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2017 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP / QUAIL HOLLOW

CHARLOTTE, NC. The sports world is a cluttered universe.

This week the PGA of America in concert with the PGA Tour opted to make a bold move that will have the PGA Championship shift from its predictable spot in August to May. The move allows the PGA Tour to shift its Player’s Championship from May to where it originally started – in March.

Starting in 2019 — the PGA Championship will be played in May when the event is held at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course on Long Island.

Why the move?

The rationale is a simple one. Football.

The two main leaders — Jay Monahan of the PGA Tour and Pete Bevaqua of the PGA of America understand the dimensions in trying to elevate professional golf here in America and realize the 800-pound gorilla in the room is professional and collegiate football. Assuring the widest exposure for their event is central — the announced changes attempts to maximize how and in what manner events they own and manage can best be showcased.

When the PGA Tour announced in November 2005 and commenced playing the 2007 Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs — the hope was professional golf would have a final conclusion bringing to a climax all of the key events that preceded it. Initially, the “playoffs” started in late August with a New York metro location, headed to Boston for the Labor Day weekend and then carried on with a Midwest location via the former Western Open. The Tour Championship takes place as the final event bringing just 30 players to sort out the conclusion.

The issue for the PGA Tour was when golf went deep into September and head-to-head with professional and collegiate football the ratings for golf tanked. Even when Tiger Woods was at his prime — golf could never compete against America’s ravenous passion for football meaning the season ending goal for golf to showcase itself was likely not going to work well from a viewership perspective.

Complicating the issue for professional golf was the desire by many key golf organizations — the USGA and R&A chiefly — to have golf once again part of the Summer Olympics. In 2016 golf resumed its involvement with the Games after a lengthy absence and the insertion of the competition meant squeezing various other already scheduled events to make changes. The impact on the players — especially the men — was noticeable. The amount of “down time” was lessened considerably and players were forced to make decision regarding whether or not they would participate in number of events. Several of golf’s top players — Jordan Spieth, Dustion Johnson, Rory McIlroy — opted to forego the Summer Games because of the scheduling craze.

The PGA Tour leadership realize competing keeping directly against football was a losing proposition. The thought process was to start the Fex-Ex Cup Playoffs sooner and have the culminating Tour Championship event likely on the Labor Day period. The issue with that is that other events — not directly under the control and ownership of the Tour — would be impacted. Namely — the PGA Championship under the control of the PGA of America. The 3rd oldest major championship initiated in 1916 and over the years has made various changes to its format and timing when held.

The existing PGA Championship has been regularly held during the 2nd week in August for a number of years — the most recent exception being in ’16 when the event was pushed to the end of July to avoid conflicts with the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The brain trust of the PGA Tour floated the idea in moving the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs requiring a series of other moves in order for things to work properly. The 2nd week in August for the PGA Championship has worked in some ways — but not in others. The time frame comes during the height of vacation season for many and overall viewership is not beyond the standard viewership rates of other events during the summer period.

The new May time slot now means certain venues now being used for the event would likely have a tougher time in being selected given the weather situation at that time of year versus August. This would be especially the case for sites in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. No one can say with certainty what the weather will be like when the PGA Championship not only heads to Bethpage in ’19, but also at Trump National Bedminster in ’22 and most certainly at Oak Hill in Rochester in ’23.

On the flip side — this would open up other locations which have been effectively shutout because of being located in areas where high heat and humidity is the norm — especially in the August time frame — such as Texas, Florida and Arizona.

Television viewership would likely benefit from the PGA Championship moving but there’s no real hard data to say that with certainty. The next Summer Games will be hosted by Japan in 2020. The golf event will occupy the August time frame so the actions taken by the PGA Tour and PGA of America clearly recognize the status quo could not continue.

The PGA Championship has benefited in being the final major event of the golf calendar. Would the event gain stature with the move or would it simply be lost in being sandwiched between The Masters and the US Open? No one can say with certainty.

Golf ratings have dropped since Tiger Woods stopped being a regular presence in 2013. A new TV deal will need to be negotiated by the PGA Tour soon and the past assumptions that getting more and more dollars from networks was a given event is no longer the same dynamic. Networks are making calculated decisions on what sports have real impact for viewership so that networks can in turn charge sponsors appropriate amounts.

Bevaqua stated several key reasons:

• Keeps historic courses in the Northeast in the mix with more temperate weather and likely healthier turf conditions.

• Opens up Southern venues more appealing with less heat and more challenging playing conditions.

• Other great areas and sites around the country suddenly become far more attractive in May as opposed to August.

• Television and media consumption are as healthy or healthier during that time of year.

• The PGA of America sees increased value as the second of the four majors in the annual major golf chronology.

• The new May date allows the PGA of America to effectively promote along with its broadcast partners various  grow-the-game initiatives that its members bring to life.

Player reaction was mostly positive from those here at Quail Hollow  when the formal announcement was made. Interestingly, the change will have a clear impact on the BWM PGA Championship held at Wentworth in London during the May time frame. The event is the showcase tournament on the European PGA Tour. It’s more than likely that event will shift towards September where it was held in its early infancy.

Finalization of the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs still needs to be worked out. There has been speculation the playing of four (4) events will be reduced to three (3). Which of the existing events could be impacted? In all probability the New York-based event and the one centered in the Midwest will remain. Does that mean the Boston event is the odd event out or will it be moved to another time frame?

The PGA Championship has made great strides in selecting quality venues and having the best playing fields among all the major events. The May time frame is a clear indicator that moving in a proactive manner now will help sustain the progress that’s been made. On balance it makes sense. We shall see.

 

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