PGA TOUR and players sort out talk of May or March

Jun 4, 2017; Dublin, OH, USA; Jack Nicklaus speaks during the trophy presentation of The Memorial Tournament golf tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2017; Dublin, OH, USA; Jack Nicklaus speaks during the trophy presentation of The Memorial Tournament golf tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

After two months of swirling rumors we may finally have some idea of what is going on in the discussions of moving PGA TOUR tournaments.

PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan has denied that there is going to be a move of THE PLAYERS Championship in the near future.  That doesn’t mean ever.  Just the near future. However, discussions with tournaments, like those at the Memorial, opened up blockbuster topics: A pre-Labor Day finish for the Tour Championship and FedExCup and the potential of a PGA championship move to May in Olympic years.

For several months, despite claims that the PGA TOUR is happy with the May date for THE PLAYERS, rumors, articles and conversations keep surfacing regarding the possible move of THE PLAYERS date.

My opinion has always been that the PGA TOUR has spent a heck of a lot of money changing turf and resurfacing greens, twice, to create perfect conditions in May.  Why trash that expenditure and move the tournament back to March when they would have to overseed the course and ruin the health of the bermudagrass they just planted? If they were going to move it, why resurface last year? Just go ahead and move it. But I don’t have any inside information.

Regardless, of what’s been said in the past, here’s what we do know now:

There are five forces at play in this discussion.

1. Integrating Olympic Golf into the PGA TOUR Schedule

One is the Olympics, which we know will have golf in 2020.  And after that year, golf may or may not be asked back.  It’s to be determined.  So that may be a one-time issue, or it may become an every-four-years issue.  We won’t know until after 2020.

2. Moving the PGA Championship

The second factor is the possibility of the PGA Championship moving to May in Olympic years which, Nicklaus disclosed in his media interview last week at the Memorial, he has discussed with the PGA of America (and you have to wonder why except that the Memorial is in May).

"I think if the PGA came to May, which is a distinct possibility that it may, that has not obviously been settled by any means, but if it did come to May, the PGA TOUR would probably compete against the PGA and the U.S. Open. It would probably be better for us."

However, Nicklaus disclosed a new wrinkle, the possibility of the Memorial becoming the venue for the PGA during an Olympic year.

"If they wanted us on Olympic year — we’ve talked about Olympic year, the PGA Championship could come to Muirfield — that would be fine to me, to help them out."

Nicklaus added he’s not sure how the sponsor, Nationwide, would feel about it.

Wow.  Muirfield Village as the site of the PGA.  That would be an important decision.  Since Nicklaus has won the PGA five times, tied with Walter Hagen for the most victories in that major, who better to be the host during Olympic years?

3. FedEx Cup Labor Day Finish

A third factor is a potential desire of the PGA TOUR to finish the FedExCup by Labor Day, at least according to Nicklaus in his remarks prior to the beginning of the Memorial.

"I think Jay (Monahan) has got a really tough problem. He does not have a contractual problem to move FedEx into earlier. He just thinks it’s right for the Tour and right for the culmination of the Tour to move in, to finish up, like the week before Labor Day."

Nicklaus added that there are a lot of moving parts to making a move like that, explaining:

"Whatever is best for the game of golf and however it works, I’m more than happy to talk about it and try to do it."

Moving parts is an understatement.  That would dislocate several tournaments like the PGA, Bridgestone and Wyndham and might even back up into July events, like the Greenbriar, RBC Canadian Open and John Deere. It might also mean that some spring events move to fall, if they can. Several events are going to have to change dates to slide the four FedExCup events into a pre-Labor Day or even a Labor Day finish.  FedExCup would consume August.

Weatherwise, if the regular PGA TOUR events moved to September, many would be fine,  except the RBC Canadian Open would likely have to be first in line, just because of the weather.

Maybe there is a new competition for who starts the season.  Who will be the Daytona 500, season starter, for the PGA TOUR?

Now while all this may come as shock to newcomers to golf, newcomers meaning after Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997, it used to be that the golf season after the PGA actually ran through September and October, typically finishing up the first week of November.   Winners got the same Masters invitation, PLAYERS qualification and two-year exemption as the rest of the tournaments.  They were just on ESPN instead of on networks, except for the Tour Championship. Some weren’t televised until, eventually, they were.  Don’t ask me the last year this happened, because I honestly don’t remember. It was pre-FedExCup, so that means it was more than 10 years ago.

In bygone days, that time of year was for players who needed to earn enough money to keep their cards for the next season because the season didn’t end until approximately the first of November.  Now, one presumes, the dates after Labor Day would be the start of the new FedEx season, just providing four more weeks in the fall for golfers to work on getting points. But nothing has happened yet.

4. Climate, Season, and Golf Course Playability

And that brings up the fourth factor, which is the availability and playability of golf courses in March and May and September.

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In March, it’s still pretty much south of I-10 for venues. Austin, Texas has been good for the Dell Match Play, while the TPC Sawgrass has had good and bad years the fourth week of March, but farther south in Florida was no problem.

Desert locations become unavailable in late September/ early October due to overseeding, the annual changeover when they cut down the bermudagrass and seed the courses with annual ryegrasses.  It’s a three-week process that can’t be started too soon and can’t be started too late.  It’s all about the temperature for germinating rye grass seed.

5. Contractual Commitments

Finally, the fifth factor is that the PGA already has contracts with a number of courses for upcoming events. St. Louis, Bellerive Country Club, 2018; in New York, Bethpage Black, 2019; in San Francisco, TPC Harding Park, 2020; in South Carolina, Kiawah Island Ocean Course, 2021; in New Jersey, Trump National Golf Club, 2022; and in greater Rochester, N.Y., Oak Hill Country Club, 2023.  Of those, only San Francisco is viable in February, March or May.  Luckily, it’s in 2020.

Several of the rest are possible in late May, although it’s a stretch with the grass that early in the year in the northern climates. Rochester, N.Y., is barely out of winter in May.

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If the PGA were really smart, they’d devise a plan to move their championship south, to PGA National in Olympic years, where the Honda Classic is now played. And they’d play it in February, becoming the first major of the year instead of the last.  How excited would you be for the PGA if it was the first major after not having a major since the previous July? Probably pretty excited.

So while we don’t know anything definite yet, and probably won’t in the near future, Nicklaus’ comments were at least instructive. The verdict is still out on all the moving parts:  the March and May, the PGA dilemma, the compressed Olympic schedule and a FedExCup finish in August.

If anything happens first, look for it to be the change of the FedEx finish, because as Nicklaus said, the commissioner doesn’t need permission for that and because FedEx might want it as part of their contract extension. The rest – the Olympic situation, PGA in May, and so forth — may not even be on the radar until 2019.

Next: Top 20 U.S. Open triumphs

Thanks to Nicklaus, however, while we don’t have a crystal ball, we have a better understanding of what balls are in the air and what ones are hot-air, trial balloons waiting to burst. Eventually enough people like Nicklaus will provide us with some more breadcrumbs so we can piece it all together.