JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Lady Liberty, her crown and torch visible from 13 of the 18 holes here at Liberty National Golf Club, in recent days has served as the unofficial mascot of the Northern Trust, stop No. 1 of this year’s FedEx Cup.
Precisely one year from now, FedEx’s top-ranked 125 golfers will have to sidestep the metro-NY market and instead open their playoffs amid the towering pines and craggy, serpentine stonewalls dotted across TPC Boston.
The stop in Norton will make official the shared custody of late-summer golf in the Northeast that the PGA decided was the best answer to keep bucolic TPC Boston from dropping out of its rotation, even if it meant pairing rival sports cities that, were they able to fit into a golf cart, no doubt would end the loop parked outside a local hospital ER.
Tiger Woods, his charitable foundation deeply entwined in the Boston stop when play began there in 2003, flashed a wide smile here last week when asked about the nascent NY-Boston alliance. He won Boston in 2006, finished runner-up in ’04 and ’07. A devoted Lakers and Raiders fan dating to his youth in Cypress, Calif., he said he found it “ironic” how much he grew to love playing there.
“Because honestly,” added Woods, his golf shirt a near-perfect shade of Celtic green, “when I grew up, we in Southern California did not like Boston.”
For the PGA, well accustomed to cities rotating tournaments, marrying the New York and Boston markets isn’t nearly the monumental challenge of, say, hiring a chef who can blend Manhattan and New England clam chowder into a porridge pleasing to the tummies of both fandoms.
“I don’t know that we’re going to try to share [area] fans all that much,” noted Julie Tyson, the PGA marketing exec in charge of overseeing the two stops. “I think if we can do that, we should negotiate world peace — because these are two kind of bipolar groups.”
Leave it to a marketer to be so astute, not to mention so charitable in her diagnosis.
PGA commissioner Jay Monahan, 48, grew up in Belmont, his family owning a pair of Sox season tickets (Section 25 grandstand) for more than 60 years. There remains a wince in his voice when he recalls the Bucky Dent home run that nestled into the net above the Wall in the one-game playoff in ’78 between the Sox and Yanks.
“That’s embedded in my mind at a very young age,” recalled Monahan, whose resume includes a stint working alongside Sam Kennedy at the Fenway Sports Group. “The rivalry is one that I fully supported . . . and fully supported as a Bostonian. It’s a great rivalry, but you also have a lot of respect for every one of these New York franchises for the success they’ve had. But I’d be lying to you if I said I was anything less than a 100 percent Boston fan.”
The PGA’s stop in Boston nearly fell prey to a long-anticipated change in the PGA schedule aimed at ending the FedEx Cup, its season grand finale now with a top prize of $15 million, before September. The reasoning for the change when it was made official last July: steer the game clear of the NFL and college football, both of which made for formidable rivals in the competition for broadcasting ratings and overall media coverage and revenue.
In order to accomplish a late-August season wrap, the FedEx playoffs, which previously began in New York in late August and then moved to Boston for play through Labor Day weekend, had to be trimmed from four to three events. Boston, where title sponsorship turned shaky in recent years in the wake of Deutsche Bank’s withdrawal, was in peril.
“Obviously, you have to push self-interest aside and ask what is the right decision for the company,” said Monahan, asked how he would have felt if Boston, his hometown, had been dropped from the PGA menu.
The idea for the Boston-New York format, according to Monahan, was sparked by a conversation he had with Jordan Spieth, who was then a member of the PGA Player Advisory Council, as the two made their way down the 10th fairway at the 2016 PGA Dell Technologies Pro-Am in Norton.
“He said, ‘Why don’t we rotate them? This event in Boston is fantastic, it would be a shame to lose it,’ ” recalled Monahan. “Until then, we were just thinking about it being in a fixed location, or a fixed market, but the more we thought about it the more it made sense. Looking back on it, it was an important moment.”
Wrapping up his first loop here Thursday, an ever-polite Spieth said he was among “a number of players” who had a similar idea at the time.
“I think everybody liked going up to Boston,” said Spieth, whose best finish in Norton was runner-up to Justin Thomas in 2017. “Everyone loves the fan base up there, loves the golf course. It’s just great. There’s been some fantastic finishes — a really good TPC course that should be in the rotation. And that is nothing against the courses here, because they are obviously incredible and immaculate as well. So it’s nice to bring [Boston] back in for sure.”
Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner in Boston (2012, ’16), noted it would be “weird” for the tour not to go back there and he was happy it would return in 2020. As for a New York-Boston rivalry, the 30-year-old from County Down, Northern Ireland, couldn’t relate.
“If you had told me about the Yankees or Red Sox when I was 12,” he mused, “I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.”
By Tyson’s eye, there are few, if any, unique challenges to selling a New York-Boston pairing. Her boldest marketing point is the game itself, replete with strong story lines, such as Woods’s resumed title march this year at the Masters and homeboy Shane Lowry winning the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. The world’s best golfers remain the world’s best golfers, no matter the history between the 18-hole cities where they touch down for a week in August.
The obvious plus for Boston in 2020 (Aug. 6-9) is that the FedEx field will arrive at its max, 125, rather than in years past when the “first cut” in New York brought fewer stars (100) to the Hub.
“The second big change is the cut,” noted Tyson, who grew up a White Sox fan in Chicago and also marketed the LPGA for six years. “Now instead of cutting from 125 to 100, it will go from 125 to 70. Steeper cut puts more at stake. The bonus pool also went up this year, so now players over the course of the three weeks are playing for nearly $100 million . . . it makes for great drama inside the ropes.”
Outside the ropes, said Tyson, the look between the non-competing venues will have some obvious differences. At Liberty, with the New York City skyline as its breathtaking backdrop, Nordstrom, the Seattle-based high-end retailer, was among the shopping options on the course. Shake Shack, founded in NYC, was here pushing its trademark burgers.
Boston-based companies, particularly food brands, have been targeted for the 2020 week in Norton. Tyson would not reveal specific would-be partners, but entities such as Legal Seafoods, Kelly’s Roast Beef, and Sam Adams Brewery would be logical, perhaps prominent, vendors.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel from inside the ropes,” said Tyson. “It’s the outside-the-ropes experience we really want to improve and elevate. In Boston, we want to tap into something that feels quintessentially Boston — what works in New York is not going to be the thing that speaks to the Boston community.”
To that end, noted Tyson, the markets will have different charity recipients and some different fan experiences. Monahan, said Tyson, has been adamant about Boston preserving myriad opportunities for young fans, the roots of which he began to grow when he was the Boston tournament’s initial executive director.
“Every aspect of it, we want it to feel like it is very much a Boston experience,” said Tyson. “Price points that work in Boston may be different than in New York. The offerings, in terms of expectation of hospitality . . . we have basically taken the event down to the studs, gone and talked to the market and we are rebuilding it around what we think works in the Boston sports market.”
According to Monahan, the 16 years at TPC Boston generated $28 million for local charities, an average of $1.72 million that won’t be realized this year.
“Absolutely,” said Monahan, when asked if he regrets the loss in charitable dollars. “But I also think there is some inspiration in that. If we are going to be there every other year, how do we make a bigger impact in the years we are there? Perhaps we can catch up or exceed it.”
Northern Trust, headquartered in Chicago, thus far has agreed to sponsor the tournament only through 2021. If the Boston-New York toggling goes ahead in perpetuity, noted Monahan, the course location for the New York/New Jersey market undoubtedly will move around, while the TPC course in Norton will remain the Boston site.
Left unsaid: There currently is no guarantee what happens to the joint custody arrangement after 2021. All anyone knows for now is that Boston gets at least one more kick at big-time PGA golf in 2020.
“The golf course, the community up in there, is fantastic,” said Bryson DeChambeau, who won Boston last year with his 268 after winning in New York. “That golf course is amazing. Obviously, I’m biased because I won it — but I do enjoy it.”
Kiddingly, DeChambeau retorted, “I’m from California, partner,” when asked if he had any strong feelings toward the Boston-New York rivalry.
“Well,” he said with a big grin, “that’s why I won both of them, because I wanted them to feel the same.”