Changing times as golfing calendar gets a ‘major’ shake-up

It’s official. After widespread speculation, the powers that be announced on Tuesday that the professional golf calendar as we know it will look remarkably different beginning in 2019.

Pete Bevacqua, the CEO of the PGA of America, admitted it was “probably the worst-kept secret in golf” when he announced that in a break with tradition the PGA Championship would be played in late May and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said The Players Championship would shift from May back to March. 

Within minutes of the news, the next domino dropped with Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour, stating in a press release that the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, would avoid any conflict and relocate from May to September. 

You can be sure it won’t be the last tournament date to be juggled either.

“There are a number of other decisions we need to make, and as you can imagine there’s a fair amount of complexity within that and we have a number of constituents we have to work with,” Monahan said.

What we know so far sets up a future scenario where the four months from April through July features a major championship. 

The Players returns to March, where it can serve as the tablesetter to the major season, and the FedEx Cup Playoffs can be completed in late August and avoid becoming an after-thought with the kickoff of the NCAA football and NFL season in early September.

“I’ve been a big supporter of it from the first time I heard about it, and the announcement today, I think, has been very well-received by a lot of the players in the locker room,’’ Rory McIlroy said.

Bevacqua said the discussions about moving the date of the PGA, which has been played in August since 1972, began in earnest last year. The impetus for the discussions was golf’s inclusion in the Olympics every four years, which compressed last season’s major schedule. There were only 11 days between the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2016. Something had to be done.

The PGA considered multiple scenarios, including the concept of playing a major championship internationally. 

How cool would a major at Royal Melbourne in Australia have been? 

How much could a major championship in Asia have helped “grow the game” in that developing golf market? But that ship has sailed for now.

“Will we ever do an international PGA Championship? I think the answer is not in the next 10 years but it’s something we will always consider because potentially at the right time for the organization, it could be an interesting move,” Bevacqua said.

In discussing the pros and cons of a May date for the PGA Championship, Bevacqua ticked off potentially stronger television ratings, the ability for his membership to promote its grow the game initiatives at an earlier time in the golf season for much of the US, and it sheds the reputation of being the fourth and final major.

It also opens up new markets, such as Florida and Texas, as hosts of PGAs. 

Bevacqua said returning to Quail Hollow, site of this week’s 99th PGA Championship, is “100 percent in our plans.” 

Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., which has been promised a PGA between 2024 and 2030, will be a balmy 80 degrees instead of cracking triple digits as it did when Tiger Woods won the PGA there in 2007.

On the contrary, certain host sites may no longer be viable options. Whistling Straits in Wisconsin and Hazeltine National in Minnesota, which was recently announced as host of the 2020 US Junior Amateur, likely will be making overtures to bring the US Open there in June. 

The 2019 PGA at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, NY, and 2023 PGA at Oak Hill in Rochester, NY, could be affected by colder climes.

Streamlining the schedule should be a boon for the PGA Tour in negotiating future media rights, but at the detriment of accentuating the difference between the haves and have-nots. 

PGA Tour pros are independent contractors and can make their schedule at their own whim as long as they meet the minimum requirement of playing in 15 sanctioned events.

“Scheduling is so hard,” said Kim Hougham, the former executive director of the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I equate it to college. You have your requirements and your electives. For years, there used to be four requirements -— the majors — and the rest of the events were electives. You had four that were a given and then had 14 others to choose from. Now there are four majors, The Players, four World Golf Championships and four playoff events. All of a sudden, the requirements now are up to 13. The electives are vying for four or five spots. It’s changed a lot in the last 10 years.”

It will change even more beginning in 2019. The ripple effect, which likely will include the FedEx Cup playoffs decreasing from four to three events, remains on the drafting board for now.

Justin Rose, speaking to the Golf Channel, said, “For a guy like me that plays the European Tour as well as the PGA Tour, finishing the PGA Tour a touch sooner, which may be the case given that schedule, is beneficial for me in terms of going back to play a little bit more in Europe. So it opens up my year a little bit more, so I’m all for it.”


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