Curiously, given the time of year, the new PGA Tour season began in September. It’s a jetlag-like head-spinner for those of us who remember the circuit renewing every January in Maui.
And in a period of constant change for the globe’s largest and most lucrative tour, the calendar takes on a new complexion by bolstering the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule. There are now 11 official tournaments (up from eight) in the September-to-November line-up, which also begins a month earlier than it used to. That’s thanks to the shifting of tournaments and tweaking of timings last season to allow the Tour Championship to leap from late September to late August. And you can couple all that with the movement of other tournaments from one end of the year to the other. Still following?
Percolating away in all the shuffling is a heightened sense of hierarchy when it comes to the pecking order of each tournament.
All 49 PGA Tour events for 2019-2020, ranked in order of importance:
1. The Open Championship. The original and the best.
2. Masters Tournament. Golf’s most mercurial event on the game’s most worshipped playground.
3. US Open. Despite the hiccups of recent years, America’s national championship is still the game’s most demanding examination paper.
4. PGA Championship. Helped by the date change from sultry August to May, but still a clear No.4 among the Big Four.
5. Players Championship. The next best. As close to a Major as a non-Major will ever get.
6. Tour Championship. While the greater achievement is simply getting into the elite 30-man field, the tournament itself remains a must-follow.
7. WGC–Fedex St Jude Invitational. Separating the World Golf Championships isn’t easy – they’re mostly equal in history and look/feel – but this one feels the least beige of the four.
8. WGC–Dell Technologies Match Play. The old instant-knockout format was better but at least matchplay is still part of the tour’s DNA.
9. Memorial Tournament. Saying ‘no’ to an invite to Jack’s tournament makes as much sense as challenging Brooks Koepka to an arm wrestle.
10. Arnold Palmer Invitational. The same applies at Arnie’s place, even after his passing.
11. WGC–MexicO Championship. One of two Mexican stops on the calendar, this one holds the far higher standing.
12. BMW Championship. Tournament with a rich history disguised these days by naming-rights sponsorships. Once upon a time, the Western Open held near-Major status in the American golf scene.
13. WGC–HSBC Champions. The most distant WGC event from America generally yields the weakest field of the four in a quiet patch on the calendar.
14. Wells Fargo Championship. If ever anyone questions whether the calibre of the golf course (Quail Hollow) alone can raise a tournament’s status, here’s your answer. When this event debuted in 2003, it became an instant classic.
15. Genesis Invitational. Falls into the same category, course quality-wise (Riviera).
16. Farmers Insurance Open. Big golf course (Torrey Pines), big field. It’s the first truly important event of each new calendar year.
17. Sentry Tournament of Champions. This winners-only event on idyllic Maui should be really something. And it will be again if all the eligible stars were ever to show up together – or if the LPGA Tour joined in (which it should).
18. Northern Trust. First of the playoffs tournaments rotates among some of the tour’s best venues… mostly (Liberty National, we’re looking at you).
19. AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Would rank so much higher if it ever returned to glorious Cypress Point.
20. Honda Classic. Beast of a course (PGA National), usually one of the toughest non-Major venues. Not the best timing amid a packed portion of the schedule.
21. RBC Heritage. Solid fields and a unique (and excellent) layout minimises the post-Masters hangover.
22. Charles Schwab Challenge. Colonial never fails to deliver, whatever the tournament name.
23. Travelers Championship. A stop growing in popularity, either via peer pressure or purse strings. Not the greatest timing in 2020.
24. Waste Management Phoenix Open. Whether or not you like the circus that is the 16th hole, Phoenix captivates in other ways.
25. RBC Canadian Open. Should sit higher – especially as a national championship. Its improved date and winners like Rory McIlroy help.
26. Valspar Championship. Innisbrook’s Copperhead course falls into the same basket as the Honda for toughness. The Players Championship moving back to March hurts this tournament, though.
27. Sony Open in Hawaii. Why any player eligible for the previous week’s winners-only stop on Maui would then skip Honolulu is mystifying.
28. AT&T Byron Nelson. Lost its lustre soon after the great namesake passed away. Now held at controversial Trinity Forest – a far better host course but one at odds with some players who don’t ‘get’ it.
29. Wyndham Championship. As the final stop before the FedEx Cup playoffs, this event’s field strength is determined each year by who needs to do what to get where. Great old throwback course (Sedgefield).
30. A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. The new season opener will benefit from a September date rather than weather-plagued early July.
31. Safeway Open. The former season opener slides back into the early-season pack.
32. Zozo Championship. New tournament this year, making it hard to gauge. The tour’s first push into Japan – and a certain Tiger is scheduled to play.
33. Rocket Mortgage Classic. Supplanted in 2019 from the Washington DC area to Detroit; now moves to a better date in late May.
34. Houston Open. Moves this year from late March/early April to October in a bid for survival. Sad, because Houston’s golf scene is one of America’s most vibrant.
35. CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges. The venture into South Korea has yielded top-shelf winners (Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka) so far.
36. Valero Texas Open. A tournament that’s hopped either side of the Masters as it struggles for a foothold. Should probably sit as part of the Texas swing that’s now wedged apart by the PGA Championship.
37. Sanderson Farms Championship. Elevated this season to full-points status for the first time.
38. 3M Open. Held for the first time in 2019. Helped its status by elevating the enigmatic Matthew Wolff to victor on the 72nd green.
39. Mayakoba Golf Classic. Many players treat this visit to eastern Mexico as part tour stop, part holiday. Just ask a certain caddie.
40. Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Has more cachet now as a two-man teams event. Or does it?
41. Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Nice to see the tour hit glitzy Las Vegas but otherwise this is just a ho-hum week.
42. RSM Classic. The last event of the calendar year is a welcome sign of a break. Would also help if we knew who or what RSM is.
43. John Deere Classic. Also known as the “tournament that gets in the way of The Open”. Even in steamy Iowa, everyone is thinking about the UK a week later.
44. Desert Classic. Went from rotating courses to rotating sponsors to sponsorless. A weak week on the calendar.
45. Barracuda Championship. Another category that’s difficult to separate: the alternate-field events. The Barracuda separates itself via its modified Stableford scoring system.
46. Barbasol Championship. Perhaps suffers because it sounds too much like the Barracuda.
47. Bermuda Championship. Another newbie from this year, it’s also an opposite-field event (and can these events really be called ‘championships’ when the champions aren’t playing?).
48. Puerto Rico Open. Great to see the tour touch Puerto Rico. Just tell me who won once it’s over.
49. Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. If only its prestige was as long as its name.