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The talk of last week’s US Open was the Los Angeles Country Club, a secretive enclave within LA’s city limits that had never hosted a major in its 126-year history. After a weather-affected Thursday round that saw not one but two players break the Open’s single-round scoring record, the jewel that is the North Course showed its championship pedigree, leaving only one question: What took so long?
The two traveling majors – the US Open and the PGA Championship – operate independently of each other, but they have a similar approach to finding playing fields. “We don’t recruit clubs,” said Kerry Haigh, chief championship officer for the PGA of America, which administers three majors — the PGA Championship, the Women’s PGA Championship and the Senior PGA. “They have to decide it’s something they want to do.”
The LACC was never willing – apart from a few amateur events – until the track was renovated in 2010 and the membership decided it was time to show it off. The considerations in making such a decision include disruption, expense, damage and, of course, money. How much?
For a men’s US Open or PGA Championship, a club can earn a club anywhere from $3 million to $10 million or more. A 2021 story on Golf.com reported that profits for US Open hosts over the previous decade ranged from $3.9 million for Erin Hills on the low end to a high of $9.3 million at Oakmont.
“We pay a fee,” Haigh said, speaking only for his organization. “It varies a lot because it is linked to on-site sales. These are very complex agreements. Sometimes there is a minimum guarantee with payments beyond that if the event hits certain targets.”
The potential includes revenue from hotel suites, ticket sales and merchandise, which includes the right for the club to sell branded merchandise before and after, but not during, the event. “The most important thing is the quality of the course,” Haigh said. “Then we look at the logistics and the potential of the market.”
That’s why New York-area courses like Bethpage, Shinnecock and Winged Foot have seen regular action, and the industry was excited about the return to LA, which hasn’t hosted a major in 28 years.
Haigh was speaking from Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, where he was preparing the famed Lower Course for the Women’s PGA Championship, which starts on Thursday. It is the 12th major the club has hosted, starting in 1903, and includes seven US Opens, two Women’s US Opens and two PGA Championships. The Women’s PGA emerged as part of a deal to also host the men’s version of the event, which will come to the club in 2029.
“For a smaller event, like this week, we look at it as a break-even venture, at best,” Matt Wirths, Baltusrol’s president, said on a call. “That includes the typical revenue lost while the course was unavailable to members, such as guest fees and food and beverage.”
For national championships that draw even smaller crowds, such as the U.S. Amateur (four times) and the U.S. Women’s Amateur (twice), the club loses money — as much as $500,000 to $1 million, though Wirths says the club can sometimes reduce the hit through sponsorships or voluntary participation.
“Hosting championships has never been considered part of the financial plan at Baltusrol, and that is true of most of the clubs that undertake these events,” said Wirths. “When you become a member of our club, you understand that this is what we do and who we are. At times it can be inconvenient, but it is something we are proud to do and part of our mission to to give back and help develop the game.”
Haigh says the PGA Championship can cost the organization anywhere from $5 million to $50 million and a third of a year to complete. Construction starts a few months before the event, the course is closed to play for about two or three weeks, and cleanup afterward can take another month.
“We have a limited golf window in this part of the country and you take some prime days out,” Wirths said. The aftermath often includes putting the ground under merchandise and hospitality tents, removing access roads and repairing the damage caused by as many as 100,000 golf fans tramping the grounds. He adds, “PGA has an understanding of what the needs will be and they budget those costs into the contract.”
For the women’s PGA, the impact will be less, with shorter construction times, fewer injuries and less loss of access to the course.
On the other hand, the clubs gain the reputation of having a course worthy of a major. For public access facilities that host majors, such as Erin Hills, Whistling Straits, Pebble Beach and Pinehurst, the event can attract customers and justify higher greens fees.
For private clubs, it is more a matter of pride and promotion. “It’s not about attracting members — we have a waiting list — and we’re not utilizing it with our dues members,” Wirths said. “We’re doing it as a way to take part in the story and help the game.”