The PGA Championship’s status as the dog-days major are coming to a close. Starting in 2019, golf’s fourth major will become its second, moving from August to May, and the Players Championship will move from May to March.
The schedule shift opens up the late-summer calendar for the PGA Tour’s own championship and the Olympics, brings an array of new courses into play for the PGA, and gets golf the hell out of the way before football rolls in. It’s absolutely the right move, tee to green. In fact, it’s such a simple solution that it’s a bit surprising golf’s many turf-protecting bureaucracies could actually agree on it.
“In weighing the complex evolution of the golf calendar, the PGA of America’s key objectives were to promote the best interests of our signature spectator Championship, do what is best for the game and its great players, and find the most advantageous platform to fulfill our mission of serving our nearly 29,000 PGA Professionals and growing the game,” PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said in a statement that absolutely did not sound like it was run past a battery of public relations professionals. “Our analysis began in 2013 and included an extensive list of factors, including having to shift the date every four years to accommodate the Olympic Games. In the end, we determined that playing the PGA Championship the week prior to Memorial Day in May, making it the second major championship of the golf calendar, will achieve those three objectives.”
Golf has fought the sports calendar—and lost, often badly—for decades now. The first weekend in April, that’s sacred territory all across the land—nobody anywhere messes with the Masters. Two months later, Father’s Day goes to the U.S. Open, sometimes with an NBA Finals Game 7 to liven up the evening. The British Open claims the third week in July, the gale-force winds and sideways rain on TV a pleasant counterpoint to summer heat in America.
But the PGA Championship dangles out there like an appendix, floating unmoored in the middle of NFL training camp season. The Olympics threw its weight around last year, shoving the PGA all the way back into July. And given that one of golf’s overriding mandates is global growth, Olympics > major, every single time.
The PGA’s residence in Augusta dates to the 1970s, a time when there were far fewer sporting options on the calendar crowding golf. It’s not like the August date was any kind of precious tradition; the PGA Championship has been held in every month of the calendar except January, March, and April. Now, the tournament will move to the week before Memorial Day, starting with the 2019 tournament at Bethpage Black in New York. That now gives the majors an every-month rhythm rather than the start-stop-sprint of the current calendar.
Plus, there’s a downhill effect too. Scheduling the PGA Championship in August meant that the PGA Tour couldn’t even begin its own championship until late summer. That threw the most crucial part of the Tour’s schedule right into the teeth of football season.
And make no mistake: what this does is allow golf to clear the field in time for the NFL and college football, which treat other sports the way that dragons treat infantrymen. Along the same lines, golf’s organizing bodies—the PGA Tour, plus the four bureaucracies that control the four majors—aren’t unlike the warring monarchs on “Game of Thrones,” each with its own major championship and its own reputation to defend. (Look, we’re not saying Augusta National has dragons of its own, but we’re not saying it doesn’t, either.)
No one in any other sport much likes to admit it, but the NFL owns Sundays and college football owns Saturdays, and all that golf, NASCAR, and even the baseball postseason can do is fight for scraps. For instance, last year’s Tour Championship—in theory the PGA Tour’s premier event, the biggest jewel in its crown—had to move its Saturday tee times up several hours to make room for—get this—a Notre Dame/Duke football game. That’s embarrassing and, one would figure, a bit humiliating—and it’s a scenario that won’t happen again if the Tour Championship takes advantage of this new opening and wraps up on Labor Day weekend.
There will be complaints; this is golf, there are always complaints. Some northern courses will find themselves boxed out of hosting a major because of the calendar, even as some others in the South and West now see an open door. But what this new schedule does is give fans and players an opportunity for six straight months with significant championship tournaments. But golf can now claim a consistent calendar and consistent turf, and in the hyper-caffeinated sports world of the 2010s and 2020s, that’s a good foundation.