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USGA Ready to “Blend In” to Pinehurst

Enthusiasm has run high since news broke in September that the U.S Golf Association would build a new second headquarters on the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club campus and name it the first “anchor site” of the U.S. Open.

“The golf world, local residents, business leaders and members — you name it, all have shown unanimous support for this project,” Pinehurst president Tom Pashley said during a virtual panel discussion with USGA top brass last week.

The event was sponsored by Moore 100, a subgroup of Moore County’s Partners in Progress that brings together a broader constituency of individuals and businesses to discuss topics of community importance and economic development.

Panelists for the Nov. 3 discussion included USGA CEO Mike Davis, Thomas Pagel, the USGA senior managing director of governance, and Craig Annis, USGA chief brand officer. The discussion was moderated by David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot.

USGA’s investment into Golf House Pinehurst is projected to generate at least $800 million in economic benefits to the state over the next 10 years. Pinehurst was selected to host the organization’s preeminent championship in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. In addition to other championship events across the state, the total impact will result in a $2 billion boost over the next 25 years.

State lawmakers signaled their approval of the deal with an $18 million incentive package. County leaders also have offered support primarily through tax breaks calculated as 90 percent of the total property taxes paid above the current property tax value for up to 10 years. That’s provided USGA job creation and capital investment goals are met. Funding would be paid from new tax revenues collected as a result of the organization’s investment.

Village leaders on Tuesday approved an economic incentive agreement with Pinehurst Resort for the development of a new $16 million hotel and facilities to support future U.S. Open championships. The agreement provides 10 years of grants, also calculated as 90 percent of the total property taxes paid above and beyond the current ad valorem tax value.

“We have long felt, if you think about golf in this country and its origins, and where people gravitate to, how Pinehurst looks at itself as the Home of American Golf and a sister to St. Andrews is appropriate. If you come to Moore County, there is a good chance that golf will be part of it,” Davis said.

“We felt that to be there is very meaningful and we view that what will be good for the USGA will be good for the game of golf,” he said. “Given the DNA of the game in Moore County, we think it is a win-win.”

He noted that the USGA is seeking out North Carolina-based architects to design the buildings, in addition to using local construction labor and services. The size, scale and aesthetic of the new buildings, including the state-of-art equipment testing laboratory, will blend into the existing village and resort campus properties. Site work could begin as early as January.

“It has to be done in the right kind of way to make sure we keep that wonderful, historic feel. It will look back to the past but also smartly look to the future,” Davis said.

The special relationship between Pinehurst and the USGA strengthened each time the two successfully challenged the “status quo.” In 2014, Pinehurst hosted the first-ever U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open played in back-to-back weeks, and made history again last year by hosting the 36-hole match-play final of the 119th U.S. Amateur Championship on two courses.

“When I think of Mike and what he’s meant to Pinehurst Resort, I like to think we bring out the innovator in Mike Davis,” Pashley said. “The USGA has been extremely innovative under Mike’s leadership and working with Pinehurst.”

Craig Annis said the decision to build USGA’s second headquarters in Pinehurst — and North Carolina for that matter — was strategic.

“In Pinehurst and this region, you have close to a million golfers. The opportunity to get closer to those golfers and engage and support them — the area you are in provides an unparalleled opportunity,” he said. “This was a way to support our championship goals and the U.S. Open. But also to have a permanent presence in a state that is so committed to the game, that clearly was something very appealing to us.”

One of the standout features of the new facility will be the new test center where the USGA equipment standards team will evaluate prototypes of new balls and clubs.

“Golf is a unique sport. Not only do we have one set of rules, but we are also a self-governed game. Golfers call penalties on themselves and golfers inherently want to play by the rules,” said Thomas Pagel.

The USGA’s presence is expected to create a natural draw for equipment manufacturers that may be looking to set-up shop nearby; however, they cannot directly influence any economic development recruitment efforts.

“Our working team has a tremendous relationship with manufacturers. Rest assured, we will not be able to actively lobby but they will make their way through Pinehurst on a regular basis,” Pagel said. “Golfing is a small community and relationships are critical. Our folks leverage those relationships. That level of collaboration is to ensure golfers all throughout the world have a great experience that is unique to our game.”

Annis also noted that golf has been especially popular in recent months as people have sought out activities that are “covid-friendly.”

“Golf is, in short, thriving,” Annis said. “People are seeing the game lends itself to social distancing and these new norms. It is a safe and viable way to get out of your house,” he said. “Our job now, as part of the golf industry, is to keep that momentum up.”

Looking ahead, Annis said the USGA’s intention is to be an active part of the community.

“Whether it is the building design or impacts of traffic on a daily or periodic basis (championship events), we have a vested interest in the community’s success,” he said. “Our goal is not to stand out but to blend in, tastefully.”

(Original story by Laura Douglass, The Pilot)

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