The PGA Tour's Champions circuit is ready to return to Michigan on a regular basis.
Is the PGA Tour far behind? Maybe not.
Detroit-based Quicken Loans this week has put the brakes on its sponsorship of the Tiger Woods-hosted tournament in Washington, D.C., after four years, but seems open to extending the relationship — with a possible contingency that the tournament relocates to Detroit or the Metro Detroit area.
When the PGA Tour's full 2017-18 schedule was released earlier this week, The National was one of the few tournaments to be listed without a presenting sponsor. The others were the four majors, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players Championship and the Tour Championship.
"As we look to the future, we remain interested in exploring ways to highlight the energy and revitalization taking place in Detroit," Quicken Loans told The Detroit News in a statement, supplied by a spokesperson. "A prime golf event, featuring the world's best players, is certainly something we would be interested in pursuing as a way to showcase our great American city."
Michigan hasn't held a regular PGA Tour tournament since 2009, when the half-century-old Buick Open held its swan song in Grand Blanc — General Motors, fresh off receiving a federal bailout, unable to, in good conscience, spend on such luxuries.
Michigan hosts two regular LPGA Tour events, in suburban Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, and just recently, it was announced the Champions tour (50-and-older) would take up residency at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, the previous home of the defunct Buick Open, starting in 2018. The Senior PGA also is played every other year in Benton Harbor, in an agreement that runs through 2024.
But efforts to reel the PGA Tour back to Michigan, while promising at times, have made little progress. Once you're off the schedule, it's awfully tough to find your way back on it. Now, though, it seems, Detroit mega-booster Dan Gilbert is taking matter into his own hands — and using Quicken as his trump card.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told the Associated Press this week that the Tour and Quicken continue to have sponsorship discussions, but if you read between the lines, the condition on a renewal appears to be a move to the Motor City.
Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, seemed to admit as much.
"That's clearly been something that has been discussed," Steinberg told AP. "But not in great detail at this point."
Steinberg told AP golf writer Doug Ferguson that Woods' desire is to keep the tournament in the Washington, D.C., area, "But nothing is off the table. We are discussing any and all options. If (a move is) what Quicken has a great desire for, we would try to make that work." Additionally, Steinberg said the Tiger Woods Foundation is talking to other possible presenting sponsors.
The National has been on the PGA Tour's schedule since 2007, with Woods as the host. But while it began as a marquee tournament at one of the nation's most prestigious clubs, Congressional, with big-named fields, it now is a shell of itself. Woods' star has faded amid off-course issues and a litany of injuries, and combined with the tournament's place on the calendar — not long after the U.S. Open, and not long before the British Open — the fields have been less-appealing. For instance, the last three winners: Kyle Stanley, Billy Hurley III and Troy Merritt.
There's also a question if Woods should even continue hosting a tournament. A two-time winner early in the tournament's run, he hasn't even been able to play the tournament since 2015, and some have gone so far as to call him an "absentee" host — a far cry from what Jack Nicklaus is at his tournament, The Memorial, and what Arnold Palmer was for all those years at Bay Hill. It's unclear if Gilbert and Woods have any personal or business relationship, but Gilbert, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, could find a supporter in Jason Day, the affable Australian who's among the game's elite golfers. Day is a Cavaliers season-ticket holder.
Then there's the current host course, itself, Congressional, which has a membership that is said to not even want the tournament, according to an article this summer by esteemed golf writer John Feinstein. The club wasn't expected to have any interest in renewing beyond its every-other-year obligations that included 2018 and run through 2020, and even that current deal likely will be severed early, if it hasn't been already, without a presenting sponsor.
In other words, that leaves the tournament without a sponsor or a home.
It's certain Gilbert has weighed all these factors, and saw this as the opportune time to make his strong-arm move — in the same week he unveiled a $2.1-billion downtown Detroit development project, saying, at a press conference announcing the four builds Wednesday: "Everybody is about what is best for Detroit and the region." Gilbert also hopes to bring a Major League Soccer team to downtown Detroit; Gilbert will find out soon if he and his partner in the venture, Pistons owner Tom Gores, have won an expansion franchise.
Gilbert has previously expressed interest in bringing big-time golf back to the area, most recently in 2016, when he was far along in discussions to host a celebrity match under the lights at Detroit Golf Club featuring golfers Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy and celebrities Mark Wahlberg and Justin Timberlake. That event eventually was scrapped over sponsorship issues.
As for the PGA Tour tournament in Washington, Quicken Loans added, in the statement:
"We are excited to have sponsored the Quicken Loans National for the past four years. In addition to some incredible golf, we were able to honor our active duty military and veteran servicemembers — all while raising $750,000 for military charities."
A move to Michigan, while now seemingly more promising than other murmurs over the years, still is no certainty. The PGA Tour is undergoing some big changes to its schedule in 2019, thanks to the PGA Championship moving up in the calendar, from August to May. The PGA Tour, in turn, has said it wants to eventually end its four-evnet FedEx Cup playoffs around Labor Day, which would mean eliminating tournaments. This year's PGA Tour schedule concludes this weekend, with the Tour Championship.
That said, if the PGA Tour does return to Michigan, it'll be interesting to see which course lands the tournament.
Detroit Golf Club long has been rumored to be in the mix for a tournament, but often was dismissed because of its lack of length — but the PGA Tour these days seems to be embracing shorter layouts, and more and more driveable par 4s, realizing they make things more exciting for fans. That course would seem to be Gilbert's strong preference, which would put the tournament within the city limits. No annual PGA Tour event ever has been held in Detroit proper. Detroit Golf Club also seemingly has the necessary infrastructure, from ample parking (fans could easily be shuttled in from the State Fairgrounds), as well as a spacious clubhouse and practice facilities.
Other courses to watch include Radrick Farms, the private University of Michigan course that once was considered a possibility to take the Buick Open if Warwick Hills ever wanted out; R&S Sharf on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, though having a 10th tee away from the clubhouse is problematic, given the need to start golfers off tees Nos. 1 and 10 for the first two rounds; and maybe Northville’s Meadowbrook, which recently underwent renovations that have received rave reviews.
TPC Michigan, in Dearborn, long the home of the Senior Players Championship, is another option. A move there could get The Players' long-time sponsor, Ford, back into the golf business, should Gilbert and Quicken desire the partnership. And then there's Shepherd's Hollow, the picturesque masterpiece in Clarkston which once, too, was considered by Buick, and would draw fans from the Detroit and Metro markets as well as the Flint market that so loyally supported the Buick Open for 50 years.
If you're wondering, why not famed Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Township, that's simple. That's considered a "major" venue and its well-to-do membership has no desire to deal with the annual hassle of forking over its hallowed grounds for weeks at a time.
The 2017-18 PGA Tour schedule starts in October and runs through September. The National is scheduled for July 28-July 1 — but nobody knows where, for now.
PGA TOUR IN MICHIGAN
■ Buick Open — 1958-2009 (Flint, Grand Blanc)
■ Michigan Golf Classic — 1969 (Walled Lake)
■ Motor City Open — 1948-50, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1959, 1962 (Northville, Royal Oak, Redford, West Bloomfield)