After 2023, Which Four PGA Tour Tournaments Will Be Elevated for 2024?

2022 WM Phoenix Open, Scottie SchefflerMandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
2022 WM Phoenix Open, Scottie SchefflerMandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports /

The PGA Tour recently revealed the names of the four tournaments that will join the eight already elevated tournaments, bringing the total of high purse events for 2023 to 13, counting the Players. The newly knighted events are the WM Phoenix Open, the RBC Heritage, the Wells Fargo Championship, and the Travelers Championship.

Now the big question will become, who gets elevated for 2024?  Who gets the top 20 players for that season?  It’s the most loaded question starting now, because the decisions about 2024 will be made in 2023.

The top 20 players have committed to play in the 13 big events which include the four, additional, elevated selections.  This does not count the majors, which many, if not all of the top 20 players, will be eligible to play.

In addition, the Tour has asked the top 20 players to participate in three additional non-elevated events to enhance the overall strength of the entire Tour. They all agreed to this plan.

"Most tournament directors would stand on their heads for a week if they could be guaranteed the top 20."

The initial eight events plus Players are elevated in perpetuity, or as far as anyone cares to project for now, and that leaves the rest of the shortened schedule, January through August, for tournaments to lobby the PGA Tour to be elevated for the season after this.

The 2023 selection of the four newly elevated events spread the wealth mostly across six months of the new season beginning in January and extending through June.  Then there is a short break in elevated purses until the beginning of the FedEx Cup finale events, the FedEx St. Jude Championship, and the BMW Championship, followed by the gargantuan purse for the FedEx Cup.  When the winner gets $18 million, that’s gargantuan.

February and March will be big for PGA Tour pros.

Early in 2023, the elevated events begin with Sentry, and then they take a rest until late February and the WM Phoenix Open, followed by the Genesis Invitational, both offering $20 million. In this case, that’s $15 million in January followed by $40 million in two back-to-back weeks in February.

After a one-week break, two more enormous purses are back-to-back again at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship.  The Players has an even higher payout than the rest of the tournaments next year, with the likely exception of what the winner of the FedEx Cup receives.  The Players is $25 million.

PGA Tour, FedEx Cup, 2022-23 PGA Tour Season, Golf, Schedule
THE PLAYERS, TPC Sawgrass, (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

But March has one more big tournament, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which is a permanently elevated event played the fourth week of the month.  If you’re keeping track, that’s $65 million in prize money in March alone. And those three tournaments pay out that much as far as the eye can see.

For 2023, April now has the RBC Heritage, just after the Masters, and May now has the Wells Fargo plus the already announced Memorial.  June features the Travelers Championship. So, $20 million on tap in April, $40 million in May, and $20 million in June.

August wraps up the season with another $40 million at stake in the first two tournaments of the FedEx Cup series, plus the Tour Championship, where last year’s winner received $18 million and the ginormous payout of FedEx money which was $75 million last season.

But, as the PGA Tour’s announcement on the additional events mentioned, there is no guarantee that these same four elevated tournaments for 2023 will also be the ones that are elevated for 2024. In fact, it’s unlikely they will repeat because every event wants the top 20 players.

As with everything, there are politics involved in working with all the tournaments and with their sponsors. It’s much harder than just who goes where on the schedule, which is one of the hardest jobs for the PGA Tour each year. Somebody goes before the Masters and somebody goes after it. Somebody goes before the U.S. Open and somebody after it, and so on.

But this is bigger than that. This decides who gets extra purse money and the top 20 players.

That decision affects every tournament’s ability to retain their title sponsor, to attract local sponsors, pro-am participants, and everyday ticket holders. It’s way beyond a juggling act.  It’s like juggling flying squirrels and knives. An unhappy sponsor may decide to fly away at the end of any contract period, and that’s much like a knife to the chest of the tournament.

Could 2024 include the Farmers Insurance Open, the American Express, or the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as elevated? Sony has sold a lot of electronics over the years, but enough to have a $20 million purse for one year?

For one thing, we don’t really know where the additional money to upgrade a tournament is derived. Does the sponsor have to write a monster check for one year?  Or does the PGA Tour provide the money?  Or is it a combination of both?  They aren’t telling, and really, it’s their business how they do business.

My pick for 2024 would be Farmers Insurance, but it all remains to be seen.  It’s unlikely that the PGA Tour can keep the rest of the tournaments happy by upgrading the WM Phoenix Open two years in a row unless other tournaments that are offered a chance say no thanks.

The Honda Classic and Valspar Championship often suffer a bit from their locations on the schedule, but it’s nothing that elevating them to a $20 purse wouldn’t fix.

Going through the schedule, getting to pre-Masters time, there’s the Valero Texas Open.  Name a petroleum company that isn’t printing money.  Remember those $4 and $5 per gallon rates at the pump?  But does it pay for a $20 million purse? Only the Tour knows for sure.

If longevity has anything to do with it, which was cited by the Tour in elevating the WM Phoenix Open that started in 1935, then surely the Valero Texas Open deserves a look. It has been played since 1922 and has a storied list of winners that includes Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and even the second PGA Tour Commissioner, Deane Beman.

Using that same rule, the RBC Canadian Open, which was first played in 1904, deserves a look, and maybe RBC, which probably had something to do with the upgrade to the RBC Heritage will be first in line to get all the top guys to the country’s national open.

The RBC Canadian predated all US events on the PGA Tour except the Western Open (1899) which has morphed into the BMW, already a $20 million purse event.  (The U.S. Open debuted in 1895, but it’s a USGA event sanctioned by the PGA Tour as is the British Open, which dates to 1860.)

Except for the LA Open which started in 1926 and became the Genesis Invitational, the rest of the PGA Tour is mostly a post-WWII or post-Arnold Palmer’s and Jack Nicklaus’ success creation. Many new tournaments began in the 1960s and 1970s with the formation of the official PGA Tour as an entity.

So how to pick? In the spring, there’s the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Charles Schwab Challenge.  New Orleans, the host of the Zurich Classic, is a team event, and that probably precludes it from being included, although it’s likely they would go to a regular format for a year if they could have the top 20 players.   Most tournament directors would stand on their heads for a week if they could be guaranteed the top 20.

Would Rocket Mortgage, John Deere, 3M, or Wyndham want to play the game for a year?  It probably depends on where the prize money comes from.  However, right now, we have 16 tournaments – not counting opposite-field events — without elevated status in 2023.  We have 13 tournaments with it.

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If every PGA Tour event has a shot at having the top 20 golfers and the big purse, then it will take five years to include every tournament.

In addition, as sponsors and tournaments see how this upgrade situation plays out, there may be some tournaments that are satisfied with what they have and others who are making frantic calls to the PGA Tour Commissioner hoping to get on his shortlist for 2024.

While it will be interesting to watch, there are sure to be some Excedrin, Advil, and Aleve moments for both the PGA Tour and tournament managers and sponsors in the months to come.