In the heart of the village of Pinehurst is a quaint little sandwich shop. On a Tuesday afternoon, locals and out-of-towners flood the atmosphere with talk of golf, specifically next year’s U.S. Open to be held at Pinehurst No. 2.
Through a narrow side door and up a set of creaky wooden stairs is a small, unassuming office with a small sign above the door which reads “USGA.” Inside the office is a bookshelf stacked with golf knick-knacks, binders and books. One of the books is titled “Ben Hogan: The Man Behind the Mystique.”
Behind the desk sits Reg Jones, a Henderson, N.C., native and Pinehurst resident. He is the Senior Director of U.S. Open Championships. He is the man behind the mystique.
While so much of a U.S. Open setup is centered around green speeds, rough length, hole location and tee markers, Jones is tasked with overseeing the overlooked. Our national championship wouldn’t be possible without logistical details such as parking, spectator transportation, grandstands, merchandise and concession venues, sponsorships, volunteers and more.
Jones is the central figure in making that magic happen.
A Wake Forest graduate, Jones embarked on his career path in 1994 while completing his graduate studies in Sports Administration at Ohio University. He needed to complete an internship to satisfy his course requirements and the U.S. Senior Open was being held at Pinehurst.
“I always loved golf and when I saw the opportunity for the Senior Open I just thought that would be an interesting track to follow,” Jones said. He later joined the Pinehurst staff full-time and served 12 years as Vice President of Championships.
In 2006, the USGA came knocking.
“They were restructuring the department and they ended up having an opportunity for me that was just too good to pass up,” Jones said. “I’ve always been pretty lucky with opportunities.”
While U.S. Open sites are granted around eight years in advance, Jones typically works on tournaments three years at a time, meaning he is currently busy not just with Pinehurst in 2014 but also with Chambers Bay in Washington in 2015 and Oakmont in Pennsylvania in 2016.
Three tournaments in three years in three different corners of the country – and that doesn’t even include all the women’s and senior men’s Opens in between.
“I oversee everything outside the ropes,” Jones said. “What makes the Open different is that we’re at a different site every year. When you think about other major sporting events in this country, the one big difference is that we have to sort of build our own stadium. So the facility is obviously a big part of it. We also have volunteers, ticket sales, corporate sales and other logistical parts of it like parking and transportation and security.”
Jones says that if things are done right in advance then the championship week is actually a slow week for him. Of course, Mother Nature can change all that overnight. This year’s U.S. Open at Merion presented a challenge for Jones and his staff when three inches of rain dumped on the course on the Friday before tournament week. Another two inches on Monday meant practice rounds were suspended before they even began.
“The majority of our parking lots up at Merion were grass so we lost probably half of our parking lots,” Jones said. “When you get that much rain it really changes everything. We were really having to try to piece together a parking and transportation plan to get us through.”
Jones had to scramble to get hay and wood chips laid down in the spectator walking areas to avoid having a repeat of the 2009 Open at Bethpage, when rain turned the facility into a muddy swamp.
“I think we learned a little something about that having been through it at Bethpage,” Jones said. “Bethpage was horrible. But this was one of the years where we were actually able to find some good out of Bethpage in that we learned some things that we were able to apply at Merion.”
Next year presents a unique situation for Jones when Pinehurst hosts both the men’s and women’s Opens in consecutive weeks on the same golf course, something that has never been done before. It will be a home game for Jones, whose office is just a couple short blocks from the first tee. He also has the luxury of past experience, with two previous Opens at Pinehurst in 1999 and 2005.
“The past championships here have gone so well, there’s such a comfort level that we have with the resources and with the plan so that gives us a tremendous advantage,” Jones said. “Knowing what we can count on here and what we’ve been successful with here allows us to do it.”
Working outside the ropes, Jones’ definition of a successful U.S. Open championship may differ from others. While his colleagues like to see par golf played on the course, Jones hopes to shoot record scores off it.
“Outside the ropes for us, for all the people involved whether it’s a spectator or a volunteer or a member of the media, when everyone walks away having had a great experience and really being able to look back and say that was really something special and something I’ll always remember that’s important,” Jones said. “When you have one that is successful inside the ropes and you can say the same thing outside the ropes, that’s when you have a great championship.”
Jones doesn’t get to watch much of the tournament that he spends all year working to make happen. He spends approximately 140 days a year on the road. He only finds time to play about a dozen rounds of golf per year, half of which happen on an annual buddy golf trip with college friends. His satisfaction comes every June, when four days of golf are complete and a national champion is crowned.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment, especially when you have a championship that you look back at and say ‘Hey, that was one that I’ll remember,”’ Jones said.