Signature events have perks; time for the payoff

Signature events have perks; time for the payoff

ORLANDO, Fla. – Three turns into the PGA Tour’s signature-event era and the grade on the circuit’s grand gambit is still very much mixed.

The goal of the signature events, which were born from last year’s designated events, was to bring the top players together at notable tournaments and venues, in an attempt to ward off the growing threat of LIV Golf.

Participation in the chosen events has largely been encouraging with few opt-outs, evidenced by this week’s field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which will include all but one player (Tony Finau) who was qualified to play Bay Hill. That metric should be encouraging for Tour executives, given that unlike last year the signature events are not mandatory.

It's a fine line the Tour walked to guarantee top fields while adhering to the “independent contractor” ethos, and much of what the Tour has attempted to create is transactional and aimed at luring the game’s best with increased purses, points and perks.

The winner of this week’s event at Bay Hill will earn 700 FedExCup points, compared to 500 points to last week’s champion (Austin Eckroat) at the Cognizant Classic. Those outsized rewards are even more exaggerated as you scroll through the leaderboard, with the player who finishes fifth this week at Bay Hill earning 300 points, which is the same amount the winner at this week’s opposite-field event in Puerto Rico will earn.

The signature events — which include The Sentry, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship, Memorial and Travelers Championship — also come with increased purses of $20 million, compared to full-field purses that range from $8 million-$9 million and opposite-field payouts which are in the $4 million range.

And then there are the perks which have always been an overlooked part of the Tour lifestyle, but the signature stops go above and beyond the normal parade of courtesy cars and buffet lunches.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am - Previews
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am - Previews

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A 13-member board for the new PGA Tour Enterprises will lead commercial activities for the Tour.

The Tour instituted a collection of “enhancements” at signature events this year that include improved nutrition and dinning — with 100% non-GMO, grass-fed/finished meats, pastured eggs, poultry and dairy — along with complimentary dry cleaning and yardage books.

There’s also the reduced fields at the signature events which creates a vibe that is distinctly different from the run-of-the-mill Tour stop.

“[Sixty-nine] guys in the field — I came out yesterday to practice for a couple hours and it feels like no one's here,” Will Zalatoris said. “You're used to having the 120, 130, whatever it is, so it's bizarre a little bit on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

“But once you get to Thursday it's just so ultra-competitive and I love that feeling of it. Having 50 less guys, there's no question about it, that's a different feel, for sure. I've enjoyed it so far. It's kind of fun when you walk up and everybody you see is pretty much a top player.”

None of those upgrades or field changes, however, appear to substantially move the needle for top players. At the highest echelon of the game it’s the competition, not complimentary laundry service, that motivates them.

“That's [large purses, points and perks] not really my driving factor when I wake up in the morning. I think I'd pretty much lose sight, not sight, but I'd lose some motivation if it was that way,” Xander Schauffele said.

Instead, top players are drawn to the challenge of competing against the game's best on one of the Tour’s most demanding tests.

“I want to win them more than a non-signature event,” Schauffele continued. “I know there's better players playing in this tournament. The courses and the tournaments hold a lot of history. So, I feel like they're signature. I try to get up for every tournament every week, but there's definitely some more intent to getting it done.”

Player buy-in was always going to be the Tour’s primary challenge as the circuit transitions to the new top-heavy landscape, but four events into the eight signature events that hurdle has been cleared.

The next challenge is the product. While the Tour succeeded in bringing the best together at the big events, the season’s first three signature starts have produced three winners — Chris Kirk, Wyndham Clark and Hideki Matsuyama — with an average world ranking of 39. Notable players, with a pair of major champions and a great redemption story, but something still feels lacking.

The Tour made its play filled with bells and whistles to entice the world’s best to do what they do, and now it’s up to the stars to deliver.