Going Through Changes – A look at the 2019 PGA Schedule
The PGA Tour schedule has been, for decades, like a giant, un-moving monolith in the sports landscape. It didn’t change. Players and fans could always count on the same run of tournaments every year, plan their travel and TV watching accordingly, and only adjust to different sponsor names. Good or bad, the consistency of the Tour’s yearly tournament schedule made for a non-newsworthy event when it was announced each year.
But over the last decade or so, things have begun to change on the PGA Tour. The first big bomb came in 2007, with the creation of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the move of THE PLAYERS Championship from March to May. Its take almost a decade to get the FedEx Cup right, but the Tour really has hit on something cool with the playoff format, and it makes for some exciting, star-studded tournaments at the end of the season.
Next came the creation of the “wrap-around” season, which began in 2013. Instead of the “silly season,” with contrived events such as the Skins Game and Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, October and November featured actual sanctioned PGA Tour events, that gave players FedEx Cup points and Ryder Cup points. It makes for a mouthful to say the “2018-2019 season,” and its still a bit awkward – and not all of the players like it – but it has generally been a successful endeavor, and the October and November events are great chances for young, up-and-coming players to earn status on the Tour with high finishes. And there have been some high-profile players that notched victories during the wrap-around portion of a season, including Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth.
But the 2018-2019 PGA Tour schedule – released early last month – is taking things to a new level of chaos and unrest, as major changes are littered about the entire schedule, and big-name tournaments have undergone MAJOR (pun intended) moves. A quick rundown of the major changes:
The FedEx Cup goes from four events to three, and moves up some three weeks so as to be complete by the end of August.
The PGA Championship moves from August to mid-May.
THE PLAYERS Championship moves back to March.
The Houston Open and A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier are moving to the fall, and therefore won’t be held until the fall of 2019.
Two new tournaments have been added, including the first PGA Tour event ever in the city of Detroit – the Rocket Mortgage Classic on June 24-30.
There are some other, minor, changes, but those are the five major shakeups for next year’s Tour schedule. So, what does the mean for golf in Texas? Well, there are a couple glaring points that stick out on that list, and a side affect that does show up on the official list of changes that could have major ramifications in North Texas.
The move of the PGA Championship to May furthers the possibility of Texas hosting a major again. Its been talked about for almost a year, but now that the PGA Tour has officially moved the PGA Championship to may, the number of states that can now host a major have drastically increased, with Texas being at the top of that list. Lets be frank – the PGA Tour and its players have no desire to come to Texas in August for a major, when it can be 100+ degrees every day with high humidity. But in May? Absolutely. While historical average high temperatures in August are almost 95 degrees, in May the average high is only 83 degrees.
Plus, the official move to May of the PGA adds more fuel to the fire of reports that recently surfaced that the PGA is looking to build a golf course/golf complex in Frisco with the intent of that spot hosting the PGA in short order. It is not a done deal yet by any means – there has been nothing official announced from the city, nor the PGA on this particular matter – but pieces are starting to fall into place that could pave the wave for DFW to host the PGA Championship in the next five or so years.
The PGA moving to May separates the Byron Nelson and Colonial tournaments in 2019. Nothing is official beyond this upcoming season, but in 2019, when the PGA Championship moves to May and is hosted at Bethpage Black, the date will fall in between the Nelson and Colonial. In fact, the entire month of May gets a dramatic reshuffling next year, as the Wells Fargo moves to the first week of May, the Nelson move up one week to take the weekend previously occupied by THE PLAYERS Championship, the PGA Championship follows, and Colonial maintains its spot in the final full weekend of May.
Without being in the room when the schedule was developed, it is hard to know exactly why the PGA Championship – held in New York in 2019, San Francisco in 2020 and South Carolina in 2021 – was wedged in between the two Texas tournaments, instead of simply taking the spot vacated by THE PLAYERS (the week before the Nelson). From a travel standpoint, it would seem to make much more sense to go from the Wells Fargo in North Carolina to the PGA in New York and then to the Nelson and Colonial in Texas, instead of forcing players to go to Dallas for a week, then to New York, then back to Fort Worth. Only time will tell if splitting up the two events will be better or worse for the field, but it certainly is going to be different, and something is lost for DFW golf fans in not having our 14 straight days for PGA Tour golf in May.
The Houston Open moves to the fall wraparound season, and will stay at the Golf Club of Houston (for now). It seems that this move was spurred, in part by the uncertainty surrounding the former Shell Houston Open and its current lack of a title sponsor. So, on one had, as rumors have been swirling that the Houston Open may be booted from its current site and disappear all together, it is great to see the tournament survive and have a presence on the PGA Tour at all. Houston golf fans have always shown up in droves to watch that tournament, and it certainly would have been missed had it been dropped from the schedule.
On the other hand, however, I have to wonder what the draw will be for both players and spectators when the tournament moves to the fall, especially after taking essentially a one-year hiatus. Since moving to the Tournament Course at the Golf Club of Houston, the Houston Open has staked its claim as being the ultimate preparation venue before the Masters, and many of the top pros in the world came to play the course to prepare for Augusta. Now that the tournament is moving to fall, will the push for top-flight players dwindle? And, from the fans perspective, now the Houston Open will be competing directly with high school, college and professional football on almost any weekend, which will make it difficult for fans to attend. While the Tour can work to avoid a Houston Texans home game, they will also have to consider Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, U of H and Rice football games, as well as the hundreds of high school football games that occur on Friday nights.
It is a tough task for the Houston Open and the PGA Tour, but certainly a much better solution than simply doing away with the tournament.
The changes to the FedEx Cup are a huge win for everyone. This part of the alterations to the PGA Tour schedule is a no-brainer, and should have been done years ago. Moving from four to three FedEx Cup events isn’t a big deal either way – four was fine (and four is a nice, round number), but three will be acceptable as well. The biggest win for the PGA Tour is the commitment to wrapping all of this up by the end of August, so as to avoid competing with college and NFL football on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. As financially lucrative as the FedEx Cup is for the Tour and the players, it made no sense to have it bleed all the way into mid and late September, when most of American is in full football mode. Even when Tiger Woods was the dominant player in 2007, NFL ratings on Sunday crushed the Tour Championship TV ratings, so why continue to compete for viewers against that juggernaut?
The move to May is a great one for the PGA Championship. Setting our Texas and DFW bias aside for a minute, moving the PGA Championship from August to May (and also moving THE PLAYERS back to March) is a great choice by the PGA Tour. I’ve always felt that by the time the PGA Championship rolled around in August, golf was running almost on empty for the year, and saving up the final remaining fuel for the FedEx Cup, forcing the PGA into a bit of an “afterthought” space on the schedule. For such a unique championship (allowing PGA professionals to play), the PGA Championship deserves a more prominent spot on the Tour schedule without any competition. Now, March-July are each stacked with a premier event – THE PLAYERS in March, the Masters in April, the PGA in May, U.S. Open in June and British Open in July – and players will have a bit of rest between the final major of the year and the start of the FedEx Cup. It will be an exciting stretch run for golf during a time of year where sports is in a bit of a lull (until the NBA finals in June).
It is going to be a very interesting year on the PGA Tour as players and fans adapt to these massive changes. For the most part, it seems that the chaotic new schedule should work out for the better for the Tour overall, but only time will tell how the changes affect the Texas (and DFW) golf communities.