[This column originally appeared in the August 2017 edition of GOLF, before this week’s announcement that the PGA Championship is indeed moving to May.]
The PGA of America is thinking about moving the PGA Championship from its customary spot in mid-August to late May. If that happens, the PGA Tour will move the Players from May to March, its old date. This game of golf-schedule musical chairs was initiated by the Tour, which would like to wrap up the FedEx Cup by Labor Day, so that the so-called “playoffs” don’t have to compete with the NFL’s regular season. Yes, now is a good time to cue up the old O’Jays hit, “For the Love of Money.”
The PGA Championship is a special event, but it is also the fourth of the four majors. If the event gets sandwiched between the Masters in April and the U.S. Open in June, its stature might take more of a hit. But here’s a thought: Play the PGA Championship as the last event of the West Coast Swing, in late February, and hold it annually on the most famous and breathtaking oceanfront course in America.
Yes, easier said than done. By e-mail, I floated the idea to Phil Mickelson, a PGA winner who has also won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am three times. His response: “You cannot be serious.” Tom Watson, who won the ’82 Open at Pebble and the old Bing Crosby tournament there twice, said about the same, although he preceded his dismissal with “while imaginative.”
At least I have Lanny Wadkins on board. Wadkins, who won the only PGA Championship ever played at Pebble Beach, in 1977, considered the notion and said, “It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” A start.
And I will see Phil’s McEnroe and raise him a Churchill. (“Never give in.”) The majors are major not just because they come with large paydays and exemptions for the winners, but because of the status the winner enjoys, conferred by the public and, even more significantly, the lodge brothers. Being the first major of the year would raise the PGA Championship’s stakes and profile, and to do it at Pebble Beach? Party on! Enduring the (often) harsh elements at Pebble in February would make the whole thing only more challenging, and challenge is an elemental part of major golf. A strong sense of identity is the ultimate mark of a major. So is venue identity and personality. Pebble oozes both. A PGA there would just kill.
“The players would be jacked, the TV ratings would be off the charts—it would be a home run,” Nathaniel Crosby, the youngest of Bing’s seven children, told me. Nathaniel was the low amateur at the Open at Pebble in ’82. He also has a working knowledge of the various stakeholders here: the PGA Tour, AT&T, the Pebble Beach Company, the USGA—and now the PGA of America. “But if you do anything to cannibalize the Pro-Am, it’ll never happen,” he said.
That’s because even though the AT&T is a little saggy on TV these days, the invitation to play in it remains a privilege prized by all manner of corporate chieftains. Plus, the event raises many millions for various good causes. But in golf, as life, you must make your weakness your strength. With limited daylight in late February, it might be ideal to have the Thursday-Friday rounds on two courses. How about Pebble and…Cypress Point? On the Monday and Tuesday before the Thursday start, how about a pro-am at a major, a pro-am that would be like no other, on two of the most aromatic and arresting courses in the world, a pro-am featuring the game’s best touring professionals. Done right, the AT&T-Pebble Beach-PGA pro-am—aka The Clambake—would add to the event’s identity and luster.
The uphill climb continues. Dick Ferris, part of the ownership group at Pebble Beach, told me that Pebble Beach, if asked, would be open to the possibility of hosting the PGA Championship annually, but not as part of the West Coast Swing. “The weather is beautiful in October—how about then?” he asked cheerfully.
Pete Bevacqua, the PGA of America’s capable CEO, said the only two dates the organization likes for the PGA is August and late May, and that the PGA likes “to move it around the country to great sites in wonderful communities, and to work with those communities, our applicable PGA Sections and members and fans all across the nation.”
Bevacqua knows that in 1971 the PGA Championship, due to a forecast for especially oppressive summer heat that summer in Florida, was played in February, at the old PGA National. The winner was Jack Nicklaus, and his win made the cover of the next issue of Sports Illustrated. Dan Jenkins wrote the game story and gave the last quote to Big Jack: “I can’t wait to get to Augusta.”
Wadkins remembers that PGA. Considering the idea some more, he said, “Really, if it’s done right, it would be great for the prestige of the championship. But you need some people with some heat to get it done.”
For your serious consideration, people.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]