the two losers — to inform them. With so many parties aware of the deal, not announcing it was no longer an option.
The perception by some was that the announcement on the eve of the PGA was in response to the very public disagreement the USGA and PGA of America have had this year over the anchored putting. Simply not true, Davis said.
“Anybody that said that just didn’t know what they were talking about,” Davis said. “We have tried to take the high road on this and say, ‘hey, we’ll take our punches.’ It was one of those things where it wasn’t ideal, but we were literally wedged into a corner, it was a no-win [situation]. The view was get hold of the PGA ahead of time and apologize, which we did, and then from there you just take your lumps, which we did.”
The new deal begins in 2015, making Fox Sports the exclusive domestic broadcast partner of the USGA. Davis would change one thing, however, about the announcement that was made.
“I think we could have done a much better job singing the praises of NBC, Golf Channel, and ESPN, because they have been wonderful to work with. Not only how well they produce stuff and have cared, but because they’ve been partnerships,” Davis said. “ESPN was with us for 32 years, NBC was with us basically 19 years. That one I would like to have us take a mulligan on, because I think there were some hurt feelings, and we never meant to insinuate that it was because of the quality. It wasn’t.”