For what was always seen as a change-resistant game, golf has thrown us two curveballs this year. In March, the USGA and R&A unveiled sweeping proposed changes to the rules of golf. Now, the PGA of America has announced that, starting in 2019, it is moving its championship from August to May. Since 1953, the PGA Championship has been played in July or August – the last major of the year.
The move will create a ripple effect in tournament scheduling, the most significant change being the PGA Tour’s decision to move the Players Championship from May to March (its original time slot until it moved to May eleven years ago). When the dust settles, golf will have a new six-month schedule of major events: The Players (March), the Masters (April), the PGA Championship (May), the U.S. Open (June), the Open Championship (July), and the Tour Championship (likely to conclude in August with some additional scheduling tweaking).
Several considerations drove the interrelated decisions of the PGA of America and the PGA Tour. The advent of Olympic golf would have required adjusting the date of the PGA Championship every four years. Also, the change should allow the Fed Ex Cup competition to conclude before football season begins. In addition, moving the Players to March optimizes course conditions at Sawgrass and provides a strong lead-up to the Masters.
Pete Bevaqua, CEO of the PGA of America, explained that the decision was a response to changes in tournament golf. “The golf calendar is dramatically different than it was in the 1970s when our championship took up residence in August,” he said. “We are excited about this move to May. It provides our PGA Championship a strong landing spot on the calendar and a consistent major championship rhythm that golf fans can embrace.”
Early indications are that the PGA Championship will not fill the current Players Championship slot (Mothers’ Day weekend), but likely will be scheduled the weekend before Memorial Day. In a related move, the European Tour announced that it will move the BMW PGA Championship from May to September. The future schedule of the Fed Ex Cup and some other tournaments are under study.
PGA Tour players generally endorsed the move. Zach Johnson commented: “I think it makes our schedule more seamless. I think it will be better all around.” Charlie Hoffman noted: “The reality is we want golf done before football. Football drives TV that time of year.”
Adam Scott views the move as an opportunity to scale back the golf season, which has become virtually year-round with the advent of the wrap-around fall season. “I would prefer that there was a real break with no events in the fall. Why not have a few months off and starve everyone of PGA Tour golf? It seems to weaken the overall product.” Good thought, Adam, although players struggling at the bottom of the money list would probably disagree.
The losers in the move to May? Possibly some of the traditional northern venues for the PGA Championship. Teeing it up in May at Oak Hill (scheduled for 2023), Bethpage Black (2019), Baltusrol, or Whistling Straits might be dicey. On the other hand, the move opens up venues in Florida and Texas that were unworkable in August.
Like the players, golf fans should readily adapt to the new schedule. Besides, concluding the Fed Ex Cup in August would allow all New England fans to focus on the Patriots, which is the proper world order in the fall. By September we should all be transitioning from fairways and greens to the Red Zone.