Why McIlroy Playing at Riviera Is Important for PGA TOUR

Rory McIlroy announced that he would be adding the Northern Trust Open to his 2016 schedule.

It’s one thing for the PGA Tour to make a new rule. It’s another when Rory McIlroy, one of the Tour’s top players, jump-starts the policy and becomes first to announce he is adding a new tournament to his schedule.

Leading by example, Rory McIlroy has added the Northern Trust Open, played at historic Riviera CC, to his dance card this season. He has never played at the tournament and has never played the course.

“I’ve heard Riviera is a great course and I want to go play there in L.A., and I think it’ll be a good course for me,” he told Off the Ball radio program in Ireland.

He’s right. McIlroy is one of the premier ball-strikers in golf today, and Riviera has a history of rewarding those who can hit the shots required. Ben Hogan, one of the game’s best ball-strikers ever, won the LA Open three times at Riviera and then won the U.S. Open there, giving the course the nickname Hogan’s Alley. Hogan loved the course so much, he made it his debut tournament in his 1950 comeback after his auto accident. (At the event, Hogan finished second to Sam Snead after a playoff.)

While the history is nice, the important part of McIlroy’s decision was that he took the lead and bumped up the new Tour policy a year and added a tournament he’d never played. By doing that, he’s telling other players to pick an event they have not attended and play in it.

The new PGA Tour rule does not actually start until the 2016-2017 season. It will require players to add a tournament they have not played ever, or in the last four years, to their schedules. There are several reasons it’s important for top PGA Tour players to spread the wealth of their celebrity around.   One is helping to growing the PGA Tour fan base and selfishly, for each player, his own fan base.

“If you’re a fan at a tournament for 12 years, it’s great if one of those years you saw Jordan Spieth play, or whatever player,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem about the change in player scheduling.

Another factor in this new rule is taking care of the health of the PGA Tour.

There are 40 some odd events on the schedule. When the top players play the five majors (we’re throwing in the Players) and three WGC events and the FedEx Cup, that only leaves four additional PGA Tour events for them to play in to fulfill their membership playing requirement.   Four out of the remainder is not a lot to ask to when the PGA Tour provides a million dollars or more to each week’s winner and has purses that range from $4 million to 10 million each week.

But aside from the logic in that, there are two important local effects a big name player has on a tournament.

One, every time a top star commits to a tournament, he ends up helping the local charities because the tournaments are not for-profit organizations. They are not businesses organized to make a profit for themselves. They are all charitable entities, run by volunteers or volunteer associations. The tournaments are staffed by volunteers. And it’s the volunteers do the heavy lifting each week. If more tickets are sold, if more skyboxes and hospitality suites go up, if more beverages and soft pretzels are eaten, more money goes to those who really need it: the charities.

In McIlroy’s instance, the Northern Trust Open, which is today’s iteration of the original LA Open, has a charity called The City of Hope. The City of Hope is committed to researching, treating and preventing cancer and has added a second emphasis on curing and preventing diabetes. So when McIlroy adds the Northern Trust Open to his schedule, The City of Hope is likely to receive more charity dollars. It’s that simple.

Two, every local economy that hosts a PGA Tour event, as well as other golf tournaments all over the world, has an economic gain that comes from people traveling to that location, buying hotel rooms, dinners, meals and so forth for the time they are there. It’s an important economic driver in many cities and towns. Just ask the residents of Augusta, GA, what their local businesses would do without the Masters. So in a way, golfers, like Rory McIlroy, help the economy of the area. Since they get millions in purse money, it’s not a big ask, really, when you think about it.

Ask Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker why they support the John Deere Classic. They’ll tell you it’s because of the people who live there, and it’s also because they know that adding their name to the event helps the tournament and that helps the people in the surrounding area, both the charities and the businesses.

Now, nobody expects a top player to participate in 40 tournaments. The travel alone would probably lead to insanity. Only the new PGA Tour pros play more than 20 events. Recent winner Kevin Kisner, for instance, played 30 events last season. He was second three times last season and finally got his first victory at the RSM Classic this fall, proving his persistence paid off handsomely.

But back to McIlroy’s schedule, it’s good to see him taking a step toward playing in a different event. If McIlroy picks out an event to add, then maybe Bubba Watson will pick out a different event. Stuff like this is contagious, and the biggest winners when it happens really are the charities that are supported by the golf tournaments themselves.

For McIlroy, after starting 2016 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, he will be at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and then will play at the Northern Trust Open at the end of February. His Florida swing, if one were to guess, will likely start with the Honda Classic. He has also said he will return to The Memorial this year.