CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a move that figures to shake up the entire professional golf landscape, the PGA of America on Tuesday announced that it is moving the PGA Championship from August to May. The shift will begin in 2019 at Bethpage Black, which is no stranger to groundbreaking developments.
“I think you know the power of Bethpage,” said Pete Bevacqua during a joint news conference with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan at which the latter announced that the tour’s showcase tournament, the Players, will move from May back to its original March slot.
Bevacqua, a New York State native, said of Bethpage, “I grew up playing that course,” and was with the U.S. Golf Association when it chose the Black to become the first municipal course ever to host the U.S. Open. It was no coincidence that it will be at the forefront of another major change. The PGA of America could have waited until 2020 or later but decided to make the switch in the year that Bethpage was scheduled to host.
“What it really came down to is, it works weather-wise,” Bevacqua said at Quail Hollow Club, the site this week of the 2017 PGA Championship. “We think the condition of Bethpage State Park, the condition of the Black Course year in and year out, is better in late May than it is in August. So we feel comfortable and confident.”
There might be some concerns about cool weather on Long Island during the third week of May (the 2019 PGA will be held May 16-19), but the person who has most at stake thinks the change will be a total plus. “I’m really happy with the call they made,” said Andrew Wilson, superintendent of the five Bethpage golf courses.
“Because of the seasonal grass we have, the third week of May is much better than the second week of August, that’s for sure,” Wilson said by phone from the park, as the first round of the New York State Amateur was being held at the Black. He explained that poa annua, the type of grass that makes up the Black’s greens, is healthier in spring.
“We’re looking forward to it, and we’d be looking forward to it whenever they had it,” Wilson said. “But at the end of August, we’d be concerned about the wear and tear because of all the rounds we do here.”
He acknowledged that a rough winter could add to the challenge of getting the course ready and that the accelerated schedule will give his crew less time to do the bunker work that has been planned. But Wilson said that in his discussions with PGA officials, he spoke mainly in favor of May.
Bevacqua said, “And we like the story. We like the narrative. It’s the 101st PGA Championship and as we talked about it with our board, we said, ‘If we’re going to do it, let’s do it.’ The first realistic date we could change with this announcement was Bethpage and we were like, ‘Let’s go ahead and do it.’ The state feels comfortable about it. Kerry Haigh (the chief championships officer) feels comfortable about it and we just think it’s a great next chapter of the PGA Championship.”
He added that the PGA has been held in nine different months (the 1919, 1921 and 1926 events were all on Long Island in September) so history does not dictate it remain in August.
Monahan did not go into detail but said “there are a number of dominos” that could fall into place for the PGA Tour with these changes. The one most talked about is streamlining the FedEx Cup and moving it up, so that the Tour Championship would not compete with the NFL. That could ultimately affect Bethpage as well, given that the Black is signed to host the playoff opener in 2021.
As it is, the 2019 PGA at Bethpage will mean Long Island will be the scene of a huge rarity, hosting two golf majors in 11 months. The 2018 U.S. Open will be held at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton this coming June.