The PGA Tour's 40-year relationship with Westchester CC appears to be nearing an end, as plans have begun to move The Barclays to nearby Ridgewood CC in northeast New Jersey. Although nothing has been finalized, the tour is hoping to resolve contract issues with Westchester and play the '08 Barclays, the first of four events in the FedEx Cup playoff series, at the new location in August.
In recent years, the tour and Westchester have coexisted somewhat uncomfortably, the biggest problem being the club's reticence in hosting the tournament. The membership of about 1,300 is said to be evenly divided over the matter, with many opposed to giving up their facility for what amounts to two weeks in the heart of their own golf season.
Because Westchester is located just north of New York City in the nation's largest commercial market, the tour felt it had little choice but to include the Barclays in its playoff series. In the inaugural postseason event last August, however, crowds were smaller than ever. Some of that could be attributed to the absence of Tiger Woods, who hasn't played in the tournament since 2003, even when it was title-sponsored by Buick, one of his own financial backers.
That said, on-site interest at Westchester has usually fallen short of expectations, and the '07 Barclays seemed to magnify that and other weaknesses. Previously played in June, moving the tournament to the back end of summer led to discolored, substandard greens. A number of players fond of the classic-style layout lamented the conditions, and what used to be a favored tour stop had become more of a chore than a challenge.
Add a competitive atmosphere that was anything but playoff-suitable, and the time had come to seek a change of scenery. "The worst thing here is, you don't get the feeling the members even want us around," tour veteran Jerry Kelly said at last year's gathering.
The 2009 Barclays already has been awarded to Liberty National GC, a new, upscale club bordering the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Regardless of what happens this summer, those plans are not expected to change. As for Ridgewood CC, the 27-hole complex is about 35 miles west of Westchester, meaning the Big Apple will continue to host a tour event.
All three nines were designed by hallowed course architect A.W. Tillinghast, making Ridgewood every bit as classic as Westchester. The club hosted the 2001 Senior PGA Championship, 1990 U.S. Senior Open and 1935 Ryder Cup. If the tour can successfully negotiate a settlement with Westchester, it likely will play an 18-hole composite of those three nines.
Given the recent history, a settlement shouldn't be a problem. "There's a strong dichotomy between those who want the tournament and those who don't, and those who don't have significantly more clout," said one Westchester member. "A lot of us would be sad to see the tour leave, but most of those in power see the tournament as an interruption."
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.