A Better Tour Schedule - Part 1

by: C.A. Schmidt Staff Writer

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This is a column I've been contemplating for several years, but have been concentrating on ever since the PGA Tour announced it was switching to a multi-year season that basically said, "We give up. We can't compete with the NFL or college football, we have too many good players and we don't want to force the aging or popular 'stars' out of the spotlight."

For the most part I'm just 'tackling' the former, looking at the schedule and the courses the Tour plays every. single. year. I believe strongly that to grow the game, the Tour needs to utilize different formats on different courses in different parts of the world. While they might accomplish that to a certain degree, I don't believe they're maximizing the effect and are missing great opportunities to showcase the game in prime time with their biggest stars in formats people are consistently interested in.

To my point: The Masters is the 22nd (?!?!?) official event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season. TWENTY. SECOND. 95% of the population thought the PGA Tour season started in Augusta. In total, there are 45 official PGA Tour events over 52 weeks in 2013-14. As much of a golfaholic as I am -- and my wife will certainly attest to that -- that's too much golf on TV to be effective. People want big events, they want unique formats, they want to watch money move. That's what this article is about.

Without further ado, here's my suggested schedule that I think would maximize TV ratings, spread the love around some of the great golf destinations around the world, and in general make a fan-centric and sponsor-friendly schedule that golf's diehards and casual fans can get behind. It's a beefy column, so I've broken it into two parts.

The early part of year (Oct-Nov) is screaming for prime-time events that don't compete against the NFL on the weekends. The Golf Channel airs all the Australasian events, for Pete's sake, or the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge that no one EVER watches. We can do better than that. The HSBC is a WGC event that draws a good field, but no casual fan has any idea it exists since football is on.

The Solution: Events that run Tuesday through Friday in prime time. (Why are we hung up that Tour events have to be Thursday through Sunday?) That gives us West Coast and international venues to play with, and the current crop draws NO ONE to the TV. Here's my schedule:

No official PGA Tour golf. If they want to settle the Web.com Tour in this timeframe, fine. Golf aficionados will watch it, and that's great. But we have to build in some sense of a season somewhere -- you know, a beginning and an end. I'd prefer they bring back the old PGA Tour Q-School (not this bastardized form they have now), which has some real drama to it because the top 25 would actually get on the big Tour. If they space out the Tour School to three different venues, the final 36 holes that matter in three consecutive weeks, they would be able to capture that excitement they're looking for. They were close to doing this two or three years ago, and I still don't fully understand why they changed it to this weak format where guys only really qualify for the Web.com at Q-School. GET BACK TO THE OLD WAY THAT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND. Why people want to make things more confusing for anyone other than the diehard is beyond me. And make the courses more interesting: my venues include PGA West, Greenbrier, and the Ocean Course at Kiawah.

Here's where I'm going way off course. Don't hold any events until Thanksgiving weekend (wait for it below). During the first three weeks, have a reality show on NBC (surely they have a time slot available) or Golf Channel that combines Big Break with The Bachelor. Newly qualified PGA and LPGA Tour players pair up in The Bachelor format, give each other roses or whatever, then have to play against their competitors to stay on the show. One team eliminated every half hour. That gets their faces out there, spreads the game to a broader audience, and builds towards the upcoming season. Even if it's a marginal awareness gain, it's worth it. Cheese it up -- it's November!

Now here's the hook. Bring back The Skins Game on Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving, but with a major twist: Eight players, four two-man teams that the players decide/recruit, and they have to put up their own money for stakes. It would actually be better if they played 'Hammer' -- where a team can press the bet on each hole depending on the position they or their opponents are in -- but I'd settle for straight skins.

The ideal way this plays out is that the Tour selects four 'marquee' players -- think Tiger Woods (or Phil Mickelson), Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley -- who serve as captains and each recruit their respective playing partner. They each put up $500,000 -- so a $4 million purse to play for -- and tee it up at a classic course. In November, that typically means California, Florida or Arizona, where classic courses aren't commonplace -- but I'm putting the first one on Pacific Dunes and playing it in prime time (nine holes each day beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET). I think if the Tour makes it public that the players have to put up their own money, the players will do it. It's a drop in the bucket for those guys and makes it more interesting for their partner selections (who also have to put up $500K). If the Tour matches it with charity dollars and a feel-good holiday story, it's a home run.

Just a little schedule shifting here. We move the Australian Open to the first week in December, which usually draws a decent field and is played in prime time in the States, but if we give it FedEx points it will be even better. The HSBC/WGC event in Shanghai makes sense, but we need them to make the tee times a little earlier so US television doesn't start at 11 p.m. ET (shouldn't be difficult). Tiger is going to keep his event where it is, which is fine. No major changes over the holidays.

The Hyundai TOC is fine -- makes sense as a way to start the year, especially since it's in prime time during the winter. But I would host that event in late January/February. The fact that the Tour's most rowdy event -- the Waste Management at TPC Scottsdale -- currently bumps up against the Super Bowl is nuts. Eliminate the Sony and Humana, get rid of the Honda. Here's where I get some pushback: get rid of Torrey Pines, too. I find that event somewhat boring -- it's tough golf and San Diego, while awesome, isn't the liveliest crowd. Save it for a major. Make the Waste Management a pro-am if you feel like you're losing something there. 

The other kicker in February is the WGC Match Play. While Dove Mountain is a fine destination and course, the players hate it and the Tour is missing a prime opportunity to highlight facilities that can help grow the game. That event needs to be rotated every year -- it helps balance the field, for one thing. Hold it the last week in February at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, or Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, or even Barton Creek in Austin. Just rotate it.

This is the crux of the Florida Swing, and the two courses I'm okay with are Bay Hill and Doral. I think that 2014 wasn't the best showcase for the Doral redesign, and that over time it will be a great WGC track. And Arnie draws ratings, so let's leave Bay Hill alone. But around that --  Valspar at Innsbrook and the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio -- need to go. Remember, this is when March Madness is at its height and the top 75 players in the world are gearing up (i.e. resting) for Augusta. So I'm structuring the month to compete with the first week of the NCAA Tournament and moving one of the events late in the month to Nashville. We're bringing in entertainment stars for a pro-am at the Golf Club of Tennessee (Fazio course) or Vanderbilt Legends Club, making it a Stabbleford Scoring event -- which I feel like people really miss, and the Reno-Tahoe Open isn't capturing because of its spot on the schedule -- and letting Brandt Snedeker recruit the boys to play. 

The Shell Houston Open has become a tune-up for The Masters for some, but I don't like the format. Let's work with the gentlemen at Augusta National and the USGA to make it a hybrid play-in event -- 36 holes of stroke play, paring it down to the low 16 players, and make it match play over the weekend. The final four make it into Augusta (makes Saturday play more exciting), and the final pair make it into the US Open, with the hook that they have to have at least one top-10 finish before the national championship or they get the boot (if they aren't already qualified). 

Hilton Head also remains where it is on the schedule. But the Zurich Classic in New Orleans needs to be a more prominent event. More on that later. 

No major changes, other than a venue and reshuffle.  Quail Hollow, PLAYERS Championship, Byron Nelson, Colonial and Memorial are tough to beat and I think people watch those events, with the possible exception of Quail Hollow. So I wouldn't mind seeing that event rotated to other courses in North Carolina, like Wade Hampton, or Grandfather, CC of North Carolina, etc. I'm not worried about length of the course, I'm concerned with variety. But if we want to keep New Orleans in the fold -- which I recommend -- this is the spot. Replace Quail Hollow with the Zurich, draw a better field right before the PLAYERS, and make a bigger deal of it. NOLA attracts players and is closer to the Texas Swing anyway, so let's move Memorial to the week before PLAYERS (a real tune-up) and correctly order the geography here. 

Everyone is paying attention to golf now -- so here's another spot where we really shake it up. Memphis in June sucks, and TPC Southwind is a boring (if not difficult) course. We want birdies to launch the month, and we don't want to see Woody Austin sweating through his knit shirt. The FedEx is out of here. Again, we want to grow the game and draw some ratings, so we're heading to Chicago and playing one of a number of great public courses not named Cog Hill: Harbourside, Ravisloe, Cantigny, Glen Club, Pine Meadow, etc. Rotate the Chicago course every year -- there are a lot of worthy candidates -- and set up the course to showcase its design and for the players to have a lot of birdie and eagle opportunities. And let's make it interesting: after 36 holes there's a cut, and the leader is paired with No. 70, No. 2 is paired with No. 69, and we pair it up from there and have a two-man, alternate shot match play tournament.

After the US Open, we keep the Travelers at TPC River Highlands for a little respite, but instead of heading to DC and staid Congressional afterwards, we head to Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, Nebraska, for a hickory-shaft and gutta percha tournament with the best players in the world. That's right, we're going to an an incredibly scenic links course in middle America for a throw down to determine who the best ballstrikers really are. We want players to dress in plus-4's, nut 240-yard drives, break their shafts and hit balls that don't do exactly what they want them to. It's a win for clothiers (new traditional lines), ball and club manufacturers (can they make their traditional equipment better than their competition?), and for TV (bringing something new to audiences). It's a great lead-in to July 4.

Click here for Part 2....

Week 1: No golf
Week 2: PGA Tour Q-School at Ocean Course at Kiawah (Tues-Fri)
Week 3: PGA Tour Q-School at Greenbrier (Tues-Fri)
Week 4: PGA Tour Q-School at PGA West (Tues-Fri)

Week 1: No golf (Bachelor/Big Break show)
Week 2: No golf (Bachelor/Big Break game)
Week 3: No golf (Bachelor/Big Break game)
Week 4: Skins game at Pacific Dunes (two-man teams with own money, $500K apiece, at stake)

Week 1: Australian Open
Week 2: WGC HSBC event in Shanghai
Week 3: No official event, but Tiger hosts his
Week 4: No event (unless it can be played in prime time with big stars)

No events

Week 1: TOC Hyundai at Kapalua
Week 2: Waste Management Phoenix Open
Week 3: Northern Trust at Riviera
Week 4: WGC Match Play at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas

Week 1: AT&T at Pebble Beach 
Week 2: Arnold Palmer/Bay Hill
Week 3: WGC at Doral
Week 4: Nissan Championship at Golf Club of TN (Nashville) -- Stabbleford scoring

Week 1: Houston Open (36 holes stroke play, 36 holes match play for Masters/US Open qualifying)
Week 2: The Masters
Week 3: Hilton Head / Harbour Town
Week 4: Off week

Week 1: Memorial
Week 2: PLAYERS Championship
Week 3: Zurich Classic (or Quail Hollow / other course in North Carolina)
Week 4: Byron Nelson
Week 5: Colonial

Week 1: Walgreens Chicago Harbourside Open (36 holes stroke / 36 holes 2-man alt shot)
Week 2: US Open
Week 3: TPC River Highlands
Week 4: Tour Classic at Sand Hills (old-fashioned clubs, balls, attire)


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