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Volume 20 No. 42
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New USGA structure will give Davis time to meet with allies, partners

Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, spent last week in Aberdeen, Scotland, site of the Walker Cup matches. But before he departed the States, he finalized two hires that will significantly affect the future of the USGA. Davis brought on Sarah Hirshland from Wasserman Media Group to run business affairs and Joe Goode from Bank of America to handle communications. They represent the final pieces in Davis’ front-office restructuring, a project he began shortly after taking over as executive director in March. Just hours after delivering his “pregame” Walker Cup speech to the U.S. squad last week, he spoke by phone from Scotland with SportsBusiness Journal’s Michael Smith about these moves and the USGA’s future.

Mike Davis’ team of experts at the USGA includes Joe Goode and Sarah Hirshland.
So, what did you say to the team?

DAVIS: We just talked about representing your country and how you conduct yourself. Of course, we went over some rules. But mostly, just enjoy this time. It’s something you’ll never forget.

Sarah Hirshland will be the fourth senior managing director and the final member of your senior staff. Now that you’ve restructured your front office, what have you accomplished?

DAVIS: Before, we might have had 12 or 14 different people who reported directly to the executive director. That required the executive director to be involved in a lot of decisions day-to-day. What we’re trying to do is get to the point where we have fewer people reporting directly to the executive director. We’re putting senior people in place and expecting them to make decisions, and they’ll be accountable for those decisions. They are the experts in their area. It also will allow me to spend a little more time outside of Far Hills [N.J., where the USGA is headquartered] dealing with our most important allies and partners.

Most everyone in golf knows your background in the sport, its rules and the U.S. Open championships. How are you approaching the commercial side of the association?

DAVIS: That’s true, I have been involved in the golf part of it for 22 years, but people forget the majority of my career was on the operations and logistical side of the business with the national championships. I ultimately was the person who dealt with the Open budget, the vendors, legal, finance, HR, IT. I know enough about the business side to know what I don’t know. So I went into this job … knowing that I want to surround myself with experts in those areas of the association’s business. That’s one of the reasons we created this position [Hirshland’s job as senior managing director of business affairs]. She’ll have a lot on her plate. She’ll oversee many facets of the business, including the on-site marketing at the Open, our corporate partner program and the USGA brand itself. She has great experience in those areas.

You started the corporate partner program in 2006, and now you’ve got American Express, IBM, Lexus, RBS and Rolex on board. Do you envision the USGA standing pat or do you see growing the number of partners in the future?

DAVIS: It’s fair to say that we’re very happy with that number. When we started the program, the idea was to get a few, and it really wasn’t about the financials. We do it so that certain partners can help us on our mission. You never say never, but I feel very confident in saying that we’re not going to see the USGA with title sponsors, presenting sponsors, advertising on the grandstands. We like the fact that we’re low key in that regard. … We’re a nonprofit, $135 million to $150 million business annually, and about $120 million of that goes directly back into the game. For example, we spend close to $5 million a year regulating equipment, testing clubs and balls. If we weren’t doing that, who would? The revenues from our corporate partners help us do that, but we’re not going to overly commercialize what we’re doing. Yes, we leave some money on the table, but we purposely do so. We have limited commercials on the U.S. Open. We want people to enjoy the broadcast.