Members at Winged Foot Golf Club decided overwhelmingly in a vote before Christmas that the U.S. Open won't be returning to their New York club anytime soon. Winged Foot had been considered among the favorites to host the 2015 Open.
The rejection was a setback for the club's board and its president, Len Horan, as well as for the USGA. "Obviously, this is disappointing," said Pete Bevacqua, the USGA's chief business officer. "I think anyone would agree the 2006 U.S. Open was a tremendous success."
The '06 Open was the first hosted by Winged Foot in 22 years, and its success was credited largely to the leadership of Horan. But many Winged Foot members felt the inconvenience of staging a major championship wasn't worth the reported $2 million netted by the club after expenses. Many among that group of members are also balking at the club's proposal for a 20-percent increase in annual dues.
"It's really just a timing issue more than anything else," said Horan, whose presidency ends Jan. 13. Horan said Sunday that the proposed dues hike resulted from the board's decision to reduce guest play and corporate outings beginning in 2008. "It had absolutely nothing to do with the Open."
The members' overriding reason for rejecting the 2015 Open was money, according to sources. It came down to one key difference between the club's deal with the USGA for the '06 Open and the proposal between the two sides for the 2015 Open. Terms for the 2015 Open called for the USGA to pay more up front as a rental fee but for the USGA to take 10 percent more from corporate sales than it did in 2006. According to a source familiar with the negotiations, Winged Foot's profit for hosting the 2015 championship would have been about the same as it was for the '06 Open. That was unacceptable to members, who felt the club should profit more from an Open in 2015 than it did in 2006.
The disruption factor also played a role. In 2006 many Winged Foot members were unhappy not only that they lost the use of the club's West course for the championship, but also the East course, which became the site for corporate hospitality, catering and other elements of infrastructure. Although the USGA picked up the tab for all damages that resulted -- reportedly in excess $500,000 -- the East course remained closed until October, nearly four months after Geoff Ogilvy's dramatic victory and Phil Mickelson's stunning collapse.
The big question now is, does this take Winged Foot out of the U.S. Open picture for good? Probably not.
Bevacqua and Mike Butz, the USGA's deputy executive director, attended a mid-December membership meeting at Winged Foot, where the club's objections were initially raised. "The message we heard over and over at the meeting and since the meeting is that even if Winged Foot decided not to issue an invitation for 2015, an invitation to the USGA [would be welcomed] in the future. The relationship between the USGA and Winged Foot is very, very strong."
Horan agreed. "It was not contentious," he said of the meeting, adding that Bevacqua and Butz received applause at the end of their presentation. "We have a diverse membership at this club. Some of our members who love the East course are just saying, 'Can't we wait a few more years?' Even among the most dissident [members], it was not an issue of not having an Open at Winged Foot. It was an issue of deferring [the invitation].''
Bevacqua also pointed out that Winged Foot in 2015 was not a done deal, and that there are other clubs who can't wait to get in the rotation. "The Open is in a pretty good spot," he said.
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf Digest magazine.