The majors drive golf viewership and interest. The best players always show up, they are played on the best courses in the world and the players want to win them the most.
But majors only make up four weeks out of a season that now spans almost 11 months. When the best players in the world aren’t teeing it up at major championships they are playing other tournaments and make the PGA Tour season one of the longest and most interesting.
Most players will play 20-30 tournaments in the course of a year, so they aren’t just sitting around drinking beer and waking up at 3 p.m. when there are no major championships (with the possible exception of John Daly). With so many tournaments, how do players decide which events to play and which are considered the best?
I want to give you my top 5 non-major tournaments based on my own criteria. Take note that I have left off the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup since these events take place every other year.
Honorable Mention: Wells Fargo Championship- Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, NC
The Wells Fargo Championship gets an honorable mention on this list because of the quality of the field that it attracts. You can always tell an event on the PGA Tour is strong when it attracts a large number of international players who might not even be full-time PGA Tour members. The Wells Fargo passes this test, with Rory McIlroy winning his first PGA Tour event at the 2010 edition. Looking down the list of champions also paints a picture of the strength of this event. The last seven winners listed in order with their number of major championships won: Lucas Glover (1), Rory McIlroy (1), Sean O’Hair, Anthony Kim, Tiger Woods (14), Jim Furyk (1), and Vijay Singh (3).
5. WGC-Bridgestone- Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio
The WGC events have an unfair advantage on these lists because they have extremely strong and international fields. Keeping that in mind, I wanted to only choose one for this list. The reason I chose the WGC-Bridgestone is almost entirely because of its venue. Firestone Country Club is an old-school golf course with a bite. Its monster par-5 16th, aptly named “The Monster” is 667 yards and is one of the few Par 5s on tour that players actually fear. Another positive for this tournament is its position as the last tune-up opportunity before the PGA Championship.
4. Arnold Palmer Invitational- Bay Hill Club, Orland, Fla.
Arnie’s event gets a nod here mostly based on the fact that it is Arnie’s event. Because of this fact, most of the best players in the world tee it up at Bay Hill on a yearly basis. One of the coolest scenes in sports is seeing the King greet the champion as he walks off the 18th green. Tee to green, Bay Hill is an extremely difficult test and it often produces strong champions. Tiger Woods (who has won this event seven times), Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Fred Couples and Kenny Perry are all former champions at Bay Hill.
3. The Tour Championship- East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Ga.
The Tour Championship has always been one of the premier stops on Tour. If you remember, this is the event Shooter McGavin wanted to win badly so he could collect his gold jacket (gold jacket, green jacket…you know the rest). With the invention of the FedEx Cup and its 10 million dollar payout, the Tour Championship has gained even more notoriety because it is the final event of the “playoffs.” Last year, the Tour Championship was the scene of a the richest playoff in the history of the PGA Tour, with Bill Haas defeating Hunter Mahan for over 11 million dollars.
2. The Memorial Tournament- Muirfield Village Country Club, Dublin, Ohio
Like Arnold Palmer’s Tournament, the Memorial gets a huge boost because it is Jack Nicklaus’ event. With a host like Nicklaus, every good player that is eligible usually tees it up in Dublin. But this isn’t the only reason it occupies the runner-up spot on this countdown. The golf course itself is stunningly beautiful and is routinely listed among the top 20 courses in the United States. It is kept in almost flawless condition and is often ranked behind only Augusta National in terms of course condition and upkeep. Clearly Nicklaus considers Muirfield Village to be his baby. Another factor that puts this event near the top is its resemblance to the Masters. Scoreboards are hand operated rather than electronic, the course is designed to give spectators the best viewing lines and fans are referred to as “Patrons” like they are at Augusta. With the U.S. Open often only two weeks after the Memorial, it is used as a tune-up for the year’s second major as well.
1. The Players Championship- TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
When a tournament is called the fifth major, it is clearly on another level than a regular PGA Tour event. And it makes sense that The Players Championship is the best non-major because it is the PGA Tour’s flagship event. The PGA Tour is located in Ponte Vedra Beach and they put everything they have into The Players. The purse is bigger (the richest event on tour), the hospitality is better and the field is major-quality. The Players Championship is glitz and glam, and a boatload of Official World Golf Ranking points are up for grabs along with exemptions into every important tournament worldwide. About the only thing that lacks during The Players is the course itself. While TPC Sawgrass has an extremely famous finish (including the island green par-3 17th), its first 14 holes or so are fairly bland and in some cases tricked up. But this doesn’t detract from what is the most major-like non major on the PGA Tour.
If you are a golf fan (and if you are reading this I would be pretty surprised if you aren’t), buckle up, because May includes three of the events I have listed above (Wells Fargo, Players Championship and Memorial Tournament).