Major(s) News & Notes, November 11th, 2021
The danger of pro golfers talking money. Plus, how major venues fared in Golf Mag's World Top 100, a Frisco update, and some non-golf reads.
Days to the 2022 Masters first tee shot: 147
Days to the 2022 PGA Championship first tee shot: 189
Days to the 2022 U.S. Open first tee shot: 217
Days to the 2022 Open Championship first tee shot: 246
This week I look at how the talk of cold, hard cash could be disastrous for the men’s game. Then I hypocritically link to stories about this wild and wacky pursuit of money. After that dizzying display of inconsistency, The Quad checks in how current major championship venues fared in Golf Magazine’s World Top 100, followed by an update on the Silicon Valley of golf and finish off with a few non-golf reads.
Money, Money, Money
Brooks Koepka was asked last week about the anarchist leagues dangling big paydays before today’s Park’s and Strath’s.
“Seems like there's a bunch of stuff going on, but at the end of the day there's only one tour I'm playing right now, so I'm only interested in that one.”
Thattaboy. Just the way those lads in Leith might have answered back when they only played for passion, side bets and better-tasting wee nips.
Meanwhile, in the same tournament’s press room, Justin Thomas was asked whether top players have been under-compensated.
“I think all of this that's kind of happened outside of the PGA Tour has created a lot of questions from the players, to where the Tour's done a great job of answering it, but also answering that maybe we have the opportunity to better our product.”
Lest you think “product” meant speeding up play, going to classic venues or presenting fresh formats. The product in question is money. Thomas also went on to talk about growing brands, reaching “different listeners” and of course, growing the game.
No matter which side you take, a potential drumbeat of money talk from players and executives will not help anyone’s cause. Because outside of Monday qualifiers cashing life-changing checks or underpaid female pros enjoying purse increases, fans have made clear they don’t care what the men are playing for. We know this from looking at FedExCup ratings. The more they play for the lower the ratings get.
While there may be a growing subset of hanger-on types who dream of getting in on “team” revenues and another subset worried about how a star will pay his private jet subscription, money stories do move the needle. Golf websites who will point to the clicks for posting the week’s purse breakdowns might argue that’s a sign of “engagement”. But the laughingstock reaction to the Player Impact Program taught us that money talk or anything not related to memories created on the course tends to be a giant turn-off.
Consider how the majors handle money talk.
The Masters does not announce its purse until sometime during tournament week. The Green Jacket is the thing.
The USGA had to talk purse more than they’d like after pissy players grew tired course setup debacles and decided to ask where the FOX money was going.
The PGA of America and R&A also generally downplay talk of riches, with the latter sending out a press release about a week before the championship. They also have the lowest purse of the majors but have never been publicly pressed by players to raise it. In both cases, the Wannamaker and the Claret Jug drive the desire to play and win those majors.
This year, the USGA listed the U.S. Open purse 14th on its “Fact Sheet.” That was well behind most factoids, including the list of exemptions received for winning.
For the U.S. Women’s Open, prize money was the Fact Sheet’s top item because the USGA has pushed the boundaries on women’s pay. And talk of money in the women’s game appears far less offensive for a simple reason: the women make a lot less, so anything leading to them making more is viewed as a positive.
So as all of this disruption plays out, male players, agents and executives would be wise to take inspiration from the majors and cool the coinage chatter. And they would be even wiser to never suggest higher purses will somehow deliver “value” to fans. No one is enraptured by watching the richest become financially flusher.
Analyzing The Money Chase
Now that I’ve stood up for the forgotten fans, let’s get real here: there is an undeniable intrigue in all of this Saudi invasion as a sports business story. Like a good stymie on a summer evening at Musselburgh, a metaphor I’m invoking to (A) once again advocate bringing back the stymie and (B) embed the work of a master golf painter as a cleansing from all of this talk of greenbacks.
Meanwhile, I’ll spare you links to the various stories quoting otherwise-nice-folks-swooning about the European Tour “rebrand” to the DP World Tour. Look, optimistic spin is their only hope short of an edible-laden bender to avoid contemplating how little Dubai paid to smother out the charming European Tour name. And I’m not sharing what social media comedians say DP stands for. Dammit, this is a family newsletter and I intend to keep it that way!
How Major Venues Fared In Golf Magazine’s World Top 100
The 2021 edition of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 World Ranking has not been posted online but the latest list has been revealed to print subscribers. Yes, they still exist!
Golf Magazine provides the most reliable U.S.-based ranking these days since purging the rolls of some corrupted panelists, adding needed voters, and doubling down on the importance of—😱—design. It also helps that they’ve yet to turn the list into a cash cow like the competitors at Golfweek (required attendance to outings hosted by courses hoping to be ranked) and Golf Digest (charing $300 annually, $1300 for new panelists and micro-managing ballots).
Golf’s “World” list also offers a rare chance to compare the standing of major championship venues. Augusta National landed 9th on the list while two courses not currently scheduled to host a major made the most significant moves: No. 31 Oakland Hills vaulted 41 spots and No. 65 Inverness rose 16 places.
Here are rota/anchor staples and upcoming sites for each of the host organizations.
PGA Championship/KPMG Women’s PGA
While the PGA has made an effort to get back to several classics, its top-ranked course was not going set to host until 2030. Then January 6th happened and now Southern Hills steps in for unranked and unmissed Trump Bedminster. Without successful restorations at Baltusrol (2023 Women’s PGA, 2029 PGA) and Oak Hill (2023 PGA), the PGA of America roster would have an even more meager world top 100 presence.
Rank Course Move
46 - Southern Hills - up 3
52 - Bethpage (Black) - up 1
57 - Baltusrol (Lower) - returns
60 - Kiawah Island (Ocean) - down 2
76 - Oak Hill (East) - returns
98 - Olympic Club (Lake) - down 17
NR - Harding Park, Quail Hollow, Valhalla, PGA Frisco, Congressional Blue
U.S. Open/U.S. Women’s Open
It’s a powerful lineup for years to come even with Pebble Beach dropping due to design neglect issues made apparent as more learned about the pre-1929 U.S. Amateur renovation (my Golf Channel feature for Live From explains here).
Rank Course Move
4 - Shinnecock Hills - no change
8 - Oakmont - no change
13 - Merion (East) - up 2
14 - Pebble Beach - down 3
17 - Pinehurst No. 2 - down 1
20 - Los Angeles CC (North) - no change
25 - Winged Foot (West) - down 2
40 - The Country Club (Clyde/Squirrel) - down 2
NR - Torrey Pines (South)
The Open/AIG Women’s Open
UK Golf Guy, aka David Jones, felt this was not an ideal showing for the great links. He has a point, since the Old Course is the highest ranked major venue while the drops for other household names looks like panelists might be factoring in the side effects of hosting: course setup narrowing and lengthening used to offset regulatory ineptitude. (Joe McDonnell recently posted this look at Lytham through the years where you can watch fairways practically disappear as uh, athleticism, entered the game.)
Rank Course Move
3 - St Andrews - no change
11 - Muirfield - up 1
15 - Royal Portrush (Dunluce) - down 2
18 - Trump Turnberry (Ailsa)- down 1
33 - Royal St George’s - no change
39 - Carnoustie - down 7
42 - Royal Birkdale - down 2
59 - Royal Troon - down 8
67 - Royal Lytham - down 6
79 - Royal Liverpool - down 14
Yet every rota course, plus one on the authoritarian-adjacent suspended list, made the ranking. That’s pretty impressive.
The drops of Carnoustie and Hoylake stand out since both enjoyed successful Opens. Hoylake has seen recent changes that panelists could be reacting to. But I’m not clear Carnoustie why took a small hit. The 2018 Open showed the place off in grand style. Other than Muirfield in 2013, I can’t name a better melding of firm, fast and grand design.
Two other former Open hosts are worth noting: Prestwick landed 69th on the list, while Royal Cinque Ports sadly did not crack the top 100.
With all due respect to the last four rota members, fine links with fine caretakers, I’d place RCP over those. On most days it could give all but the top 3 a serious run in match play head-to-heads. That’s elite!
As for the Ryder Cup venues? Only Whistling Straits (No. 82) and Olympic (No. 98) made the list. Follow the money.
Frisco Update: Golf Courses Growing In, PGA HQ Almost Done
Matt Payne reports the latest from Frisco, Texas, where the PGA of America is soon moving its headquarters to and where the two courses are growing in. The headquarters is a centerpiece of what’s billed as a Silicon Valley of golf, minus the oak-dotted hills, massive brain and finance juice and short drives to either Monterey or Napa. This grand incubator features a $520 million, 660-acre mixed-use campus anchored by the site of future PGA championships. And the nervecenter being PGA HQ which, so far, has not been bequeathed some Scientology-adjacent name like, oh, I’m just spitballing here, Global Home?
A November 9th media day showcased the nearly-complete building where a PGA executive said of the view: “Golf is our ocean.” Kind of like a condo overlooking a local jail where “Justice is our ocean.”
According to Payne, the top deck also “offers a scenic view of two 18-hole courses framed by the skyline of the city of Frisco.”
The Manhattan skyline, it is not.
Follow the link if you’d like see more renderings and photos.
The PGA also posted a short video showing the two courses looking close to ready, with Beau Welling’s expected to possibly the AT&T Byron Nelson eventually, while Gil Hanse’s design is scheduled for multiple PGA’s (2027, 2034), the KPMG Women’s PGA (2025, 2031), the Senior PGA (2023) and a Ryder Cup (TBD).
A Few Non-Golf Reads
⚡️ The New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten on why some people have more energy than others and the scientists looking into the phenomenon. Get ready to be reminded you more deep sleep and maybe a tracker, like Whoop or an Oura. But it’s a great read with the time.
🍹 Sheila Yasmin Marikar on the battle over mezcal, the race to be the George Clooney of Oaxacan hooch, and the regional impact. Mariker also explains why this small batch spirit takes so long to make and how donkeys mash the plant into a pulp. This could explain some of the more feral tasting notes.
And on that note, cheers with a special toast to all of the Veterans out there on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.