The season’s final major is here. PGA Championship Week has the potential to be a pivotal moment in this generation’s golfing history. Jordan Spieth seeks the career Grand Slam, while Rory McIlroy tries to stay ahead in the major tally.
Less than 48 hours away from the two best young stars doing battle and the focus is on… the 2019 golf schedule?
The reason why has as much to do with why a change was brought up in the first place. While the quadrennial conundrum of Olympic golf offered a perfect smokescreen to revamp golf’s schedule, the game’s fight for relevance is at the core of the PGA of America and PGA Tour’s joint announcement Tuesday. Golf needed a late-season shakeup.
“Such a large percentage of our members start and are active in their golf season in May and for an organization whose strategic mission is to grow this game, we feel May is a far more powerful date for us to contest our major championship,” said Pete Bevaqua, CEO of the PGA of America.
He’s right. It is more powerful. It is also necessary for a tournament that has struggled to capture the attention of the casual sports fan that is oversaturated with the sport and ready for football come August. Last year, Sunday TV ratings for the PGA Championship were the lowest in three decades and showed a steady decline in the last few years.
What likely hurts the PGA is the lack of niche it displays in the major championship rotation. The Masters is, well, the Masters. The U.S. Open is a murderous test of golf as a national championship. The Open Championship is the home of golf and an annual escape to links golf. Ironically, the organization that supports the men and women who do more daily to promote the game than any other is also the organization with the most arbitrary major championship.
The month of May won’t solve the branding problems (although marketers will now get to replace ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ replacement 'This is major'), but it will solve the salivation level of fans for the tournament. The Masters rev the engines, and the PGA Championship will now be the dessert.
“We said, you know what, the PGA Championship historically has been played in nine of 12 months, so we have not been wed to an August date,” Bevacqua added. “We feel the television markets in general are stronger in May, and we are 100 percent confident that we can continue to go to the great golf courses where we have brought this championship.”
Warmer venues are now more in play for the PGA Championship, and fears of northern venues being too cold shouldn’t be that worrisome with a mid-May target. The PGA got a big shot in the arm.
As for the appetizer to the new golf spring, the PGA Tour was again the power player in the room, announcing The Players Championship move back to March, which is just the first of several anticipated announcements centered around an earlier (and maybe shorter) FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“I want to stress that we expect these moves will help us to grow our fan base as we move forward with these changes, and we think that's very important and… in the best interests of this game,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.
There was an untapped gap of golf between the Super Bowl and Masters that now has been (re-)filled. The majority of golf’s big events will now not fight with the big, bad NFL juggernaut. Some events will get shifted from summer to fall (Greenbrier has been rumored; perhaps the John Deere Classic), but those dates have proven to be successful for organizers in the wraparound era.
For both governing bodies at the table Tuesday, the announcement was a preemptive strike. It wasn’t a survival move, because it hadn’t gotten to that point yet. It was an aggressive move in an attempt to corner the market.
The announcement that stole the show was made to make that show better, and showcase the players that golf hopes transcend the mainstream. Now, it’s up to McIlroy and Spieth to fill those staring roles.