GOLD COAST, Australia – The rare inspired notion from part of golf’s entrenched establishment has created a major buzz in Australia and other far eastern points on the leading edge of the International Date Line.
News a few weeks ago that the PGA of America was analyzing the potential to take its almost 100-year-old PGA Championship overseas perhaps once or twice a decade was greeted with enthusiasm in Australia – where the conditions would be perfect for hosting one of golf’s four majors to alleviate the scheduling stress in an Olympic year.
“If they’re serious, we’re serious,” said Brian Thorburn, the chief executive for the PGA of Australia. “We’ll be putting our hands up and trying to be at the front of the queue.”
Thorburn has already been in touch with PGA of America chief executive Pete Bevacqua and they plan to have a chat in a couple weeks when they get together at an industry conference. Bevacqua told the AP this week that the PGA was “more than halfway through a serious analysis” of the concept, but said it was “far from a fait accompli” that an occasional international stop would happen.
It should happen, however. There is no reason that three of golf’s four major championships have to be in the United States every single year. It’s a big world out there, and the growing global nature of the game makes spreading the major profile to different markets a no brainer.
Especially if golf develops a permanent place in the Olympics. In 2016, when the PGA celebrates its 98th championship at Baltusrol, the season’s fourth major will be forced to move out of its traditional early August window to make room for a two-week global break while golf makes its return to the Olympics in Brazil.
Pushing the PGA up to the end of July creates all manner of scheduling headaches. The British Open is already pinched by Wimbledon moving its finish a week later starting in 2015. So it’s possible that the schedule could take the game’s best players from the British to the WGC-Bridgestone to the PGA in consecutive weeks leading right into the Olympics. Other tournaments on the schedule will suffer.
If the PGA opted for an international move during Olympic years, it could shift to the Southern Hemisphere and play anywhere from October to February and separate itself from the summer clutter. Australia marks the perfect option, because a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. final-round playing block Down Under would translate into a 6 p.m. to midnight TV window on Saturday night on the East Coast in America – a more desirable viewing window than the morning to early afternoon slot that the British Open features.
“There’s no reason we couldn’t deliver a U.S. broadcast,” Thorburn said. “I imagine that would make the networks pretty happy. So bring it on.”
The PGA venues have been booked out through the 2019 event at Bethpage Black, which coincides with the expiration of the major’s current contract with CBS. So the 2020 event – when the Olympics will be staged in Tokyo – makes a potentially perfect time to stage this grand experiment.
“It would need to work for the PGA Tour, and it would need to work for the PGA tour players,” Bevacqua said of the feasibility checklist. “Another would be the PGA in the particular area we would consider. We would want the international PGAs to be a part of this and share in this. Many pieces would have to fall in place.”
Australia already has a perfect major venue equipped to handle something on the scale of the PGA. Royal Melbourne – rated 13th in the world according to the latest Golf Magazine rankings – has played host to two Presidents Cups and will stage the Australian Masters and World Cup in the next two weeks on its composite course. The renowned Alister MacKenzie design – which top golfers including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson count among their favorites – has massive space for all the infrastructure required to host a major, including its lease of the public Sandringham Golf Course directly across the street from the club’s entrance.
“Clearly it’s got the credentials and the Sandbelt is a great place for golf,” Thorburn said. “Australia is known as a great place to play golf and we can run great events from Olympic Games to Commonwealth Games to Rugby World Cups and in the golf context the Presidents Cup twice. So we would step up to the challenge. To have a MAJOR in Australia would be huge.”
Australia’s star players agree.
“I think the PGA of America is really forward thinking in the way they approach everything,” said Adam Scott, the reigning Masters champion. “They’re obviously exploring every avenue and I think that’s the right thing to do. I think it’s the right thing that PGA of Australia then gets involved, absolutely. If there was a chance of hosting a major in Australia, that would be incredible. I have no idea about the details of any of that kind of stuff, but if I was with the PGA of Australia I’d be giving them a call pretty quick smart.”
Said Marc Leishman: “I mean, that would be unbelievable if they could. I’d probably be surprised if they did, just being the U.S. PGA Championship, you’d think it would be in America. But I guess if it was to go somewhere, this would be a great place for it to be. There’s plenty of unbelievable golf courses throughout the whole country, so they could get whatever weather conditions they wanted. It would be awesome. I’m sure the crowds would be huge and they’d get a great field being a major, it would be awesome for Australian golf and good exposure for the PGA.”
Even American Rickie Fowler had no objections to playing a second major far afield every four years or so.
“It would be cool if there was a way some of the PGAs around the world could make it where it could become more of a global major,” Fowler said. “That’s the only one that has a chance to travel. With the game growing globally the way it is, it could help grow he game around the world.”
And it could help distinguish the season’s fourth major as one of the progressive leaders in the game.
“What’s important is we boil down our missions to two pillars – serve our members and grow the game,” Bevacqua said. “The ultimate test will be can we check both boxes? Does it make sense to occasionally play the PGA Championship overseas? Would growing the brand globally help our members? Would it grow the game? Part two is easy.”
The whole thing could be easy. All it takes is the vision to commit.