Could Greenbrier Classic be headed to the fall?

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Xander Schauffele holds the Springhouse Trophy after winning the 2017 Greenbrier Classic.

Several hints have been dropped that the Greenbrier Classic could be moved from the Fourth of July week into football season, with the latest coming from north of the border.

ScoreGolf magazine, one of Canada’s largest golf-oriented media outlets, cited a source as suggesting the Classic could be moved into the fall season as part of an expected shuffling of the PGA Tour schedule.

Closer to home, rumblings out of Greenbrier County have a possible move happening in 2018 or 2019. Officials at The Greenbrier resort and from the PGA Tour did not respond to calls for comment.

Several sources say the situation is not yet certain, but have heard the event is likely to be moved to the fall, either next year or the year after.

The Canadian Open was held last week in the Toronto area, and Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum addressed whether that event would stay in one place or rotation.

That doesn’t matter in relation to the West Virginia event, but the Canadian Open’s place on the calendar does — and it could be moved to the week the Greenbrier has occupied since 2012.

The much-discussed attempt by the PGA Tour to move up the FedExCup playoffs will play the largest role. Currently, the playoffs consist of four tournaments over five weeks, culminating Sept. 21-24 with the Tour Championship.

The playoffs were never expected to challenge college and the NFL in the television ratings, but that situation has deteriorated. Tour executives and players — and playoff sponsor FedEx, no doubt — are pushing for the playoffs and thus the season to end on Labor Day. That is a week before the NFL season kicks off.

Even if the playoffs are reduced from four to three events as has been speculated, at least one summer tournament will have to be moved into the fall. ScoreMag quoted a source as “suggesting” the Greenbrier would be targeted.

The Canadian Open would happily jump into the Greenbrier’s spot. ScoreMag said, “That would open up the schedule slot Golf Canada has long desired and thought it had several years ago before Greenbrier resort owner Jim Justice swooped in and secured it.”

The 2017-18 Tour schedule has not been released, as it had been by this time a year ago. It is uncertain if the Tour will make the change now, or if it needs another year to change the playoff format, thus granting the Classic at least one more summer date.

A move to the fall would make the Classic one of the first events in the wraparound season, if not the first. With less sunshine available, the field likely would be reduced from 156 to 132, maybe 120.

The field would still attract young, hungry players such as recent winner Xander Schauffele, but landing any of the world’s best could be more difficult than it was this year. Most stars tend to rest after the playoffs and the Ryder Cup (odd-numbered years) or Presidents Cup (even years). TV coverage would be limited to Golf Channel.

But the biggest impact could be on the galleries, which were the leanest in tournament history a few weeks ago. One word: Football.

West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Marshall are bound to have games, maybe all at home. Media attention would necessarily be reduced.

On top of that, the second round Friday could coincide with a Greenbrier East home game. The school is located near the state fairgrounds on U.S. 219, where Classic patrons park and board a shuttle bus to the resort.

The Classic’s contract with the Tour runs through 2021, though it is unclear if that will be extended a year to compensate for the 2016 cancellation.

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