It's no secret that there's a bit of a squeeze on the PGA of America to jump in head-first with the PGA Tour on a major schedule change that would upend the flow of the golf season.
The PGA Tour is looking to relieve some pressure on its FedEx Cup playoffs, efforting to reduce the four-event series to three tournaments and identifying the $10 million season-long winner by Labor Day, if not sooner. The Tour hopes to do this to clear the deck of golf that could compete with college football and the National Football League, both of which are ratings juggernauts that just so happen to occupy the most compelling days of golf tournaments: Saturdays and Sundays. Even if perceptions about the NFL are changing and the attitude toward the sport's violent nature and other facets of the sport (slow play!) are turning off some fans, it's impossible to deny football commands 10 times the attention of the American sporting consciousness on weekends compared to golf.
However, if the Tour's going to be able to end its wrap-around season before football begins in earnest, it needs the PGA of America's help. Short of making the PGA Championship into a playoff event, the PGA Tour can't have a reasonable three-event playoff system unless its sister body moves its premier tournament from what has become its traditional early-to-mid August date. The Tour's suggestion? Move the PGA Championship to May, and the PGA Tour would graciously move The Players Championship from May back to March, where it had been prior to 2007.
For the PGA Tour, the benefits are numerous. TPC Sawgrass is better in March, and The Players being golf's first big -- if not major -- event of the calendar year is a great lead-in to the Masters. In May, The Players is still exciting, but it sits at the bottom of golf's upward arc from the Masters lull to U.S. Open intrigue. In March, The Players can cap the Tour's Flexico Swing.
Obviously, ending the PGA Tour season without football to overshadow it is the main goal. But what's in it for the PGA Championship? They wouldn't go last, so the erstwhile Glory's Last Shot couldn't stand out in August, which is typically an otherwise lousy sports month. A Grand Slam would be completed, if ever, then at the Open Championship. That's a once-in-a-century opportunity lost. And a May date all but rules out a number of traditional Northeastern venues. Oak Hill, Winged Foot, Bethpage and others come to mind. They're borderline at best as May venues.
On paper, it seems like the PGA of America and its CEO Pete Bevacqua have absolutely zero incentive to move the PGA Championship to May, save for goodwill with the PGA Tour, with which it has cultivated a better relationship in the last decade. However, shipping the PGA Championship to May, post-Masters, does offer the PGA of America an opportunity to build upon its hard-fought restored reputation as the fairest, friendliest of the four majors. It can evolve into a May date and further reinvent itself what the modern major championship could be.
No, this isn't a column suggesting the PGA go back to match play. It's a cute idea but unrealistic given the TV money and potential audience a major has. The PGA of America isn't about to potentially give on that so purists can see a potential clunker in an 18-hole final while the rest of the world seeks out a curling tournament elsewhere for a true thrill.
Rather, moving to May is an opportunity for the PGA of America to get away from classic, private facilities and move its championship around to the treasured, super-modern gems of architecture. Golf is in the middle of a second Golden Age of architecture, with the likes of Coore and Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, David McLay Kidd, Tiger Woods and others doing phenomenal work around the globe to develop playable, environmentally responsible and visually stunning courses. The courses present the player with countless options and would play well into PGA of America setup man Kerry Haigh's efforts to present a stern-but-not-exhausting PGA Championship examination.
Go to Bandon in May. Windy but amazing. Have a major on two courses for the first time.
Go to Streamsong in May. It's a Goldilocks time of year for a Florida major.
Go to Bluejack National in May. Take a page from the USGA and Erin Hills, go all-in on a barely tested course.
Go to Sand Valley in May. Wisconsin that time of year is iffy, but the Midwest is the PGA of America's Ryder Cup sweet spot in October. Why not in spring?
Moving to May forces the PGA of America away from the titans of American golf architecture that it has leaned on to restore the Wanamaker Trophy's value from the doldrums of the '70s and '80s, which, by the way, sometimes saw the PGA played in February. Talk about a wacky date. May doesn't seem so bad by contrast. Going hyper-modern with venue selection also would be a stark and welcome contrast from the familiarity and tradition of Augusta National and the Masters. So many golf fans have heard about these amazing golf monuments erected around the country and want to get there themselves. Perhaps bringing a major championship to these often-publicly accessible venues would spur on more golf travel and get a golfer's wanderlust to the point of purchase on a an experience of a lifetime. That's good for golf and well within the mission of the PGA of America to serve its 27,000 men and women it represents.
Yes, there are drawbacks to a May date.
Major League Baseball is heating up, while the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association are getting into their three-month playoff process (let that sink in).
Some of the most modern and celebrated pieces of golf architecture are at remote resorts -- not the most fan friendly and certainly not the most accessible for out-of-towners. Space can be limited, or the infrastructure to get 30,000 people per day to tournament site can be challenging. Then again, the PGA of America insists on going back to Kiawah Island, and 2012 was a nightmare, so... Besides, the Ulster people put in serious resources to getting their infrastructure up to R&A snuff to bring back the Open Championship to Royal Portrush in 2019. You're telling me some states wouldn't be willing to make similar reasonable investments for the influx of dollars and economic development that not only come with hosting a major championship but doing so at a venue the public will rush to afterwards?
Even if fan attendance were a concern at some of the modern gems, the biggest moneymaker for the Wanamaker and the PGA is a television contract, with the PGA of America's deal with Turner Sports set to expire. Get Golf Channel on board as the host and let them run wild with a month's worth of lead-in content about architecture, travel and more. It'll be better for the championship.
So, while it might not seem it at first, a May date for the PGA Championship is a potential gift. It's a chance to fully realize the reputation the championship has cultivated in recent years, to inspire millions of golfers to see places they've often only heard about from their most envious of buddies and to seize on a chance to spin forward the sport which has hinged on turn-of-the-2oth-century venues toward the future of major sites which are competitor, fan and environmentally friendly.
Seize the opportunity.