This began as a typical brainstorming session, an opportunity to take a hard look from 30,000 feet at a sprawling business.
“It wasn’t a schedule conversation, it was a product conversation,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan recently explained. “The question was, are we producing the best possible product for our fans? One of the things that we realized is, 11 years in, the FedExCup Playoffs continue to grow. We felt like ending Week 1, Week 2 of the NFL [season], that was a big issue and we needed to solve it.”
That conversation began in early 2016 and the answers to those tough questions were officially given on Tuesday when the Tour unveiled the dramatically overhauled 2018-19 schedule.
From thousands of iterations, competing interests, and moving parts was born a lineup that now features five consecutive months of marquee events starting with The Players in March, the Masters in April (come on, you knew the spring member-member wasn’t going anywhere), PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June and Open Championship in July. This major Murderers’ Row will give golf clear ownership of a portion of the sports calendar.
The new schedule will also feature an earlier finish to the season, with the Tour Championship scheduled to be played Aug. 21-25, two weeks before the start of the NFL season, which has always cast a wide shadow over what was supposed to be the Tour’s big finish.
Although it took more than two years to get here, there’s no denying the need and success of what is essentially a condensed schedule. The new dance card will certainly make the Tour better and it will also make golf better, but like most extreme makeovers there has been and will continue to be a cost.
After a dozen years of hearing how much better The Players is in May, transitioning back to March will be awkward at best; and the PGA Championship’s relocation to May could take some of the event’s more storied Northeastern venues out of the rotation.
But if The Players and PGA moves are the highlights of the new schedule, the devil really is in the details.
Gone from the 2019 schedule will be The National, Tiger Woods’ event in Washington, D.C., which began with so much promise in 2007, and the Dell Technologies Championship, which had been the second playoff stop.
Although TPC Boston, site of the Dell Technologies event, will host the first playoff event, The Northern Trust, every other year starting in 2020, it’s still a hit for one of the Tour’s largest markets.
Though many observers liked the idea of a condensed schedule, in practice it’s going to take some getting used to.
Essentially, the Tour had to shed four weeks off the season to move out of football’s shadow. Losing the Boston playoff event and the post-season “bye” week was half the bill. The Houston Open was relocated to the fall portion of the schedule, and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was replaced by an existing event in Memphis.
If that all sounds clean and easy, consider that the run up to the post-season will now feature a major (The Open), a World Golf Championship (Memphis) and the Wyndham Championship. Including the three playoff stops, that’s five must-play events in a six-week window.
There’s also a question of how the 2020 Olympics, which will be played in Tokyo from July 24 to Aug. 9, will fit into what currently is an already hectic portion of the schedule.
Similarly, the spring line up heading into the Masters will now feature two World Golf Championships and The Players. The game’s stars will likely continue to play either the Honda Classic or Arnold Palmer Invitational, which means five starts in eight weeks.
How this congestion impacts events like Bay Hill or the AT&T Byron Nelson, which will now be played the week before the PGA Championship, remains to be seen, but there will be tough choices made.
Consider the RBC Canadian Open, which has been mired in a post-Open Championship vortex, will now be played the week before the U.S. Open. Depending on where the American championship is played, the move could give the field in Canada a boost, but it’s hard to imagine how it’s going to lead to long-term improvements.
Give Monahan and his team credit, from a thousand different variations and moving parts has come a schedule most of the circuit’s constituents, and eventually the fans, can embrace.
“Let’s look at the overall schedule and the flow and a thousand different versions on how to make it work, along with looking at the overall landscape of sporting events,” said Monahan when he was recently asked to explain the schedule process. “You think about what other leagues might do and you look at their schedule, you’re trying to balance what you know now with what you think others might think about.”
Throughout this complicated process, the commissioner and Co. never lost focus on the ultimate goal, ending before football season began, and although it wasn’t painless it did turn out to be change with a purpose.