Chrysler tourney in spring? It's a thought

Published March 24, 2005

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - The PGA Tour schedule could look drastically different in the coming years, and if some of the changes being bounced around tour headquarters this week come to pass, it will have a huge impact on the Tampa Bay tournament at Innisbrook.

How about the Chrysler Championship in the spring? How about it becoming part of the Florida Swing, following Doral, Honda and Bay Hill?

It could happen.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday at the TPC-Sawgrass that among many things being considered is moving the Players Championship to May and moving the season-ending Tour Championship to September.

Both scenarios would have huge implications for the Chrysler Championship, which is the last full-field event and played the week before the Tour Championship, now in Atlanta.

Without the Tour Championship following the tournament, many of the reasons for its importance - qualifying for the Tour Championship, qualifying for the major championships the following year, the last chance for players to retain their PGA Tour cards - would be lost.

And that is why the tournament would look favorably upon a spring date, especially if the Players Championship were to move.

"I've told the tour that we're not scared to compete in the spring with any of these Florida tournaments," said tournament director Gerald Goodman, who was in Ponte Vedra Beach this week attending meetings. "Tampa Bay holds its own with any of these towns. We think we can offer a quality golf course, quality golf tournament, great telecast, great weather. If that's what they would like us to do, if the sponsor wants to do it, we could take our chances. But there are a lot of factors that go into this."

Much of the speculation centers on a new television contract the tour will begin to negotiate with the networks later this year. It would go into effect for 2007 to 2010. The current contract runs through 2006, meaning the 2005-06 Chrysler Championships would not be changed.

The tour has been exploring ways to get better ratings for its fall events, which suffer going up against football. One scenario has the Tour Championship, which recently renewed its sponsorship with the Coca-Cola Co. through 2010, moving to Labor Day weekend. The idea is to have a stronger end to the season.

"I was assured by tour officials that Tampa Bay and the Copperhead course (at Innisbrook) have been well-received by the players; we don't think we're going away," Goodman said. "They are looking at changing the way the PGA Tour is presented to get the fans to follow golf until the end. We're still unsure what that will mean."

The fall tournaments that currently follow the Tour Championship would not necessarily go away. The tour could simply start its new season sometime in the fall, meaning events such as the Canadian Open, 84 Lumber Classic, Texas Open, Greensboro and Las Vegas might simply mark the beginning of a new season instead of the end.

While the Chrysler Championship could still be viable in such a situation, it might be better served jumping to the spring and being part of the Florida Swing. Being played two weeks before the Masters is not a great scenario for the Players Championship, which likes to tout itself as the fifth major, but it could be very good for the Chrysler, which might then draw more winter residents as spectators and get a strong field looking to prepare for the first major championship.

"We have too many things unclear at this point in our analysis," Finchem said. "We're six or eight months away from completing it. Whatever combination of things we come forward with, it might move us away from where we have historically been the last number of years."