‘Houston should be worried’: PGA Tour’s new fall plans raise thorny questions
HOUSTON — The PGA Tour’s announced new non-wraparound schedule and the tentative future of fall Tour events collided this week at the 75th anniversary of the Cadence Bank Houston Open, leaving both players and tournament organizers unsure about how the event will look and when it will be conducted going forward.
“I don’t think it’s going to go well,” PGA Tour veteran and Texas native Ryan Palmer said about the Tour’s new schedule. “It hard to tell what it will be like. I know Vegas is worried about the fall, Mexico is worried about the fall and Houston should be worried.”
With the PGA Tour’s announcement that it will resume a traditional yearly schedule starting in January 2024, it’s unclear what will happen to fall events like Houston — the second-oldest Tour event in Texas, dating back to the 1940s — in the gap that comes after the Tour Championship in August 2023.
Stewart Cink, playing in his 650th Tour event this week, has seen schedule movement before. He’s concerned about the future of Houston and other traditional events on the PGA Tour schedule.
“I don’t really know about preparing in the fall because it’s getting ready to be irrelevant again,” Cink said.
“Disney [a former Tour stop] is a great example of what can happen to a fall tournament with a schedule change. Why is it no longer here? You can say because we changed the Tour schedule and the players no longer felt the need to go there. We felt it was so important to have a wraparound schedule and now we’re changing it again just a few years later. It’s baffling.”
This week’s tournament at city-owned Memorial Park Golf Course near downtown Houston has one of the better fall fields, with 10 major championship winners highlighted by World No. 2 and defending Masters champion Scottie Scheffler. That may not last.
“If Houston is in the same spot next year, I can promise you the field won’t be close to this,” said Palmer.
All the schedule drama is not lost on Giles Kibbe, the president of the Astros Golf Foundation, which has conducted the event since 2018. That’s the year Shell dropped out as title sponsor and the sponsoring Houston Golf Association left as well, surrendering its prime spring date.
“Our goal has always been to bring it back to the spring, it still is,” he said. “We are being patient, more patient than we want to be, really, but I still think it’s going to happen. We’re pushing to do it.”
The Houston Open’s path back to the spring is complicated by two factors. The first is financial: A prime spring date could come with a demand to jump from the current purse, which is just more than $8.4 million, to between $12 to $20 million in the spring. But Kibbe said that would be doable.
“We do things a lot different than other PGA tournaments,” he said. “We have a large number of what we call community partners, 11 this year, which contribute greatly to this event and we have the title sponsor. I can promise you, money will not be an issue in moving to the spring.”
The local bank title sponsor this year is the third in as many years and is uncertain if it will return next year or have anything to return to.
“The best case sernaro for us is to move to the spring in 2024,” Kibbe added. “But if that was the case, it would be very difficult to have a fall tournament in 2023.”
The second issue is a 2018 decision Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and the golf foundation made, which could call for a mulligan.
“We are first started talking with Tour, they didn’t offer us any specific dates, but it was clear to us we could have an early summer date if we wanted to,” Kibbe said. “We made the decision to go to the fall instead of early summer and we feel like we made the right decision. It’s just too hot.”
The date went to the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, a PGA Tour event whose success has come with the Houston event still in the fall, on the outside looking in.
“Yeah, who knows what I’ll be doing next fall,” Scheffler said. “I don’t know if I’ll be playing the same schedule or if I won’t be playing at all or if I’ll be playing more. I felt pretty worn out as the year got done this year, so I was able to take a little bit of time off.”
Added 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson: “You’re not going to get me to predict what players will do here or elsewhere next fall. You’ve got a Ryder Cup next fall and a lot of different things going on. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen.”
That is exactly what worries Palmer, who makes it a practice to play in his home state Tour events any time he can.
“No one knows what Tour event is going to get left behind, but it could happen,” he said.