The long rumored PGA Championship move is official. Starting in 2019, the major will move from its August date to May. The move is part of a larger orchestration, an attempt to improve the ratings and exposure across the golf schedule. Together the changes yield a more balanced schedule. Each “major event” will have its own month, allowing more time to generate interest.
March – Players Championship
April – The Masters
May – The PGA Championship
June – U.S. Open
July – Open Championship
August – FedEx Cup Playoffs.
With this setup to roll out in 2019, let’s discuss the winners and losers from the moves.
The Players Championship – Winner
The move to March will bring the event back to its rightful place as the kickoff to championship season. The Players used to signal the start of the business season for the Tour but that changed when it moved to May. The March date will recapture that essence as well as providing better weather. The improved weather should lead to better turf conditions. While the burnt out greens during the 2016 Players led to the greatest round of golf ever (#FreeDuke), it was a bad look for the TPC’s flagship event.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs – Winner
The changes will allow the PGA Tour’s playoffs to avoid competing with the start of football season. Instead the multi-tournament series will take over the dog days of August with little-to-no TV competition. I would expect to see some reshuffling of these events and their locations, likely a move of the TOUR Championship from Atlanta to a northern city.
The U.S. Open & USGA – Winner
For a course, the PGA has always been the less desired of the U.S. majors to host. Now with its move to May and the limitations of hosting in northern climates, the USGA is a big winner. This will give the USGA their pick of courses in the Northeast and Midwest.
Without the competition that the PGA Championship provided, the USGA will have leverage. I could foresee the USGA using it to promote the amateur and women’s game. Potential U.S. Open sites might be forced to host another one of their championships.
The PGA Championship and the PGA – Losers
The move to May doesn’t address the PGA Championship’s biggest issue — its lack of prestige compared to the other 3 majors. The PGA Championship might garner more excitement as the season’s second major. It’s also likely that it remains as the fourth most popular major championship. It loses because the new date brings potential conflicts with weather in northern cities and also their PGA Professional Championship.
The new date will limit the ability for the PGA Championship to host future championships in northern climates. The move will open up southern locales but existing hosts are big question marks. The first May championship will be hosted in New York at Bethpage Black. The historical average temperature in New York City in mid to late May is about 70 degrees. Unfortunately, this time of year can also yield poor weather and the record low hovers around 40 degrees. This date will put a tremendous strain on the superintendents and turf conditions. Championship infrastructure is setup months in advance. This could cause major damage to turf coming out of winter.
The situation gets worse in 2023 when the PGA is set to be hosted by famed Oak Hill in Rochester, NY. This area of the country can be subjected to May snowfall. It’s hard to imagine how the turf will perform and the trees won’t be fully grown in May.
The other large issue is the PGA Professional Championship. The event is traditionally held in Late June and grants 20 spots into the PGA Championship. The PGA will have to figure out if it wants to move the date earlier in the year or leave it be. Having your club pros qualify for a championship 11 months in advance is not ideal. Their other option is to move the PGA Professional Championship to March or April. This move would be very unfair to Northern pros coming out of their winter seasons.
PGA Tour events between the U.S. Open & Open Championship – Loser
After the changes, I expect to see very few top American and Europeans playing the PGA Tour events between the U.S. and Open Championships. I would expect to see top players opt to play events like the Irish and Scottish Open in prep for The Open. This will lead to low-quality fields at the coinciding PGA Tour events.
The European Tour – Winner
The European Tour wins big. They should see a bump in star players at the Irish and Scottish Opens and after the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Countering the changes, the European Tour will move the European BMW PGA Championship to September. With the FedEx Cup over, I would expect to see the European Tour take over the spotlight in September. Their events generally end before football games start and will be the spot the top players play.
This is the beginning of a flurry of change for professional golf. I anticipate changes to the Web.com Tour to come soon. In my eyes, it’s pretty clear that everyone won in this deal except for the PGA of America.