By Ken MacLeod
The announcement that the PGA of America will bring both the 2021 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and the PGA Championship between 2025 and 2030 to Southern Hills Country Club is obviously terrific news for the club, the City of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma.
The announcement reflects years of work and lobbying by Southern Hills General Manager Nick Sidorakis with the support of the Southern Hills Board of Directors. It will be the fifth PGA Championship held at the historic club and the eighth major championship overall.
While the 2017 Senior PGA Championship concluded Sunday with Bernhard Langer prevailing, there is no guarantee that the 2021 event will be held in May. That is just one of the looming questions over both events that PGA officials were unable to answer Tuesday with any clarity due to the proposed restructuring of the golf calendar currently being discussed by the PGA Tour, PGA of America and the R&A.
The proposal still under discussion calls for the Players Championship to return to March, the Fed-Ex Cup playoffs to be shortened by one event and conclude in August and the PGA Championship to move to a May date. If that occurs, most expect the PGA of America would then swap the dates with the PGA Championship and the Senior PGA Championship, meaning the PGA Championship would be at Southern Hills in May and the Senior PGA Championship in August or perhaps July.
As for when specifically the PGA Championship will be held, it was a bit murky as to why a specific date was not announced Tuesday. Kerry Haigh, the chief championships officer of the PGA of America, said it was to give Southern Hills ample time between events. Southern Hills officials were hopeful and somewhat confident that the date announced will be closer to 2025 than 2030.
Sidorakis, 58 and a 22-year veteran of the club, said he would obviously prefer the date be sooner than later and pointed out that though the members sacrifice in giving up the course for a period every time a major event is held, that Southern Hills did host the 1994 PGA Championship and 1995 and 1996 Tour Championships in successive years. There were six years between the 2001 U.S. Open and the 2007 PGA Championship, and then two years from that event to the 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship.
“I don’t know what the ideal interval is,” Sidorakis said. “You’ve got to give the city time to sell tickets, us to sell corporate hospitality, etc. But we’ve done it on short notice before.”Major championships have grown in the interim in terms of space needed for corporate hospitality and communications and hosting the PGA Championship will be a much bigger financial and space commitment than it was even in 2007, when Tiger Woods prevailed at Southern Hills.
Tuesday’s announcement also reflects the end for the time being of the club’s long pursuit of a fourth U.S. Open Championship. After the 2007 PGA Championship, the club had numerous talks with the USGA and believed that a successful hosting of the 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship would lead sooner rather than later to a U.S. Open commitment. As the USGA continued to add new sites such as Chambers Bay, Erin Hills and Los Angeles Country Club to its rotation of tried and true classics, it became apparent that the wait was going to be interminable and Sidorakis asked his board to begin pursuit of a fifth PGA Championship in earnest.
“I’m very pleased,” Sidorakis said. “It’s a reflection of years of networking with the PGA. There were talks with the USGA, but the PGA came to us with an interest and the rest is history.”
As for if the PGA of America will agree to move its championship to May, Haigh said it is under scrutiny.
“There’s an awful lot of issues involved,” he said. “Certainly we’re in the process of analyzing all the pros and cons. We’re certainly very happy where we are in August. Certainly we know the Olympics will be having golf in August every four years. Historically we’ve played the PGA Championship in seven different months, so even though it has been in August the last 20 or 30 years, it wouldn’t be a historic change. We’re analyzing everything and no decision has been made.”
Haigh said he had looked carefully at the course in recent days and saw no reason why it couldn’t host a PGA Championship in late May.
Southern Hills had architect Gil Hanse perform a master plan several years back and the club is currently considering internally a series of renovations and improvements that, if approved, would be done long before either championship. Those include several new tee boxes, a bunker renovation and a greens renovation, among other facility improvements.