The United States Golf Association will build a second headquarters in Pinehurst under a multi-million incentive package approved by state and local leaders.
A new economic development project, dubbed “Project Woodpecker,” rolled out Tuesday during a public hearing before the Moore County Board of Commissioners. The Pinehurst Village Council reviewed a similar presentation a short time later.
It’s no secret that Pinehurst Resort and the USGA have a special relationship. In the last 30 years, Pinehurst and its masterpiece No. 2 course have played host to more championship events than any other site in the nation.
County leaders unanimously approved a 10-year incentive grant for the project primarily in the form of tax breaks calculated as 90 percent of the total property taxes paid above and beyond the current property tax value — provided the USGA meets job creation and capital investment goals. Funding would be paid from new tax revenues collected as a result of the organization’s investment.
“The opportunity to bring the USGA to Moore County is a historic opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity, a transformative opportunity,” said County Manager Wayne Vest. “It is about bringing facilities, jobs, careers, events, visitors, global recognition and economic activity all to Moore County.”
Commissioner Catherine Graham said the project will benefit all of Moore County by helping to keep property taxes low and increasing sales tax revenues.
“There is a new generation coming who will reap many rewards for the decision we are making (today),” she said.
Commissioner Louis Gregory agreed, “We are talking about economic development which will provide job opportunities now and in the future far beyond anyone in this room.”
Details of the Deal
Last week, state lawmakers approved House Bill 807, or the “Championship NC Act,” to provide up to $18 million in performance-based state incentives to recruit a then-unnamed “sports championship employer.” That funding will come through the state’s Site Infrastructure Development Fund and includes a transfer of $3.5 million from the One North Carolina Fund and $100,000 from the Job Development Investment Grant fund. It is also the intent of the General Assembly to appropriate an additional $14.4 million over four consecutive fiscal years, in equal installments.
In return, USGA is projected to generate at least $800 million in economic benefits to the state over the next 10 years; employ at least 35 new staff positions, and 50 positions overall, with an average annual salary of $80,000.
“Their desire to construct a permanent home here also comes with a commitment to honor the traditions and respect for the game found here, and to preserve the historic nature of this community,” said Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress (PIP), the county’s economic development arm.
Corso was president and chief operating officer at Pinehurst Resort when the first U.S. Open was held at No. 2 in 1999.
He noted that the USGA has committed to work directly with PIP to help with the recruitment of additional golf-related companies, including headquarters, research and development, manufacturers and associations.
“To have the USGA in Moore County puts our community in an enviable position as we look toward the future,” Corso said. “There cannot be a better suited project for our area.”
The deal also commits USGA to sponsoring periodic championship events in Moore County and other golf courses around the state. These events must include at least one men’s major championship every five to seven years having an economic benefit of $90 million, one women’s major championship every 10 years, and at least 13 additional championship events. Altogether, these periodic events are projected to bring $500 million in aggregate economic benefits to the state over the 10-year agreement.
A New Headquarters
Headquartered in Liberty Corner, N.J., USGA operates with a staff of 300 and has 700,000 members. The organization sponsors more than a dozen championship events annually, and governs the rules and equipment standards for the game of golf.
Plans call for the USGA to shift its research and testing center for golf equipment from its primary headquarters. In addition, a combined museum and visitor center will be housed in the new facilities in Pinehurst, along with offices for the USGA’s Foundation and the organization’s turfgrass agronomy and management section.
“This really is a dream come true for our area,” said Tom Pashley, president of Pinehurst Resort. “It makes me think of St. Andrews. There is no other place like that except now for Pinehurst, to have a governing body in our backyard and a championship schedule similar to what happens there.
“The benefits are clear, significant, and far-reaching.”
USGA has committed to invest $5 million in private funds by Dec. 31, 2023, to construct at least two buildings totaling 30,000 square feet. Those buildings are to be designed in a style consistent with the surrounding Pinehurst Resort campus.
Tom Beddow, Convention & Visitors Bureau board chairman and president of the Country Club of North Carolina (CCNC), said USGA’s investment solidifies Pinehurst’s reputation as the Home of American Golf.
An Opportunity Earned
Thousands of fans lined the legendary Pinehurst No. 2 course to watch Payne Stewart — himself once a regular visitor to Pinehurst — sink a 15-foot par dramatic putt on the 18th green to win the 1999 U.S. Open championship. This “moment in time” for Stewart also marked a turning point for Pinehurst.
The USGA brought its premier men’s championship back to Pinehurst in 2005, and again, in 2014, when the U.S. Open and Women’s Open were conducted in historic back-to-back weeks.
Those events generated more than $140 million in visitor spending with a statewide economic impact that topped $238 million, according to a study conducted by N.C. State University, USGA and the area’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. Overall, 26 counties benefited from spending on lodging, food, beverage, shopping, retail, construction, transportation and recreation activities.
The upcoming 2024 U.S. Open will make the fourth U.S. Open and 11th USGA championship at the historic venue. The championship will also fall on the 25th anniversary of Payne Stewart’s iconic win.
“The journey to get here began in 1999, when we first had the opportunity to host a U.S. Open championship,” said Pashley. “The job we did, the job the village did, the county did and the state did put us in the position we are in today. We’ve earned this opportunity with each and every interaction with the USGA.”
Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, located in the neighboring community of Southern Pines, has its own special relationship with the USGA.
Last year, Pine Needles hosted the USGA’s second ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open and it has been selected to host the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open, making it the first golf resort to be awarded four U.S. Women’s Open championships.
Kelly Miller, president of Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, said the new USGA facilities and job creation was important, but he also looked to the commitment schedule of championships for the coming years as a remarkable showcase for both the county and state.
“With the USGA, we know them, we know the people. They share our values, they share our vision for what is going to happen here,” Miller said. “We should welcome the USGA with open arms and thank them for choosing Moore County and the great State of North Carolina.”
Teeing Up Moore
Pinehurst and the greater Southern Pines-Aberdeen area has become increasingly attractive for golf industry investments in recent years.
Pinehurst Resort kicked off 2010 with its much-acclaimed restoration of No. 2, regarded as one of Donald Ross’s finest designs. That was followed up by the reimagining of No. 4 by Gil Hanse, and development of the popular short course, The Cradle.
Golf Pride, a subsidiary of Eaton Corp. and one of the nation’s most successful golfing-related brands, completed its new 36,000-square-foot headquarters near the entrance of Pinehurst No. 8 in 2019. The facility houses the company’s corporate offices, a consumer interactive wing, and a rapid prototype laboratory under one roof.
“I can’t think of a better opportunity for this community,” said Jamie Ledford, president of Golf Pride. “I could see this being something of a tipping point.”
He said USGA’s move could spur an even greater golf development cluster, potentially creating “an East Coast” version of the community that built up around Callaway Golf in Carlsbad, Calif.
“All you need to do is recruit just a handful of companies and with that come really attractive jobs for the community. There are a lot of jobs tied up in this opportunity, specifically, but you also need to think about downstream development.”
State Sen. Tom McInnis, who represents Anson, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties, said the potential for economic growth over the next several years had brought everyone to the table.
“We are so fortunate beyond measure because of this opportunity,” he said.
Other recent golf investments in Moore County include the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation’s purchase of Longleaf Golf & Family Club in Southern Pines, in 2015. The club has since been transformed into a living laboratory for the development of the game of golf.
U.S Kids Golf also announced last week it was moving its U.S. Kids Foundation to new offices in Pinehurst.
In May 2018, the Veteran Golfers Association opened its national headquarters in Pinehurst. Annually, the VGA hosts more than 250 local tournaments for thousands of VGA members across the country, culminating in a VGA National Championship.
The Carolinas Golf Association also relocated its headquarters from West End to a new facility across the street from Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines in 2015.
Three years later, the CGA unveiled the Xan Law, Jr. Hall of History at its Carolinas Golf House. The hall features an interesting collection of clubs, scorecards, pictures, and trophies honoring the people who have made the Carolinas one of the most historic golf areas in the country.
In an effort to capitalize on this golf industry momentum, Partners in Progress and business leaders from Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen teed up an aggressive video pitch earlier this year to attract golf companies to consider relocating to the area.
Launched at the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, FL, the video featured local golf industry business leaders Dan Van Horn of U.S. Kids Golf, Tom Pashley of Pinehurst Resort, Jamie Ledford of Golf Pride, Kelly Miller of Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, and Pat Corso of Partners in Progress.
(Story by Laura Douglass, The Pilot)