The Fortinet Championship opens the Tour's final wraparound season this week at the Silverado Resort and Spa in California wine country, a popular stop among tour players
NAPA, California — Wine tastings at local vineyards. Buttery chards and robust reds. Dinner at The French Laundry. Accommodations just a short walk from the driving range and course.
All are factors that attract players, albeit rarely the biggest names, to the Fortinet Championship being played this week at the Silverado Resort and Spa to start the PGA Tour’s final wrap-around schedule. But with plans to revert back to a calendar schedule in 2024, thereby moving the event out of the season-opening slot it has held since 2013, what happens next to this popular venue? No one knows quite yet.
"The 2024 calendar is still very dynamic, but the leadership of the PGA Tour has worked very hard and transparently with Fortinet as those options develop," says Matt McEvoy, tournament director.
Another unanswered question: Is the tournament even in the running to be one of the four to-be-named "elevated events" that will part of the PGA Tour's schedule starting in 2022-23 and will feature the top 20 players per the Player Impact Program? Certainly not this year and unlikely in the future, given the stiff competition, but Chez Reavie, who this week will be making his eighth consecutive appearance in Napa, believes it should.
"I think rotating those elevated events would be huge because now you are guaranteeing pretty much all of the sponsors that they will have a great field in the next three years," he says. "That’s a huge motivation for sponsors to stay involved. It’s just kind of sharing what the PGA Tour is with everyone. The more you can get the top players is huge, and then if you rotate those tournaments, you get players to go to a new spot, which makes us more valuable."
Brendan Steele, who won the tournament in 2016 and 2017, would love to see elevated status bestowed in Napa.
"I don’t know if there is any discussion of that," he says. "It’s all going to be interesting next year. I’m sure some sponsors won’t be overly pleased with the situation. I know the Tour is trying to deal with that right now and sort through it all.”
“[Becoming an elevated event] could be a great thing," says Chesson Hadley, whose best finish at Silverado is a tie for third in 2017. "There’s a lot of people who come to Napa who have money and spend money. It could be a very desirable place to go. If you were to elevate it, it could draw a fabulous crowd. San Francisco, Sacramento and Lake Tahoe are not far away. And obviously Napa just has that kind of swanky feel. Will they get it? I don’t know. But I certainly hope so."
The tournament, enhanced by a Food and Wine Pavilion located behind the first tee and a Concert Series held on the adjacent South Course, has a title sponsor in the second year of a six-year deal. The total purse for 2022 is $8 million, a $1 million increase from 2021. The new elevated events will each have a reported minimum purse of $20 million.
But timing is everything in the schedule-making business, and losing the opening slot of the season will wipe out one of the main draws of traveling to Napa.
"I’m sure a lot of players are like me," says Steele, who traditionally buys Burgerdogs (available only at Silverado and The Olympic Club in San Francisco) for his entire group during a practice round. "I get excited to go up there. There’s something about having a clean slate. Whatever things you didn’t like the year before — your stats, how you played, whatever — that stuff is all gone. You’re not worrying about where you are in the FedEx Çup."
"Assuming that the tournament stays in the fall, it is going to be hard for them to get an elite field," says Hadley. "I think that there are always going to be some bigger names that play, but that is because of the location of the tournament. Napa is amazing."
The PGA Tour first visited Silverado Resort and Spa from 1968 through 1980. After an ownership group that included Johnny Miller purchased the property in 2011, the Tour returned in 2014. Earlier this year, Denver-based KSL Capital Partners LLC and Arcade Capital LLC purchased the resort from Miller’s group. While various upgrades are being implemented throughout the property, the North Course, a tree-lined favorite of many players, will remain unchanged.
"Does [the course] have the same pedigree as Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines?," asks Hadley somewhat rhetorically. "People don’t talk about Silverado that way. But I love playing there. It can get really firm and fast, so it plays so much different than some of the courses we get to play, which makes it fun to play. Then you go have dinner at The French Laundry or do a wine tasting. I’m not going there just to get drunk and blow a golf tournament. I fully intend on playing well there, and it almost makes me play better because I’m going to the Rutherford Grill at night and having my favorite salad there, or Thomas Keller is having us at The French Laundry. It’s all a part of the tournament and adds to the experience. I love that week."
And if the timing of that week changes in 2024, it won’t matter to Hadley. "As long as Silverado and Napa are on the schedule, I’m playing there," he says.