When Tiger Woods’ first official PGA Tour event debut in 2007 as the AT&T National, there were high hopes the tournament could evolve into a living, breathing tribute to Woods’ all-time-great career. With Woods’ name on it, the proceeds benefiting his popular foundation and a great host course in Congressional Country Club, the D.C.-area stop sounded like a clear winner.
After a solid first five years for the tournament — even as Woods publicly faced marital and infidelity issues in 2010 and an injury in 2011 — the event started to suffer somewhat.
The derecho (read: pop-up hurricane) in 2012 led to a bizarre, surreal event, though Woods still managed to win the tournament on Sunday after crews cleaned up around the players competing without galleries the day prior.
Woods himself has only played twice since that second, unique win. He missed the tournament in 2013, missed the cut the next year after admittedly coming back too soon from microdiscectomy surgery on his back, finished T-18 in 2015 and did not compete in 2016.
AT&T stepped away as title sponsor of the tournament in 2013, with Quicken Loans agreeing to a deal to pick up the title sponsorship through 2017 — all part of a deal to make Quicken Loans a national marketing partner of the PGA Tour. That deal ends with this edition of the tournament.
While Congressional Country Club has agreed to host the tournament in 2018 and 2020, there is no 2019 host. And there really is no tournament without a title sponsor.
Then there is the news that the PGA Tour Champions event in Minnesota, the 3M Championship, has formally approached the PGA Tour about getting a spot on the PGA Tour schedule. Tournament organizers want to lengthen TPC Twin Cities based on plans Arnold Palmer gave them before he died in 2016, and they want to bring the Tour’s best to the golf-crazy state during the prime time of their short golf season. They can only do it during summer months, namely June and July, as August is filled with the WGC in Ohio, the PGA Championship (perhaps May-bound) and the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, which are expected to be bumped up as part of a new deal with FedEx. At first glance, the only events on the schedule that appear vulnerable are the Quicken Loans National, with an expiring deal, and The Greenbrier Classic, which is locked up through 2021.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods’ TGR Live now runs the Genesis Open at Riviera near Los Angeles, a tournament with an established, legendary pedigree of winners and located in Woods’ home state. The field is also imminently better than the National each year.
Quicken Loans, if they choose to remain a title sponsor, could latch on to the as-of-now sponsor-less Houston Open or taking over the Tournament of Champions from SBS (which sublet their deal to Hyundai before this year), both with better schedule slots and fields.
The D.C. area (and Philadelphia for two years) has embraced the National in any of its forms, and the PGA Tour benefits from being in the nation’s capital. However, this time of year proves difficult to get players, particularly as the Travelers Championship seems to have commandeered most-coveted-tournament status between the Opens.
The PGA Tour has been brilliant in moving chess pieces around to keep sponsors happy, healthy tournaments alive and maintaining player engagement. We’ll see what they can do with the National.