Luke DeCock

Would-be golf tournament host in HB2 limbo – DeCock

Old Chatham Golf Club is a 7,234 yard, 18-hole championship course set in 400 acres of protected woodlands in a section of the Triangle’s rolling hills northeast of Jordan Lake.
Old Chatham Golf Club is a 7,234 yard, 18-hole championship course set in 400 acres of protected woodlands in a section of the Triangle’s rolling hills northeast of Jordan Lake. News and Observer file photo

Bringing the U.S. Senior Amateur Open to Old Chatham Golf Club was an effort 15 years in the making. Now it’s nine months in the waiting.

The U.S. Golf Association was ready, in March, to award the 2019 Senior Amateur to Old Chatham as a reward not only for the club’s commitment to amateur golf but also a USGA-endorsed renovation that replaced acres of expensive, water-intensive turfgrass with native fescue.

Then the legislature sliced one out of bounds with House Bill 2, and the date of the USGA’s expected announcement came and went. Until something changes with that, Old Chatham will continue to wait.

“We understand the limbo,” Old Chatham president Allen Wilson said. “It was some really good positive news that we’d like to get out there, but we’re under the impression with the USGA that this is not a reconsidering of the venue. It’s more just timing. We’d like to get it announced and start building.”

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors.

Founded in 2001 in rural Chatham County as a golf club – no pool, no tennis – Old Chatham’s charter members included Dean Smith and Jim Hyler, who would serve as USGA president from 2010-11 and played a key role in bringing the dual U.S. Opens to Pinehurst in 2014.

While the members are justifiably proud of the Rees Jones design, a commitment to amateur golf has always been part of the club’s ethos, and after hosting several USGA amateur qualifiers and the 2009 N.C. Amateur, the club decided to pursue a national championship. At Hyler’s instigation, club officials met with the USGA and, in January 2015, submitted a formal invitation to host an amateur championship.

Whether it’s a U.S. Open or anything else, no one actually invites the USGA until they know it’s going to be accepted, eventually. It’s the end of a long feeling-out process. How long a club has to wait, and what event ends up coming, remain unknowns.

In Old Chatham’s case, the answers were “not long” and “a good one.” The USGA moved quickly to award the 2019 Senior Amateur to Old Chatham, the third time that championship will be played in the state. Everything was going swimmingly, right up to the week of the announcement.

“We were pleasantly surprised bordering on being shocked that we got a big event like the U.S. Senior and that it came in 2019,” Wilson said. “That is an acceleration of the process based on how they viewed Old Chatham.”

The official announcement of the 2019 Senior Amateur to Old Chatham was scheduled for March 28. On March 22, the North Carolina General Assembly rushed HB2 into law. As the implications of HB2 settled in that week, to statewide and national outrage over the discriminatory provisions of the bill, March 28 came and went without any word from the USGA, although the embargoed press release still shows up in various places online.

While the ACC and NCAA, among others, have pulled events from North Carolina over HB2, the golf world has taken a more interim position: governing bodies have left events like the 2017 PGA Championship at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club in place, but have stopped awarding new events to North Carolina.

In early February, the USGA awarded the 2019 Senior Women’s Open to Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club. Old Chatham was supposed to be next. Then HB2 happened. Almost nine months later, there’s still only silence.

“We haven’t officially announced it yet,” USGA spokeswoman Vanessa Zink said. “We have no plan to announce it yet.”

While the USGA won’t confirm that HB2 is the hold up, it’s as poorly kept a secret as the news that Old Chatham will, eventually, host in 2019.

“For the same reason the ACC pulled out,” Wilson said. “They’re making a statement diversity is important to their organization.”

So now Old Chatham waits, quietly making preparations for a tournament it still expects to host three summers from now. If the club was pleasantly surprised how quickly the USGA was willing to consider it as a site, it’s taking a little longer than expected to make it official.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

USGA EVENTS IN NC

There have been 30 USGA championships held in North Carolina, most recently the 2014 U.S. Open and Women’s Open at Pinehurst’s No. 2 course. In addition to the awarded-but-still-not-announced 2019 Senior Amateur at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, five future USGA championships are scheduled for North Carolina. Additionally, the 2017 PGA Championship will be held at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.

2017 Amateur Four Ball, Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4

2018 Mid Amateur, Charlotte Country Club

2019 Amateur, Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 8

2019 Senior Women’s Amateur, Pine Needles

2019 Senior Amateur, Old Chatham

2024 U.S. Open, Pinehurst No. 2

SOURCE: USGA

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