What makes one PGA Tour event more important or prestigious than another? Prize money? Strength of field? History and Tradition? FedEx Cup Points? Course quality? Social media presence? Cleanliness of the courtesy cars? The answer is h.), All of the above. Mixing and blending the factors we’ve identified, including strength of field numbers from Golf Magazine contributor Mark Broadie, here is our ranking — in order — of all 47 PGA Tour events in the 2016-17 season.
1. The Masters Tournament (April 6-9, 2017)
Asked which major they’d most like to win, players in the annual Sports Illustrated survey place the Masters atop the list, double-digit percentage points above the runner-up. Grown men weep just hearing the piano music that accompanies Jim Nantz’s promos heralding the arrival of spring. A green jacket, immaculate conditions and an outstanding, gorgeous course that inevitably produces excitement down the stretch makes The Masters a clear No. 1.
2. The Open Championship (July 20-23, 2017)
How did the tournament many Yanks still call the British Open sneak ahead of our own national championship? Credit renewed appreciation by players and fans for quirky links golf, ground game options, trajectory-control in the wind and cool hats and sweaters. Serious history and the year’s most comprehensive international field—together with sensible course setups—give this Open the edge over ours.
3. U.S. Open (June 15-18, 2017)
Now in a near dead-heat with the British version, the U.S. Open’s armor has been nicked in recent years by questionable rulings and course choices/setups. Look for more head-scratching, if not howling, in 2017, when gargantuan faux-links Erin Hills serves as first-time host.
4. PGA Championship (August 10-13, 2017)
Once a distant fourth among majors, it’s gained some ground—and some separation from No. 5—with the strongest major field and a superior blend of venues, from classic to modern. Quail Hollow, a player favorite when it hosts the Wells Fargo, sees major duty this year.
5. The Players Championship (May 11-14, 2017)
Is the Players a fifth major? No. Is it the fifth-most important, prestigious tournament on Tour? Yes. The PGA Tour tells us so, as does NBC. Sadly, it gets a little lost in mid-May, but make no mistake, it’s awesome, from the drama-producing Pete Dye design (I’m talking to you, Island Green), to the superb facilities, to the best field in golf.
6. The Tour Championship (September 21-24, 2017)
I still say this event gets swallowed up by early season football, but most folks seem to crave the concept—the best of the best, with no seat-fillers—competing for obscene amounts of cash. Good move to switch the nines at historic East Lake in ’16, giving eventual winner Rory McIlroy a terrific stage to mount a comeback—in the manner of East Lake’s favorite son, Bobby Jones.
7. Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard (March 16-19, 2017)
Typically Arnie’s Party would finish somewhere near, if not in, the Top 10. It will be night-and-day different in 2017, however, as the emotional reverence will be out in full force, remembering The King and his contributions to golf, to the PGA Tour, to Orlando and to the planet Earth.
8. The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide (June 1-4, 2017)
The Memorial feels special and it always has, thanks to Jack Nicklaus’ guiding hands and an Augusta-like, major-worthy course that everyone respects. Only some truly unfortunate weather woes and a B-list of recent winners keep this event from a higher rung.
9. The Northern Trust (August 24-27, 2017)
A controversial choice here. This isn’t the former L.A. Open at Riviera event that Northern Trust had sponsored since 2008. Instead, their trust funds have been transferred to the New York area, where they take over for The Barclays as the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs. A new, unproven venue, Glen Oaks on Long Island, and a name change are potential negatives. The positives are a great field and no competition from football.
10. Farmers Insurance Open (January 26-29, 2017)
The Farmers pitchforks into our top 10 because it’s usually the first time in the new season that Tiger and Phil are entered in the same event, because it’s played on a burly, scenic course, Torrey Pines South, that overlooks the Pacific, and because we’re assured of getting tons of TV ads that feature that bald dude from “Whiplash.” Upping the ante in 2017 is the re-designed North course (by Tom Weiskopf) that co-hosts the first two rounds.
11. The Honda Classic (February 23-26, 2017)
No tournament has soared higher in our rankings in the past 10 years than old-timer Honda. Its venue change to carnage-causing PGA National in 2007 has spiked the drama, and the organizers have helped boost the field strength. Recent winners Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy don’t hurt the cause.
12. The Event Formerly Known as the Deutsche Bank Championship (September 1-4, 2017)***
We’ll see where the second FedEx Cup playoff event lands in the future, now that Deutsche Bank has departed in favor of EMC. (The Tour has yet to announce a new name for this event.) No matter who’s paying the bills, however, we’ll still have great New England golf over Labor Day, on a golf course that while not among the Tour’s best, at least is much improved since a Gil Hanse redesign. Tiger, Phil, Vijay, Rory and Rickie have won here since 2006.
13. WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (August 3-6, 2017)
Whether you look at Firestone’s South course as solid or snooze-worthy, it’s undeniably been a reliable producer of great champions and great championships. A superb field gathers every year in LeBron James country to duel with a Robert Trent Jones classic and with each other. Tiger has triumphed eight times here, Dustin Johnson claimed the title in 2016 and Rory, Adam and Vijay are other recent winners.
14. AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (February 9-12, 2017)
No matter how you feel about six-and-a-half-hour rounds, sofa-side interviews with Clay Walker for the 27th consecutive year and more commercials than golf shots, you’d have to be downright Grinchy to deny Pebble Beach’s grandeur (those blimp shots are pure golf porn) and its unique format. Every great player has won—or wants to win—at Pebble. That makes this soon-to-be 80-year-old event truly special.
15. Waste Management Phoenix Open (February 2-5, 2017)
“The Greatest Show on Grass,” as it’s billed, is indeed golf’s biggest party. Attendance (and revelry) never suffers, unless the mercury dips substantially, which is why the Tour slots it opposite the Super Bowl every year, where any other tournament would get killed on Sunday. Not every player loves the circus, but those that do crave success at 16 and victory in front of the largest galleries in golf.
16. Genesis Open (February 16-19, 2017)
No, Phil Collins and his old bandmates aren’t funding this endeavor. A division of Hyundai cars is the new sponsor for the Northern Trust event at L.A.’s fabled Riviera. Defending champion Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Mike Weir are three lefties who have won twice at the Riv. Jack and Tiger never did win here, but its serious history and its proximity to Entertainment Central make this a coveted title for sure.
17. Quicken Loans National (June 29-July 2, 2017)
Tiger’s annual presence (though he always seems to be injured), the patriotic flavor (honoring the military) and the top-drawer venues (Congressional, Aronimink, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club) elevate this event. Benefitting the Tiger Woods Foundation, and with a smaller “invitational” field are two plusses; the unknown is 2017’s venue, the redesigned TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
18. RBC Heritage (April 13-16, 2017)
The pros love Harbour Town, evidenced by its envy-inducing list of past champions: Nicklaus, Palmer, Tom Watson, Norman and five-timer Davis Love III. Some top players skip because the course is too narrow for their liking, or because they’re tuckered out from the Masters the week before, but for atmosphere and history, the RBC Heritage earns its spot among the 20 most prestigious events.
19. BMW Championship (September 14-17, 2017)
Why so little love for the stellar, Top 70 field that fills out the BMW roster? Since you asked, it’s partly because the FedEx Cup playoff novelty has already worn off (this is event number three of four), because its very existence eliminated the second oldest PGA Tour stop, the Western Open, because it’s obscured by NFL and college football and because it rotates around solid but not elite Midwestern courses.
20. Tournament of Champions (January 5-8, 2017)
After losing Hyundai as its title sponsor following Jordan Spieth’s incredible 30-under performance last January, the event’s future (and future ranking) is unclear. For 2017, we know Spieth and past winners Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson will be around—Maui’s Kapalua is a superb venue—but too many other top players skip this event even though they’re eligible.
21. CareerBuilder Challenge (January 19-22, 2017)
Perhaps a sentimental pick here, for the event long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, yet the CareerBullder draws a respectable field every year, averaging 25th on Tour (strength of field) through 2015. Players such as Phil Mickelson, two-time champ Bill Haas, defender Jason Dufner and 2014 winner Patrick Reed regularly come to the Palm Springs area for early season sunshine and perfect greens.
22. Valspar Championship (March 9-12, 2017)
Home to the Valspar since 2000, this event was once the weak afterthought of the Florida swing. However, it ranks 15th on Tour in strength of field, due primarily to word of mouth: The pros love Innisbrook for its straightforward virtues, with Ernie Els once calling Copperhead the best course the PGA Tour visits in Florida.
23. WGC-Mexico Championship (March 2-5, 2017)
While at Doral, this tournament placed in the top 10. Now it’s an unknown quantity. The Club de Golf Chapultepec course is untested at the highest level, the tournament inconveniently interrupts the Florida swing and we don’t know if the top players will show up as they did in Miami. Hence, a middle-of-the-pack ranking.
24. RBC Canadian Open (July 27-30, 2017)
Four decades ago, this 113-year-old national championship ranked No. 5 on the Tour Prestige meter. Yes, it’s dropped considerably, but it’s up some since RBC took over in 2008, guaranteeing acceptable, if not star-studded fields. When Jason Day edged Bubba Watson by one in 2015, it felt like a major.
25. Travelers Championship (June 22-25, 2017)
The biggest PGA Tour crowds on the East Coast help bring out quality players on a week they might otherwise take off, following the grind of the U.S. Open. Ranking 26th in strength of field, Travelers also serves up a drama-filled venue, the watery TPC River Highlands near Hartford, which makes for stirring, low-scoring finishes (Jim Furyk’s 58 in 2016, for starters), in an event that dates to 1952.
26. Dean & Deluca Invitational (May 25-28, 2017)
Once one of the most important tournaments on the schedule, back when host venue Colonial was known as Hogan’s Alley (for his five wins in his hometown event), its significance has waned as Colonial’s challenges have become less impressive. The event and course still offer up great tradition—since 1946—making it a desirable place to succeed. Witness Texan Jordan Spieth’s emotional win in 2016.
27. Wells Fargo Championship (May 4-7, 2017)
Typically a top-20 tournament with a top-15 field, the jury’s still out for 2017, as the event moves to a new venue—just for this year—as regular host (well-respected Quail Hollow) gets PGA Championship duty. Tom Fazio’s Eagle Point in Wilmington will be fun and attractive; we’ll see how it holds up to the Tour pros.
28. John Deere Classic (July 13-16, 2017)
Once one of the true cellar-dwellers of the PGA Tour, the John Deere has ambled into top 30 status almost in spite of its pre-Open Championship slot. A compelling course (TPC Deere Run) and popular triumphs by locals Steve Sticker and Zach Johnson, plus import Jordan Spieth’s loyalty in returning to play in 2015 have helped elevate this small-market favorite.
29. Shell Houston Open (March 30-April 2, 2017)
An also-ran on the Texas swing despite its PGA Tour history since 1946, Houston got its mojo back after Shell assumed control in 1992. It swung further upwards a few years ago when it acquired pre-Masters dates and organizers decided to groom the Rees Jones-designed Golf Club of Houston (formerly Redstone) to mimic Augusta National, resulting in a 17th-ranked strength of field.
30. Wyndham Championship (August 17-20, 2017)
So much history since its 1938 debut: Sam Snead won eight times, Davis Love III thrice, including in 2015 at age 50; Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros also won here. Its traditional spring dates have given way to a steamy August slot, but it’s produced quality fields and results ahead of the FedEx Cup playoffs, notably in 2013, when Patrick Reed beat future Ryder Cup partner Jordan Spieth in a playoff.
31. Zurich Classic of New Orleans (April 27-30, 2017)
With a 24th-ranked strength of field and a happening city to discover once play is done, the Zurich holds its own, despite a Pete Dye course that generates little buzz and a recent list of B-list winners that tends to make fans overlook such winning performances as Justin Rose in 2015 and Bubba Watson’s playoff triumph over Webb Simpson in 2011. PGA Tour history that dates back to 1938 doesn’t hurt.
32. AT&T Byron Nelson (May 18-21, 2017)
This venerable Dallas-area tournament ranked much higher when Mr. Nelson was alive. Since his death in 2006, fields are so-so, ranking 28th strongest on tour, and the course itself is hardly among the elite, despite the crowd-pleasing, watery par-3 17th. Having an excellent Four Seasons hotel right on property helps some. Look for a possible move to a new Coore-Crenshaw course, Trinity Forest, next year.
33. WGC-Dell Match Play (March 22-26, 2017)
A WGC event ranked so low—and one where nearly all the top players show up? Let’s just say, it’s awkward. Jason Day won memorably in 2016 when Austin (Texas) Country Club hosted for the first time. It returns in ’17. The problem is, the course asks for many layup drives and the new round-robin format, while ensuring that the stars stick around, lacks the drama of win-or-go-home.
34. WGC-HSBC Champions (October 27-30, 2016)
The event’s host, Sheshan International in Shanghai, China, is a handsome, hazard-filled venue that invariably yields excitement down the stretch, along with surprisingly good fields, but who wants to watch live golf after midnight? DJ, Bubba and Phil (twice) are among the winners here, so if you are awake, you’ll likely see a good show.
35. The RSM Classic (November 17-20, 2016)
Too bad this event comes at a time when the top stars are tired or traveling; it ranks 32nd in strength of field. Yet, the course and hotel (Sea Island) are both stars, the Lowcountry setting idyllic and the host of the event, Davis Love III, is as respected and popular as they come. Its mysterious-sounding name and pre-Thanksgiving dates don’t help.
36. Sony Open in Hawaii (January 12-15, 2017)
Many positives for the Sony, including a strength of field ranking of 22 and a traditional, easy-walking golf course that has played host to this event since 1965. Its history boasts winners such as Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, plus two-time champs Ernie Els and Jimmy Walker. Still, the flat Waialae Country Club is not very memorable and too many players skip the event, even some who were just in Maui the week before.
37. Valero Texas Open (April 20-23, 2017)
Drenched in history, the Valero is the longest-running PGA Tour event in the same city, dating to 1922. Past winners include Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer (who three-peated in 1960-1962). Yet, the tournament sunk to a forgettable autumn affair, until 2011, when it moved to spring. The course, TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks, is controversial and pros often skip it to take a rest, which leaves it ranked 35th in strength of field.
38. The Greenbrier Classic (July 6-9, 2017)
We freely admit, we root for this tournament. It’s held at one of the nation’s greatest, most historic resorts, on a classic, if vulnerable-to-low-scoring course, leading to an acceptable strength of field ranking of 27. However, they got slammed by devastating storms and floods in 2016, cancelling the event, and too many times the big names in attendance fail to contend.
39. Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (November 3-6, 2016)
All credit to a great organization, but the tourney name just doesn’t pair well with “Las Vegas.” It’s hard to believe that with a PGA Tour tradition in Vegas dating back to the 1950s, this event can’t get good dates or draw spectators, which leads to weak fields. TPC Summerlin, the host course, is a sturdy layout, but fails to excite.
40. FedEx St. Jude Classic (June 8-11, 2017)
Once a top stop, dating to 1958, with winners like Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and three-time champ Lee Trevino, the city of great BBQ and music is now a lesser light, plagued with dates where the heat index soars. Its current slot, right before the U.S. Open, has helped draw Phil Mickelson and some foreign stars, but the cause is hurt by a lack of recognizable winners.
41. Safeway Open (October 13-16, 2016)
For an event that started in 2007 as the Fry’s Electronics Open, a who-cares, late-in-the-year tournament, it would have catapulted into the top 30 this year, had the much-anticipated return of Tiger Woods actually happened. Don’t forget that the PGA Tour stopped here at Silverado from 1968 to 1980, where winners included Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and current Silverado owner Johnny Miller.
42. OHL Classic at Mayakoba (November 10-13, 2016)
This tournament deserves better. It’s played on a distinctive, seaside Greg Norman-designed course within a superb resort community near Cancun, Mexico with great hotels. Give it some time. November dates hinder, but they’re better than the spring slot it had from 2007-2012, opposite the WGC-Match Play, when the winner didn’t even earn a Masters invite.
43. Barbasol Championship (July 20-23, 2017)
Hey, I’ve used the product for more than half my life, so I’ve got a rooting interest in this event. Plus, it’s played on the value-oriented Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama, at Grand National’s excellent Lake course. Yes, it’s sweltering in July, and the field is what you’d expect from a tournament played opposite the Open Championship, but let’s give it a chance.
44. Sanderson Farms Championship (October 27-30, 2016)
Part of the PGA Tour schedule since 1968, but always buried opposite big tournaments and/or saddled with fall dates, it’s one of those events that you flip to while watching football, and say, “Oh, I didn’t realize there was golf this week.” Ranked near the bottom in strength of field, at least it’s contested on a quality, traditional course, the CC of Jackson (Mississippi).
45. Puerto Rico Open (March 23-26, 2017)
It’s been stuck opposite a WGC event since its 2008 inception (Dell Match Play in ’17), which means fields are among the worst on Tour. A ho-hum course that has been called Coco Beach and Trump International, doesn’t do much, either. Yet, it does shine a spotlight on youngsters like Tony Finau (winner in 2016), Sam Saunders (Arnold Palmer’s grandson—T2 in 2015) and Jordan Spieth (T2 in 2013).
46. Barracuda Championship (August 3-6, 2017)
Played opposite the WGC Firestone tournament practically since birth in 1999, the former Reno-Tahoe Open now sports a goofy name to match the traditionally bottom-rung fields. Still, the modified Stableford scoring system is a plus for some and the mountain/alpine scenery is definitely more compelling than, say, Akron, Ohio’s Firestone.
47. CIMB Classic (October 20-23, 2016)
Why is this event even on the PGA Tour schedule? I guess it’s to have a venue—in Mayalsia—for Justin Thomas to notch his first PGA Tour victory (2016), and for Ryan Moore to go back-to-back (in ’14-’15). The host venue, Kuala Lumpur has newly transitioned to a TPC—yippee!—but I’m not going to watch golf in the middle of the night for an event that feels more like an exhibition than an actual tournament.