All Golfed Out? Tours Risk Burnout by Eliminating Off-Season

November 9, 2016

If you spend it, they will come. 

That’s one assumption the PGA Tour made when it added the $9.25 million CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges to the 2017-18 schedule. Held in South Korea, it will be the third official Tour event to be played in Asia every October. 

Aside from the mad money involved, it’s a decision made with the intent of growing the game. In terms of appeasing demand, it makes sense. To maximize the calendar year, it makes sense. But adding another event to an overflowing schedule should be undertaken with caution.

With 2016 and its crazed schedule in our rear-view mirror (closer than the PGA Tour may like it to appear), it’s worth remembering more is not necessarily better. Even the greenest rookies on Tour would probably agree with that.

There has typically been a one-week break between the end of one Tour season and the start of a new one. Next year, that week will be gone, according to Chris Reimer, director of championship management at the PGA Tour. The new Korea event will push the CIMB Classic and the Safeway Open up one week in the schedule. October will be jam-packed with golf.

More events, or more scheduling options for players, seems liberating. Each event is another opportunity for a promising player to earn his breakthrough victory, similar to how Emiliano Grillo and Justin Thomas each won his first Tour event a year ago. Once tacked on at the end of the Tour season, the Fall Series was viewed as a PGA Tour Lite; elite players started their off-seasons, and the weaker fields were loaded with players scrambling to keep their Tour cards. Now to appease sponsors, the Fall Series kicks off the PGA Tour season. But at what cost? For some players, more events early often mean fewer events down the road. Once-popular Tour stops suffer.

Consider the schedule of Rory McIlroy, a member of the PGA and European tours. The golf year for the 27-year-old often begins in January in Dubai. Then in February and March, he’s off to the U.S. before cranking it up during the major-championship summer. Another peak hits in September with the FedEx Cup playoffs before what will now be multiple no-cut Asian events in October. McIlroy is booked  through November with the Race to Dubai. 

McIlroy’s offseason is essentially in December. He might not be the best case study, but then again he might be the perfect one: a global star willing to play everywhere, but also careful to guard against the costs of fatigue in his 11-month gauntlet. McIlroy is most valuable to himself, the Tour and the game when he’s hitting tee shots down the fairways, not when he’s skipping the Olympics or a FedEx Cup playoff event. 

Yet, the pressure to play a worldwide schedule remains, and the PGA Tour is not alleviating that in any way. Not every player is able to endure the slog the way McIlroy can. 

As Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press recently pointed out, Zach Johnson hasn’t “played overseas” in something other than a team event or a major in a decade. Two weeks ago during the HSBC Champions event in China, William McGirt sounded off, saying he’d rather stay home than “spend 12 hours in a metal tube flying halfway around the world.”

That’s McGirt’s prerogative. But the PGA Tour wants players in that metal tube. It also wants its players expanding their horizons, having instituted a rule last year that requires members to compete each season in an event they hadn’t played in over the previous four years.

Sure, there is always something to gain in raising the profiles of the less elite (players and tournaments), but more money and more FedEx Cup points will be awarded during October than ever before. That’s eight months before the U.S. Open and 11 months before the Tour Championship. In more ways than one, the PGA Tour is forcing an answer to the question: How much golf is too much golf?