For the next two years, the governing body of golf in the United States will be led by St. Louis attorney Tom O’Toole. When he became president of the United States Golf Association (USGA) last month, O’Toole spoke about the need to increase the accessibility and prominence of the sport.
He reiterated that idea today when he discussed the future of golf with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. Fellow St. Louisans and big-name amateur golfers Ellen Port and Jim Holtgrieve joined the conversation.
Accessibility has long been a theme for O’Toole. Beginning in 1991 with the formation of the St. Louis Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association, he worked to create opportunities for country club golfers to play with public golfers.
Nowadays O’Toole sees increasing the accessibility of golf as vital to the future of the sport.
“In the cold hard analysis of this, the game’s health is at risk,” O’Toole said. “It’s not particularly welcoming, it’s expensive to play, and it takes too long to play in most instances.”
While the primary mission of the USGA is to write and enforce the rules of the game and run national tournaments, the USGA also needs to be involved with growing the sport in order to continue to have a game to govern, he said.
Making the Tough Calls
To O’Toole, part of the appeal of golf is its difficulty and integrity. Here’s what he had to say about two recent controversial rulings from the USGA: call-in infractions and belly putters.
According to O’Toole, Port and Holtgrieve, one key to increasing interest and access to golf is offering opportunities for young people to play golf from an early age.
“If you don’t get kids interested in golf early, I think it’s hard. I think you lose them,” Port said. She has taught P.E. at the John Burroughs School in St. Louis for 29 years, where she coaches boys and girls golf. ‘So I really applaud the CYC program [Catholic Youth Council of St. Louis], for instance, that started four or five years ago...they had 450 or 500 kids get started … that I don’t think otherwise would have played.”
But teaching kids golf is about more than increasing interest in the sport, said Holtgrieve. It’s also about teaching life lessons and building character.
“It teaches you humility, it teaches you integrity. It teaches you a lot about yourself,” Holtgrieve said.
In June St. Louis will host the Curtis Cup, a biennial match between a team of the best amateur women golfers in the United States and a team of their counterparts from Great Britain and Ireland. The 2014 U.S. team is captained by Port, a five-time USGA champion.
Holtgrieve captained the men’s version of the Curtis Cup, the Walker Cup, in 2013 and 2011. His lengthy career includes experience as both an amateur and a professional golfer.