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Len Ziehm On Golf

PGA Tour schedule for 2018-19 will require some fresh thinking

I did enough venting about this year’s tournament schedule in our last issue. Then – wouldn’t you know it? – the PGA Tour made its plans for the 2018-19 wrap-around season official. There’s lots of food for thought when you analyze that one.

Just knowing the PGA Tour dates isn’t enough to project how our next golf season will be received. The schedules for the USGA, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions, Web.com Tour and local attractions organized by the Western Golf Association, Illinois PGA and CDGA have to be factored in as well.

Still, having the schedule for the world’s premier tour available well in advance is most helpful and – from the overall standpoint – I like what I see. Locally I’m not so sure.

The key dates for Chicago area fans are July 8-14 for the John Deere Classic and August 12-18 for the BMW Championship. Despite massive shuffling of the PGA Tour schedule, the JDC remained in its spot the week before the British Open. While not every tournament organizer would be happy with that place on the calendar, it’s worked out well for the JDC.

Clair Peterson, the JDC tournament director, had a stroke of genius back in 2008 that is still paying big dividends. Rather than make the expected increase in prize money back then Peterson opted to hire a jet that would take players directly from the JDC to the British Open site. That enhanced the players’ view of the tournament and Peterson has continued with that offering every year since then.

Quad Cities was always a friendly place for the pros during tournament week and now – if indeed they wanted to go to the British – they could make the trip with less travel hassles and for a greatly reduced rate. Suddenly the John Deere Classic looked a lot more attractive. Louis Oosthuizen even opted to play there immediately prior to making his British title defense in 2011.

Now for the BMW Championship, the situation isn’t so rosy. The event remains a part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, though the season-ending series has been reduced from four tournaments to three. The BMW is the second one, when the survivors will again be whittled from 70 to 30 for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, in Atlanta.

The BMW, scheduled for Aronimink in Philadelphia this September, returns to the Chicago area at Medinah No. 3 in 2019. Chicago’s best tournament venue last hosted a PGA Tour event when the Ryder Cup matches were played there in 2012. A return to Medinah is always nice, though the club’s membership isn’t thrilled about losing at least of week of play on their top layout during the busiest part of its golf season. The club agreed to host the tournament when it was held in September.

Also, not to be ignored, is the fact that BMW’s contract to sponsor the tournament concludes after the 2019 event. As of this printing there’s no hint of a contract extension being in the works, and the Western Golf Association has no site booked beyond Medinah.

Chicago clubs willing to give up their course in August won’t be as plentiful as the number that would be agreeable in the fall. So, the event is somewhat in limbo.

Also a cause for concern is the status of the PGA Championship. It’ll end its long fall run at Bellerive in St. Louis this month, then move up to May 13-19 in 2019. The move will help the PGA (my prediction, though not all pundits agree) in the form of visibility but May dates will also make it difficult to get that major championship back to Chicago – or any place in the Midwest –in future years. Why would the PGA want to risk scheduling its premier event in an area with dubious spring weather?

In its fall dates the PGA has been the one major that has been receptive to coming to Midwest venues. In addition to Bellerive, that tournament was played twice at Medinah since 1999 and also had two stagings at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in that period. In case you didn’t know, no major championship (USGA, PGA of America, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions) has been scheduled in Chicago in the future. Last month’s Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor will most likely be the last for quite awhile – and that’s a shame.

While other tournament dates for next year haven’t been announced, the closest major will be the U.S. Senior Open, which is scheduled for the Warren Course in South Bend. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, played at Chicago area courses (Olympia Fields and Kemper Lakes) the last two years is headed for Hazeltine, in Minnesota, in 2019.

Getting back to the PGA Tour, the schedule will have only 46 tournaments compared to the 49 in the 2017-18 campaign. There’ll be two new evens in the Midwest, both in the two weeks leading into the John Deere Classic. Detroit finally gets back on the circuit with the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club from June 24-30 and the Minneapolis area gets still another boost to its golf profile with the 3M Open coming to the Twin Cities from July 1-7. This season the area had a Champions Tour event under that sponsorship.

The main goal of the revamped schedule was to enhance attention on the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Now, instead of September, they’ll be completed on Aug. 25. That means the climax to the golf season won’t be encumbered by competition for attention from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the Stanley Cup or NBA playoffs.

Golf’s majors will also be better spread out in the new schedule. The Players Championship, which should have been designated a major years ago, will move back to March and Florida weather should be acceptable that early in the year. Then there’s a major a month – the Masters in April, PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June and British Open in July. That’s an ideal lead-in to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

And, there will still be tournament golf played after those playoffs. The PGA Tour slate for 2019-20 will begin a week or two after the President’s Cup (not yet officially scheduled) is played.