MADISON – Without a title sponsor for its first 36 years and without a national television contract until 1989, the now-defunct Greater Milwaukee Open always got the short end of the stick when it came to tournament dates. The PGA Tour moved the GMO around at its whim, and never to attractive dates.
That won’t happen with the American Family Championship. The PGA Tour Champions event is moving up three weeks in 2020, to June 5, 6 and 7, but tournament officials made it clear they prefer AmFam’s current spot on the schedule, one week after the U.S. Open.
With American Family as the title sponsor, Steve Stricker as the tournament host and a history, albeit brief, as one of the most popular events on the Champions tour schedule, the AmFam has something the GMO never had: leverage.
“I guess I would say our strong preference – we’ve communicated very consistently to the Tour – is that this week, the week right after the U.S. Open, is our absolute preference,” said Jim Buchheim, vice president of communications for American Family Insurance. “That’s what we will keep striving for and working toward in the years to come.
“I think we also have a strong advocate in our player-host, Steve Stricker, and we have him helping us advocate there as well.”
Clearly, the move to the first week of June in 2020 was not AmFam’s choice. It happened because the United States Golf Association moved the U.S. Senior Open to the week after the U.S. Open; the USGA first sets it championship dates and then the PGA Tour Champions builds its schedule around them.
Stricker said the 2020 Japan Olympics forced a reshuffling of the schedule, with the Senior Open moving up a week and other dominos falling after that.
“It’s an Olympic year and that pushed some things in different spots,” he said. “It’s still going to be a good spot. The first week in June, the course should be in good shape. Hopefully, we have some warm weather by then. I don’t think it will be that big a deal.”
Nate Pokrass, the AmFam Championship tournament director, said the Champions tour gave the AmFam a couple options.
“Ultimately, the first week of June was presented to us,” he said. “We wanted to stay in the month of June.”
Pokrass said August was off the table because he didn’t want the tournament to go up against the start of football season. July was not an option because American Family Insurance holds a significant agent recognition event that month and it’s the most popular month for family vacations. AmFam’s partnership with Summerfest meant late June also was out.
The first week of June could present a couple challenges. Most schools are still in session, so Friday ticket sales could be impacted. There also is a potential concern about the readiness of University Ridge Golf Course, especially if the spring is unusually cold and wet.
“All indications, and even with talking with the PGA Tour agronomy team that comes in and works on a consistent basis with the team here, they know the course can be ready early June,” Pokrass said. “End of June is a better time frame for the golf course as a whole, but every indication is (it) will be in great shape.”
The 2020 AmFam Championship will follow the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, which has dates of May 26-31, according to the tournament’s website. The MasterCard Japan Championship is almost certain to follow the AmFam, though that tournament has not yet posted its dates.
A source told Wisconsin.golf that the Japan tournament planned to charter a jet to ferry players directly from Madison to Japan immediately following the conclusion of the AmFam Championship.
Because of the AmFam’s date change next year, the WIAA boys’ state tournament, also held at University Ridge, will be moved to June 15 and 16, two weeks later than its traditional dates.
There is one unavoidable downside to the AmFam’s date change. Jack Nicklaus had so much fun playing in the Celebrity Foursome hosted by Andy North on Saturday that he told tournament officials he’d love to come back. Unfortunately, the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament, which Nicklaus hosts, is held the first week of June, which means the Golden Bear won’t be in Madison next year.
Should he come back in 2021, Nicklaus would be 81.