New PGA Tour Model Draws Largely Negative Reviews in Inaugural Golf Power Poll
Respondents fear two-tiered tour and less compelling events.
The PGA Tour has spent the last year combating the challenge from rival tour LIV Golf, which siphoned away some of golf’s biggest name players last year and filed a lawsuit against the tour for banning the defectors. In an effort to stave off more attrition from its remaining marquee stock, the PGA Tour board approved a new scheduling model for 2024 to create eight no-cut, limited-field designated events with minimum $20 million purses. The new designated events will have fields ranging from 70-78 players, the majority coming from the top 50 in the prior season’s FedEx Cup standings. The remainder of the fields will be made up of various reward categories including current top-10 points leaders, top-30 in the Official World Golf Ranking, tour winners, leading points earners between designated events and sponsor exemptions.
The new model has drawn mixed reviews from players. Top stars have endorsed it while some vocal rank-and-file players have charged that it relegates the majority of tour players to secondary status.
The response to our first Golf PowerPoll questions leans on the side of those rank-and-file critics, with a significant majority believing the PGA Tour’s new model is the wrong response (64 percent), creates a two-tiered tour (77 percent) and will make non-designated events less compelling (67 percent).
“The PGA Tour was not broken and didn't need to be ‘fixed,’” said Steve Habel, owner/publisher of GolfDaily.com, in Golf Power Poll’s lively comments section. “Golf fans love to watch golf – yes, the big names draw the TV views but that hasn't helped the LIV Tour, has it?”
A common objection from commenters targeted the no-cut element.
“They need to maintain a cut,” said PGA Tour announcer Fred Albers.
“The cut also makes for some compelling Fridays,” said Boston Herald columnist Ron Borges.
Golf Power Poll is not a scientific poll. It is, however, a fascinating glimpse into the opinions and beliefs of credible golf journalists and other thought leaders who deeply understand the game. Golf Power Poll members are listed here. In this inaugural Power Poll, 408 individuals were sent surveys and 148 responded, for a participation rate of 36%.
Here’s a breakdown of responses to this week’s three PowerPoll questions:
Timothy R. Branco, the managing director for New England Publishing, thinks the PGA Tour went the wrong direction when faced with a rival. “It is normal to have a challenge to your brand – learn from it, evolve, and strengthen your ship, while maintaining integrity to your mission,” he said. “Build on your cause in accessibility, opportunity, and values which is the foundation of true sustainability. Becoming more exclusive will make you less inclusive and alienate both players and your audience as well!”
Golf Power Poll members were strongly concerned that the tour’s reaction looks a little too familiar to what LIV Golf is selling.
“At some point I believe the PGA Tour needs to stop appearing to be so reactive to LIV,” said Brian Hewitt, Golf Channel writer. “LIV, to me, appears at the moment to be gaining very little, if any, traction in its efforts to gain parity or become more popular than the PGA Tour. And perhaps they are strategically content to play the long game (no pun intended). Plus, at some point, I think the fans of the PGA Tour are going to become hip to the fact that LIV's presence is making Tour players much richer via reactively increased purses while its core top players continue to denounce LIV.”
“The PGA Tour continues to constantly mimic LIV,” said “Tee It Up!” radio host Keith Jones. “No cuts, fewer players, higher-profile tournament participants, more monetary payouts, etc. Isn’t that (almost) everything the Tour railed LIV about? And so much for the up-and-comer, lesser-known player. Good Luck.”
“The current board of the PGA Tour is protecting not innovating,” added Stu Macdonald, Golf Digest professional. “Take a look around, they literally own every feeder tour on the planet. The next Tiger is there, not on LIV Tour. What is next? Teams?”
This Power Poll survey question drew the strongest negative reaction. The structure of the tour schedule focused on limited-field designated events, major tournaments and playoffs threatens the egalitarian system of meritocracy that has governed golf’s professional circuits since the
beginning. Our pollsters seem most concerned about developing a closed shop that hinders players progressing up golf’s food chain.
“The tour has gone too far and has shut the door on players climbing the ladder. The tour has to be a meritocracy, or it fails in its very mission,” said John Maginnes, radio co-host of “Katrek and Maginnes On Tap.”
“It just got way harder to be a Tom Lehman,” wrote author Rick Reilly.
“Adopting this format takes away the opportunity for a lesser known or lower ranked player to have that shot at greatness, breaking out from the pack when their game is ‘on,’” said Janina Jacobs, multi-media consultant for The A Position. “I am not sure how those out of the top rankings will ever have a chance to play tour events and get into the top rankings. Part of the attraction of the tour is when an obscure player breaks through and makes a name for himself. Not sure how that can happen with this format. I think we all like a Cinderella story.”
The PGA Tour believes that the designated events will make the regular full-field tournaments in between more compelling as players try to play their way up to the next level. But our pollsters have their collective doubts, with two-thirds thinking the new schedule will make regular tournaments less compelling.
Author David Barrett does acknowledge some merit in the play-in element of regular events. “Reducing fields to 70 to 78 seems unnecessary to ensure stars make the weekend, since the vast majority of stars would make the weekend anyway. But the Tour does seem to have some criteria in place to give the rank-and-file access to the limited field events, based on qualifying through performance in regular events, making it not a complete closed-shop situation.”
Many of the comments, however, suggest that even the designated events themselves will be less compelling despite the wealth of name talent competing.
“The pressure to play well on Thursday and Friday and earn the chance to make a paycheck has always been the heart of professional golf, and what sets it apart from other professional sports,” said Gary K. McCormick, a freelance writer with BZA Public Relations. “No-cut limited-field events will just be guaranteed-payday exhibition matches that line the pockets of the wealthiest upper tier of professional golfers.”
“Part of the charm and lore of the PGA Tour was knowing you couldn't be a ‘.220 hitting shortstop and still make $3M per year,’” said Bill Hobson, executive producer/host of Michigan Golf Live. “You had to perform to earn. Seeing that aspect eroded (even with select events) takes away some of the luster of the Tour, removes a lot of the pressure to perform, and makes pro golf feel more like all other sports. Good for the players... not for the fans.”
Nicholas Heidelberger, GolfLink editor, put it well when he observed: “The new format of Designated Events will likely be more compelling for the casual fan who doesn't pay attention on a weekly basis, but less compelling for the true golf fan who is just as interested in a career-changing top-10 for an up-and-comer as another win for the biggest names.”
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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.