Golf's Looming Schedule Overhaul Could Elevate PGA ChampionshipAugust 10, 2018
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
ST. LOUIS—When it comes to the golf schedule, the operative word around PGA Tour headquarters lately is cadence. For decades, that cadence has been more or less the same. The year starts with the buildup to the Masters, which is followed, somewhat strangely, by a two-month wait for the U.S. Open. The British Open and PGA Championship follow in rapid succession.
But that traditional rhythm will change following the conclusion of this weekend’s PGA Championship at Bellerive. The tournament’s move to May starting in 2019 creates some short-term quirks; the PGA Championship accounts for two of the three majors between now and then.
It also has the potential to boost the profile of a tournament that recently felt the need to adopt a slogan reminding people that this is major. It read, “This is major.”
“What would it mean to follow the Masters and to chronologically be the second of the four majors as opposed to the fourth?” PGA of America Chief Executive
asked on Wednesday. He left the question unanswered.
For one thing, it will mean avoiding August playing conditions, which looks more desirable than ever this week. A Midwest heat wave left the greens at Bellerive looking burned and patchy, prompting tournament officials to slow the green speeds to protect them.
It could also bring the tournament to different parts of the country, most notably Texas, which hasn’t hosted a major since 1969. The next year that is unclaimed by a host isn’t until 2025—next up is New York’s Bethpage Black—but the May weather will create different options.
The biggest impact could be on the stature of a tournament long viewed as the least prestigious of the majors. As officials pondered the move to May, they received encouragement from CBS, which broadcasts the tournament. The network charges slightly higher ad rates in May and believes ratings will be higher then, even during a busier time on the sports calendar that includes competition from the NBA playoffs and other events. In August, many viewers are away on vacation.
The players won’t mind, either. “I think that next year’s major schedule will flow really nicely—one in April, May, June and July,”
said. “If you get on a nice run playing some good golf there, starting at the Masters, you can really let it run through the entire major season.”
The PGA Championship has been played in August for most of the past half-century. It is run by the PGA of America, the organization of club pros, from which touring pros split in 1968 to form what is now the PGA Tour. They have been independent entities—if sometimes confused for one another—ever since. But the looming schedule shift started with the two organizations finding common cause.
Golf’s return to the Summer Olympics in 2016 meant that the PGA Championship would have to be moved once every four years. It was held in July that year, sandwiched between the British Open and the Olympics, making it feel not quite so major. “We are huge proponents of the Olympics, but we also have to protect the PGA Championship,” Bevacqua said.
The PGA Tour had its own scheduling issue. Since 2007 it had staged the FedEx Cup playoffs from late August to late September, but the events barely registered during football season.
Even Spieth’s win in 2015, which earned him a $10 million prize after he won two majors, drew dismal ratings. “It should be a crowning achievement and it’s a tree falling in the forest,” said
head of golf consulting at Octagon.
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
That all led to a series of moves starting next year. The Players Championship will move from May to March, the FedEx Cup will end before Labor Day, several other PGA Tour stops will change position and new ones will debut in Detroit and Minneapolis.
“The trigger point for it all was moving the PGA Championship to May,” said
the PGA Tour’s chief tournaments and competitions officer. “That was the first domino to fall.”
Just as significant as when tournaments are held is when top players decide to play. Most of them plan their schedules around the majors, the courses that suit them, the tournaments that pay the most and the ones their sponsors are invested in. That has created a fair amount of predictability.
Top players tend to play a busy schedule in February and March, take up to a month off after the Masters and play many of the same events each year. The cadence of their own seasons is about to change in ways even they aren’t sure of yet.
“When you look at the schedule, next year is going to be a little bit of a crapshoot,” Seymour said. “Some of these traditional events that players have played may not fit into schedules based on how they prepare for majors. This is a brand new experiment.”
The one constant will be the week that stands above the rest on every player’s calendar. After the Ryder Cup next month, much of what top players plan—when to take time off, when and where to play in early 2019—starts by working backward from the Masters. It has become the sun around which the rest of the golf season orbits.
“It’s so weird,”
said. “Something about Augusta—you’re always thinking about it.”
Write to Brian Costa at firstname.lastname@example.org