Since the story broke in the middle of the White Sox run to the World Series and the Illini, Bears, and Bulls have been keeping our attention in the meantime, this important Chicago sports story hasn’t received very much attention: the Western Open will be leaving Chicago for another Midwest site in alternating years. At the same time, the Western Open name might also be a casualty to the corporate sponsorship world.
Ed Sherman (go to the second page of the link for his latest comment on the matter) has been doing a great job following this story in Chicago Tribune over the past few months. The Western Open will be moved to September as one of three tournaments for the PGA Tour’s “Fall Finish” as part of a NASCAR Nextel Cup-type system where these last tournaments are heavily weighted in determining the field for the Tour Championship. The other two tournaments involved in the Fall Finish are the Barclays Classic in New York and Deutsche Championship in Boston.
The benefit of the Western Open being part of this scenario is that it will likely get all of the top players in the tournament’s field. Tiger Woods has always made the Western Open an annual stop (which has also meant that it sells out pretty much every year), but the tournament hasn’t seen Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh compete. However, while New York and Boston get to keep their respective tournaments every year, the Western Open is going to alternate each year between Cog Hill and another Midwest site (Ed Sherman has previously cited Bellerive in St. Louis, Crooked Stick in Indianapolis, and Hazeltine in Minneapolis as possibilities).
I don’t like pulling out the “East Coast Bias” card very much, but this is an instance where golf’s powers-that-be clearly do not understand the Chicago market. There seems to be this notion in the Northeast that the entire Midwest is a single homogenous flyover market while all of the East Coast cities that are only a couple of hours in a car apart from each other are distinct and need their own tournaments. It’s one thing that New York gets its own tournament every year since it’s the media capital of the world. However, it’s befuddling to me that the Boston metropolitan area, which has a population less than half the size of the Chicago market (9.1 million for Chicago compared to 4.4 million for Boston), gets to keep a tournament every year yet Chicago doesn’t.
Pardon me for my own Chicago snobbery (apologies ahead of time to my non-Chicago readers – it's nothing personal), but if the PGA believes that Chicagoans will consider a tournament that’s played in St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Minneapolis half the time to be Chicagoland’s “local” golf event, they have another thing coming to them. Would the PGA try to sell a golf tournament in Hartford as a Boston event or a Philadelphia tourney as a New York event? Of course not, because they know Bostonians and New Yorkers would be insulted. Well, if anything, Chicagoans have even more pride in their hometown than those East Coast cities and would be even more insulted by the notion of the PGA trying to tell them that a St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Minneapolis tournament is a Chicago event.
It’s hard for me to believe that the PGA would abandon the nation’s third-largest television market every other year, but it looks like it’s a done deal. Think of it: NASCAR will have an annual event in the Chicago market but the PGA will not. That's ludicrous. In five years, when the Western Open loses its cachet and interest in professional golf in Chicago dwindles, the PGA is going to realize that this was a terrible mistake.