It's Time To Elevate The BMW PGA To Its Rightful Spot On World Stage
Greetings from Wentworth and the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour's so-called "flagship event." It is a proper tournament this one: historic title (despite the unfortunate sponsor's appendage), reasonably strong field (17 of the top 50 in attendance), man-sized venue, huge, enthusiastic crowds and wall-to-wall television coverage on both terrestrial and satellite channels.
And yet, a feeling of incompleteness prevails. Yes, the great and the good of Old World golf came almost en masse for their biggest bash outside of the British Open, but missing were American players in any significant numbers. This year only three, albeit all past major winners -- Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem -- strained to slip into a first-class seat, doze their ways across the Atlantic, be picked up by courtesy cars at nearby Heathrow airport and spend the week in a top London hotel. Troupers, I tell you, all of them.
Sarcasm aside, relativity reigns at the top of golf, and so for top American players, making it to Wentworth involves sacrifice. The biggest problem is the date, which currently places the would-be elite tournament opposite highly regarded PGA Tour events such as the Colonial and the Memorial.
"Guys know the PGA is a great tournament," said world No. 5, Matt Kuchar, while smilingly ensconced amid the friendly confines of Colonial. "Unfortunately, it falls at a time when there are a bunch of great tournaments in the States."
It's that calculation that has European Tour chief executive George O'Grady, operating from the premise that the BMW should be on a par with the Players -- one notch down from Grand Slam status and one step up from a World Golf Championship -- looking for new ways to present the tournament.
"Either we co-sanction with the PGA Tour -- something I have discussed with Tim Finchem -- or we can simply try to persuade more Americans to make the trip," says O'Grady. "The first of those would be a brave decision for both sides to take. For every new player coming into the event there would clearly be one disappearing at the bottom. Yes, I'd like to see this event count on the PGA Tour money list, but I doubt Tim could realistically make that happen at this time of the year, given the events he already has in place. I know he isn't completely averse to having the PGA be more global, but it would be easier for him if it was held during July, in or right before the Scottish Open week. If that were the case, we'd be up against lesser -- in financial terms -- events in the States, and players could make one trip for the PGA and the Open. We would consider anything."
Even a move away from Wentworth. The storied Burma Road has seen much re-configuration in the last few years, a lot of it not to the taste of the majority. Last week the man responsible for re-working the original Harry Colt design, Ernie Els, was hugely critical of the course setup in difficult, wind-blown conditions. Few, if any, would lament the revised course's competitive demise.
Where to go though? Inland would be best, if only to avoid direct comparison with the Open Championship. Long-time Scottish Open host Loch Lomond GC springs to mind, a course hugely popular with American visitors. Staying in the London area is also possible. Walton Heath or a lengthened Sunningdale Old course would be obvious candidates, along with more modern tracks such as The Grove or East Sussex National, erstwhile home of the European Open.
Reducing the name of the championship to simply "The British PGA" would be trickier financially, but justifiable. Great Britain might be the the only country not to put its name on its postage stamps because it was first to have them, but this PGA would require geographic identification because its counterpart in the U.S. happens to be a major. Still, the British version has been around since 1955, giving it a tradition and historical significance that would only encourage a step toward enhanced global status.
Given all of the above, even the most inward-looking PGA Tour stalwart would have to seriously consider an extra week across the pond for a chance at a historic title. Indeed, lifting the current event into more rarified air would be an important step toward a more organized de facto world circuit, with every tour working together for the collective good of the game.
Come on guys, you know it makes sense.