Shackelford: PGA Championship’s move to May mostly positive

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Shackelford: PGA Championship’s move to May mostly positive

PGA Tour

Shackelford: PGA Championship’s move to May mostly positive

CHARLOTTE — As an August event, the PGA Championship’s product cycle has outlived its purpose. Months of rumors left many feeling gray about moving to May, but the mood changed with the 2017 PGA Championship rollout.

Moving a major was not an easy sell on multiple fronts. Given the stakeholders involved and the venues impacted, any number of variables could have shut down what was a two-man vision executed by many underlings. The frontmen here are Pete Bevacqua, PGA of America CEO, and his PGA Tour counterpart, Jay Monahan, the recently anointed commissioner looking to reshape his sport’s calendar. The two executives could have taken the Quail Hollow podium Tuesday and quickly morphed into Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory, scarfing down excess while making an intriguing idea into a monumental mess for golf.

Instead, their assembly line rolled out a shiny new product that will have mostly positive ramifications for a PGA Tour looking to end its playoffs by Labor Day. Many more details are to come involving the Players Championship move to March and other schedule fallout, including some painful PGA Tour decisions regarding longtime tournaments struggling to find sponsors.

More encouraging is the short- and long-term impact the move to May will have on the PGA Championship. Starting in 2019, the PGA will finish the weekend after Mother’s Day, a weekend that is traditionally home to horse racing’s Preakness Stakes. This leaves three weeks of buffer before the U.S. Open, which loses nothing in terms of prestige as the third major given its built-in historical and prestige edge.

The PGA Championship will be the second major played each year starting in two years at Bethpage State Park and stands to shed its image as the championship needing a slogan in lieu of an organic identity. (FYI: the most recent, “It’s Major”, has joined “Glory’s Last Shot” in the junkyard.)

The May move also gets the PGA Championship far away from Olympic golf every four years, a situation that arose in 2016 and undoubtedly caused more Rio defections than the more convenient Zika excuse.

Most intriguing in the unveiling was Bevacqua’s assertion that May is a better time for the PGA of America to spread the gospel of its mission to serve its members who, in turn, serve the game as golf professionals across the United States. Bevacqua pointed out that interest in learning golf or improving a swing is highest in the spring, while a PGA Championship sharing the story of its membership tends to fall flat at summer’s end when attention is shifting elsewhere.

Also flat in the current August window is the third-quarter advertising market, making the PGA Championship in May a more attractive television property. Sure, the NBA playoffs are in full motion then, but those games are generally at night and unlikely to run into golf programming.

“We feel the television markets in general are stronger in May,” Bevacqua said.

While ratings might take a slight hit on Preakness Saturday compared to August, when the PGA has little sports competition, executives at both CBS and NBC have made clear that the “second quarter” is a better time to draw advertisers. Translation: the PGA of America stands to do very well when its next television contract commences in 2020, even if it loses a rating point or two some years.

The only gray area remains in the venue department. Bevacqua wisely stuck to an expected message of pointing out how markets once deemed too warm are now able to host the PGA Championship.

“It’s more comfortable in Florida,” he said. “It’s more comfortable in Texas. And this wasn’t an easy decision. It certainly wasn’t a decision we took lightly.”

While amateur agronomists are still leery that northeast venues can reliably provide suitable turf conditions in May, Bevacqua confidently squashed worries many of his members have had about the rumored date switch. Given that August heat has posed headaches for many cool-season grass venues over the years, Bevacqua suggested a combination of improved agronomic techniques and other factors may have helped make May possible.

“Weather patterns change, grasses become more resilient and we’ll continue to have great conversations with those clubs and courses that we have historically gone to in all other regions of the country,” he said.

Some of those regions are Rochester, Minneapolis, Chicago and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, where the PGA will have a tough time making a May date work. Those are regions that have supported the PGA Championship and will be hard to cut loose as major championship markets.

Given everything that was unveiled along with expected benefits when the PGA Tour crystalizes a smarter schedule, the PGA Championship’s move to May should have most of golf’s stakeholders soaking up some new car smell.

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