Firestone officials express interest in hosting 2022 PGA Championship

Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal
The 18th green and iconic water tower at Firestone Country Club's famed South Course are shown during the 2020 Bridgestone Senior Players Championship without fans in attendance on Aug. 14, 2020, in Akron. Firestone hopes to host the 2022 PGA Championship. [Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal]

Northeast Ohio golf fans might get another chance to watch Tiger Woods before he turns 50.

Firestone Country Club officials have made the PGA of America aware of their desire to host the 2022 PGA Championship, David Pillsbury, CEO of Firestone owner ClubCorp, told the Beacon Journal Thursday.

The 2022 PGA was to be held May 19-22 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. But the PGA voted to strip the club of the major championship four days after supporters of President Donald Trump staged a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol while Congress was certifying the election victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

“We have made it known to all the appropriate people of our interest and desire to bring the PGA Championship back to Firestone and that we would bend over backwards as a club and an organization to make it an amazing championship,” Pillsbury said in a phone interview from Dallas, where ClubCorp is based.

“Obviously, the PGA of America has to make this decision at its sole discretion and they have a lot of things that they’ll evaluate. I’m sure it’s lost on no one there of the great, rich history of championship golf at Firestone.”

Firestone has hosted three PGA Championships  — in 1960, 1966 and 1975, won by Jay Hebert, Al Geiberger and Jack Nicklaus, respectively. Its professional golf history dates back to the 1954 Rubber City Open. It hosted the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational all but one year from 1999-2018, and Woods won on the famed South Course eight times, last in 2013.

A spokesman at the PGA of America gave no update about the organization’s timeline for its decision on a replacement site for 2022 and declined an interview request to discuss the factors being considered. NJ.com wrote in its story on the PGA cutting ties with Trump National that the decision would come after President Trump left office on Wednesday.

Pillsbury said he doesn’t know the PGA’s deadline for making an announcement, but understands what goes into staging the event. He worked for the PGA Tour for 11 years and served as president of championship management, which runs WGC events, and was at Firestone for nine of those.

The PGA process does not require Firestone to make a formal proposal or pitch.

“All you can do is put your best foot forward, which we’ve done,” Pillsbury said. “We stand on our great history at Firestone of the best players in the world competing year in and year out in three major championships and the WGCs for all those years. It’s certainly a proven venue, there’s no question about that.

“I’m sure they have no shortage of terrific options.”

Pillsbury pointed out that Firestone has a large base of volunteers and Ohioans and residents of the Midwest are strong supporters of professional golf.

Firestone Country Club has offered its South Course as a potential home for the 2022 PGA Championship. [Beacon Journal file photo]

After the departure of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2018, Bridgestone made a four-year commitment to sponsor the Senior Players Championship, one of the PGA Tour Champions majors. That deal runs through 2022.

Asked about the difficulty of hosting two events in one year, Pillsbury said, “We’ll figure that out if in fact we’re selected as the host for the PGA Championship. We will not let that be a problem as it relates to hosting a major championship.”

As for the condition of the course being compromised, he said, “We wouldn’t and I don’t think we would need to. I don’t think that would be an issue.”

In 1966, Firestone hosted three professional golf events — the PGA, the CBS Golf Classic and the World Series of Golf. In 1975, the PGA and the World Series of Golf, in its last year as a 36-hole exhibition, were both held there.

Presuming a Champions Tour event remains at Firestone, the 2022 PGA would give Woods a chance to return to Akron before he turns 50 on Dec. 30, 2025. Woods recently underwent his fifth back surgery on top of five knee surgeries, and some wonder how much longer he will be able to play up to his standards.

After his third round in 2018 before the WGC event was moved to Memphis, Tennessee, Woods suggested the South Course should be the site of another major. He’s not alone in his reverence for Firestone, with Rory McIlroy also listing it among his favorites.

“It’s one of the great, iconic clubs in the United States and the players love the South Course,” Pillsbury said. “It would be a thrill for all of us to host another major championship. We would make it amazing, and so would everybody in Akron and Northeast Ohio. They would all pull out the stops. It would be incredible.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.