How To Make The PGA Championship Cool
August 02, 2012
Change the format
Changing the format of the PGA to match play would be the easiest way to differentiate the season's final major from it's three predecessors and immediately give it a platform to brand itself upon. While changes to major championships are usually rife with logistical or traditionalist issues, simply reverting back to the format the tournament used until 1958 would make for must-watch TV. The marquee match-ups would create head-to-head drama and give credence to the notion that some players are mentally tougher than others. And all with a major on the line.
Move the date
As the last major of the year, the PGA Championship is seen by many to signify the end of the professional season, yet it's mid-August date leaves plenty of golf to be played. So why not move it back a month or two? Much like the Masters' allure that stems from its early-season placement, lending itself to the excitement of those jonesing to get out and play, the PGA could use the months after the British Open to utilize the despair of losing the golf season as a marketing tool. The fledgling FedEx Cup playoff system has tried to jump on this notion, but as Tiger Woods likes to constantly remind us, nothing compares to a major.
Hold it at one or two courses only
The Masters is held at one location. The British Open uses a rotation. And both have brilliantly utilized course recognizability as a focal point of their marketing. For many golf purists, the course a major is played is almost as much a draw as the tournament itself, which is why we think the PGA Championship should consider narrowing its selection down to one or two courses only. As Bob Carney writes, Whistling Straits and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (shown here) -- both Pete Dye designs -- would be beautiful regular locales, and provide instant recognizability. It could even be a great way to use something like the misfortune of Dustin Johnson's sand-trap debacle in 2010 to the tournament's advantage -- returning to the same site within a year or two would've kept intrigue and emotion high. Another easy change that could provide huge benefits. Or ...
Let the winner approve future venues
Let's follow the lead of Major League Baseball and make "this one count." Taking a cue from MLB's handling of the All Star Game and allowing the winner to have a say in where the PGA Championship is hosted could provide a myriad of interesting scenarios. From a planning and logistical standpoint, we're going to suggest giving the champion a rotation of courses to choose from, but the idea of letting them choose wherever they want is full of opportunities. Would a player choose his "home" course, or maybe unique conditions -- Arizona in August? Challenging, or something more forgiving? Whether it's feasible is debatable, but you can't deny it would add instant curiosity to the year's final major.
Have a celebrity starter
There are plenty of ways to incorporate celebrities into a golf tournament -- a pro-am being the obvious choice. But unless you're on the course or they're near a mic, fan-interaction with said celebrity is pretty much nonexistent. Which is why we suggest a celebrity starter. Just imagine a personality like Bill Murray manning the microphone for an entire day -- it would be like David Feherty at Tavistock, except funny. And the possibilities are endless; whether it be an iconic voice or a figure who's integral to the game, each starter could help drum up the same "who will it be" curiosity as do the Super Bowl halftime performers, or at very the least, American Idol judges. We're on record as suggesting Kate Upton as our 2012 nominee.
Pair a club pro qualifier with a marquee name (Embrace the presence of the club pros)
Did you know that the top 20 club professionals in America get to participate in the PGA Championship? Even if your answer to that question was yes, you'll be hard-pressed to watch them in action come tournament time as most are relegated to not-made-for-TV tee times. We think this is an opportunity the PGA is overlooking. Much the way the Masters and U.S. Open embrace amateur competition, highlighting the top finishers in the club pro championship by pairing them with a marquee name would provide instant interest -- at least for Thursday and Friday's rounds. Just as people tuned in to see how close Beau Hossler could get to winning the U.S. Open, the same excitement could be built knowing your local club pro has a chance at hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy. And that begins with putting them on television.
Past champions tournament on Wednesday
Think of this like the "old timer's game" of golf, with a pre-tournament round played by the past champions. This is an idea that the Masters has presented, but as of yet, failed to capitalize on. Not only is this an easy way to get the big names like Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player on television to help market the Championship, it would help bridge the generation gap, especially for the younger fans who were never able to watch the greats in their prime. Imagine the fun that could be had watching Tiger and Jack in a pairing, or the laughs a John Daly/Lanny Wadkins group could create. In its simplest form, it's a fun day for fans and family, but for the PGA Championship, it could be a branding boon that would rival -- and probably exceed -- the Masters par 3 tournament.
Make the playoff unique/different
This time we're taking a page out of the NHL handbook; if there are two or more players tied at the end of regulation play, why not institute some fan-friendly means by which to settle the tournament? We realize this is a major and compromising the game for entertainment value is unacceptable, but when you consider the U.S. Open is the only major to have another full round decide it's winner, why not have fun with the playoff format? Just a few ideas: Play the first tee to the second green as one hole, moving to the third/fourth holes for No. 2, etc. How about only playing the par-3s? Better yet, in a match play format, make them closest to the pin "shoot outs". Or like the NHL, the PGA Championship could use its playoff as a testing ground for other formats; maybe a Stableford scoring system playoff. Or how about a Bag Raid match play round -- where the winner of the hole gets to remove one club from his opponent's bag -- held over nine holes? The possibilities are endless.
Embrace red numbers
The U.S. Open is known to "punish" players -- or as the USGA's Sandy Tatum famously explained, the U.S. Open is "simply trying to identify [the best players in the world]." The British Open is a test of the elements, and the Masters favors risk vs. reward, but what about a major where players can gun it out? Taking nothing away from the Travelers Championship or RBC Canadian Open, wouldn't it be nice to see the best players in the world go low for a tournament that actually mattered? There may be a few purists out there who would disagree, but we'd venture to say the cream would still rise to the top and the average fan would probably find more enjoyment watching Tiger Woods throwing daggers at the pins instead of chunking his way through British Open fescue.
Already an official money event on the European and Japanese tours, as well as here in the States, the PGA could add international intrigue to the selection process by allowing it to be held outside of the U.S. We know, it's the PGA of America -- and even our office is divided on this measure -- but if a Super Bowl in London can be discussed, why not use a major as a platform to expand the game globally? As the four big sports have shown, hosting events in large international markets is a financial boon, and there's no reason the PGA couldn't use this to help brand itself in golf rich countries like Japan and Korea. The Opens have marked their territory, and the Masters isn't going anywhere, so why not consider the PGA as the one that helps bring the international golf community together? The WGC was created specifically to hone in on this idea, but as we told you from the beginning, nothing compares to a major.