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JERSEY CITY, NJ. Since 1967 a professional golf tournament of significance, involving the sport's best players, has been played in the New York metropolitan area. However, this week's event at The Northern Trust being, played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, will bring that long streak to a conclusion.
The PGA TOUR, in concert with the European Tour, unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the planned professional golf schedule several weeks ago and the net result is a reshuffling of the schedule deck meaning the ongoing New York presence will sit it out for at least the '22 calendar.
During a joint press conference on August 3 with European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley, PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan when asked about the lack of professional golf for both New York and Boston in '22 answered with the following:
"I used to run the Deutsche Bank Championship, now the Northern Trust, and when you look to the future, you see the U.S. Open played at The Country Club next year, you've got the Ryder Cup coming to Bethpage in New York (2025), you've got a number of championships with the USGA and the PGA of America. So professional golf will continue to have a very strong presence in those two important markets (Boston and New York). For us, it's a matter of when, not if. As you know, what we're talking about today is a point in time, it's our 2021-2022 schedule."
The deeper issue for the New York area goes beyond the short-term schedule. Can the USA's largest market be an optimum fit for the PGA TOUR? Specifically, when that key marketplace is cluttered with a full range of sports and entertainment options -- all clamoring for attention and consumer support. For starters, you have two major league baseball teams in the Yankees and Mets as well as the anticipation for the new National Football League season with the Giants and Jets respectively set to begin.
Pro golf when it arrives at a number of locations throughout the USA is treated with particular emphasis. In the New York metro area, golf is just another entertainment vehicle and often times relegated to the periphery.
Golf crowds for this week's Northern Trust have been limited because of the ongoing concerns tied to the pandemic but in general terms an August time frame has always meant a difficult situation as even avid golfers generally take parts of the month off for vacations before the school years ramps up again in September.
Northern Trust, the title sponsor, signed a five-year contract to stage the event and this year's event marks its end. Securing another title sponsor is just a part of the issue. The other is aligning one that's associated to the New York metro area knowing full well the sheer array of different options consumers have in deciding where and how to spend their leisure time and dollars.
Getting an event sponsored is only part of the larger size puzzle. The timing of when it is played becomes an issue as the existing PGA TOUR is already slotted with various events which have spent considerable time and energy securing their individual calendar positions.
When the Westchester Classic first started in 1967 -- the timing was in August. In the years that followed other time frames were used before settling on staging the event either prior to or immediately after the U.S. Open. The June time frame proved strategic in several ways. The golf season was nearing its peak and the timing provided an entry point for many international players competing prior to or even right after the U.S. Open. The depth and quality of the field also helped drive interest among spectators.
One of the more noted contestants was Spain's Seve Ballesteros. The Spaniard was limited in the number of appearances he could take on the PGA TOUR as a non-member and he enjoyed playing Westchester CC while getting ready for the U.S. Open -- ultimately winning the event twice and losing in a playoff in several appearances.
After the 2008 event the tournament was switched to the lead-off position for the FedEx Cup Playoffs and that meant an August time frame again. Westchester CC ceased staging the event in 2007 and has not returned since. Part of the reasoning why a 41-year relationship ended was the club's insistence that ongoing activities of the membership continue even as the tournament was played. That meant member golf on the facility's other course taking place even when the world's best competed on the famed West Course.
The new hosts would be split with different venues -- located in either Northern New Jersey or Long Island. This year's event marks the fourth time Liberty National has been the host site -- the facility having also hosted the 2017 Presidents Cup event.
The PGA TOUR then opted to create a split situation between New York and Boston -- with each serving as host in different years. Last year's event was played at TPC / Boston in Norton, MA when the New York metro area was staging the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
As Monahan mentioned in his comments, the situation is not about a permanent split with the New York area but looking to take advantage of future situations that may arise when the timing is optimal. Given the existing calendar that may mean no PGA TOUR event coming back for more than just a one-year vacancy.
The way the present calendar is structured -- New York will not be on the scene for pro golf in '22. The greater Boston area is the scene for next year's U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, MA. It is quite conceivable when the PGA TOUR returns the strongest candidate to serve as host will be Liberty National.
Paul Fireman, the man responsible for the facility's creation, has a deep and close relationship with TOUR leadership and given the close proximity to the lower Manhattan skyline and the related vistas provided by the Statue of Liberty the optics alone go beyond a fixed dollar amount. Moving events around to different sites is also a difficult exercise as such venues have their own logistical hurdles to overcome -- most notably -- the lack of available space to stage such events and the associated costs in doing so.
The New York metro area will remain a key location but the calculations on future intersections with the PGA TOUR will rest on a number of permutations. As always -- business is business with arrangements clearly based on mutual benefits happening.
Images courtesy of Liberty National GC and PGA TOUR