PGA Championship: My Fast Fix? Refresh the Rota!

August 3, 2016

Mr. Peter Bevacqua
CEO, PGA of America

Dear Pete:

You have a great championship. It’s the fourth of the four majors in my book, but that’s still a nice place to be. That doesn’t mean it always will be fourth. It could go up. It could go down. Somehow, to the American public, the Masters replaced the U.S. Open as the game’s most important major sometime in the past 20 or 30 years. If NBC does what I think it can do, the network will help elevate the status of the British Open to U.S. audiences in the years to come. Could the British replace the U.S. Open as the No. 2 major for stateside audiences? It could.

Everything’s fluid these days, more fluid than at any other time in history, as best I can tell. I don’t think the Players has anything like the stature of the PGA Championship, but Rickie Fowler and the fans and players his age might give you a totally different answer. Going back to that same venue—even though it’s a ridiculous course and represents to me almost everything that is wrong with modern architecture—has a lot to do with its success. (Switching to May, versus the old March date, has not served it well.) The point is, the PGA Championship has never had a greater need for inspired leadership.

And that’s where you come in, Pete. You are the man for the job … should you decide to accept this mission. (Cue the melting tape.) The time has come for the PGA to take a page from the British Open and find an even smaller rotation of courses that players, spectators, TV viewers and other constituencies will be genuinely excited to visit. Four courses that we can get to know intimately over time. Four courses where the heat of August is not suffocating. Baltusrol has had a great run. Time to move on.

In choosing the courses, I urge you not to worry about whether they are perceived to be USGA courses. In other words, if you want Shinnecock Hills, go for it. The Peter Millar crowd there could only benefit from more contact with the game’s working people, and the PGA of America is nothing if not working people. If they don’t know that, convince them.

Yes, your job is to persuade the big cheeses wherever in whatever grill room you may find yourself that golf is golf and these clubs and courses should do something for the good of the championship and the good of the game. I know these conversations delve quickly into money—who pays what to whom. Well, when you do things the right way, money takes care of itself. Augusta proved that long before Billy Payne came on the scene, and even more so since.

I’ll offer four courses, but these are nothing but suggestions:

1. Montauk Downs: With a total redo of the public course at the end of Long Island, the PGA can remake the place in its own image.

2. Chicago Golf Club: Yes, it’s tiny. Adjust as needed. Smaller field, fewer spectators, more intimate feel. Play the course as it is. Whatever they shoot, they shoot.

3. Bandon Dunes: Go to the original course. Yes, it’s remote. But if you play there, they will come.

4.  Los Angeles Country Club: Let the 2023 U.S. Open, at an old-school gem all spruced up, serve as a preview for how great a PGA there could and would be.

And if this Olympic golf thing continues—my guess is the experiment will conclude after the 2020 Games—you might consider staging, say, the 2020 PGA at … Pebble Beach, in the regular Pebble Beach week in late January/early February. Yes, for one year, AT&T will step aside as the title sponsor. There will be no pro-am but the gents will play instead for … the Wanamaker Trophy.

Next time we can discuss the Ryder Cup, if you like.

Best wishes,
Michael Bamberger