News & Opinion

PGA Tour’s odd couple: Boston and N.Y.

Boston and New York? They don’t always mix well together. Think oil and water. Mickey Rooney and marriage. The Red Sox and Yankees.

But come next summer, Boston and the New York metropolitan area will begin sharing a FedEx Cup playoff event. That’s right, a 50/50 custody split. Liberty National in New Jersey will be site of the opening 2019 playoff stop (The Northern Trust) next August, then it’s back to TPC Boston in 2020, off to New York’s Bethpage Black in ’21, etc. Rinse, repeat. Start the music, and swing yer new partner round and round.

It will work, because, well, it has to. As part of a compressed schedule in 2018-19 that will deliver completion of the golf playoffs before the start of football season, the four current FedEx Cup playoff events (Northern Trust, Dell Technologies, BMW, Tour Championship) will be slimmed to three, and that means Boston and New York/New Jersey will have to swap turns on the dance floor. For a change, they’ll just have to get along.

This new scenario, believe it or not, arrives with a sigh of relief for longtime New England golf fans, who feared they’d be the odd group out as Dell’s two-year deal at TPC Boston neared completion (Dell EMC has headquarters in Hopkinton, Mass., where the Boston Marathon begins) and the Tour’s schedule clearly was being pared down. Hey, having the game’s top players drop into your backyard once every 104 weeks beats not having them at all, right?

Since late summer 2003, right before the arrival of colorful fall foliage, PGA Tour golf at TPC Boston has brought an unofficial end to summer in New England. It’s the perfect time of year across the Northeast. The summer tourists have headed home, boats are hauled out of the water, the Sox hopefully are in a pennant chase, and Tom Brady and Co. are deep in preparation just a few miles down the road from Norton, in Foxboro, the home of Patriot Nation. (Truth be told, TPC “Boston” is a venue more easily visited from Providence, R.I., (22 miles) than Boston (more than 35 miles away, with beaucoup traffic.)

The Deutsche Bank Championship was started by a couple of visionaries named Seth Waugh, then a CEO with Deutsche Bank Americas, and an up-and-coming tournament director named Jay Monahan – the former taking charge of the PGA of America as its chief executive officer as of Tuesday, the latter now the man at the wheel of the PGA Tour. Oh, the places they’ll go.

The old Deutsche Bank, which gave us a young Aussie champion by the name of Adam Scott (his first PGA Tour victory) on that first Labor Day finish in 2003, has given way to Dell Technologies, being played this week, and Dell will step aside for Northern Trust next season. In the early days, TPC Boston, originally an Arnold Palmer design, seemed to favor long bombers and was unpopular with many of the players. But give tournament officials credit. In their quest to deliver a better tournament, they kept open a constant dialogue on how they might improve. Jim Furyk was patient enough to go through the course, hole by hole, and by 2007, with native son Brad Faxon and rising architect Gil Hanse getting involved, steady improvements were made to the golf course.

The Deutsche Bank has had its tall moments. In 2004, in the midst of a nine-victory season, Vijay Singh beat out Tiger Woods not only to secure the trophy but also the game’s No. 1 ranking. (Woods would get his revenge two years later, edging Singh.) In 2007, in the first year of the FedEx Cup, Phil Mickelson went down the stretch with Woods in a stirring Labor Day Monday finish, prevailing as he edged Woods, 66-67. Rory McIlroy roared back from six shots down in the final round to win two years ago, and last year, fans watched two of the game’s young standouts battle as Justin Thomas defeated boyhood pal Jordan Spieth.

As a new and condensed PGA Tour schedule rose off the gurney in Dr. Monahan’s laboratory earlier this year, there were going to be tournaments spurned, and the PGA Tour’s future in Boston appeared hazy, at best, even with Monahan’s old ties there. Could a Champions Tour event possibly fill the void had the PGA Tour departed completely? That was one possibility. But then a rotation scenario was proposed which keeps the Tour in Boston and New York at least every other year.

Consider it a win-off-win scenario.

New York always was going to be fine. It has a gluttony of major championships and big events heading its way, from next May’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black – that’s right, the PGA has moved to May, so get used to it – to U.S. Opens on the way at Winged Foot (2020) and Shinnecock Hills (2026). Two Jersey sites – Trump National Bedminster will get a PGA in 2022, as will Baltusrol in 2029 – are on the books, and there’s even a Ryder Cup on the way to the Big Apple (2024, at Bethpage). Get your earplugs early. Conversely, a big piece of Boston's golf future hung in the balance.

The golf season may be a short one in New England, but Boston has proved to be a solid market for the Tour, with fans always turning out in big numbers. The Labor Day finish, which goes away after this week, had become a nice sporting tradition.

Waugh knew the area was starved for golf after the Tour’s old Massachusetts stop, the New England Classic at Pleasant Valley in Sutton, fizzled out after a memorable run that stretched from 1969 to 1998. (In 1975, Roger Maltbie, now an NBC announcer, famously won at PV, then left his $40,000 winner’s check in a neighborhood bar.)

New England winters don't serve as a haven for player development, and the area doesn’t churn out golf pros at the rate of Texas, Florida and California. Having a stage for homegrown standouts such as Faxon and Billy Andrade in the early days, and even Keegan Bradley and Peter Uihlein this week (tee times), was always a nice bonus.

Waugh has stated that Boston sports fans are the greatest in the world (“All you have to do is go to Fenway to understand that,” he said in DBC’s early days), and his hunch that Boston/Providence would be a successful market was affirmed the very first year when he stood on that 18th green handing away the winner’s check to Scott. It was raining, but grateful fans hung around, with one group in the grandstands chanting loudly to him, “Four more years!”

Well, the fans of New England will have had 16 solid years of PGA Tour golf at TPC Boston, and when the last putt drops on Monday, they’ll just have to do what they hopefully learned to do on those kindergarten playgrounds all those years ago – yes, even if the other party is New York.

They’ll just have to share.

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: jeffbabz@att.net. Twitter: @jeffbabz62