With 2022 PGA Championship a record success, what’s next for Southern HIlls?
By Ken MacLeod
From just about every standpoint imaginable – except cell service – the 2022 PGA Championship was a shattering success story.
That includes course conditions, operations, ticket sales, corporate sales, merchandise sales, a dramatic finish producing a memorable champion in playoff winner Justin Thomas, television and media coverage and community engagement.
The economic impact, estimated by the Tulsa Chamber at over $143 million, will be a huge shot in the arm for the city, county and state.
“It was a charmed week for sure,” said Director of Golf Cary Cozby. “We have a great champion, the course held up. I had 100 people out here tell me these kids were going to tear this place up. I said, ‘they might, but no one ever has. So it’s not likely.’ Then 5-under wins with one day when we don’t mow the greens.
“Today you had six or seven hours of near perfect weather with the best field in golf and 5-under wins. The feedback from players, agent, caddies, people in the media, was just off the charts.”
Include in that list feedback from the PGA of America. It is that organization’s championship, and to say the brass was pleased with the proceedings would be an understatement.
“This has been a tremendous success,” Jeff Price, chief commercial officer for the PGA of America said Saturday in an interview at the Rolex tent, a new key sponsor. “I think first to Southern Hills, this amazing golf course and the work that Gil Hanse did and the great reviews it has received and how this course is playing as a championship venue is proving to be great test, a fair test and this gives Kerry Haigh our Chief Championship Officer who is the most underrated person in all of golf, a great venue to setup an opportunity for someone to step up and win our championship.
“Everyone at Southern Hills has done an amazing job leaning in. The membership has not played on the course for six weeks or used carts for six months and that is a commitment to championship golf. We had record ticket sales yesterday, the No. 1 ticket sales of all time.”
After Price bestowed many more plaudits on Southern Hills and its staff, we asked him if the PGA of America would be looking for a quick return for a record sixth PGA Championship.
“This is a venue that is very high on our list and although there is no set date at the minute, I can certainly imagine that this is a great venue to host another PGA Championship,’” Price said.
The PGA Championship is booked out through 2029. Tulsa was to be the site in 2030 before it moved up eight years after the event was pulled from Donald Trump’s Bedminster course. There is much speculation that Congressional, currently scheduled for 2031, will move up to 2030, leaving 2031, 2032 and 2033 open before it goes to new PGA headquarters in Frisco, Texas for a second time in 2034.
A 10-year rotation would mean a return to Tulsa in 2032, It seems likely the PGA of America would commit to that after having some heartfelt discussions with various governmental agencies such as the city of Tulsa, Tulsa County and the State of Oklahoma to obtain a bit more cooperation in some areas such as parking before bringing another $143 million or more in economic impact back to the state.
“I think our model going forward is it can’t all be up to the club and a few key individuals,” said Championship Director Bryan Karns. “I think everyone needs to step up and help when we bring an event like this in.”
While it seems certain the club could host a sixth PGA Championship, there have also been discussions with the United States Golf Association about its flagship event, the U.S. Open. Southern Hills has hosted three previously (1958, 1977 and 2001) and in 2024 will host the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the club’s first USGA event since the 2009 U.S. Amateur. The hope at that time was that a fourth Open would be announced forthwith, but it never materialized.
U.S Open dates not committed through 2035 include 2028 and 2031.
Southern Hills president Scott Mabrey said today the club was exploring both options.
“Southern Hills has been an institution in the history of golf since 1936 and major championships since 1958. Hosting majors is in our DNA and we are fortunate to have great relationships with both the PGA of America and the USGA, partnering to host multiple championships for both organizations,” Mabrey said.
“Our city, state and club had a great week with the PGA of America hosting the PGA Championship. I think because of the compliments by the players, the way the course showed to the world, our history of hosting majors and certainly a historic finish to the 2022 PGA, people naturally wonder if and when Southern Hills will host its next major championship. We would welcome the opportunity to host another U.S. Open or PGA Championship, with Board of Governors approval, obviously.”
Southern Hills, it seems, is in the major leagues to stay.
Standing the test of time
After an $11 million restoration by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner that included all new greens, bunkers, restored creeks and the culmination of a six-year tree removal program, the course received near unanimous praise from the players competing in the competitors.
There was the odd social media post like Patton Kizzire’s Instagram trashing after he shot 78 in strong north winds and cold on Saturday. No mater how many years of work goes into preparation of every detail, it’s always easy for a self-centered pro to throw the operation under the bus after one bad round.
Superintendent Russ Myers would rather concentrate on the many positive comments he was forwarded all week.
“I don’t even know who Patton Kizzire is and I’m not going to lose sleep over that,” said Myers, who was in need of some sleep after working nearly around the clock all week to massage the course through a wide variety of weather conditions.
Myers does know who Justin Thomas is and actually predicted before the event that he would be the champion.
More impressive, Myers said, is that Thomas, unlike everyone else in contention Sunday, had to deal with the brunt of the winds by playing late Thursday and early Friday.
“Six years ago if you had told me this is the weather we got and this is how we came out, I would have been ecstatic,” Myers said.
The wining score came at 5-under through 72 holes. The best score in previous majors was Nick Price’s 11-under in the 1994 PGA Championship, while Tiger Woods was 8-under in 2007.
“To get Justin Thomas at 5-under is a validation of everything we did over the last six years and I couldn’t be prouder of that,” Myers said.
Players took advantage Friday afternoon when the south winds died and greens had not been mowed due to predicted high winds that morning. Otherwise Southern Hills more than held its own.
With the course changes, there were some changes in which holes played the toughest in the final round, although the par-4 18th kept its crown narrowly.
The uphill hole played to .33 over par, just a percentage point over the par-4 seventh while the par-4 opening hole and the par-3 sixth were the next most difficult. The par-5 13th and the par-4 17 were the easiest.
From the standpoint of ticket sales, corporate sales and merchandise sales, records were set in all categories, although Championship Director Bryan Karns said the PGA doesn’t discuss specific revenue figures.
Concessions took a public relations hit early in the week when it was apparent 25-ounce beers were $18 and water was $6. However almost 95 percent of tickets sold for the four rounds of competition had food and water included, which proved popular by week’s end.
Southern Hills General Manager Nick Sidorakis, working his final major championship before retiring at the end of 2023, categorized the week as “beyond my expectations, beyond any of our expectations. We have a great champion with other great players in the hunt on the back nine. With Russ and his team and Cary and his team I’ll put these guys up against any in the country. And then we worked so closely with Evan Crowder (director of operations) and Bryan Karns (championship director) with the PGA of America and they do an amazing job.”
In addition to all the on course success, a pair of concerts, one featuring country star Eric Church on the grounds and another with Pitbull at the Philbrook Museum, raised approximately $1 million to be split equally among four charities, PGA Reach, First Tee of Tulsa, The Tulsa Dream Center and the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.
From a live television standpoint, Southern Hills, Tulsa and Oklahoma received almost unimaginable positive publicity. There were over 250 hours of live television including ESPN, an alternate broadcast with Joe Buck and all of its streaming services, as well as CBS and Golf Channel. That compares to 48 hours in 2007. ESPN has already announced that its second round telecast was its highest since 2009 and 47 percent higher than the 2021 second round at Kiawah Island. ESPN reached an average of 2.1 million viewers, peaking at 2.6 million at 7:15 p.m.
CBS had a 3.13 Nielsen overnight rating and 5.27 million viewer average for the final round, peaking at 9.3 million during the playoff. That number is down from Phil Mickelson’s victory in 2021 at Kiawah Island which averged 6,58 million but above the ratings for Colin Morikawa’s victory in 2020 and Brooks Keopka’s win in 2019.