Consider it an embarrassment of riches.
The 2014-15 PGA Tour schedule, which was released on Wednesday, has the look and feel of previous editions – 47 events, up from 45 this season, an early West Coast swing, four major championships – but there is an undeniable shift in the circuit’s landscape this time around.
There is a distinct ebb and flow to next year’s schedule, a trend that began with the 2013-14 schedule and the Tour’s transition to a split-calendar season. While the basics remain unchanged, pods of must-play events have emerged that all but guarantee top player participation.
That evolution was expedited by the dramatic transformation of the WGC-Match Play, which will have a new date, venue and format next season.
The Match Play has moved from its traditional spot as the anchor event on the West Coast swing to the last week of May. The WGC has also jettisoned the unpopular Dove Mountain layout near Tucson, Ariz., for the friendlier confines of Harding Park in San Francisco and will use a pod-like format that will assure players at least three days of play.
The move to May, however, has created a month-long run of can’t-miss events, including the Match Play, The Players, the Wells Fargo Championship and the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event.
Something will have to give and it’s likely that will be the Wells Fargo. Consider Rory McIlroy, who won the Wells Fargo in 2009 and finished runner-up there in 2012, would likely not play four consecutive weeks of top-tier events and would probably trade the Wells Fargo for a week off.
It will be a similar scenario in August for Tiger Woods.
If Woods is healthy and playing well he would play the Quicken Loans, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which he has won eight times, the PGA Championship and four FedEx Cup playoff events in roughly a two-month window.
That’s seven of nine weeks in a row, nine of 11 if he were to qualify for the Presidents Cup that will be played in Korea the second week of October. And Woods is hardly the only player with a full dance card next season.
Brandt Snedeker is playing his fifth consecutive event this week at the Wyndham Championship and at 69th on the FedEx Cup list he will have at least two more starts (The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship) before his season ends.
Part of Snedeker’s plight is sponsorship related; he has endorsement deals with Wyndham and RBC, but it is an indication of the type of decisions players currently face on an increasingly crowded schedule.
It’s also why more and more players are becoming increasingly selective with their schedules. Players may love Riviera Country Club and the Northern Trust Open, but as the Tour schedule becomes more segmented tough choices have to be made.
When less is more for the top players expect to see more of the game’s marquee follow Adam Scott’s lead. The Australian has played just 13 events this season, not a single fall event last year and just twice on the West Coast.
McIlroy has played a similar schedule, with just one West Coast stop (WGC-Match Play) and four starts that were not a major or World Golf Championship.
The standard line for tournament directors has always been that the quality of an event’s golf course was always the primary way to attract a solid field, but the status quo has slowly been undercut by an increasingly segmented calendar.
The new normal is that no matter how good of a golf course you may have or how attractive your spot on the calendar, a player’s schedule is becoming more and more influenced by outside factors.
Competitive considerations have chipped away at traditional allegiances or an affinity for a particular golf course, and 2016 promises to be even more crowded.
Because of golf’s inclusion in the ’16 Games in Rio, officials with the R&A and PGA of America have already announced significant date changes. The Open Championship will be played a week earlier than it historically has been, July 14-17, in 2016 and last week the PGA announced its ’16 championship will be played two weeks later (July 28-31) than normal.
The domino effect is sure to add to an already delicate balance for the game’s top players.
The depth of next year’s Tour schedule is the best indication of the current health of professional golf. But along with that expansion there were always going to be growing pains.