USGA, Pinehurst Preparing to Showcase Partnership
The 2024 Open will be a “home game” for the USGA. It will be Pinehurst’s fourth such championship since 1999 and the first with the USGA’s second headquarters just off the course. The Golf House Pinehurst complex is under construction next to the Pinehurst No. 2 course that will host the championship.
“Everyone is excited for a return. The USGA staff that we work with, they’re ready to come home,” Pinehurst Resort and Country Club President Tom Pashley said. “At Pinehurst there’s a little bit more of a template, even though it changes a little bit each Open at Pinehurst. They don’t have to reinvent everything.”
“To be able to go to a place we know as well as Pinehurst allows us to focus more on the details,” said Reg Jones, the managing director for the USGA’s open championships.
“When we do new venues, you’re still learning. You don’t necessarily know the things that you know when you go back to a place like Pinehurst.”
For that reason, Jones said, Pinehurst was the best fit when nearly three years ago the USGA announced Donald Ross’ masterpiece set in the Sandhills would be the first “anchor site” for the championship. 2024 will be the first championship with a designated anchor site.
“What the anchor site concept does for us is allow us to make more strategic decisions working together with our partners in Pinehurst,” Jones said.
The U.S. Open will also be contested at Pinehurst in 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047.
On top of his club being designated as an anchor site, Pashley feels a mutual pride for the Open’s return to Pinehurst.
“It’s always been a close relationship,” Pashley said. “It makes everything feel that much more special, and I think they’re going to be as proud to show off Pinehurst and their office space as we are to show off the golf course and everything that’s happening around it.”
For those returning to the Sandhills next year, Pashley said a new-look Pinehurst will welcome out-of-town fans, players, and volunteers. “It really has been a flurry of activities and investments, and we’re thrilled to be able to show it off on an international stage.”
There have been major renovations to several courses, a new short course called “The Cradle,” and upgrades to several of the club’s hotels. On the course itself, Pinehurst No. 2 will play differently with the installation of bermuda greens, a tougher strand of grass than its bent grass predecessor, but the aesthetic remains the same.
The changes in and around the course are some of the options that Pinehurst has as an anchor site, allowing for changes and adaptations to the championship blueprint moving forward.
“We’ve made some significant improvements to the clubhouse and the locker room, so we’ll be able to see if that met the expectations of the USGA and the players, and then we’ll be able to tweak it, and we won’t have to wait 10 or 12 years to enhance it and make it better,” Pashley said.
Pinehurst and the USGA’s relationship has blossomed in the last three decades. Prior to the 1990s, the USGA rarely staged a championship at the club, but Jones has seen more emphasis on championships — and overall business of the USGA — come to the shadows of the longleaf pines.
From somewhat strangers before 1994 to now soon-to-be-neighbors, Pinehurst and the USGA are starting a new chapter for golf’s governing body.
“To see the progression from where we started with that first Senior Open in ‘94, to see how far we’ve come in 30 years, it’s incredible,” Jones said. “I think it speaks to the partnership. It’s always been a home game for me, but now it’s a home game for our organization.”
“The whole team — our leadership and the rest of our team in New Jersey — for them they’re starting to embrace Pinehurst as home. I think that’s what makes it different to be able to have a permanent office and 65-plus staff members based here.”
After setting attendance records with the 2005 U.S. Open and then the one-of-a-kind back-to-back U.S. Open and Women’s Open on Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014, fans have flocked to the famed fairways.
“We are not planning on having as many fans for 2024,” Jones said. “We sort of changed our focus to not necessarily quantity in total number of fans in attendance as much as now it’s more about really focusing on the experience we are able to deliver. We think at Pinehurst, we can do a good job of that.”
Focusing on the fan’s experience will include the USGA’s new VIP area in the grandstand overlooking No. 2’s 18th green. The 18th hole grandstand at No. 2’s last U.S. Open in 2014 held about 4,000 people. The new 2024 grandstand will be configured for more than 3,000 people, reflecting the USGA’s plan to make its events more intimate and comfortable.
The enclosed, temperature-controlled 1895 Club will offer 400 tickets at $2,500 per day from Wednesday through Sunday of tournament week. The 1895 Club will include valet parking and high-end food and beverage services.
“We want to focus on the experience,” Brian Miranda, the USGA’s managing director of partnerships in hospitality, said. “We have some new exciting products, but we also want to elevate our game in terms of the experience everybody has on site from corporate to the general fans. That’s the focus for the future — making sure everyone has the best possible experience they can.”
But fewer fans won’t mean less buzz. The USGA is already selling tickets for Pinehurst.
(Original articles by Jonathan Bym & Brad King, The Pilot)
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