By Ann Liguori
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The PGA of America and the PGA Tour confirmed major schedule changes Tuesday. The PGA Championship will be moved from August to May and The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida, will move from May to March. The transition for both will take effect in 2019.
That means the PGA Championship, which will be held at Bethpage Black in 2019, will take place May 16-19, instead of in the middle of August. This shift marks the first time since 1972 the PGA Championship will not be held in August.
The question is, will Bethpage Black be ready for a major championship that early in the "golf season" in New York, particularly if the area experiences a harsh winter?
"I think you know the power of Bethpage," Pete Bevacqua, the CEO of the PGA of America, said in his news conference Tuesday. "It works weather-wise. We think the condition of Bethpage State Park, the condition of the Black Course year in and year out is better in late May than it is in August. So we feel comfortable and confident.
"Kerry Haigh, (chief championships officer of the PGA of America in charge of tournament golf course setup), the PGA professionals, the club, the superintendent, they feel the conditioning of the golf courses are actually better in late May than in the August months. I think the weather patterns have proven to be better, so we're excited about that.
"And we like the story," Bevacqua, a native New Yorker, continued. "We like the narrative. It's the 101st PGA Championship, and as we talked about with our board, we said, 'If we're going to do it, let's do it. It's too late in the process to change Bellerive (Country Club in St. Louis, site of the 2018 PGA Championship), whether it's ticket or hospitality sales. But the first realistic date we could change with this announcement was Bethpage, and we're like, let's go ahead and do it. The state feels comfortable about it. Kerry Haigh feels comfortable about it, and we just think it's a great next chapter of the PGA Championship."
The weather in May, as New Yorkers know, can be mercurial, to say the least – often a mixture of chilly temperatures, with occasional warm days thrown in as a tease, and plenty of rain. The bigger question mark as it relates to Bethpage hosting the PGA Championship in May is the severity of the winter months leading up to then and what kind of shape the course will be in if winter lingers. No matter how good Haigh and his team are, it's impossible to control Mother Nature. Winters that endure certainly take its toll on courses, preventing them from being in tip-top shape so early in "the season."
More venues for the PGA Championship in the southern part of the United States will be considered in the future with the schedule change.
As for changing the dates for The Players Championship from May to March, when temperatures in the Jacksonville, Florida, area leading up to and during that time of year can get quite chilly, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan pointed out: "In recapping all of our fairways, regressing our fairways, installing SubAir and improving our drainage systems and regressing all of our greens, we are in a position to deliver the same firm and fast conditions in March that we have been delivering in May, and that's something we are going to hold ourselves accountable to because we want the standard of play to be at the same high level it is right now."
The conversations about a schedule change, Bevacqua said, were based on "the unavoidable reality that the landscape in August is changing, and it's changing because of the Olympics; it's changing because of the contemplated alterations to the FedEx Cup."
These changes took months of analysis by both the PGA of America and the PGA Tour. Both organizations expect the moves to help grow the game.
I am in favor of the schedule moves for both championships. Having the PGA Championship in May makes it more attractive to television viewership and ratings. It gives it more relevance being the second major on the calendar than an afterthought in August. However, because of the iffy weather in May, it makes sense that venues in the South will take precedence over the Northeast and Midwest.
And as Rory McIlroy stated: "I think it's great for the golf schedule. I think a May date for the PGA of America is a really good thing, and just from a player's perspective, to now have one really big tournament every month from March, The Players, to the Masters, to the PGA Championship, to the U.S. Open, to the (British) Open and to have the FedExCup most likely at the end of August or start of September -- it just has a better flow to it, I think."
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