CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The news wasn’t surprising. PGA Championship of America CEO Pete Bevacqua called it golf’s worst-kept secret.
Starting in 2019, the PGA Championship will move from its traditional mid-summer slot as the season’s fourth and last major to late May, between April’s Masters and June’s U.S. Open. Also announced Tuesday, as expected: The Players Championship will move from May to March.
Though the announcements at Quail Hollow Club, site of this week’s 99th PGA Championship, were not seismic in a breaking-news sense, they sent reverberations through the golf world. Including and perhaps especially in North Texas.
Will the schedule changes be good news or bad news for Dallas-Fort Worth area golf fans? The answer is both, potentially.
The PGA Championship’s move seemingly increases summer-singed North Texas’ odds of hosting a major — something it hasn’t done since 1963 — but also guarantees upheaval for its PGA Tour events: Dallas’ AT&T Byron Nelson and Fort Worth’s Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with potential sites in the Texas area,” Bevacqua told The News after the news conference. “We would love to bring a PGA Championship to Texas — and for the time being, I’d like to leave it at that.”
Imagine the mixed emotions Tuesday of Jonas Woods, co-founder and co-developer of Dallas’ Trinity Forest Golf Club.
On one hand, the first sentence of Trinity Forest’s vision, posted on the home page of the club’s website, states: “Trinity Forest Golf Club was created explicitly to attract prestigious golf championships back to Dallas; thereby, driving community impact and charitable activity.”
“We’d love to have an opportunity to talk to the PGA of America,” Woods said, mindful of the fact PGA Championship sites already have been determined through 2023. “May does, I think, create a realistic possibility here in Texas.”
Trinity Forest, though, also will host the Nelson beginning next May. Next year’s Nelson and Colonial won’t be affected by the PGA Championship’s 2019 move, but the strength of field in both events could be impacted in the future, depending where the tournaments fall on the shuffled schedule.
Both tournaments have been impacted to varying degrees since 2007, when the PGA Tour moved the Players Championship from mid-March to mid-May. In most years since 2007, the Nelson has been played one or two weeks after the Players, followed by Colonial, followed by Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.
During Tuesday’s news conference, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that beyond the Players Championship’s return to March, it’s too soon to speculate how traditional May tournaments will be affected because the full 2019 schedule hasn’t been determined.
After the news conference, Monahan told The News: “The AT&T Byron Nelson is a staple on our schedule and always will be. I’m not going to talk about the specifics of where we are. That’s a very important event and we’re excited about its future.
“A wonderful sponsor in AT&T — and Trinity Forest. You don’t make changes like we made there without the understanding that that creates more opportunity as we go forward, the specifics of it I’m just not ready to talk about.”
During the news conference, Bevacqua said the PGA Championship will, starting in 2019 at Bethpage Black in New York, be played on the third or fourth week of May.
After the news conference, Bevacqua clarified that the PGA Championship will be played two weeks before Memorial Tournament, with a one-tournament buffer between.
Had that scenario played out this year, the PGA Championship would have been played in the Nelson’s spot on the schedule, followed by Colonial, then Memorial.
Nelson tournament director Jon Drago, who arrived at Quail Hollow on Tuesday afternoon, said the PGA Championship’s move has been anticipated for many months, but that until Tuesday Nelson officials didn’t know which week in May the PGA would take.
“We internally told ourselves, ‘Let’s keep our focus on having the best Nelson Championship we can in 2018, and as information develops with future dates, we’ll work through that with our partners at AT&T and the PGA Tour,'” Drago said.
Dallas-based AT&T is signed on as the Nelson’s title sponsor through the 2021 tournament. AT&T is perhaps the tour’s most influential sponsor, as it also is title sponsor of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and also is one of the Masters’ five global sponsors.
It’s doubtful AT&T will sit quietly while the tour revamps the schedule, with a stated goal of having an earlier season finish, and allow the Nelson to wind up with an even worse placing than it’s received in recent years.
Perhaps the most seamless schedule alteration would be for the Nelson to be played a week earlier, in the Players Championship’s old spot, which would be the week before the PGA. Many marquee players, however, prefer taking the week off before a major to get in extra preparation.
In that scenario, Colonial would be played the week after the PGA. Golf traditionalists in North Texas no doubt would groan about the Nelson and Colonial not being played in successivel weeks, but, hey, that happened in 2007 and 2008. It also happed five times in the 1990s and three times in the 1980s.
Or, perhaps with a not so gentle nudge from AT&T, the Nelson could be moved to an even earlier slot, say two or three weeks before the PGA.
“There’s still a lot that has to be played out,” Drago said. “We haven’t spent a lot of time on the what-ifs with AT&T and the tour. If the goal is to try to finish the season before Labor Day, this move today doesn’t finish that work. There could still be more dominoes that play out.”
Meanwhile, Trinity Forest and other Texas courses can prep pitches to host a PGA beyond 2023. The last time a PGA, or any major, was contested in North Texas was July 18-21, 1963, at Dallas Athletic Club. How hot was it that week? Winner Jack Nicklaus had to use towels to hoist the broiling Wanamaker Trophy.
The only other PGA Championships played in Texas were in 1968 at Pecan Valley in San Antonio (again in extreme heat) and at Dallas’ Cedar Crest in early November of 1927.
The only men’s U.S. Opens played in Texas were at Colonial in 1941, Dallas’ Northwood CC in 1952 and Houston’s Champions in 1969.
Could Trinity Forest serve as the Nelson’s host as well as host of a future PGA Championship? Certainly. This week’s PGA site, Quail Valley, has hosted a tour event every year since 2003 — except for this year, when the tournament was shifted to Wilmington, N.C., so that Quail Hollow could be prepped for the PGA.
“Trinity Forest was created, first and foremost obviously to host the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship,” co-founder Woods said. “But our aspirations do go further than that, and that certainly includes major championship golf.”
If Trinity Forest is fortunate enough to land a PGA in the mid-2020s, there would be plenty of time to find another club to host the Nelson for a year.
“I think the excitement that Dallas as a community would love to have a major championship here, whether that’s down at city hall or the corporations here, golf fans in general, I think there would be unbelievable support,” Woods said. “I think you’d have so much overwhelming support for it that we would collectively find a solution.”