New date might force changes at Nelson in '07

5/9/2006 - Golf

Another fine field has assembled in the Dallas suburbs for this week's Byron Nelson Championship. Whether it's to honor Lord Byron himself or because the spot on the schedule simply suits their styles can be debated. But the top players are there again -- most except Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, for understandable reasons -- so it's still a tournament others envy.

Record crowds will cram the TPC-Four Seasons, and the tournament most likely will continue its impressive run of charitable giving, annually in the $4 million range, which ranks at the top of the list for regular PGA Tour events.

The tournament that started with Nelson winning it in 1944 and took his name in 1968 has been a longtime rock for the PGA Tour, but it is another example of history meaning little when it comes to the future.

The Byron Nelson Championship will get a date change next year as part of the new FedEx Cup schedule unveiled by commissioner Tim Finchem in January. Only then will we see how loyal PGA Tour players are to Nelson because the date certainly is not going to compel them to show up in Dallas.

To accommodate moving The Players Championship to May -- it will be played this weekend next year -- and the Wachovia Championship, which is contractually guaranteed the week before the Players, the Nelson had to take the late April time slot now occupied by New Orleans.

That's two weeks earlier -- and three weeks after The Masters -- still part of golf's slumber time. Will the tournament be so appealing then?

Well, it is hard to imagine it being supported any less by those in the community. For the 10th straight year, the tournament has sold out its sponsorship packages, with just limited number of individual tickets available. The tournament announced sponsorship sales of $11 million, which blows most other events away. It is a phenomenal success story, which helps explain why so much can be given to charity.

The reward? A date that's lukewarm at best.

Will players compete in a Nelson-Wachovia-Players trifecta next year and beyond? Perhaps. But some will find it easy to skip this tournament. No shame there, just reality.

For years, the Nelson and Colonial have gone back-to-back in the middle of May. Now, they will be a month apart, which actually might be better news for the Colonial, as it can distance itself from the powerful triumvirate of tournaments.

But is it fair? Well, nobody is outright complaining, but you couldn't blame people if they did. To be fair to the PGA Tour, there is not much else tour officials could do. If they were intent on moving The Players Championship to May -- and many believe that to be an excellent move for the tour's flagship event -- then somebody was going to have to be displaced.

That tournament was the Nelson, one that goes all the way back to World War II. It might have been fairer to give the Nelson dates preceding the Players, but Wachovia officials shrewdly had that written into their deal, and that tournament has proved to be a popular one. Taking place after the Players would have been worse, so the Nelson took the week before Wachovia. (An extra week was available because Houston is moving to the week before The Masters and New Orleans is moving up a week to take Houston's spot.)

None of this is to suggest that anyone is at fault. It is simply another example of the change that lies ahead in the coming year -- and the possible ramifications.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.