Rest in peace, World Golf Championships.
Golfweek has learned that this will be the final year of the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin. Its spot in the 2024 schedule, which is typically in late March on the back end of the Florida Swing, is expected to be filled by the Cadence Bank Houston Open.
Austin Country Club has been the host venue for the Match Play since 2016 when Dell became the title sponsor. At the time, the World Golf Championships were considered the highest-ranking tournaments in golf behind the four majors and the Players Championship, the Tour's flagship event.
Purses for the WGCs, which began in 1999, were elevated, the fields were limited mostly to top-ranked players, and there were no-cut events. (Tiger Woods won 18 WGCs with Dustin Johnson capturing the second most with 5.) In 2021, the number of WGC events was reduced by two with the WGC Mexico Open being scaled back to a regular PGA Tour event and the WGC FedEx St. Jude being converted to the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Scottie Scheffler holds the Walter Hagen Cup after defeating Kevin Kisner in the final of the 2022 World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. (Photo: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports)
The demise of the WGC Match Play technically leaves the WGC HSBC Champions as the last WGC standing but the tournament, which is contested in China, hasn't been played since 2019 due to COVID-19. There's no indication that the tournament will be able to be staged this year either, and the LPGA just canceled a tournament on Hainan Island in China that was scheduled for March due to "ongoing COVID-19 related matters."
The Dell Match Play, where Scottie Scheffler won to reach World No. 1 last spring, is one of the Tour's new designated events this season. It will be contested in March for a tournament-record purse of $20 million, but that is also the same amount as 10 elevated tournaments, which has cheapened the WGC brand. (Having the majority of the events staged in the U.S. also made the name a misnomer.)
The PGA Tour Player Advisory Council met last Tuesday at the Farmers Insurance Open and the 2024 Tour schedule was a topic of conversation. Kevin Streelman, who is a member of the PAC, confirmed that the future of the Dell Match Play was on the agenda.
"They talked about that a little bit," Streelman said. "Hopefully they can save it. It's a sponsorship issue."
"It's pretty common knowledge," Streelman added, but noted, "there definitely hasn't been any decision yet."
However, multiple sources have told Golfweek that a decision has been made and a high-ranking executive that oversees the Tour's Championship Management department already told the staff in Austin to "start boxing things up."
Merchandise from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. (Tim Schmitt/Golfweek)
The Tour sent Austin Country Club a proposal more than four months ago and ACC pushed back hard, countering with an exorbitant increase to its site fee and ticket demands for its members. The Tour balked and for several months there was no communication between the two parties. It didn't help matters that the membership was split with a sizable camp that thought the event had run its course there. According to one source, ACC came to its senses and tried to re-engage, but the Tour went "radio silent" for four months. Two weeks ago, ACC sent the Tour an unsolicited proposal agreeing to the Tour's original terms and to extend the deal by an additional two years.
"I heard it didn't go well," said a PGA tournament director for another event, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his relationship with both parties. "They're out of there."
It's not too often that the Tour pulls up stakes and leaves a city unless a sponsor flees and doing so is the last resort. But a source says that in August, the Tour turned down Intel, which Dell wanted as a partner, to serve as the presenting sponsor. The chipmaker was ready to sign on the dotted line for five years for somewhere between $5 million to $8 million per year. But the Tour, perhaps knowing that its schedule must evolve to counter the attack of LIV Golf, the upstart league, would only commit to one year. No deal was made.
As previously reported by Golfweek, Jim Crane, the billionaire owner of the Houston Astros, has been playing hard ball in hopes of getting the Houston stop back into the main schedule, preferably with a spring date. The CJ Cup, which originated in South Korea in 2017 but has been played in the U.S. since the pandemic and was held most recently in South Carolina in October, also is itching to upgrade its dates from the fall schedule. The Tour has yet to release its schedule for next season but the loss of the WGC Dell Match Play could mean at least one less designated event in 2024, or its replacement in the schedule could be elevated.
"The Tour is not going to go away from doing a match play," a tournament director said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see it resurface elsewhere."
But for now, it appears the WGC Match Play is down and running out of holes.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek