At cocktail parties at the Wyndham Championship for the first couple of years of the PGA Tour playoffs, the discussion was always about one thing. It wasn’t so much a conversation but a question that didn’t have an answer. The question was, “How do we get a better date?” Falling behind a major championship and right before the FedEx Cup playoffs is always a tough date.
The thought was that with a spring date, the tournament in Greensboro, N.C., would be more successful.
Then some of the smartest minds in the business starting asking a better question: “How do we make this tournament the best it can be?” The McConnell Golf Group, Sedgefield Country Club, Wyndham, the tournament board of directors, tournament director Mark Brazil and many others put their heads together and came up with a plan that will be on full display this week.
Their plan had many elements, from engaging the community to listening to and accommodating the players. Both of those ends were met by returning the tournament to Sedgefield, just south of downtown and easily accessible from all points in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. The second element was engaging the players and listening to their feedback. The biggest element of that will be unveiled this week for the first time. Sedgefield has converted its greens from bentgrass to a far more heat-tolerant Bermudagrass. Early feedback has been incredible.
From a community standpoint, the Wyndham Championship has come to signify the end of summer and a festive celebration of the region and culture. In other words, it is a fine summertime party, with men in patterned shorts and women in sundresses, smiling and wondering where the summer went while watching the best golfers in the world. The outreach to the region includes a charitable aspect that is now ongoing throughout the year and is changing the lives of children and their families all across central North Carolina. And did I mention that it is the place to be for all North Carolinians this week?
The second task, engaging the players, has been a little less predictable but nevertheless successful. The golf course and the treatment of the players certainly has played a part. The other aspect is that now that the players and the rest of the golf world understand the importance of the playoffs, many come out of necessity. But they return out of an appreciation for the hospitality and the golf course. Last year, Ernie Els came to solidify his spot in the playoffs. His return seemed likely until he won the Open Championship this year but vows he will be back soon. Webb Simpson, who grew up in Raleigh and played at nearby Wake Forest, is not just the defending champion here but also the reigning U.S. Open champion.
Jason Dufner was gracious enough to come last year on the heels of his disappointing loss in a playoff at the PGA Championship in Atlanta. This year, he returns as a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season and a member of the Ryder Cup team. Dufner and Simpson are joined by Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, a North Carolina graduate who is here because he never misses the Wyndham.
Other big names making an appearance this week: Sergio Garcia, FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas (another Wake alumnus), John Daly, Brandt Snedeker, Trevor Immelman and a familiar cast of the best players in the world.
The playoff system has evolved, and it seems with every incarnation the Wyndham Championship gets stronger. At one point, 144 players made the playoffs that start next week with The Barclays at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course on Long Island. Now only 125 players can advance for their chance at $10 million. Next year, the number of players who advance will be the same, but the stakes will be raised in Greensboro once again: the regular season will end with the Wyndham and the 125 who make the playoffs will be exempt the next year on the PGA Tour. The others will be relegated to a Q-School series, in which they will be competing for their jobs.
Every week on the PGA Tour is special to the community that hosts the event. But this isn’t just any event for me; this is my hometown event. I am a member at Sedgefield and a friend of the tournament. As a player, I wasn’t aware of all that goes into putting on a world-class event. Through my friendships with the Wyndham staff, I have been enlightened. I take pride in what they have accomplished because I have seen their hard work and passion for their town and their tournament. They put their money where their mouth is and so much more. They have reached higher than prudence would have suggested and exceeded their reach many times over. For more than 20 years, I could have lived anywhere. I chose to live in Greensboro, N.C., or as they say on Tour, at the Wyndham.