Will New England Continue to have a Role on the Main PGA Tour Schedule?

New York, NY. The Labor Day weekend has been a consistent time frame for the FedEx Cup Playoff PGA Tour stop each year in the New England area. Since 2003 the world’s best players found their way to TPC Boston in Norton, MA. The principle sponsor for all those events with the exception of this year’s event was Deutsche Bank. The German bank pulled out following the ’16 event. Dell Technologies assumed that role for the ’17 event and the schedule likely will mean a return in ’18. However, after that year the situation becomes murky.

The PGA Tour, in conjunction with the PGA of America, announced during this year’s PGA Championship a major schedule shift involving the two organizations. The PGA Championship has been an annual fixture for the August time frame since 1971 — the lone exception coming in ’16 in order to make way for golf’s return to the Summer Olympic Games. The PGA Tour has seen the impact that football, both NFL and collegiate, has played when going head-to-head against America’s most watched sport. Golf ratings have not fared well and the leadership of the Tour wanted to maximize visibility and overall awareness of its marquee FedEx Cup Playoff events.

TPC Boston

Jordan Spieth greets fans during practice round.

In order to do so would require a change of the golf schedule involving both organizations. An agreement was reached in which the PGA Championship would vacate its August time slot and move to May starting in 2019 with the venue Bethpage State Park’s Black Course. Such a move would allow the PGA Tour to move its showcase event in the spring — The Player’s Championship — from the existing May time frame — back to where it originally was in March. With the PGA Championship becoming a May fixture — this would allow the Tour to have its FexEx Cup Playoffs conclude on the Labor Day weekend just as football is ready to go full bore ahead.

The issue is a simple one — does Boston / New England continue to have a role on the main PGA Tour schedule?

Using the Labor Day weekend was a brilliant marketing move for the greater Boston area. Having a Monday finish separated the event from all others on the PGA Tour. It also helped the tournament had a number of stellar finishes to keep viewers glued to the action via television.

With the golf calendar consolidating the Labor Day weekend will now likely be the domain of The Tour Championship — the major event that concludes the PGA Tour season. There has long been speculation that the FexEx Cup Playoffs would go from the present four events — to no more than three. With the kick-off of the playoffs in the New York City metro area it was unlikely that area would lose its event.

The other area covers the Midwest with Chicago as the hub area. The Boston / New England area is the only FedEx Cup Playoff site that has been hosted by the same facility with TPC / Boston. The Tour has not made a final determination on which events will be either rescheduled or dropped entirely but given the involvement of both the PGA of America and PGA Tour with other Midwest locations it seems likely that the Boston event could very well be the odd man out.

The Tour does have a New England presence with The Traveler’s event in Cromwell, CT — usually played the week following the US Open. The event did very well this year with a stellar field that included the likes of winner Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and Jim Furyk. Nonetheless, the loss of the Boston event would mean an area of the country with a bevy of outstanding courses and facilities would be on the outside after many years of being a main player.

Complicating matters is that the Boston location has a narrower window for when events can be played in the region. Going too early is not likely given weather issues and going too late only serves to place the event against a football conflict. The Tour has seen a decrease in viewership since the absence of Tiger Woods following the ’13 season and the aging out of Phil Mickelson. The younger generation of stars with Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler leading the way have clearly shown a new emergence of talent but the “buzz” surrounding those players is not what it was like when Tiger was going full throttle as golf’s top draw.

There are also other key events that have been on the PGA Tour for a much longer time frame than the one hosted in Norton. Those constituencies are clearly going to rigorously pursue their position on the schedule.

The realization that professional golf must adapt to the changing landscape has been clear for a number of years. Those leading the PGA Tour and PGA of America are firmly committed to ensuring their respective “brands” are not eroded to the point in which they lose even more leverage in how their events are positioned. Taking clear steps now could very well strengthen those events remaining in the fold.

The connection to New England via Boston could be the first of several other related moves the PGA Tour will be taking.  The clock is indeed ticking and nearing the midnight hour.