News & Opinion

PGA gains clout with move to May

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As the result of the worst-kept secret in golf, the PGA Championship just received a huge burst of energy. The PGA of America and the PGA Tour jointly announced Tuesday that the PGA Championship will move from its traditional August date to an undisclosed date in May, starting in 2019.

The Players Championship will return to an equally undisclosed March date from its May date, which it had held for the past 10 years.

Now, instead of being the final major of the year, the PGA will sit just after the Masters, which should serve to change what many thought to be the weak sister of the four majors into an event that will better ride the wave of the major-championship season.

The PGA Tour calendar will have one big event per month from March through July: the Players in March, the Masters in April, the PGA in May, the U.S. Open in June and the British Open in July.

That can’t be anything but good for players, fans and administrators. Everyone gets something out of this new arrangement. It makes sense for the major season to end at the British Open, which long has been the event on the calendar that seems to cause the game to reach a crescendo each year.

Because of that, there always had been somewhat of a letdown when the PGA Championship came around, through no fault of its own. The perception of the PGA being an afterthought has been a result not of the field or the venues but because of the schedule. That has now been fixed.

However, a number of questions remain. For one, how will the PGA of America go to the Northeast in May, when weather still can be dicey at that time of year? The first PGA Championship to fall in the new schedule will be in 2019 at the Black Course at Bethpage State Park. Weather on Long Island in May won’t be as predictable as it would be in August.

“We are 100 percent confident that we can continue to go to the great golf courses where we have brought this championship,” said Pete Bevacqua, the PGA of America’s chief executive officer. “We spent a lot of time determining and analyzing that aspect of it.

“And it opens up other parts of the country. It's more comfortable in the Southeast. It's more comfortable in Florida. It's more comfortable in Texas. And this wasn't an easy decision. It certainly wasn't a decision we took lightly.

“We actually feel – and I would say more importantly, from our side … but from those championship sites, the PGA professionals, the club, the superintendent – they feel the conditioning of the golf courses are actually better in late May than in the August months. I think the weather patterns have proven to be better, so we’re excited by that.”

March in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., won’t be as warm as it is in May, and some worry that TPC Sawgrass will suffer as a result. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan insists that’s not the case.

“In recapping all of our fairways, regrassing our fairways, installing SubAir [subsurface moisture removal] and improving our drainage systems and regrassing all of our greens, we are in a position to deliver the same firm and fast conditions in March that we have been delivering in May, and that's something we are going to hold ourselves accountable to because we want the standard of play to be at the same high level it is right now,” Monahan said.

As for schedule specifics, neither executive would talk about anything definitive. Bevacqua said the PGA Championship will be played “after Mother’s Day,” which is the second Sunday in May.

Monahan wouldn’t comment on whether the Players will be held two weeks before the Masters. Nor would he talk about whether the FedEx Cup playoffs will be played in August and conclude by Labor Day, as many have speculated.

“There are a number of dominos and there are a number of other decisions we need to make, and as you can imagine there's a fair amount of complexity within that and we have a number of constituents we have to work with,” Monahan said.

In related news, the European Tour announced that its flagship event, the BMW PGA, would move from May to September beginning in 2019.

The players, by and large, are fans of the new schedule.

“I’ve been a big supporter of it from the first time I heard about it, and the announcement today, I think has been very well received by a lot of the players in the locker room,” said Rory McIlroy, a two-time PGA champion.

“Obviously, it's still a couple years away, but I’m excited to play a schedule like that going forward. It should be good. Especially with Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup now obviously every year [alternating as biennial matches], I think it just gives especially the American guys who have to play a team event every year, as well, it just gives them just a little bit more time. Overall, I think it’s a great thing.”

Especially for the PGA Championship, which gets a much-needed breath of life.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf