Golf is an economic juggernaut in the United States, and McLean resident Mark Newell is at the forefront of shaping the sport’s future.
The recently elected president of the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) has played golf since high school ,and became “addicted” to the game in his late 30s.
“For me, the most fun was the combination of getting outdoors for a few hours in an activity that really allows your mind to leave everything behind,” he said. “It’s about the challenge and frustration of hitting that little ball, but also being out there with friends.”
Newell said he plans to help the USGA pursue its goals to improve the pace of play, modernize the game’s rules, standardize its handicap system around the globe and ensure golf facilities are environmentally and economically viable.
According to the association, which was founded in 1894, golf generates about $176 billion worth of economic activity annually in the United States and employs approximately 2 million people. Part of USGA’s mission is to make the public aware of career potential in the industry, Newell said.
Newell has worked with the USGA for eight years and is in his sixth as a member of its 15-member executive committee. He was the association’s general counsel from 2011 to 2012 and its treasurer from 2014 to 2015.
His term as president will run for one year, but the association at its annual meeting has the option of granting him a second term.
The executive committee, which he now chairs as president, helps set the association’s overall strategic direction and gives support, oversight and guidance to the organization’s day-to-day management team, Newell said.
The committee every four years gives final approval to changes in the rules of golf, and in March 2017 published a new draft of rules in order to receive feedback. Committee leaders in coming weeks will announce the final set of regulations, which will take effect in 2019.
“We decided the rules were fairly complicated and there were a lot of things people didn’t understand, a lot of nuances, distinctions and exceptions that produced outcomes that didn’t seem right to many,” he said. “We decided to go back to basics and write our set of rules from scratch.”
The association remains committed to hosting top-quality golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open, plus amateur championships, Newell said. The USGA’s inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be held in July at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill.
Another USGA initiative is to hammer out a worldwide handicap standard, which in 2020 would replace six currently in use.
USGA officials also are examining ways, from adjusting the space between tee times to reducing the size of golf courses, that might speed up the pace of play.
“In today’s world, time is more precious than money,” said Newell, noting that nine-hole outings are becoming more popular. “It takes several hours out of a day to play 18 holes on courses that have been getting longer and longer over many decades. It puts real pressure on how many people are going to play and how often they play.”
The USGA for nearly a century has had a research arm that studies everything from new turf grasses and best maintenance practices to water conservation, he said. Golf courses nationwide have substantially reduced their use of water and pesticides, but more can be done, Newell said. One recent trend has been allowing some parts of courses to remain in their natural state.
The association also is encouraging a more diverse swath of people, especially women, to play golf, he said.
Newell earned a bachelor’s degree from Albion College in 1977, then went to Harvard University, where in 1981 he received a master’s of public policy from its John F. Kennedy School of Government and a degree from Harvard Law School. He edited and was treasurer of Harvard Law Review.
Before beginning his legal career with Latham & Watkins LLP, from which he has retired, Newell clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell.
“It was certainly one of the great experiences of my life,” he said. “Justice Powell was one of the most remarkable and great persons I’ve ever known.”
In his youth, Newell was an ardent fan of champion golfer Jack Nicklaus. As a player, the USGA president’s favorite course is Cypress Point in Pebble Beach, Calif.
“It’s obviously an iconic course of phenomenal beauty, especially when you get out to those last holes, crashing over the ocean,” he said.