PGA Rescheduling: A Sign of Changing Times

When you’ve grown up your whole life with a certain order of things, it can be a shock to the system when that is disrupted. Few sports epitomize tradition and structure to a greater extent than golf. As such, the year 2017 has been a bit of a seismic one in terms of shake-ups.

The first tectonic plate-shifter was the announcement of the vast overhaul to the rules of golf, which, in general, has been warmly received. The second was the news that scheduling will be significantly altered from 2019, with the PGA Championship shifting to May from its usual August slot. The Players Championship, in turn, will be brought forward by two months to March. And, in a bid to hurry things along, the FedEx Cup is set to be completed on or before Labor Day.

There remains a bit of water to go under the bridge in terms of ratification, and it will be interesting to see how the schedule shapes up once the dust settles. But, one way or another, we’re in for the most dramatic change to the PGA Tour calendar since the playoffs were introduced back in 2007.

So, are these changes for the best?

First off, let’s just empathize with the job the PGA of America and the PGA Tour have on their hands. Putting together a schedule that appeases the demands of sponsors, players and broadcasters is difficult enough in itself. But juggling this against things like climate and clashes with other sports makes it a complex beast, and no one can dispute these custodians of the game make any such changes with the best interests of the game in mind.

There is a high degree of logic that’s gone into all this too. No one will dispute that the PGA Championship has long suffered an identity crisis, and fought a losing battle to compete with its fellow majors for prestige. Having it as the last of four majors, hot on the heels of the Open Championship, and with viewer and spectator burnout entrenched, hasn’t helped the cause. Conversely, catapulting it forward to being the second major of the year, with excitement levels still high, gives it a fighting chance as players fight tooth and nail to shape their year.

It’s also worth noting that, after the qualified success of golf as a spectacle in Rio last year, its place in the Olympics looks secure for the foreseeable future. As such, the PGA would, on a quadrennial basis, be made to look a makeshift event, moved around to fit in with the frying of bigger fish. That certainly wouldn’t have done it any favors either.

As for completing the FedEx Cup early, this is definitely one to support too. It’s all very well puffing out your chest, and banking on the commitment of golf fans. But, ultimately, the start of the football season is a major distraction, and a lot of eyeballs are inevitably lost. By getting it done before the NFL kicks off, all attention is locked on the golf, sponsors get more bang for their buck, and, as an additional bonus, players have a month less of wear and tear in their bodies, and can put on an even better exhibition.

And moving the Players Championship forward makes sense too. As the so-called “fifth major”, an event with a bit more esteem is a great way to get the juices flowing earlier in the season, and word on the street is that players are very much behind the plan.

The flip side of the coin

Every action has a reaction, and not all of it is good. First off, with two WGC events in March at present, one will likely have to give way if the Players is being brought forward. But the biggest concerns will surely be on the other side of the Atlantic. The European Tour has already announced that the BMW PGA will move to September from 2019. For a tournament (and course) which has already had its issues, there are justifiable worries that this flagship event for the Tour will now be consigned to an autumn afterthought.

This will also have a knock-on effect for their newly-launched Rolex Series, which, in the absence of further scheduling adjustments, will now only commence in France from July. Not exactly the early-season hook Keith Pelley and Co will have had in mind.

What’s more, with fatigued US-based European stars likely to be less inclined to make the trip across the pond as the season wears on (there will not be the same appearance fees offered compared with tournaments in Dubai and Abu Dhabi), this could conceivably have an impact on the Ryder Cup, given the increased qualifying status that will be afforded to Rolex Series events.

The battle to attract the best stars between the PGA and European Tours is an ongoing one, but one hopes that the higher-ups haven’t forgotten that it isn’t a zero-sum game. Maintaining, and indeed growing, public interest in the sport of golf is a collaborative effort, and, if successful, one from which both parties benefit. Doing damage to an already-beleaguered European Tour simply cannot be the objective.

Nothing is perfect, and there is no doubt that the PGA of America are on the right track with these scheduling changes. But there remain plenty of unanswered questions, and careful thought needs to go into this in order to ensure that the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad – for all stakeholders involved in the game.

Hope you enjoyed this special guest post!

Michael Todt
Golf Assessor

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