TULSA, Okla. — Sites for golf majors are typically determined years in advance. The Country Club in Brookline learned in 2015 that it would host next month’s US Open.
The ample notice gives officials time to reconfigure courses, making needed adjustments so it will play tough enough for the world’s best golfers. It gives sponsors time to plan and coordinate, and towns and cities years to figure out how to host tens of thousands of fans in places that don’t normally see that type of volume.
But Southern Hills Country Club learned it would be hosting the 2022 PGA Championship just 16 months ago, setting in motion a mad scramble to prepare the grounds ahead of the course’s first major since 2007.
The reason why? The Jan. 6 invasion of the US Capitol.
The 2022 PGA Championship was originally awarded to Trump National at Bedminster in New Jersey. The decision was announced in June 2014, nearly a year before Donald Trump said he was running for president.
It was to be the first major held at a course owned by Trump, an avid golf fan who had courted the golf establishment for years for the opportunity to have the spotlight on his club.
“Having the PGA is a very, very big deal,” Trump said at the time. “So, it’s very important to me. It’s a great honor for me.”
Trump, of course, was elected in 2016. Golf continued to play a large role in his life, with the president often seen teeing off at one of his courses during his tenure.
But when rioters stormed the US Capitol on the day the 2020 presidential election results were certified, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh was watching. He met with his senior staff and board of directors the day after the insurrection.
“Everybody wants to make this a political move, but we got put into a political place that was not of our own making,” Waugh said this week. “My feeling was we could do existential damage to our brand by staying at Bedminster. If we stayed, the 2022 PGA would be about its ownership. People would think we were making a statement by staying there. I felt like we could do permanent damage to the brand if we stayed. As did the board.”
On Jan. 10, 2021, four days after the failed coup, the PGA announced it terminated its contract with Trump Bedminster. (The British Open organizing group said the next day it would not host its event at Trump Turnberry, the former president’s links course in Scotland.)
That set off the mad rush to find a new site. A call was put out, and quickly Southern Hills came into focus.
Kerry Haigh, the chief championships officer of the PGA, told the New York Times this week that the decision to choose Southern Hills came in part because the Tulsa club hosted the Senior PGA last year.
“We were working with the community, the city, we had a lot of plans together,” he said. “... All the things that needed to happen — agreeing on a contract, moving staff, having relationships with all those people — were already in place.”
As one could expect, Trump was not happy about the decision to move the tournament.
This week, after journalist Michael Bamberger published a story about the venue change on the website the Fire Pit Collective, Trump reached out to say he would not be watching the PGA Championship.
“I will not watch it,” he told Bamberger in an unprompted interview. “The only thing I like about it is that I love Oklahoma where, as you pointed out brilliantly, I have won 77 out of 77 counties. But I will not be watching it. No.”
It turns out Trump had the chance to watch the event in person.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, who has been signing legislation to make his state the most anti-abortion in the United States, was in attendance at the PGA Championship Friday and Saturday.
He told the Tulsa World he invited Trump to join him.
“I was down at Mar-a-Lago and played golf with Trump,” he said Friday. “I was so excited about the PGA coming here that I put my foot in my mouth and invited him to come to Tulsa.
“…As soon as I said it, I remembered.”
Stitt says Trump responded: “Well, it probably wouldn’t be a good look with me coming” before the pair laughed about it.