Culture / Sporting Life

Jim Crane Saved the Houston Open, But the PGA Tour Needs to Give H-Town More Respect

Saddling a Reborn Tournament With an October Silly Season Date Makes Little Golf Sense

BY // 01.17.19

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane saved the Houston Open, but the PGA Tour isn’t exactly making things easy for him. Lost amid the well-deserved hoopla over the $13.5 million makeover of Memorial Park Golf Course (a win-win for golf in the city no matter what a few temporarily displaced golfers tell you) is the fact that the Tour is leaving Crane with an Astros sized rebuilding task.

In fact, Bud Selig forcing Crane to accept the Astros moving into the American League isn’t all that different from the PGA Tour saddling the Houston Open with a fall silly season tour date.

October dates are for irrelevant PGA Tour stops — and it’s about time the powers in golf give the fourth largest city in America a little more respect. Houston deserves better. And a game that desperately needs to grow should be courting the most diverse city in America rather than relegating it. The 2019 Houston Open being held the week of October 7 to October 13 immediately ensures that Tiger Woods (and many other top players) will never even consider playing in it.

If this October date is a one or two year stopgap thing — if the Tour even wants to wait to see how the revamped Memorial Park holds up in hosting its first tournament in October 2020 before moving it to a better date — then everything will be all right in the end. But keeping Houston’s only PGA event in October longterm would be disastrous — and a serious bungle and lost opportunity for the Tour.

You can be sure that Crane and his team will do everything in their power to increase the Houston Open’s profile. Much like they worked to lift the Astros out of the muck of irrelevance and farm system disaster into a World Series champion that other organizations model themselves after. Hopefully, Crane has a golf version of Jeff Luhnow identified. Because a fall tournament date is like starting with a 100-loss season.

“Our goal is to work hard and establish a first-class tournament that one day will be considered one of the best on Tour,”  Crane says at the introductory, new logo revealing Houston Open press conference.

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When Crane says something like this, it’s usually wise to listen. The guy who came to Houston in 1982, carting all of his life’s possessions in a small U-Haul trailer and needing a $10,000 loan from his sister to start his first company, gets things done. Crane’s already made sure Houston’s PGA Tour stop didn’t go away. But the task of turning it into a true showcase event may be even tougher.

And this new fall tour date immediately adds another degree of difficulty. It’s the equivalent of making Evel Knievel do a jump with one arm tied behind his back.

The PGA Tour should be rooting for Crane — and giving Houston’s stop every chance to emerge as a significant event on the schedule. Golf needs to get younger and more diverse to survive and thrive. Celebrating the fact that participation numbers didn’t fall as dramatically this year as they have in past years is no way to grow a game — or an industry. Houston is the perfect city to find new ways to grow the game in.

A legitimate Tour date — one that draws stars and buzz that goes beyond just the golf diehards — could be a powerful tool in that mission. An October one where Kevin Tway (the winner of last October’s first week tour date) outlasts a ho-hum field that excites no one is not.

Houston would be a great FedEx Cup playoffs location. Who says those premier now August tournaments have to be limited to the East Coast and Chicago? Not anyone who actually understands how the country is changing and where things are headed in the future.

Yes, it’s hot in Houston in August. It’s also hot in Tulsa in August and a memorable PGA Championship was held there in 2007 when temperatures reached 103 degrees. And it’s also hot in St. Louis in August and no complained about the heat when Tiger made a Sunday charge and finished second in last year’s PGA in a week of 90 degree scorchers.

These are professional athletes. They can handle a little heat. If Tiger, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are battling it out in a playoff event, you can be sure that Houston sports fans will turn out in droves no matter how hot it is, too.

Crane’s Golf Case

Crane will do his part to make the Houston Open a better run, more elite capable tournament. There are a lot of really rich guys who play golf, but there are very few corporate titans who’ve ever played the game at anything close to the level that Jim Crane has. The Astros owner is a legitimate one handicapper who’s flirted with being a scratch golfer over the years. Golf Digest once named Crane the Best CEO Golfer in America for good reason.

Barack Obama and PGA Tour stars such as Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler love to golf with Crane in part because he can actually play at a relatively high level. There are few tycoons who understand what PGA Tour stars truly care about at a tournament like Crane does.

Jim Crane will make sure the Houston Open is as good as it can be. You can safely bet on that. But the PGA Tour needs to do its part. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan needs to embrace Houston like his predecessors never have.

October just won’t do. Not for the city that can give golf a better future.

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