The Nationwide Tour kicks off its season this week in Bogota, Columbia – likely the developmental tour’s final season as we currently know it to be. A proposal that was unveiled last spring and has been bandied about for months will likely be enacted in the next few weeks. The highlight of this proposal, which is essentially a “restructuring,” is that all players successful at Q-School will play on the Nationwide Tour the following year. Then the top 75 from the Nationwide Tour and numbers 126 to 200 on the FedEx Cup points list will play a three tournament series where 50 players will advance to the PGA Tour the next year. This is what we do know. But there is a lot that we don’t know.
The PAC (Player Advisory Council) will meet this week in Los Angeles to discuss the details and attempt to answer all the questions that have and will arise – but there are far more than meets the eye. Let’s start with the PGA Tour. When will the next season start? The suggestion coming out of Ponte Vedra is that the next season will start immediately with the fall series. The tournaments that end the season in 2013 will actually be the beginning of the 2014 season. But that part of the schedule is changing by the moment with the announcement this week that South Africa will host a 8.5 million dollar event in late November. Furthermore, McGladrey has extended its contract for the Sea Island event. It seems very unlikely that neither side addressed this issue prior to extending that contract. The price for a title sponsor for a tournament with full FedEx Cup points is much higher than that of a Fall Series event. Will the McGladrey and the other Fall Series events have full FedEx Cup Points or something less? And what of the “non-FedEx Cup events” like the WGC event in China or the new one in South Africa. Then there is the PGA Tour event in Malaysia – will that be folded into the schedule with points as well?
Other questions concern the Nationwide Tour itself and what form it is going to take. Forget that the Tour has quietly acquired affiliations with South America’s Tour de las Americas and the Canadian Tour. The PGA Tour will explain those moves in greater detail when it sees fit. The primary question is who will be the sponsor? The other questions that need to be answered are about exempt categories and access to the Nationwide Tour. Currently there are 14 spots available on Monday to non-exempt and non-members. Will that number grow to make the tournaments more open? Will there be a provision for college players of a certain level who turn professional? Will the top 25 from the previous week still gain entry to the next week? With a truncated season (it has to be over by September 1) will the performance promotion still be available? Currently three wins on the Nationwide Tour earns a player a free pass to the PGA Tour. Will that still be the case or will two wins be enough going forward? What will happen to those players who make it to the Q-School Series but don’t earn PGA Tour cards?
Each current player has an opinion about Q-School and its effect on the PGA Tour. After the player meeting, Dustin Johnson famously tweeted that if it wasn’t broken it didn’t need to be fixed. Other players are reserving their opinions until the PAC and the PGA Tour have all the questions answered.
One thing is certain. There will still be golf on Sunday afternoon when you turn on your TV. But who will be playing and who will be watching is at stake right now, and thus far we have only gotten some very broad strokes painted by the PGA Tour. The questions that the players and the media want answered are in the details. As usual the Tour is playing its cards very close to the vest.