Moves of the Players and PGA Championships are only a part of the puzzle that the tour is expected to reveal soon
By John Feinstein
The PGA Tour was all set to unveil its brand new schedule for the 2018-2019 season this past week at the Players Championship. The tour likes to make major announcements during the week of its most important tournament and, given all the changes coming, this was a big one.
But it didn’t happen. Apparently the reason is Houston.
The city has had a PGA Tour event dating to 1946—missing just one year, 1948. But when Shell dropped out as title sponsor in 2017 after 26 years, the tournament joined the tour’s endangered list and seemed certain to be absent from the new schedule after it was played without a title sponsor this past year and then lost the Golf Club of Houston as its venue.
Houston appears to be in a similar boat as Washington, D.C., which will lost its title sponsor, Quicken Loans, this past year. But while there is no sign of another sponsor stepping in to partner with the Tiger Woods Foundation in Washington, the Houston Golf Association reportedly was in meetings last week with at least one potential title sponsor and believes it has a venue if a sponsor can be found.
The tour has already given the Valero Texas Open what has been Houston’s spot the week prior to the Masters in the new schedule. One week remains open: The spot the week before the U.S. Open, abandoned by Memphis when the tour gave that tournament, and its sponsor FedEx, the World Golf Championship slot that had been occupied by Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
According to sources in Houston, the new venue for the tournament could be an old venue—Memorial Park—which hosted the tournament in 1947 and then again from 1951 to 1963. The park itself is undergoing a $70 million renovation and is located inside the city limits. It is also the place where 1964 PGA champion Dave Marr’s ashes were spread because it is where he learned to play golf as a boy.
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If Houston finds a sponsor, it could still get the pre-Open slot although Minneapolis and 3M are chomping at the bit to take it. That city has put on a successful PGA Tour Champions event since 1993, with 3M as the title sponsor since 2001.
If Houston survives, the events that are apparently going away are Washington, which arrived on tour with so much fanfare in 2007, and Boston, which has been the second of the four FedEx Cup playoff events. With the playoffs now scheduled to start in early August and end pre-Labor Day, Boston will go away, leaving three playoff events with the Tour Championship still at East Lake in Atlanta.
There’s good reason to be because the schedule will look very different beginning this fall. At least one summer event, the Greenbrier, is supposed to move to the fall in 2019. There was actually talk about moving the WGC-Dell Match Play to the fall and make it the crown jewel of the early season, but the major point of the schedule change is to keep the premier events—notably the playoffs—away from the NFL. The Match Play will stay where it has been—two weeks prior to the Masters.
That means the lead-up to the Masters beginning in March will be the Honda Classic; Arnold Palmer Invitational; the Players; Valspar Championship; WGC-Match Play and the Valero Texas Open. The WGC-Mexico will follow Los Angeles in order to attract more players from the end of the West Coast swing as opposed to asking them to go Los Angeles-Honda-Mexico. Several top players opted for Honda over the WGC event this year.
The PGA Championship will be the third week in May and is likely to come the week after the AT&T Byron Nelson and the week before Colonial.
The new Detroit event, which will be sponsored by Quicken Loans, will be in Washington’s slot two weeks after the U.S. Open. Quicken Loans officials were apparently confident enough that they’re in the rotation that they leaked the story to the Detroit Free Press last week.
If the Washington event does indeed go away, it will mark a remarkable fall from grace. When it first began in 2007 as a replacement for the International, it had all the makings of being one of the glamour non-major events on the schedule. The host was Tiger Woods, then at the height of his popularity and powers. The venue was Congressional Country Club, which has hosted the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. With the 2011 Open scheduled for Congressional, it was agreed in advance that Aronimink, also a first-class track located outside Philadelphia, would host in 2010 and 2011.
But when Woods had his “accident” at the end of 2009, things began to fall apart—albeit slowly. First, AT&T announced it would pull out as sponsor when its contract was up in 2013. Then Congressional informed the Tiger Woods Foundation that it would not host beyond 2020, in part because members were no longer as excited about Woods but also because the USGA had said if Congressional wanted another U.S. Open it could not host a tour event.
The tournament became a nomad: one year at Congressional; one at Robert Trent Jones in northern Virginia; one at Avenel before the tour pulled out of Congressional to save money for this year’s event by holding it again at tour-owned Avenel.
Quicken Loans had signed up as a last-minute sponsor in 2014, but when the field got weaker each year and Woods was unable to play to cover-up that weakness the last two years, it pulled out, with owner Dan Gilbert telling the tour he’d consider returning, but only in Detroit, his home base.
With the Greenbrier now slated for the fall, John Deere is scheduled to move to the Fourth of July weekend, followed by Canada as the lead-in to the British Open. This should make RBC—which is the title sponsor both in Canada and at Hilton Head—happy and, assuming it provides a charter for players to get to Great Britain the way John Deere has done in past years, it should improve their field.
Memphis goes into Akron’s old post-British Open slot as a WGC event, followed by the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C.—still the “Last Chance Saloon,” as Ernie Els once called it for players trying to make the playoffs, ending the regular-season schedule. Then will come three weeks of playoffs.
There are still I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed, but it looks as if the lone major decision left is Houston or Minneapolis. The Houston people have been told they have until June 1 to produce a sponsor.
There is one other possibility if Houston finds a sponsor: move it to the fall, when the weather is far more temperate there than in June and give Minneapolis and 3M the June slot. The tour has more fall flexibility now with the playoffs ending by September 1.
But the most important change was the one announced last summer: the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players returning to March. The move means the four majors will be once a month, beginning with the Masters in April and ending with the British Open in July.
The rest of the schedule will be official very soon—late and very different.