The big picture on the PGA Championship's big move
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CHARLOTTE — The decision by the PGA of America to move its championship from August to May is a win for golf, writ large. An accounting of all the ripple effects that come from altering the intricate mosaic that is the modern schedule of big-time, competitive golf shows that there is relatively little, if anything, that is lost by this move.
True, some solid venues in the northern reaches of the United States—think Brookline, Whistling Straits and Hazeltine National—will be lost as hosts sites for the PGA because of colder climate and unfavorable agronomical conditions in May.
And in the event that a player wins the first three legs of a calendar professional Grand Slam, which hasn’t been done since 1953, the PGA will forfeit its position as the dramatic stage where golf’s ultimate prize could be attained.
But as PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua has stated, the move to May presents much to be gained. And while Bevacqua insists that his overriding priority was making sure that any change would be a benefit to the PGA Championship, the overall professional game is the biggest winner.
In several ways:
• Because the decision was made in conjunction with the PGA Tour moving the Players from May to March, the schedule will now present a symmetrical and uninterrupted succession of four months in which a major championship is played—the Masters in April, the PGA in May, the U.S. Open in June and the Open Championship in July.
• Because the golf competition in the Summer Olympics will no longer cause the PGA Championship to move its date every four years, the professional golf calendar will not be as compressed in an Olympic year as it was in 2016.
• Leaving August to the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs so that the season-ending Tour Championship is played before Labor Day allows the tour to put on its climatic series free of the interest- and audience-draining interference that comes when professional and college football start to dominate the televised sport weekend.
• There is now a strong possibility that players (and fans) will get essentially a month-long break from official tournament golf, a period in which players worn out from the intense end of the season can adequately recharge and fans can rebuild their eagerness for the game and the next big events – the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup in late September.
• The PGA Tour now gets to move the Players back to March, where it was played for 30 straight years before moving to May in 2007. That tournament, always a rung below a major even as it has aspired to be considered one, will now once again be the climax of the Florida swing and the appetizer for the start of the major season. It will benefit from a return to the Spring Break atmosphere of March, by consensus a more energized setting for the competition than in May.
All of which PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had in mind when he began publicly endorsing the double move right after taking the job in January. Tuesday’s news signifies mission accomplished.
“We are thrilled to announce these two significant changes, which will greatly enhance the professional golf calendar starting in 2019,” Monahan said. “Our thanks to the PGA of America for its partnership in what will allow both organizations to meet our short- and long-term objectives, while delivering incredibly compelling golf to our fans around the world.”
As for the PGA Championship, it’s likely that the PGA of America will be give more serious consideration to big-market sites in the southeast and the Sun Belt. In Florida, Trump National Doral is probably the best-equipped facility in that state to host a major. The new Trinity Forest in Dallas, a highly praised Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design that will host the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson event, has unabashed ambitions to host a major.
When Monahan began beating the drum for the move, Bevacqua was more cautious in his comments, professing that the PGA was happy where it was. “We don’t need to do anything,” he said.
But after closer analysis, Bevacqua said he began to see the merits in a move to May.
"As with most important decisions, the key question we posed to ourselves was rather simple," Bevacqua wrote in an op-ed piece for GolfDigest.com. "It all came down to this: Over the course of the next several decades, would the PGA Championship be better positioned to thrive and grow if we stayed in August or moved to May? Our answer: May."
As Bevacqua emphasized, the PGA of America and PGA Tour worked closely in leading the ongoing process of refining golf’s year-long schedule so that it better fits the games of the best worldwide players, the attention of its fans and the business interests of television and its other corporate partners. By moving the PGA to May and the Players to March, with all its well-considered ripple effects, the professional game has been condensed into a leaner and more logical product.