Is the PGA Tour schedule perfect? No. Here’s how we’d change it
Much is changing in the world of golf, and chief among it is the PGA Tour schedule. Here, two writers work their way through the changes together.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): Hello, young James! Finally, the PGA Tour has settled most of its schedule moving forward. We’ve got 13 elevated events taking place next year featuring $20 million purses and the top players in the world. The first one is just months away in Hawaii. Add the majors and that’s 17 times where the best players in the world are guaranteed to be playing together. The honor of being an “elevated event” will be permanent for all but four tournaments, which will change among the list of Tour events every year. This year, the WM Phoenix Open is elevated. In 2024, perhaps the Honda Classic will be. In 2025, maybe even the 3M Open! My first question for you: did they choose the right events to kick this off (Phoenix Open, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo, Travelers Championship)?
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): If I were a teacher grading the elevated event selections, I think I’d give the PGA Tour half-credit for their efforts. I like the Phoenix Open and the Wells Fargo. Both of those events feel like bigger events each year, and it helps that I can name at least half of their recent winners. The RBC and Travelers, while fine Tour events, are pretty eh to me. I don’t get the feeling that making them worth $20 million is going to make me care very much about them, even if it helps to juice their respective field strengths a little bit. I’d much rather have seen the Farmers, Canadian Open, or Schwab in that same slot. What say you, Sean? Did they get things right?
Sean: Well, I’m all in on watching Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy play Harbour Town, but yeah, I tend to agree. If I can try and guess the theory there, it’s that the Tour can’t have the most perfect set of four elevated events every year. They really need to spread the love, because basically every event raised its hand and asked to become elevated. All I want our readers to know is that this is actually HUGE progress. Think about how long it took the NFL to add a 17th game to its regular season. The league waded through contracts and negotiations with the players association and revenue splits, all of which took most of a decade. The PGA Tour is similarly massive, contract-based, fueled by TV money. It’s a cruise ship that takes a long time to turn around. They pivoted their sights, what, 15 degrees? A U-turn this was not. But years from now we’re going to look back and see that this started the F1-ification of the schedule: fewer, bigger, mega-millions events held and planned like a party. Which is why I can’t wait to see the juiced-up WM Phoenix Open, held during Super Bowl weekend in just a few months.
James: To your point, Sean, taking a look through the PGA Tour schedule, I think they did get MOST of the selections right. The WGCs, the Players, the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Match Play. These were already the biggest events. If anything, this exercise shows that outside of the elite group, most of the events are pretty middling.
Sean: Can we pour out a pint of Tennent’s for the Scottish Open not being selected?
James: The DP World Tour must be furious at that development (not all strategic alliances can be as easy as ours!). I wonder if the cross-sanctioned nature of the event was its eventual undoing. If the Tour is shelling out $20 million for an event, it would make sense to me that they want to be damn sure that money is winding up in the pockets of its full-time members.
Sean: On the surface? Totally. Something tells me 2024 will be the most obvious season of the strategic alliance to date. If they elevate the Scottish, they’ll probably convince more pros to play the Irish, too, one week prior. One thing we can all agree on is that January to August makes sense for the truly competitive season. James, I’m most interested in asking you the same question Rory McIlroy was asked yesterday. What should the fall look like once August has passed? (For the record, Rory said “Football. It’s football season, right?”)
James: Man, here’s where things get really fun. I agree with Rory — the “fall season” shouldn’t exist. Or at least, not in its current form. I think the PGA Tour should be asking itself what the world’s biggest sports leagues do to fill their offseasons. In the NFL, it’s the draft. In the NBA, it’s free agency. In the NHL, it’s some combination of the two. Obviously, the whole “free agency” situation in golf — while great for intrigue — has not been very good for the PGA Tour’s bottom line. But there’s something to be learned about taking time away from the sport as we know it, pivoting to something that focuses on the sport’s future (maybe Q-School, or a new, modified format for PGA Tour qualification). I guess what I’m really saying, Sean, is I think we’d make great PGA Tour draft prognosticators.
Sean: I find it so funny how much golf wants/needs to do things that other sports do, but in this case, I think you’re exactly right. Rory wants us as golf fans to “miss it a little bit.” By ‘it’ he means the big events, the best players, etc. Rory wants us to miss him! Which means he needs to go away a bit. Same for Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. So if that’s what three internationally-hosted events look like in the fall, I’m in on that. To go off what you’re saying, let the fall be the time where we really learn about the up-and-comers. Film Q-school like it’s a weekly documentary, Hard Knocks style. Teach us who is next. Let the non-top 50 pros duke it out, but give the hardcore golf fans a better peek at the Chris Gotterups, the Coody bros, etc. I spoke with elite Tour coach Boyd Summerhays about this recently and he even called for an arbitrary drafting of five top college players into the PGA Tour ranks for a full season. I know I’m departing from our schedule commentary, but let it all happen in the fall. It was once dubbed the Silly Season for other reasons, but lean into it! Silly Season 2.0.
James: Silly season, I love it! And while we’re overhauling the PGA Tour’s offseason structure, let’s talk about the schedule writ large. What is the PGA Tour missing from its current schedule format? Where would you like to see it travel heading forward?
Sean: Okay, let’s go there. Let’s just do it. Work with the LPGA for a cross-tour event, and while we’re at it, give us two. Be leaders. Give us one where the men and women are playing against each other from different setups. Then give us the cross-tour version of the Zurich Classic. It would be lovely. At risk of getting out too far over my skis of plausibility with those requests, let’s just see if the Tour can focus hard on touring. Touring some places in this country that it doesn’t regularly, which LIV Golf had zero difficulty doing: Chicago, Portland, Boston. Give me one less event in southern California and replace it with one in Chicago. Yes, I’m biased toward The Second City, but it cannot be as hard as the Tour makes it look.
James: All that and you’re STILL going to leave New York off the list?
Sean: When I left New York, the PGA Tour left, too. Coincidence? But actually, bring the Tour to New Jersey instead.
James: LOL. Now you’re just getting a rise out of me. The biggest thing I’d change with the PGA Tour schedule is the quality of the venues utilized. Every year, the overwhelming majority of golf’s best courses go entirely unseen by the public. This never made sense to me. Imagine having an NFL season without a game at Lambeau Field — it’s weird! The Tour should be trying like hell to fit as many top golf destinations into its annual calendar. It’s how you educate your fanbase, and how you draw in the most enjoyable events. Pinehurst, Bandon, Chambers, Bethpage, Gamble Sands … and those are just the public tracks worth considering! If you’re going to go to Chicago, like you suggested, play Chicago G.C., Medinah, or Shoreacres.
Sean: I think Rory could shoot 30 under at Chicago G.C.
James: As opposed to 28 under at Olympia?
Sean: Olympia has played tough! Jon Rahm won at four under. It’s okay, you’re on the right path. Chicago needs to alternate between Medinah and Olympia Fields every single year. James, I fear we’re bird-walking here, which probably just means it’s time to wrap it up.
James: At least we can agree on that. Now, how do we get this to the Commissioner’s office?