News & Opinion

Tour can do better than Atlanta for finale

In my 30-plus years of covering sports, the only place I ever locked a rental car was at East Lake Golf Club. The home of the Tour Championship is located in one of Atlanta’s less-fashionable neighborhoods, and though there are obvious signs of civic progress in the area, it’s still not a part of town you want to mess with.

Corporate sponsorship is the main reason why the tournament has been held at East Lake since 2004. The venue itself is very classy, the course solid more than spectacular, and an event that adds a $10 million tip to the usual pile of prize money should be special. Furthermore, a shebang of that magnitude needs to generate some sizzle, a hearty atmosphere.

Last month’s PGA Championship in St. Louis had it. If every big event included voracious galleries such as those at Bellerive, pro golf might find itself moving the needle with the mainstream masses, triggering greater interest beyond its core audience. The PGA Tour isn’t going to get that in Atlanta. There isn’t a meaningful tournament on the calendar with less on-site buzz.

Whether it’s because the locals don’t want to venture into a shoddy neighborhood, or because Atlantans want to continue strengthening their reputation as one of America’s worst sports towns, it doesn’t really matter. It’s time for the Tour to take its grand finale somewhere else, to provide the Tour Championship with an environment befitting of its status.

Now is better than later. Second-year commissioner Jay Monahan already has shown a willingness to change certain elements of the Tour’s competitive structure – shortening the FedEx Cup playoffs from four events to three, for instance, and moving the postseason up a few weeks so it doesn’t have to fight against football for viewers.

There’s a lot not to like about the Tour’s dumping longtime host Firestone Country Club to play the season’s final World Golf Championship in Memphis, home of FedEx and a golf course that can’t touch the one in Ohio. But, hey, you’re not going to agree with every move a man makes when he’s thinking boldly. And while you can be sure that Monahan treasures his relationships with Coca-Cola and the Southern Co., which help cover the Tour Championship’s $9 million purse, other potential sponsors surely would be interested if the event moved to a stronger market.

Boston loses its spot on the schedule next year in the shortened
playoff format and could end up sharing the first postseason tilt with New York after that. Chicago has become an every-other-year host as well, leaving me to wonder why Silvis, Ill., has an annual tournament but three of America’s biggest cities don’t.

San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia… The list of major
metropolitan areas without a Tour stop is as lengthy as the ones that do. And regardless of what you think of the playoff format, it’s a very big deal in Camp Ponte Vedra, which bombards us with FedEx Cup ads throughout the year in an effort to stimulate acknowledgment.

To me, the West Coast makes sense as a Tour Championship location. You can begin play as late as 2 p.m. in late August and grab a full share of prime-time viewership, but again, you need to find a place where people are going to show up and make some noise. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a lively golf gallery in the Pacific time zone, but the evening TV exposure is worth consideration.

Pebble Beach? That would be nice. The big boys play just two rounds of golf at the world-class gem each year, both with an amateur by their side, which isn’t so much a shame as a wasted opportunity. I know Pebble gets about $500 a head for a 5½-hour round and a ton of photo ops, so maybe it doesn’t want to commit to the Tour more than it already does. That said, the fellas at Tour headquarters know how to twist an arm with the best of them.

There’s also the not-so-small matter of a new corporate partner having its say over where the Tour Championship might be relocated. Camp Ponte Vedra obviously doesn’t want a title sponsor; otherwise, we’d be watching the Coke Classic this weekend. That said, companies pay the Tour a lot of money to use pro golf as an entertainment resource. If you’re based in Detroit, hosting an event in New Orleans may not provide enough bang for the buck.

Bottom line? Camp Ponte Vedra probably isn’t going to move a
tournament that ranks right behind the Players on its priority list.
It should, however, come to terms with the idea that Atlanta hasn’t
supported the Tour Championship in a way that so many other places would, and that it’s time to explore other options.

Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf has translated into a
desperately needed boost in TV ratings. Woods is driving the
bus, and the bus is headed in the right direction. Monahan’s job is to pick out a fresh destination, then sit back and enjoy the ride.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: