Forward Press: It's time to overhaul the World Golf Championships
Bringing the world’s best golfers together four times a year outside of the majors is a great idea, but since the World Golf Championships began in 1999, the timing and choice of locations have weakened the impact of the series.
Last week, the stars gathered in Marana, Ariz., for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, a unique event that is the perfect conclusion to the West Coast Swing. Next week, many of the same players will re-assemble in Miami for the no-cut WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Scheduling WGC events two weeks apart is crazy. It doesn't enhance either tournament, and it makes the Cadillac Championship seem less special. Timing is everything.
All the other big tournaments have their own established spots on the calendar. The Masters in April, the Players Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June, the British Open in July, the PGA Championship in August and, every two years, the Ryder Cup (usually) in September. For WGC events to stand out, the International Federation of PGA Tours, which runs the series, needs to give them a date to call their own.
Ideally, scheduling changes would go hand-in-hand with venue changes, so the World Golf Championships can become genuinely worldly.
Sixty-nine percent of all the WGCs (34 of 49) have been played in the United States, and three of the four this year will once again be played in the U.S.
China has hosted three WGC tournaments since the HSBC Champions in Shanghai earned the designation in 2009. Spain has also hosted three, but none since 2004, when Paul Casey and Luke Donald teamed to win the WGC-World Cup (which stopped being a WGC event in 2006). Ireland has hosted two, but none since 2004, and England and Australia have seen only one WGC event contested on their soil.
Maybe the poor player turnout for the first WGC Match Play Championship, held in 1999 at Royal Melbourne, scared the International Federation into thinking that tournaments in the U.S. will draw the best fields. Maybe the organization feels American golf fans won't pay enough attention to tournaments held outside the U.S.
Both of those fears are dated. Lots of top players flock to Asia every fall now to play in the HSBC Champions, plus tournaments in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Tiger Woods skipped Torrey Pines this season to play in Abu Dhabi and Hunter Mahan, last week's Match Play winner, skipped the Phoenix Open to play in Qatar. Let's face it, if the money is good enough, the players will show up.
So will golf fans, thanks to the Internet, Golf Channel and other outlets such as Sky Network that broadcast golf tournaments from all over the globe.
In 1999 I didn't have a DVR, but plenty of golf fans now record tournaments at all hours, so awkward time differences aren't the problem they used to be.
So what should the International Federation of PGA Tours do? How about dropping the Cadillac Championship at Doral (sorry, Donald) in favor of the Abu Dhabi Championship in late January.
Next on the chopping block would be the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. Because it’s played in early August, the week before the PGA Championship, the players are focused on the following week's major. A WGC event should be more important than that. How about replacing it with the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October? Seeing the world’s best on the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns would have to be a hit.
With those changes, the WGC would shape up like this: the Abu Dhabi Championship in late January, the Match Play in Arizona in late February, the Alfred Dunhill in Scotland in early October, the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November and the Tournament of Hope in December (a fifth WGC already scheduled to be played in 2013).
Yes, this would cause some conflicts with the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, but it would still be an improvement. This version of the World Golf Championships would help give the tournaments in the series their own identity as well as a variety of venues worthy of the name.