Fact or Fiction: Does the PGA Tour season start too early?

Originally Published: January 8, 2008
ESPN.com/GolfDigest.com

This year's season-opening PGA Tour event, the Mercedes-Benz Championship, began Jan. 3, with the weekend competition taking place during the much-ballyhooed NFL wild-card playoffs. It continues this week, when the Sony Open will go head-to-head with the NFL's divisional playoff round.

Suffice it to say, professional golf might be the furthest thing from most sports fans' minds this time of year.

All of which begs the question: Should the schedule be pushed to later in the calendar? We posed this question to our experts in the new-look edition of Fact or Fiction.

FACT OR FICTION?


The PGA Tour season should start later in the year.

Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FACT.
There is no other major sport that begins its season with as little fanfare or attention as the PGA Tour. It doesn't help when your top players do not show up for the first tournament, but that is not the sole issue.

Golf never seems to end, and staging a tournament that requires the players to arrive before New Year's is asking for trouble -- as was the case at the Mercedes-Benz Championship. Some stayed away, some were not prepared. And the event is not on network television.

Why not wait until late January, during the break before the Super Bowl? Golf would have a window for its season opener and give the players a chance to ease into the new year. The tour didn't want to compete with the NFL in September, so why compete with the playoffs in January?

Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FICTION.
It's easy to look at interest in the season's first two or three events -- from both fans and top players -- and decide that the first week of January is too early to begin the PGA Tour season. But let's look at this logistically: If the schedule were to start, say, three weeks later, does that mean the season would extend three weeks longer in the fall? Or would three tournaments simply be dropped from the schedule?

Neither seems like a very rational proposition, as the entire reasoning behind the FedEx Cup was that it would end before football season hit its full stride and many tourneys are under contract and thus can't simply disappear. In fact, if anything, having the PGA Tour start its season in Hawaii is the perfect way to combat the NFL for viewership; even if fans watched the late Sunday football game (Titans vs. Chargers), they still could have clicked over and seen the majority of the final round from Kapalua.

The pink elephant in the room is the fact that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the game's two biggest drawing cards, are skipping the opening three weeks of the season. Well, guess what, folks? If the season were pushed back three weeks, each very likely would still take those events off anyway. When we think of it that way, the current schedule sorta makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World: FACT.
It was an extremely good move on the part of the tour to move the Tour Championship from November to September to get away from the heart of football season. Why then start the new season right as the NFL playoffs are beginning and the college bowl games are ending? That makes no sense. There are two huge benefits that can be derived from pushing back the start of the season. First, the early tournaments might draw more fans. And second -- which would affect the first -- those early tournaments might draw more of the big-name players.

The Silly Season has long occupied November and December, and that remains true. But moving the Tour Championship to September clears the decks for the top stars to travel to Asia and the Middle East for lucrative appearance fees late in the year. If they are going to have some downtime, the logical place on their calendars for that is around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. This year, players had to be at the Mercedes-Benz Championship on New Year's Eve.

My call is to have the season start the week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. February is one of the deadest sports months of the year. Let golf own it. The LPGA has it right beginning its season in mid-February. If the PGA Tour did something like that, maybe it would get Woods and Mickelson in the first event of the year.