After it stopped along with the rest of the sports world back on March 12, the PGA Tour is set to resume June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
But even as play gets set to resume soon, the schedule for the rest of the season continues to evolve. The Tour announced Thursday that the John Deere Classic, a midsummer Tour staple since 1971 played in Silvis, Ill., will be canceled for 2020. The tournament was to be played July 9-12; it is expected virus-related restrictions that would prevent such an event will still be in place at that time in Illinois.
The Tour is reportedly considering creating a new event to replace the John Deere, with TPC Sawgrass as the potential site. That venue certainly makes sense, both because The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass was canceled after one round in March, and because it’s close to the PGA Tour’s Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. headquarters, easing the logistics.
But as the Tour plays events without fans, it has an opportunity it may not have thought of: play an event at a course that wouldn’t be able to host a Tour event under normal circumstances.
There are plenty of great courses that are good enough to host the PGA Tour but due to a variety of factors — be it the lack of space for fans and hospitality, a rural location that isn’t conducive to a major professional sporting event, or both — can’t.
While everyone is eagerly anticipating the return of fans to live sporting events, the Tour should take advantage of the fact that “no room for fans” wouldn’t be a problem right now at any potential tournament site, and get creative, either with the July date left vacant by the John Deere or by any other date that may become open due to cancellation.
With that in mind, here’s five courses the Tour should consider (with the acknowledgement that, even without fans on the course, the logistics of putting together a tournament in weeks is a tall task at best, and may be unrealistic in some of these spots). Plus, just for fun, I’ve included one that absolutely cannot happen but is fun to think about.
Honorable Mention: Prestwick (Prestwick, South Ayrshire, Scotland)
This could never happen in 2020 because of the logistics involved of playing a tournament on another continent during a pandemic, quarantining for two weeks upon arrival to a country, etc., and that’s why this is only an honorable mention. But professional golf returning to Prestwick for the first time in nearly a century would be really cool (hey, maybe the European Tour can try this).
The venue hosted the first Open Championship in 1860 and 25 of the first 60 Opens through 1925, before space became an issue as the event grew and drew bigger crowds. The course was the site of all four Open Championships won by Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, and three of Willie Park’s four titles. It currently plays 6,544 yards — very short by modern professional standards — but maintains a course rating of 75.0, a level of many major-championship venues.
5. Tobacco Road (Sanford, N.C.)
I’ll admit there’s a bit of a local bias here, but I’d love to see Tour pros play at Tobacco Road in Sanford, N.C. The course is overshadowed by other venues like Pinehurst and Quail Hollow in its own state (Golf Digest ranks it No. 13 in North Carolina), but is strong enough in its own right to provide a test for the world’s best players. It’s located in rural Lee County outside Sanford, and that location has likely hurt its chances over the years at hosting any big event, even as it’s only about an hour from Raleigh, Greensboro and Fayetteville.
Mike Strantz, the creative course architect well-known throughout the Carolinas, considered the 1998 layout (6,554 yards, 73.2 rating) to be his masterpiece. He carved the holes out of the natural terrain in the rolling hills of the Sandhills region, using that sand and those hills to give the course its unique character.
4. Myopia Hunt (South Hamilton, Mass.)
From the same school of thought at Prestwick comes Myopia Hunt, located 40 minutes north of Boston, which hosted four of the first 14 U.S. Opens from 1898-1908. The first and last of Willie Anderson’s record-tying four U.S. Open titles came here, including the 1901 U.S. Open in which no player broke 80 in any round (and people think the U.S. Open has a high winning score now…).
The course would play easier than that now, as the 1898 H.C. Leeds design renovated by Gil Hanse in 2013 is another track where modern players’ length might be an issue; it’s 6,539 yards with a 73.2 course rating, and might would even play as a par 69 with no par fives when adjusted to today’s game (the longest hole is 525 yards). But considering the whole point here is thinking outside the box, I’d be fine with that. And its age and lack of length didn’t hurt its Golf Digest rating: it’s the No. 76 course in America, with small greens and the occasional blind shot providing the difficulty.
3. Gozzer Ranch (Harrison, Idaho)
While brainstorming on this idea and researching different golf courses, I discovered Gozzer Ranch Golf & Lake Club, a hidden gem designed by Tom Fazio in 2007 in Harrison, Idaho, an hour east of Spokane, Wash. The No. 32 golf course in America, according to Golf Digest, overlooks both the Rocky Mountains and Lake Coeur d’Alene, measuring 7,317 yards.
Having played some mountain golf when I lived in northeast Georgia, it’s quite different, with elevation changes and sidehill lies presented frequently, adding an extra degree of difficulty to the game — yet we never see it on the PGA Tour. Coming here would provide that challenge, plus a state where professional sports is practically non-existent would get and event and a chance to showcase its beautiful countryside.
2. Wolf Creek (Mesquite, Nev.)
Speaking of mountain golf, one of the most well-known mountain courses is Wolf Creek Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev., about an hour northeast of Las Vegas. Dennis Rider’s 2000 layout features tremendous elevation change navigating among the mountainous desert, as close as 1,000 feet from the Nevada-Arizona line.
The course measures 6,939 yards, with a rating of 75.4 (by comparison, 2020 U.S. Open site Winged Foot has a 75.7 rating), and walking the course’s fairways — steep in some cases — would add to the challenge. Golf Digest rates Wolf Creek as the No. 5 course in Nevada and the No. 53 public course in America, and gamers will recognize the course as it was featured eight times in the Tiger Woods video game series.
1. Pine Valley (Pine Valley, N.J.)
While any of these courses would present a unique tournament and would be great choices for the Tour to take advantage of in 2020, the best option by far would be Pine Valley. George Crump’s one and only course design is located 30 minutes east of Philadelphia in the borough of Pine Valley, N.J. (which basically solely encompasses the course and has a whopping population of 12).
Pine Valley is currently ranked as the No. 1 course in the U.S. by Golf Digest, and has routinely rated either first or second over the last several decades. The 2019-20 ranking said of Pine Valley: “Throughout the course, Pine Valley blends all three schools of golf design — penal, heroic and strategic — often times on a single hole.” No holes are parallel to each other and no more than two consecutive holes go in the same direction on the 7,181-yard layout with a 76.6 rating.
You may wonder why the No. 1 course in America hasn’t hosted the U.S. Open or other significant events, but that’s due to the limited space that would exist for potential galleries, with some holes close together and the treeline on many holes very close to the fairways and greens. Membership has shown no interest in changing the course’s tight layout to accommodate tournament crowds (the course has hosted two Walker Cups, most recently in 1985). But a 2020 event, with no crowd present, would be the perfect circumstance to put the best players in the world on America’s best course, and provide an event that would give a unique badge of honor to the winner.
|Revised 2019-20 PGA Tour Schedule|
|June 11-14||Charles Schwab Challenge||Fort Worth, Tex.||rescheduled from May 21-24|
|June 18-21||RBC Heritage||Hilton Head, S.C.||rescheduled from Apr. 16-19|
|June 25-28||Travelers Championship||Cromwell, Conn.||originally-scheduled date|
|July 2-5||Rocket Mortgage Classic||Detroit, Mich.||rescheduled from May 28-31|
|July 16-19||the Memorial Tournament||Dublin, Ohio||rescheduled from June 4-7|
|July 23-26||3M Open||Blaine, Minn.||originally-scheduled date|
|July 30-Aug. 2||WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational||Memphis, Tenn.||rescheduled from July 2-5|
|July 30-Aug. 2||Barracuda Championship (alternate event)||Truckee, Calif.||rescheduled from July 2-5|
|Aug. 6-9||PGA Championship||San Francisco, Calif.||rescheduled from May 14-17|
|Aug. 13-16||Wyndham Championship||Greensboro, N.C.||rescheduled from Aug. 6-9|
|Aug. 20-23||The Northern Trust (PGA Tour Playoffs)||Norton, Mass.||rescheduled from Aug. 13-16|
|Aug. 27-30||BMW Championship (PGA Tour Playoffs)||Olympia Fields, Ill.||rescheduled from Aug. 20-23|
|Sept. 4-7||Tour Championship (PGA Tour Playoffs finale)||Atlanta, Ga.||rescheduled from Aug. 27-30|