News & Tours

News & Tours

PGA Tour sent memo to tournament directors to calm some who are 'pretty hot' over new 'elevated' events

October 28, 2022
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James Gilbert

A shake up to the schedule starting in 2024, primarily to accommodate a potentially new rotation of elevated events, is among the options the PGA Tour will be exploring, according to a document obtained by Golf Digest.

A talking-points memo from Kelly Jensen, vice president of tournament business affairs at the tour, was sent to most tournament organizers just after the tour confirmed on Oct. 19 that four events—the WM Phoenix Open, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship and Travelers Championship—were to be added to the slate of “elevated” tournaments for the 2023 portion of the current season. The memo lays out recommended responses to various anticipated questions that officials at non-elevated tour events might encounter in the coming weeks and months. The memo also provides those events with the tour’s response to some topics.

As to the question of how the four new events were designated for elevated status, the memo advises that, because the 2023 schedule was set, the tour, “looked to spread the $20 million events throughout the season to provide a natural flow for players as they commit to compete in these designated tournaments.”

Those restraints won’t exist after this season. The memo continues: “In 2024 and beyond, however, we can start to think about future schedules with more flexibility. We will be analyzing a variety of options, including different scheduling models—with a goal of getting it right for all constituents to ensure each and every week will continue to provide compelling competition and great impact to our local communities.”

How might the scheduling model change? More than one tour source told Golf Digest that the West Coast swing at the start of the year and the Florida swing that follows it might have to be broken up.

“We are evaluating a number of PGA Tour schedule options through the tour’s governance process,” the tour said in a statement. “The Policy Board, alongside collaboration with our players, title sponsors, host organizations and media partners, will be central in arriving at the most compelling schedule possible for our fans in 2024 and beyond.”

The subject of “tiers” among tour stops also is addressed in the memo. Thirteen events hold elevated status in 2023, each offering purses of at least $20 million, with the exception of the smaller-field Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, which is raising its purse to $15 million. The tour promises that its elite players will appear in each, plus at least three more events of their choosing that are not elevated.

Jack Nicklaus, who hosts the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio—one of the three invitationals with elevated status, along with the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando—expressed his concerns about this very subject earlier this month.

“What it’s done is made the PGA Tour almost two tiers,” Nicklaus said in an interview with the Associated Press. “All of a sudden the other tournaments become feeders.”

Multiple tournament directors of select events who spoke to Golf Digest on condition of anonymity said that many sponsors of non-elevated events are questioning how their tournaments and their charitable endeavors will be impacted by the new setup.

“There are people who are very concerned and upset that [the PGA Tour has] created this system,” said one tournament director. “Everybody realizes the tour is trying to do something to combat LIV Golf, and that’s understandable. We all want to protect the tour and see it continue to grow. But a lot of us can’t believe they did this. Some sponsors are pretty hot.”

Another argued that the tour has always had a de facto two tiers, with top players usually targeting high-profile events and venues—like Nicklaus’ Memorial at Muirfield Village, the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow, the Genesis Invitational at Riviera or the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

“That’s true,” countered another of past practices, “but at least the playing field seemed a lot more level.”

The tour had no comment.

As to leveling the playing field, a group of tournaments and sponsors has proposed to the tour a system whereby instead of changing the elevated designation of four events each season, the tour switch out nine of the 13 events, leaving intact only the Players Championship and the three FedEx Cup playoff events. The thinking is that each tournament on the schedule would be elevated one out of every three to four years. The three invitationals would still retain some elite status because they also offer more FedEx Cup points, as well as a three-year exemption to the winner instead of the usual two.

The memo’s messaging on the subject asserts that each tournament is unique, with its own strengths, be they the golf course, charitable causes or geographic location, and can draw from a deep pool of talented players. It further points out that the shortened calendar-year schedule starting in 2024 raises the importance of all tournaments. “With the January-August schedule, the season becomes a sprint and every week in the race for the FedEx Cup and every tournament will matter, more than ever.”

The memo goes on to address potential questions about television coverage (which remains unchanged regardless of status), the overall quality of play on the tour and even if some tournaments might see a reduction in their purses (there are no plans for that).