For the love of the game (and finance)
Susan Pikitch, CFO, United States Golf Association
As the first CFO of the United States Golf Association (USGA), Susan Pikitch is bringing seasoned finance, operations, and marketing know-how experience to the more than 120-year-old, not-for-profit association. She discusses her goals for the USGA’s finance function, as well as how her finance organization is helping to evolve the association’s best practices at a time when sustainability and resource management are key topics for golf facilities.
- New approaches for the USGA
- Susan's experiences
- Innovations and finance
- Risk management
- Fiance and sustainability
Susan Pikitch, CFO, USGA, explains to Pete Giorgio, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and leader of Deloitte’s Sports Consulting practice, underlying her goals for the USGA is another key driver: a love of the game.
You are the first CFO in the history of the USGA. What prompted the organization to take a new approach, and what are some of your priorities?
About three years ago, the USGA embarked on a new strategic plan, and management and the executive committee saw an opportunity to build both an operational and strategic capability in finance to better serve the organization’s mission.
The effort required the leadership of a CFO, both in terms of helping with business-decision support to the CEO, board, and management team, and to better enable the association to realize its goals. I was fortunate that a financial planning and analysis resource was brought on about a year before I started, and have focused on strengthening our team to provide a more robust business partnership function to the USGA.
At the same time, the organization’s plan included reinvestment in areas such as technology systems, facilities, and business processes, which introduced new talent and leadership to the team. As far as my priorities, I’m looking to enhance the financial systems and some of our processes within finance and within the broader organization, such as procurement and conducting effective risk assessments.
What experiences do you bring to the USGA?
Having had experiences at large, public companies with solid infrastructures and big teams, I was able to bring a vision for finance, with the understanding that we’re a not-for-profit that operates differently than a public company, and our mission is important.
What helps me is my experience working at large corporations, as well as at smaller business units and segments within them. I held several positions on the corporate side, in treasury, financial planning and analysis, and M&A, as well as on the business side as a divisional CFO. Although we’re not currently doing M&A at the USGA, the fact that I was involved in buying, integrating, and selling businesses gives me the skills to understand what areas we should be in, what areas we shouldn’t be in, and what needs to be implemented to take the organization to the next level.
I see the USGA as a 120 year-old startup: We have many traditions based on the past, but we’re also working on a lot of new, innovative, and ground-breaking technologies.
What are some of those innovations, and how is finance supporting them?
Of the USGA’s strategic pillars, championships—including 13 national championships annually and international and team competitions—is primary. We’re continually looking for ways to improve the experience at those events, broadening the types of championships and making sure that the experience is exemplary for all the constituents, from spectators to the players, volunteers, staff, and TV viewers. One of the tasks of finance is reviewing these championship programs strategically, while working within the budget.
A big part of that is prioritizing investments to make sure we accomplish our goals at the championship, while still being mindful of our responsibility to support the health and future of the game. That includes developing new tools; working with researchers and universities; and using analytics to understand and measure how the tools can benefit the industry, enhance golfer engagement, and grow the game.
Many golfers have told us that the two biggest barriers to participation in the game are the time that it takes to play and the cost, and we’re working on real solutions for both that are rooted in science. For example, the USGA developed a flagstick with a sensor that can tell us when a group arrives at the green and when they leave it, simply based on when they pull and replace the flagstick.
The speed-of-play data derived from this tool helps us tackle a key issue in the game. We’re looking at the data analytics to determine where the logjams happen and figuring out how to solve that. For example, we can recommend the club adjust the intervals at which they’re sending out players.
You noted one of your priorities is risk management. How is the finance function assisting with this?
Clearly, the biggest risk that we’re focused on is conducting our championships, and thinking about weather and outside issues that can happen at a specific event. But with technology playing a significant role at our championships, and with other services the USGA provides, such as handicap calculations, we’re more focused on risks to our technological infrastructure, making sure we have adequate capacity and disaster-recovery planning.
Describe how the finance function is involved with the USGA’s initiatives around sustainability, which is a significant issue facing golf course management.
With respect to sustainability, the finance function supports the USGA’s efforts through business modeling, analysis, reporting, and ensuring the funding is allocated to important initiatives and spent wisely. For example, the USGA is looking at how golf facilities can help support the environment through reduced water usage and golf course design to incorporate natural environmental features that can help manage water more effectively. Through finance, we also are supporting research on turfgrass and work with scientists to cultivate easily maintained grass varieties. This work leads to best practices we can share with the industry.
How do you see golf evolving, and as a golfer yourself, what do you like most about the game?
Golf, like other sports, continues to evolve in order to embrace new generations and retain existing players. At the USGA, we need to keep our championships exemplary, as they generate most of the revenue that funds all of the other initiatives that allow us to give back to the game, such as funding youth development and accessibility programs, introducing new tools and fostering innovation.
We are also aware that we can be a catalyst for change. While many of those programs are focused on providing smart business solutions to keep golf facilities viable in the long term and provide better service to them, it also means investing in technology that improves the fan experience at our championships.
Within the last several years, we have enhanced spectator Wi-Fi connectivity and invested in our official US Open app, so fans can find their favorite players, easily access scoring, and have the latest information at any time of the day at their fingertips. That same technology is used to gather pace-of-play and ball-position data that can be used for future research. As we advance our tools to provide key services such as handicap calculations for millions of golfers, we can also learn a great deal from how golfers play the game through that data, and consider ways we can encourage deeper connections through technology.
Beyond investment in research, science and innovation, it’s also important to support the ongoing evolution to make golf welcoming and affordable to everyone.
I originally took up golf for business reasons. I had the opportunity to attend business retreats where golf was one of the afternoon activities. After playing for several hours, the men would come back telling fun stories about wayward shots, bogeys, and birdies. I wanted to be part of the camaraderie and learn what those terms meant, so upon returning home from one of these trips I asked my husband if he wanted to take up the game with me and he was all in. Once I caught the bug, it was more about the challenge of improving my game, socializing with others, and being guided by the integrity and traditions of the game.
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