PGA Championship: Where it Lands, Nobody Knows

A detailed view of the 2019 PGA Bethpage Black logo (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
A detailed view of the 2019 PGA Bethpage Black logo (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

Moving the PGA Championship to May is not an original idea; it’s actually been done three times before.

To hard-core golf fans, the most challenging aspect of this coming week’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black may be adapting to its May date.

Two full generations of players have grown up with the concept of the PGA as an August event. It’s been played in mid-August annually since 1972.

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Historically, however, the PGA Championship is far and away the most movable of golf’s Majors. In fact, for most of  the event’s first half century, this synoptic event of the Tour appeared to have no fixed place on the schedule  at all. Rather, it rotated positions from year to year based on the whims of that season’s calendar maker.

Believe it or not, since its inception in 1916 golf’s most professional Major has been played during nine of the 12 calendar months. Sorry, January, March and April, we may get back to you. True, it’s been held 56 times in August. But it’s also been played 20 times in July, 10 times in September, and 14 times in other months.

It began as a late-season event, the inaugural played in October of 1916. Jim Barnes won. War prevented the 1917 and 1918 editions, and when the championship resumed in 1919 Barnes won again… this time in September.

Through 1926, the event floated between August and October, and in 1927; when Walter Hagen won for the fourth consecutive year, he did so in November. As you might guess, that tournament was contested down South, specifically in Dallas. That, however, is not the record-holder for latest-in-the-year major: the 1929 PGA was played between Dec. 2 and Dec. 7 in Los Angeles. Leo Diegel won the PGA Championship that year.

In 1930, the event was moved back to September, where it remained only three years. During the 1930s and 1940s, the championship moved virtually annually, sometimes being held in May, sometimes in July, sometimes in October and once more in November.

The 1947, 1950 and 1952 PGAs were played in June, bumping them perilously close to the more highly regarded U.S. Open.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, scheduler slotted the PGA Championship between early July and mid-August. Then somebody decided it would be a good idea to give the winter tour a major of its own, so the 1971 PGA was shifted to February.

But not even Jack Nicklaus’ two-stroke win over Billy Casper at Florida’s PGA National could make a February major feel right, so in 1972 the tournament dates were shifted again, this time to mid-August where it remained until this year.

This will actually be the fifth May PGA. At Pittsburgh Field Club in May of 1937, Denny Shute successfully defended the title he had won the previous November at Pinehurst.  Five years later, in May of 1942, Sam Snead celebrated his imminent induction into the Navy by defeating Army Cpl. Jim Turnesa at Atlantic City.

At St. Louis’ Norwood Hills Country Club in May of 1948, Ben Hogan won all of his first five matches on the final hole, then crushed Mike Turnesa 7 & 6 in the title contest. The following May, with Hogan sidelined by his auto crash injuries, Snead won again.