Before 2007, PGA Tour executives surveyed the sporting landscape and wondered why they, too, couldn’t benefit from a highly incentivized playoff series tacked on to the end of their already strenuous schedule.
From the start, the plan appeared destined for success.
Under a points system in 2007 with 125 players qualifying for four playoff tournaments and a $10 million prize at the end of the long and winding road, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson — the two players that mattered most — put on a show as August bowed and September beckoned.
The FedExCup Playoffs made their way to TPC Boston in Norton for the second stop that year, and fans lined the premises for a dazzling Labor Day special in the Deutsche Bank Championship’s final round. Mickelson edged Woods by two strokes. It was the back-nine duel between rivals that golf needed to invigorate its base in the inaugural playoff running.
Woods claimed the next two events en route to the crown and oversized check. It’s these tournaments — the BMW Championship and Tour Championship, not the New England stop — that have since posed a problem in the Tour’s eyes as far as television viewership is concerned.
With the NFL regular season kicking off days after Labor Day weekend, the collective gaze of sports enthusiasts shifts to the gridiron.
It’s why things will look different once the leaves start to develop a crunch in 2019 as the PGA Tour debuts its restructured schedule.
The PGA Championship, once held in August as the last of the four major tournaments, will now be played in May. The Players Championship hops from May to March. Four FedExCup Playoff events will become three, with the entire enterprise scheduled to wrap before a meaningful pigskin is kicked at the pro or collegiate level.
“There were a lot of discussions about moving the schedule around that happened over the past few years, and ultimately it came down to looking at the sport’s landscape the month of August,” said Rich Brady, executive director at the Dell Technologies Championship. “We at the PGA Tour said, ‘We really have a chance to own this month because it’s a quieter time.’
“With that as a guiding principle — to hone that month and to stage some bigger events — we made the switch that we did. We are really optimistic, taking a look at no NFL and [it being] not college football season yet, that our playoff events are going to be raised in stature significantly. Boston is certainly going to benefit from that in 2020.”
However, golf fans in the Greater Boston area must absorb a loss before a gain because 2019 will mark the first time in 17 years Massachusetts doesn’t have a home on the PGA Tour schedule.
The Tour announced this month that The Northern Trust will alternate between the New York/New Jersey area and Boston beginning next season. It will be the opening leg of the FedExCup playoffs, which will conclude Aug. 25, 2019.
The Dell Technologies Championship, formerly the Deutsche Bank Championship, will end after the 2018 tournament crowns a winner Sept. 3.
There was a chance Boston would lose its grasp on the circuit entirely. But when Tour officials widened their lens on the TPC Boston course, a vibrant portrait of raucousness and fiery competition revealed itself beneath the rustic exterior. Simply put, players adored teeing it up in Norton and spectators gladly flocked to watch them.
“I think that Boston is deeply embedded in the PGA Tour’s hearts for a lot of reasons,” said Julie Tyson, who oversees The Northern Trust event while also running the PGA Tour’s New York office.
“One being the fact that it has been such a supportive market for us from a fan, volunteer, and sponsor perspective for over 15 years. Two, it’s the market of some of the greatest sports fans on the planet. This is coming from a Chicagoan in me, so it’s hard to say those words, but the fans in Boston are pretty serious about their sports. It creates great energy.”
It didn’t hurt that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has a love affair with Massachusetts.
Monahan was the first tournament director of the Deutsche Bank Championship.
“[Monahan] understands the passion that our fans have, seeing it firsthand in creating this event,” Brady said. “When all factors are put together, Jay’s knowledge of the city and this course and the players’ experience here, it certainly helped.”
Tyson understands the natural reaction of New England golf enthusiasts to bristle at losing half their PGA Tour access to sporting foes to the south.
“It’s odd to share an event between New York fans and Boston,” said Tyson. “I can’t imagine a bigger rivalry among sports fans than New Yorkers and Boston. That part is a little bit different.”
The Northern Trust will tee off at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City from Aug. 5-11, 2019, before it shifts to TPC Boston in Norton for 2020. Both Tyson and Brady will remain in their current roles, with separate New York and Boston-based teams assigned to plan and promote the two-year cycle.
Despite whispers of consternation regarding this biannual configuration, Tyson and Brady emphasized optimistic rhetoric by citing other high-profile events as the blueprint for success in the Tour’s new age. Boston’s rabid fan-base doesn’t hurt, either.
“You look at the US Open or the PGA Championship or the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup — all those events rotate,” said Tyson. “This isn’t foreign to our schedule for big events.
“Feedback from the players [at TPC Boston] has been super positive. I think there’s this really great mix when you have a really avid fan base [and] it’s a big event, it creates these really exciting moments in sports. Boston’s a great place to do that.”Owen Pence can be reached at email@example.com.