By Pete Bevacqua, PGA of America CEO
Poet T.S. Eliot once posed the question, “Do [we] dare/Disturb the universe?”
Perhaps that is how we felt at the PGA of America over the course of the past four years as we started asking ourselves what date made the most sense for the PGA Championship.
Flash back to a board meeting in early 2013. Imagine a scene where we simultaneously celebrated the benefits of golf’s glorious return to the Olympic Games after a 100-plus-year absence while wondering aloud what impact those Games would have on the long-term health of the PGA Championship, fully aware that the date for the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club needed to be moved from August to the last week in July. In regard to that move, we “took one for the team.”
Having grown up in the metropolitan New York area, I felt compelled to state every chance I had that the move to July in 2016 at Baltusrol would have an unequivocal positive impact on the Championship. I referenced the likelihood of cooler temperatures, the greater number of folks in town and a series of other well-intentioned reasons that July would hold up, even benefit the Championship. Granted, the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol was terrific. We were fortunate enough to conduct it at a club that has as much or more major-championship chops than any in our country. We were greeted by great crowds (despite Saturday’s relentless deluge) and ended with a deserving champion—golf’s version of Marshal Will Kane—in Jimmy Walker. But we realized that moving our major championship around every four years to create space for the Olympic Games was not a good formula for extended success.
Our mission at the PGA of America is to tirelessly serve our roughly 29,000 PGA professionals and grow the game. Part of our mission is dependent upon successfully conducting and growing our major championships, including the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup and, of course, the PGA Championship. We proudly support and continue to support the Olympics, but we were not thrilled with the prospect of having our date in August altered every four years during an already crowded golf schedule and further complicated for us by the fact that the Summer Games fall on the same years as the domestic Ryder Cup.
The conversations that started back in the winter of 2013 picked up speed as we approached the 2016 PGA Championship. We jumped head first into an analysis of what would be both the most advantageous date for the PGA Championship and for the golf schedule at large. It is also worth noting that our decision to take the 2020 PGA Championship to TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, an announcement that was made in July 2014, was due in part to the flexibility San Francisco afforded us in regard to hosting the championship in a multitude of months, including February, March, May and August.
The process was intriguing, especially when acknowledging that over its 99-year history, the PGA Championship had been contested in nine months: February, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December. August has been great, but the championship is not inextricably tied to it in any emotional or historical manner.
We were well down the road in our analysis of moving the PGA Championship to May when incoming PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and his team made their way to Palm Beach Gardens last fall and walked us through a complete calendar-year vision that they believed would benefit the game at the elite men’s level across the board. Their vision included moving the Players Championship back to its original March date. Not knowing how deeply we were in the weeds of our own analysis, they asked how we felt about potentially moving the PGA Championship to May. The pieces were starting to fall into place.
Our team began the process of limiting our analysis to what made more sense for the continued growth and success of the championship—late May or August—and we worked through all of the respective pros and cons. In recent years we have enjoyed unbelievable drama in the August slot, annually have the strongest field in golf, visited some of the very best golf courses in the world, and television ratings have been at historical highs for us. But we also had to continue to bear in mind that the world was changing around us—the aforementioned Olympic Games, changes in the FedEx Cup, the continued dynamic growth of what has become golf’s Super Bowl in the Ryder Cup and the increased, almost inescapable density of the PGA Tour wrap-around schedule.
Point being, we did not have the luxury of making this decision in a PGA of America vacuum as we had to factor in our best interests, the best interests of the overall game and the ever-changing landscape. In short, May became more and more attractive, especially when viewed in light of other deliverables we discussed with the Tour that we are confident will help us fulfill our mission of serving our members and growing the game well into the next decade.
Our analysis quickly proved to us that with a late May date:
• We would be able to continue to conduct the PGA Championship at many of the great historic courses in the Northeast with the likelihood of more temperate weather and certainly healthier turf conditions.
• Some of our more Southern venues would be even more appealing with less heat and more challenging playing conditions.
• Other great areas and sites around the country suddenly become far more attractive in May as opposed to August.
• Television and media consumption are as healthy or healthier during that time of year.
• We would welcome the opportunity to be the second of the four majors in the annual major golf chronology.
• It makes sense for an organization whose members serve as the tangible connection between the game and just about all of us who play it here in the United States, to have our major championship occur earlier in the golf season so we can more effectively promote along with our broadcast partners our grow-the-game initiatives that our members bring to life.
We have approached this decision with careful consideration over the better part of four years. As with most important decisions, the key question we posed to ourselves was rather simple. It all came down to this: Over the course of the next several decades, would the PGA Championship be better positioned to thrive and grow if we stayed in August or moved to May? Our answer: May.
We are excited about the decision, starting in 2019 at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., as we head into the next 100 years of the PGA of America and our PGA Championship. I wonder if the individuals who gathered on January 17, 1916 at the invitation of department-store magnate Rodman Wanamaker to form the PGA of America at the Taplow Club in the Martinique Hotel on Broadway and West 32nd Street in New York City could ever have imagined that the organization would represent 29,000 individuals and be fortunate enough to run two of the five biggest events in the game? Perhaps the easy answer is no. But I believe the smarter one, and the correct one, is yes. Those individuals were visionaries and understood the beauty and power of the greatest game of all. My hope is that we are serving them and their vision well, and that this May decision is one that will be viewed in a positive light 100 years from today. I certainly will never know for sure, but we all feel good about its chances.
Having started with T.S. Eliot, let me conclude with Andy Warhol (neither of whom I believe frequented the links), because his quote below has always stuck in my craw when it has come to making decisions, whether to be reactive or proactive in regard to change and understanding the great and undeniable truism that time and tide wait for no one.
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
See you all in May.