The 10 Biggest Golf Tournaments Every Golf Fan Needs to KnowPublished on 03/14/2023 · 11 min readGolf Expert Eric Hall overviews the ten most important tournaments of every PGA season.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton
Time flies when you are having a “Super Season” on the PGA Tour. Golf has been back in full swing since mid-summer 2020. With the wraparound season schedule, the newest quest for the FedEx Cup is currently underway.
But what constitutes being named one of the biggest golf tournaments? Is it the potential prize money? Is it the draw for international players to come and play? Is it simply about the notoriety of the host or the tournament’s lineage? The simple answer is a little of all those things. Golfers like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, and Jordan Spieth are all going to be big draws for tournaments looking to bring attention to their weekend on the schedule and to hold up the trophy on Sunday. While every tournament hopes to draw the strongest field possible, some just fall at weird times on the calendar, such as the Puerto Rico Open, the Valero Texas Open when most golfers want to be in Augusta, Georiga, and the American Express at PGA West. With that in mind, here are the most important tournaments of every PGA season you should know!
The Big Four
Everyone knows about these, or at least they should. The four most important tournaments of the season, the ones that the guys out on tour gear up for, are the Major Championships. Each of these professional golf tournaments carries higher FedEx cup points—giving the winner 600 points.
These are the coveted tournaments that carry the most clout among current peers and the legends of the game. We all know that Jack Nicklaus has the most victories in the major golf tournaments (and the most runner-up finishes on record as well!) with a seemingly insurmountable 18 wins. The likes of Tiger Woods, Sam Snead, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and more have found themselves with numerous wins as well. Here are the big four tournaments:
1. The Masters
The Masters Tournament is always played on the same golf course, Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, and the only one of the four to make that claim. The Masters is a mystical tournament where azaleas and player’s games both bloom seemingly out of nowhere.
This is the most restrictive of the majors, and it has its own set of rules and verbiage to go by (for example, fans are “patrons,” and you are not allowed to run on the property). Every year in April (minus the November Masters in 2020), the best golfers in the world converge on these hallowed grounds and show off their creativity and skill in an attempt to win the Green Jacket. Golfers like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Jack Nicklaus, and Japan's native son, Hideki Matsuyama, have won one or more of the tournaments held on these hallowed grounds.
Make sure to tune in on Wednesday afternoon of Masters week to catch the pageantry of the Par Three Tournament, where babies in caddy bibs crawl and run around, and holes in one abound! Every year, fans are on the lookout for Rory McIlroy and whether or not he will win and complete his career Grand Slam.
2. The United States Open
Played the weekend of Father’s Day in June, leading into any number of tearful stories from the commentators and players, the U.S. Open is a stalwart test of any player’s game. Generally, the United States Golf Association (USGA—the board running the tournament) aims to have the scores of this tournament hover right around par. Some say it is unfair, and some say the USGA takes it right to the edge, but in all honesty, it is sometimes nice to see the players struggle when they have some weeks at 20 under par. This tournament tends to rotate through several set courses every few years, with one of the most famous being Pebble Beach Golf Links, and occasionally adds in new courses on occasion. Watching the U.S Open is for golf sadists, as the majority of the time, tee shots are at a premium to hit the fairway, approach shots have to be super accurate, and the rough is grown to absurd lengths at some venues. The best part is, as an open championship, amateurs with a low enough USGA handicap index can attempt to qualify!
3. The Open (formerly The British Open)
Played in July, this championship is a chance for links golf to shine and for the world to see golf in its original homeland. Much like the U.S. Open, The Open rotates through a set list of courses, occasionally adding a new course. The best part of this tournament is all the talk about the luck of the draw when players play and seeing how that affects their chances of making the cut or winning the tournament. With winds and rain that have bent flags before, this is a great chance to see some creativity and golf that you don’t get to see in the United States. It is here that you’ll get to hear them name the Champion Golfer of the Year! Collin Morikawa claimed this championship in 2021, showing off his impressive iron game on the links and securing his second Major Championship. This event is also a great chance to highlight more of the European Tour players and the tests they face. Most recently, this championship was played at the home of golf: The Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.
4. The PGA Championship
Out of habit and in respect to its loving nickname, “Glory’s last shot,” I left this championship for last, even though it has moved to May on the schedule. The PGA Championship is played at various courses and is the tamest of all the majors. The coolest part of this championship is when the PGA Teaching Pros who qualified make a run at the leaderboard and get to play with the Tour Pros! Held by the Professional Golfer's Association of America (PGA of America), this is truly the players' major tournament.
Tournaments 5 to 10 (In No Particular Order)
After the majors, there are still some very important tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule that a casual fan should make a point to watch every year. Some of these may seem a bit controversial, but to me, they are among the most fun to watch and offer insight into who is playing well around the time of the majors. Most of these tournaments already drew the big name players, such as the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where the players play both the North Course and South Course, the Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club, which is one of the most well-suited courses for match play I have seen, and the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. Despite hosting one of the quirkiest tournaments in February, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Pebble Beach is a course that, when tapped to host a major, performs at its best.
5. The Players Championship (TPC Sawgrass)
Another tournament that was relocated on the schedule (from May to March), the Players Championship is played at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, every year and hosts one of the most daunting final three-hole finishes anywhere on Tour. Pete Dye designed the last three holes to be the epitome of risk-reward, where Hole 16 is a par five that has water lurking out to the right, 17 is the infamous island green, and 18 has water all down the left side. With the best professional golfers converging in Florida for this one, the Players Championship provides a wild finish and a chance to see what the best players in the world are made of, making it one of the marquee PGA Tour events!
Honorable Mention Florida Swing tournaments: The Honda Classic (soon to be renamed) and the Valspar Championship.
6. The Memorial Tournament (Muirfield Village Golf Club)
Played the weekend after Memorial Day, the Memorial Tournament is every player’s chance to pay homage to Jack Nicklaus at his course. The golf course at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, is always in immaculate condition, and Jack will always try to humble today’s greats by adding quirks on the course to limit their ability to simply bomb and gouge. As an invitational golf tournament, viewers will be guaranteed a strong field of competitors. The milkshakes are pretty spectacular as well!
7. The Tour Championship (East Lake Golf Club)
Remember when I said, “in no particular order”? The Tour Championship tournament has been held exclusively at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, since 2004, and it was held there every even-numbered year before that since 1998. In recent years, the tournament flipped the nines to have the tournament end with a gettable par 5 rather than a quirky par 3. This tournament is also where the winner of the FedEx Cup takes home 15 million dollars!
8. The Ryder Cup / President’s Cup / Solheim Cup
I am lumping the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, and the President’s Cup together because in my lifetime, we have struggled to make the Ryder Cup competitive with Team Europe, and we have smoked the International Team in almost every President’s Cup. The Solheim Cup is the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup, where women from the United States compete against women from the countries of Europe. These are team events with alternate forms of golf, including Four-Ball, Alternate Shot, and Singles Match Play. The pageantry and passion are insane in these events, as the teams get to compete for country and pride and are not paid to participate. These events are played every other year and allow the Europeans and golfers from England and Great Britain to unite as one against the United States. In the President's Cup, it is the internationals versus the Americans. Many times, pride has gotten the better of golf fans and has led to some infamous moments.
9. The Waste Management Open (TPC Scottsdale, Stadium Course)
I am potentially going to get dragged for this one, but I love watching the Waste Management Open, recently renamed the WM Phoenix Open, and seeing fans and golfers get to have a little fun on the course. This tournament takes place over Super Bowl weekend at TPC Scottsdale, where the PGA Tour is going to open on SportsBook. Watching the Stadium Hole in its full glory of tens of thousands of drunk and rowdy fans is great, and the players get to loosen up and have a little fun while they are there. Not to mention, the course is a place for low numbers, like Spieth’s resurgent 61 on Saturday, February 6th of this year.
This last “most important tournament” is up for grabs and is highly debatable, in my opinion. Commissioner Jay Monahan is striving to bring viewers the most amount of top players at events as possible, especially following the players-only meeting led by Tiger Woods. Whether they meet in Kapalua, Los Angeles, or Charlotte, those events will garner more attention than others. It could be chosen for a number of reasons, such as high purse total, notoriety, the Olympics, or many other factors. I am inclined to pick the Zurich Classic of New Orleans or the WGC Match Play because they are events that have a different style of golf than the traditional four rounds of stroke play, but they are a little quirky and don’t always produce the best content. I would pick the Olympics, but that is just stroke play and, honestly, is too individual for my liking during the two weeks of patriotism and team play. So, for now, this is left wide open, allowing for any number of courses to assume the role. With the addition of elevated events on the schedule, new tournaments fall in this category as well, such as the Wells Fargo Championship, the Genesis Invitational, and the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
With the creation of the Player Impact Program, players are looking to get themselves in front of more fans more often, including guys like Max Homa, who continue to reach new levels of fame and career goals while understanding that Tiger Woods will win the PIP award for many years to come. Rory McIlroy now has won the FedEx Cup Playoffs more than any other player, and the elevated events should bring attention back to the cream of the crop. In addition to these elevated events, there are the four Majors, the playoff events, and the player-hosted invitationals (Genesis Invitational at Riviera, Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, and The Memorial, mentioned above). The four other events added have years of prestige, including the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island. This course previously didn't pull many big names, as it was played right after the Masters, but it will be fun to watch bigger-name guys take on the quirks of the course.
As you immerse into this amazing sport and check out these tournaments, if you have any questions on any gear you encounter and are wondering whether it is right for your game, please feel free to reach out to me or one of my fellow Golf Experts here on Curated for free advice and recommendations.