Shackelford: Tour Championship needs a rota to bring life to the party

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Shackelford: Tour Championship needs a rota to bring life to the party

PGA Tour

Shackelford: Tour Championship needs a rota to bring life to the party

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The Tour Championship lands in Atlanta with a huge purse bump and a codified format. Other than expected clashes over the new FedEx Cup system, electricity will more likely come from the sky than the grounds of East Lake.

Tiger Woods’ failure to qualify will be blamed for the 2019 Tour Championship not feeling like the PGA Tour’s Super Bowl. But the defending champion’s absence is not a primary issue given the state of his game. Nor is the new format, which will be easy to follow and could surprise us based on the Tour’s modeling of past Tour Championships.

No, the wet blanket on this season ender is the annual return to Atlanta and a venue we know too well after 15 straight years.

Sure, picking on East Lake Golf Club is tantamount to panning a kindergarten school play. Yet the too familiar feeling of annually returning to a sterilized Donald Ross design has become a drag after the two prior playoff events have settled into strong rotas.

In the Tour Championship’s new pre-Labor Day slot, the weather will be miserably hot and fans may be distracted for other reasons. The Atlanta region will be gearing up for two huge Labor Day weekend events, Dragon Con and the annual Chick fil-A kickoff game. (The combination of which may be why the Tour season ends a week earlier than some believe it should).

No one tires of learning how golf has changed lives in the Atlanta suburb. The vision of Tom Cousins and execution by all is worthy of a serious documentary, which, just happens to be debuting Monday night at 10 p.m. ET on Golf Channel. (The film sensationally weaves East Lake’s rich history with the community resurrection story.)

The PGA Tour’s allegiance to Atlanta is commendable. So is the influence of longtime host and now “Proud Partner” Coca-Cola, a saintly sponsor despite fewer mentions than normal as FedEx Cup race confusion overshadowed the tournament they ponied up for.

While a switch of the nines to finish rounds on the par-5 9th has helped some, East Lake’s lack of real strategic danger injects little verve into the tournament. Throw in a fall college event airing on Golf Channel and East Lake is threatening to become the Cousin Eddie of venues: popping up too often when once every four years would do.

For the greater good of the PGA Tour’s season finale and even East Lake’s vaunted place in the game, the Tour Championship desperately needs a rota that draws in the West coast. As past U.S. Opens have proven, a Pacific time zone venue pushes golf into prime time on a summer weekend and brings an additional million viewers against prime-time reruns.

Tournament-starved cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Portland would turn the Tour Championship into a grand spectacle. Imagine Chambers Bay, the greens now converted to poa and lessons learned from the 2015 U.S. Open, ending the Tour season at a breathtaking setting with sports-mad fans?

There would be tons of buzz and a lot less sweat.

With just 30 players in the field, the Tour Championship has the luxury of targeting a remote location or unexpected market by bringing the world’s best players to a fresh spot.

How exotic could they get?

The woke crowd will nominate Cabot Cliffs, Sand Hills and Sand Valley, but those are too remote. So if it’s West coast we’re after, why not explore a Spyglass, Sandpiper or Pelican Hill along the California coastline? Or monitor what happens at Bandon Dunes when the resort hosts the U.S. Amateur next summer.

Heading east where ratings go down but the quality venue options expand, the Tour Championship could be less about markets and more focused on what ends the season on a lively, buzzworthy note.

And then every few years we’ll welcome Atlanta and East Lake back with open arms.

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