Ruminating over recent developments in golf and last week’s PGA Tour schedule reveal, one thing remains abundantly clear: a member-run tour reflects the preferences of the members, not the fans. Player and fan incentives are not aligned. Fans want a competitive, well-presented product. Professional golfers want as many playing opportunities with as much prize money as possible. And most of all, the players want to keep their seats on the tour. Radical changes to the tour must go through the members. Do the math on whose interests will prevail when priorities conflict.
The entertainment value of the PGA Tour product is held hostage by the interests of the players, which is more an indictment of the tour’s model than critique of the players who rationally vote their self interests. Of the twelve elevated events on the PGA Tour schedule next year, reportedly only four will feature a cutline. Reasonable minds can debate the necessity of a cutline, but I feel strongly that a cut injects intensity into a tournament. It draws a distinction between “good week” and “bad week.” Furthermore, a cutline contributes to the historical record. Starting next year, “What percentage of cuts did Player X make in his career?” means much less than it does now. Tiger Woods advocated for a cutline at the Genesis Invitational for a reason.
To be clear, the future of the sport does not depend on whether or not the RBC Heritage has a cutline. But golf’s popularity does depend on fan interest and engagement. The best version of the sport is the most competitive, meritocratic version, which directly conflicts with the structure of a member-run organization. The gatekeepers of regulation aren’t keen to regulate turnover of their positions. There’s a reason members of Congress have not self-imposed term limits. As long as changes to the tour must run through the members of the tour, decisions will be tilted towards keeping the people already sitting around the table at the table, long after they deserve to be there.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.