The annual meeting for the PGA of America takes place this week at the association’s new home in Frisco, Texas. Before the meeting, PGA president John Lindert and CEO Seth Waugh sat down for videoconference interviews with Global Golf Post. The discussion below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
GGP: What has been the impact of LIV Golf on the PGA of America, especially since the June 6 announcement of the proposed “framework agreement” between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund?
Lindert: The biggest impact was confusion about the understanding of what the PGA of America is vs. the PGA Tour. It underscored the number of people who didn’t really understand the difference between the two organizations. We haven’t really felt any impact otherwise.
Waugh: We have had brand confusion with the PGA Tour for a number of years. We have felt the need to differentiate our brand. Day to day, we have 29,000 people out there who are the backbone of the game. They try to make lives better through this game. We launched a new brand campaign during the Ryder Cup, “We Love this Game.” It’s simple. It speaks to what we do and what our mission is.
GGP: There have been calls over the past few weeks for the men’s major championships to re-examine their fields considering the OWGR decision not to award ranking points for LIV players. Is that something that might come under consideration for the PGA Championship?
Lindert: We have been happy with how people qualify for the PGA Championship. I don’t see that process being broken at this moment in time. I don’t see us changing how we invite people to the PGA Championship.
Waugh: We are not beholden to rankings in building our field. They are a consideration, but our goal is to have the best field in golf. We have, for many decades. We will continue to deliver that.
GGP: The PGA of America took a very strong position on the possibility of equipment regulation this year. Where do you think that issue stands with the governing bodies?
Lindert: It wasn’t just the PGA of America. It was the PGA world alliance with seven other PGAs across the globe. We met in Liverpool at the Open Championship, and we agreed that bifurcation was not good for the game. To bifurcate the game would take away one of the great assets the game enjoys. We think that the recreational game is in a great spot, and we don’t want to see anything to impact the recreational game because that’s what we deal with day in and day out.
Waugh: The resulting confusion from bifurcation is concerning. What is an elite event? The policeman on that would be our PGA professionals around the world. Bifurcation adds a level of confusion that may be unhealthy and puts them in a very awkward position. We understand what the governing bodies are trying to accomplish. It has been a very collegial conversation. We have listened to them, and they have listened to us. They have run a very good process, a fair and open process.
GGP: Is there a timeline for naming the next Ryder Cup captain, and who will it be?
Lindert: Typically, the timeline is that we announce the captain before the points begin to be earned. Since we are in a non-Ryder Cup year, that announcement would come sometime before the Masters in 2024. The committee has had conversations about a captain, but we haven’t landed on an individual at this point in time.
Waugh: We want to make sure the captain has a say about the points and captain’s picks. There isn’t a lot for the captain to do until we are a year out in front, so there is no rush. There are a lot of people who are not only willing but eager to be a Ryder Cup captain. We’ll have a great captain.
GGP: What are key off-the-course initiatives that you have been working on this year where you think you have made progress?
Lindert: The very first one that comes to mind is PGA Hope. That program is helping our patriots everywhere. Three years ago, we were able to provide 3,000 golf lessons to our veterans who served our country and help them rehabilitate. Last year, we were able to provide 12,000 lessons, a significant increase in just two years. We are looking to grow that in the next few years. We have more PGA professionals who are certified Hope instructors than ever before. The impact of the program not only changes lives, but it saves lives. The other one is the PGA Junior League. More than 70,000 kids participated this year, and it continues to grow. I am excited about this program not only because it introduces youth to the game but is developing the next generation of golfers. We have seen PGA Junior League kids go on to have collegiate careers, have amateur careers, and go out on tour. The PGA Junior League is great for the game and great for the PGA professional as well.
Waugh: Recruiting and work/life balance issues. Coming out of COVID-19, there has been an imbalance of supply and demand for PGA professionals. We have become very intentional about how we recruit and where we recruit. We are trying to make our profession more attractive in a lot of different ways. We have more associates in the membership than we have had in at least the last 15 years. Our Professional Golf Management programs are on the rise again after going through a decade-long decline. The quality of life for our members is improving. I hear this all the time. Pay has risen over the last 3-5 years, our deferred-compensation program is now being executed, and we are proud of that.
GGP: How is the home of the PGA of America doing in Frisco?
Lindert: It is beyond expectations. I was on the board when we decided to make the move to Frisco. I was probably one of the last people to climb onboard. I couldn’t figure out how a building could be transformational. The old headquarters in Palm Beach (Gardens, Florida) was an office building, but what we have at the home of the PGA of America is anything but an office building. It is a learning center; it is a historical center. There is the Dance Floor, our two-acre putting green, the Swing, our lighted 10-hole golf course with music being played, and the two championship golf courses. I have heard people who have been there say it is the Disneyland of golf.
Waugh: There are very few times when the reality is better than the dream. I think that is the case here. There are so many ways to consume the game at Frisco. People need to come and see it. On Friday night, it feels a bit like St. Andrews. You have families on the putting green, eating ice cream, watching whatever is on the big screen. It is everything we had imagined, and more. It may be the town square for the American game.