By Ted Bishop
It is being widely reported that the PGA of America is considering moving the PGA Championship to May, beginning in 2019. The shift would be crucial to the PGA Tour’s plan to move the FedEx Cup playoffs to August and finish the Tour Championship before the NFL season starts. It would be a great move by Jay Monahan, the new commissioner of the PGA Tour, but a bad one by Pete Bevacqua, the PGA of America’s chief executive officer.
Moving the PGA Championship earlier in the schedule during Olympic years such as 2020 and 2024 would make the PGA relevant in determining who makes golf’s Olympic teams, which presently is not the case. To have that option is one of the fundamental reasons why the PGA picked TPC Harding Park in San Francisco for the 2020 PGA.
The PGA already has named its championship sites through 2023. If the 2019 move is in the works, then we could be looking at PGAs in May at Bethpage in New York (2019); Harding Park (2020); Kiawah Resort in South Carolina (2021); Trump Bedminster in New Jersey (2022) and Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. (2023). Inclement weather and early-spring turf conditions would become factors at Bethpage, Trump Bedminster and Oak Hill.
Worse yet, May virtually eliminates some of the classic PGA Championship venues such as Hazeltine, Medinah, Whistling Straits and Baltusrol. Because of climatic conditions, the PGA Championship map would shrink if the event were to move to May or earlier.
Early spring jeopardizes even Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., a site owned by the PGA and one that Bevacqua seemingly has shunned. In 2012, the PGA spent $5.5 million in course renovations and delivered a memorable ’14 championship won by Rory McIlroy as darkness fell. There is nothing on the docket for Valhalla. It will be the first time since 1996 that the PGA has gone longer than four years in playing a PGA, Ryder Cup or Senior PGA at its own facility. Louisville is renowned for the Kentucky Derby in early May, so where does the PGA Championship fit in the corporate picture later in the month at Louisville? It fits nowhere.
Bevacqua has taken the PGA of America down unconventional roads regarding the PGA Championship. In 2014 he commissioned the Wasserman Group to conduct a study on the feasibility of an international PGA. The PGA’s board rejected the idea after hearing the presentation by Wasserman’s Barry Hyde. Moving the PGA to May makes less sense than a periodic international PGA.
Hats off to Monahan for doing what needs to be done to renew the Tour’s sponsorship agreement with FedEx. Could the Tour be offering the PGA of America big money to move to May? Stranger things have happened. Maybe it makes sense for Monahan to cough up the PGA’s purse of $10 million per year to cement his FedEx deal for the future. It still would be a bad deal for the PGA, which can own the August sports calendar for three out of every four years.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14.