Sunday, April 21, 2024

USGA drives excitement in Sandhills

Pinehurst solidifies its “Home of American Golf “ status.

Pinehurst is known for its 40 golf courses within a 15-mile radius, the first dating back more than 120 years. It’s hosted countless tournaments and competitions including the U.S. Open. Now, the United States Golf Association’s plans for a second headquarters — called Golf House Pinehurst — cements what the local convention and tourism bureau calls the “Home of American Golf.”

While maintaining its headquarters in Liberty Corner, N.J., the USGA will shift its research and testing center for golf equipment to the Sandhills. It will also establish offices for the organization’s turfgrass agronomy and management section, the USGA Foundation and championships team. There will also be a combined museum and welcome center.

The group hired Raleigh’s Clearscapes architectural firm to design the site at the corner of Cherokee Road and Carolina Vista Drive, within view of Pinehurst Country Club on the Pinehurst Resort’s campus. Construction is expected to start early next year and be finished in 2023.

Clearscapes has shown a keen understanding of the USGA and Pinehurst, says Rand Jerris, USGA’s senior management director of public services. “USGA and Pinehurst Resort have a strong grounding in the past and an eye to the future. What Pinehurst has done to establish itself as a leader, that is important. For us with Clearscapes, there is a sensitivity to the environment, the history, sustainability, and they create beautiful buildings. … The way the spaces fit together, the color, the textures will then follow.”

As part of last fall’s announcement, the USGA said Pinehurst Country Club will also serve as USGA’s first “anchor” site for the U.S. Open, with championships scheduled in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. It’s the first such commitment by the group.

The $25 million investment over the next several years includes the construction of the two buildings near the clubhouse housing 50 full-time USGA staffers. Pinehurst Resort has since announced a nearby $16.2 million 36-room boutique hotel that is scheduled to open in March 2024.

The USGA’s expansion is expected to include 35 new staff positions at an average annual salary of about $80,000. The project is in line to receive as much as $18 million in performance-based incentives from the state, sparking criticism as “crony capitalism” from the conservative John Locke Foundation of Raleigh. But a bipartisan group of state lawmakers backed the plan because of projections it will spark as much as $2 billion in economic impact over the next 25 years.

“Since the announcement [last fall], we came out of the gates running. There has been tremendous energy and enthusiasm in the golf community and broader Sandhills,” Jerris says. “We wanted to convert that energy into momentum for the project and pulled together the core elements of our design team and construction management team.”

Porches and columns that speak to the Pinehurst aesthetic and also USGA’s main campus in New Jersey will figure prominently on multiple facades of each building. “We are creating a destination that is sharable and distinct. We will tie everything we do into the architectural language of the village,” Clearscapes architect Brandy Thompson says.

The combined welcome center and USGA golf museum building will include exhibits displaying artifacts from the association’s premier collection.

“We really want this space to be open to the public and allow people to take a journey to understand the USGA,” says Janeen Driscoll, public relations director.

Established in 1895, the same year Pinehurst was founded by James Walker Tufts, the USGA sponsors more than a dozen championship events annually. It also governs the rules and equipment standards for golf and offers turfgrass research, education and management. The USGA is distinct from the PGA Tour and Professional Golfers Association of America, the main organizers of professional golf events.

“What we do goes much further than championships,” Driscoll says. “We are very intent on creating gathering spaces in the welcome center” that will host discussions, art exhibits and other events. “In these spaces we can start conversations about golf in a much broader way. This is where the values of the USGA will come to life in the physical plant.”

Likewise, the outdoor landscape around the two new buildings will further the USGA story, in particular its sustainability efforts. Through signage and actual landscape features, visitors will have a chance to learn about turfgrass management, restoring birds, bees and other pollinators on golf courses, and resource conservation.

“It is important that our campus shares and lives the same values that we advocate for golf courses,” Driscoll says. “Pinehurst is an important way that we can put that work in front of millions of visitors, to educate them on the work we do.”

Thompson agrees: “You will be able to engage in the history of the game and mission of the USGA in the welcome center, then see some of that in practice in the testing center. And all of this will work within the context of Pinehurst, and that it really is a very historically interesting village.” ■

By Laura Douglass
Reprinted with permission of The Pilot newspaper of Southern Pines.

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