As the 115th U.S. Open begins, the story lines surrounding golf are changing. From the players to the venues, the game of golf is entering a new era focused more on inclusivity than exclusivity.
The site of this year's U.S. Open depicts golf's shifting mindset on the game's target market. For only the fourth time in U.S. Open history, the tournament will be held at a public course. As golf's top players tee off at Chambers Bay, fans watching worldwide can follow them knowing they can play the same holes.
The playing of the U.S. Open on a public golf course could have a significant impact on the growth of golf in America. According to wearegolf.org, 76 percent of golf in the United States is played on public golf courses.
"There is no question that what will occur, particularly after the televising of the event, is that people around the country will say they need to go and experience playing at a place like Chambers Bay. Besides the beautiful, natural scenery of the course, with few exceptions, U.S. Open courses aren't open to the public. Golfers can look at many U.S. Open courses and realistically say that the only way they will play it is if a guest of a club invites them. Avid golfers love having a chance to get on a golf course that the Tour pros have played on," World Golf Foundation CEO, Steve Mona, said.
Given that a majority of American golfers play on public courses, how likely is it that the USGA picks another public course to host the tournament in coming years?
"The senior executives and elected officials of the USGA very much understand the USGA's role in terms of the decisions it makes impacting the overall perception of the game. They consider the impact their decisions have on the overall health and vitality of the game very heavily. One of the perceptions of golf that we are working hard to correct is that the game is exclusive and only available to certain members of society," Mona explained.
A past challenge to public courses serving as a host site for the U.S. Open may be slowly eroding.
"There are three main filters that are evaluated when selecting a U.S. Open course. The first is the golf course itself. It has to be worthy of hosting the U.S. Open. Second, the infrastructure surrounding the course must be suitable to hosting a major sporting event. A small city is essentially erected at the U.S. Open site. The third piece is that there must be local support in terms of a volunteer base and local tourism infrastructure to pull off a U.S. Open," Mona noted.
According to Mona, renovations to some noteworthy American public golf courses and the building of new courses have paved the way for the U.S. Open to be hosted more frequently at public courses.
"Chambers Bay didn't even exist 20-years ago and now it's hosting a U.S. Open. Before Torrey Pines was renovated it wasn't U.S. Open ready, but now it is. Erin Hills in Wisconsin will host the U.S. Open in 2017," Mona said.
Mona notes that the hosting of the 2015 U.S. Open at a public golf course is beneficial to the game of golf.
"The fact that it's being played on a public course helps us in our efforts to communicate that golf is a game accessible to all."