The PGA is going through some changes. New names are joining the game’s elite. The equipment is getting increasingly more advanced. Even the schedule will take a different form when it drops the calendar-year format in October and starts its 2013-14 season. But even with all the differences, the season promises to remain full of intrigue. A lot of that will come from headlining events like the Masters and U.S. Open, of course, but our free-swinging editors feel the historic campaign will also be shaped by these six must-attend events.
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Feb. 7-10
Pebble Beach is regarded as one of the most beautiful courses in the world, so see it at its best during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. There are two scoring components of the tournament: individual and team. Each professional pairs up with an amateur, a handful are celebrities like Josh Duhamel, Andy Roddick and Tony Romo. It’s the only tournament on the Tour in which amateur partners are able to play through the final round—assuming their team makes the cut. Four-time winner Phil Mickelson will defend his individual title (and take home $1.17 million and 500 FedEx points if he wins), while Bill Murray will brush up on his skills—he won the team tournament with D.A. Points in 2011.
World Golf Championships – Cadillac Championship, March 7-10
It’s the last tournament at the TPC Blue Monster at Trump’s Doral Golf Resort & Spa Miami before renowned golf architect and Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Gil Hanse takes over to renovate the legendary course. One of four World Golf Championships, the Cadillac Championship is a four-day, par-72 stroke-play competition without a cut. Top ranked players are eligible for play, but the full field won’t be released until a few days before the tournament. Defending champ Justin Rose, who came up big in the 2012 tournament with a win over Bubba Watson, is eligible to battle for that $1.4-million prize along with 550 FedEx points. The entire course is famous, but the par-4 18th hole is notoriously demanding—the perfect place to post up and watch these top-notch golfers fight to the end.
The PLAYERS Championship, May 9-12
Almost a month to the day after the grueling Masters, golf’s elite head to the birthplace of the TPC Network in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (just outside Jacksonville) to tee off at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course. Often referred to as PGA’s “fifth major”—thanks to its hefty $9.5-million purse—The PLAYERS is no walk in the park. In fact, the last three holes on this par-72 are regarded as some of the toughest on the Tour. Pay particular attention to the par-3 17th hole; its island green is known to make or break many players’ rounds. Matt Kuchar will likely be back to defend his title and pocket the $1.71-million winner’s share. And who knows, maybe this year’s final round will be a repeat of 2011 when K.J. Choi defeated David Toms in sudden death.
PGA Championship, Aug. 8-11
One of the four majors—and the season’s final—the PGA Championship celebrates its 95th anniversary this year. Returning to Rochester, N.Y.’s Oak Hill Country Club for the third time, the tournament will feature 156 of the world’s best players battling it out for the precious Wanamaker Trophy. Of course, Rory McIlroy, who won last year at Kiawah, will be fighting hard to defend his title as PGA Champion, but Oak Hill’s par-71 East Course can be tricky. The notoriously difficult driving course has narrow, tree-lined fairways, so the main challenges are off the tees. In the five stroke-play championships held at Oak Hill, only 10 players have shot under par. That makes for an interesting grand finale—and one you definitely want to witness.
TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, Sept. 19-22
Just when you thought the season was complete with the final PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup playoffs tee off. It all comes down to the TOUR Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club in mid-September. The dramatic season-ending tournament is always neck-and-neck—last year Brandt Snedeker captured the $1.4-million winner’s share and 2,500 FedEx points. We won’t know the field until late summer when it’s clear who’s in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup points standings. Post up on the 16th hole for views of the Atlanta skyline and East Lake. If you want to see the most exciting finish, finagle your way to the 18th green—it’s one of East Lake’s most difficult putts.
The Presidents Cup, Oct. 3-6
The last hoorah of the 2013 season is a special treat—one that golf fans get to enjoy every other year. The Presidents Cup, which marks its 10th anniversary this season, is back on U.S. soil at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio (about 30 minutes from Columbus). Like the prestigious Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup is a match-play tournament; but instead of Europe versus the U.S., it’s the International team (everywhere but Europe) against the U.S. team. Returning for his third year as captain of the U.S. team, Fred Couples will defend the title—and the team’s 7-1-1 record. As exciting as the 2012 Ryder Cup was, you can expect the same level of play at this tournament. As of now, the U.S. roster has 10 of the 12 players who were on the Ryder Cup team, including Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson, while the International team—led by captain Nick Price—includes Adam Scott, Ernie Els and K.J. Choi.
Photos Courtesy of AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, im Mandeville, Nicklaus Design, Doral Golf Resort