Transitions Championship faces uncertain future


PALM HARBOR, Fla. – If the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing appears to be in robust health, the Transitions Championship has accounted for a significant portion of that positive vibe. The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook continues to strengthen its reputation as a superb test for Tour pros, and though Tiger and Phil never fail to leave the event off their schedules, the fields here are deep – full of top-tier players and recognizable names.

Tampa-St. Petersburg is certainly a golf-friendly market, producing decent-sized galleries and an atmosphere that is very conducive to an enjoyable experience. A lot of factors contribute to the success of any Tour stop, however, one of the biggest being the title sponsor, and Transitions has decided not to continue hosting the event after this year.

In other words, this tournament has issues. Another corporation could step in and succeed Transitions without skipping a beat, but after talking to several knowledgeable players this week, one gets the sense Innisbrook will become part of the Fall Series in 2013, forfeiting its prime spot on the calendar to the Puerto Rico Open or McGladrey Classic.

As one veteran told me Thursday, “When Hilton Head lost its sponsor, it was a case of the Tour having to find a new one or the tournament would die. That doesn’t seem like the case here.” Perhaps not, but moving this tournament to October would amount to a serious demotion. For all the happy talk about the great golf on the Fall Series – the dramatic finishes, Tiger comes to San Jose, the top-125 puzzle, insert your own storyline here – it’s not three weeks before the Masters with a major network televising on the weekend and half of the World Ranking’s top 10 in attendance.

It’s a big step down. The Tour has its business interests to look after and a responsibility to its entire membership, and though one could look at a mounting pile of autumn tournaments and rationalize that it serves both of those purposes, there comes a point when you arrive in the Land of Diminishing Returns.

They’re not “unofficial events,” yet they’re not part of the regular season and don’t award FedEx Cup points. If the top 125 on the money list is still of dire importance, why was it replaced by a points system five years ago – so we can squeeze in another commercial mention of the Tour’s favorite overnight courier? Moreover, the Fall Series has been a constant shuffle. Tournaments come and go. There have been as many as seven (2007) and as few as four (2010).

To some, golf is a very hard game to play and an even harder game to follow, nor will it be getting any easier. A couple of in-the-know pros believe a dramatic schedule alteration will be approved at next week’s players meeting – the 2014 season would actually begin in October 2013 at the Open in northern California, run through Asia, then pick up after the holidays in Hawaii, where the regular season begins now.

Looking at it from a localized angle, there's something cockeyed about a community losing its golf tournament because some company decided to take its shingle and go home. Maybe the fall-first format would salvage Innisbrook to a certain point, but pro golf shouldn't be so reliant on other people's marketing budgets. It's a really good event now – one that shouldn't have its fate played out in a board room.

The more things change, the more we can rely on the things that stay the same. And the harder the Tour tries to define progress according to how big, how many and how much, the less likely some are to continue paying attention. You might even surmise that one man’s solution is another man’s dilution.