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 online. 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 the presidency?
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 upfront 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 membership?