At its annual meeting on Jan. 27 in Orlando, the U.S. Golf
Association will officially invite Judy Bell, vice president and
longtime executive committee member, and a former Curtis Cup
player, to become its 54th president. When the 59-year-old
native of Wichita, Kans., accepts, she will become the first
woman president in the USGA's 100-year history. SI spoke with
Bell on the eve of her ascendancy.
SI: As chairman of the USGA Women's Committee from 1981 to '84
and as the first woman named to the executive committee, in
1987, you've already spent considerable time as a USGA official.
Do you know what you want to pursue as president?
JB: I want to reach out to people who play the game and tell
them who we are and what we do. We've had nearly 240,000 people
visit our Internet page in the two months since we went on-line.
I want us to stay very serious about our core programs--for
example, running national championships--and continue to look out
for the rules of the game and the standards that apply to
equipment. That's the integrity part. We want this game 100
years from now still to be based on skill, not equipment. Some
of these gadgets are absolute intrusions into the game and are
offensive to me.
SI: Are there specific changes you would like to implement or
new programs you would like to get going?
JB: I'd like to see more people with legitimate handicaps. I'm
also interested in embracing those who play only nine holes and
giving them a real handicap. If I had three wishes, though, I'd
have people play quicker, walk, and focus less on their score
and more on the game.
SI: As a woman, do you think you bring any special viewpoint to
JB: I'm certain I'll look at the job differently because I'm a
woman, but each president has brought unique touches to the
office. I don't see a lot of gender problems. I have a solid
background in golf. I've been on a lot of committees and learned
from the floorboards up.
SI: Do you see an opportunity to address gender issues in golf?
JB: I'm pretty clear on what the USGA's role should be. I can't
imagine we'd ever take a national championship to a club that
didn't have an open membership policy. I can speak only as an
individual when I say that when clubs charge men and women the
same fee, the same privileges should be given to both. Do I
think that men's golf clubs are O.K.? You bet I do. They're
up-front in saying they want only men. There is nothing wrong
with having women's golf clubs, either. We have to be clear on
the USGA's role. For 100 years we've looked after the rules of
the game. We do not look after the rules of our member clubs.
SI: Do you think the USGA has a responsibility to at least nudge
things along as far as gender issues go? Perhaps by asking clubs
to look at their rules and make sure they fairly reflect their
JB: The USGA has never supported restrictions. We just do not
think it is our business. That's club business. Otherwise, where
does it stop? What do we do about tee times for juniors or
seniors? What do we do about clubs that don't serve clam chowder
SI: But don't you think this kind of change from the inside ends
up being torturously slow when it would be a lot easier for the
USGA simply to set a standard?
JB: The best kind of change comes from within because it's the
change that sticks. It comes from the members themselves. What's
the best way to change your grip? My telling you or your doing
it? Do I mean that the status quo is great? No. I just feel
strongly that the membership of a club knows what works best.
SI: A lot of women will see your presidency as a call to arms.
Do you have a problem being a standard-bearer?
JB: Not at all. There is no question that I have a unique
background as a woman and a woman golfer. I'm basically a junior
girl golfer. That's where I started, and I'm proud of it.
SI: The Royal & Ancient is an all-male club. Normally it invites
the new USGA president to be a member. Has an invitation been
extended to you?
JB: Not yet. I'm not really clear on that process. I'm certain
that if that is the tradition, then it will happen.
SI: What mark would you like to leave when your tenure is up?
JB: I want to look after the game carefully and quietly. It's a
mistake to say I'm going to leave a mark. The USGA isn't
perfect, but it has done quite well for the past 100 years. It
does what it's supposed to do. I hope to keep her steady as she
COLOR PHOTO: TIM DEFRISCO [Judy Bell]