DUBLIN — Rory McIlroy briefly pondered and rejected the notion that it might be 20 years before he tees off on the South Course at Firestone Country Club again.
“I might play there, maybe not in a competitive tournament,” McIlroy said Friday.
The PGA Tour left Akron after the 2018 Bridgestone Invitational, ending a run that began with the 1954 Rubber City Open. The event will be replaced by the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, one of five PGA Tour Champions majors, which runs July 11-14.
The change is massive in the loss of prestige, not to mention a good bulk of the economic impact, estimated as high as $30 million for the area by some studies.
Players understand the move to Memphis, Tennessee, headquarters of FedEx, which requested the World Golf Championship in exchange for its sponsorship of the FedEx Cup playoffs through 2027, according to a December report by Golf Digest. But when asked about the PGA Tour abandoning Akron, “It’s a shame” was the general consensus of those questioned Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Tournament.
That included McIlroy, who won the Bridgestone in 2014, a season that included two of his four major victories.
“I’m very much going to miss Firestone — it was one of my favorite events of the year,” McIroy said at Muirfield Village Golf Club. “I loved going there, I loved the golf course, I loved the feel of it. Fans were great. Yeah, the over-50 guys will enjoy themselves there the next few years. Hopefully, we get back at some stage.
“I think it was one of the better courses on tour and it’s a shame for us to not play it anymore.”
Rickie Fowler finished in the top 10 in five of his nine appearances in the Bridgestone, including a tie for second in 2011.
“I always loved Firestone. It was an amazing place to get to play,” Fowler said. “The hospitality, the guys in the locker room, they always took great care of us. The fans were great. Loved the golf course. It’s a bummer we’re not going back.
“They have a really good navy bean soup in the locker room clubhouse. I’m going to miss that. It’s a very historic site for the PGA Tour, and it would be nice to see it down the road back in the schedule. For now we’ll miss it and hopefully get it back.”
McIlroy and Fowler, both 30, think the decision on Akron might be revisited, but that seems unlikely. “It’s over,” a source told Golf Digest for an April 2018 story when asked about any future PGA Tour prospects for Firestone.
Bridgestone, meanwhile, will sponsor the Senior Players for four years.
Harold Varner III, 28, was born in Akron and lived there until his parents moved the family to Gastonia, North Carolina, when he was 6. Although the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was his first, Varner understands the tour economics that cost his hometown its golf gem.
“It’s super disappointing, but the PGA Tour is going to do what’s best for them, which is what’s best for me,” Varner said. “It’s disappointing in the fact that I got to do it one time and I know how much fun it was. I guess I’ll be there when I’m like 50. Geez.
“It’s a great event. I just think obviously FedEx is putting up so much money, you’ve got to kind of do something for them. I was bummed to hear that, but … we’ll be all right.”
Ellie Day had avoided the sadness over Akron’s loss of the Bridgestone, mainly because of the juggled and condensed tour schedule that is making her family’s life more hectic.
The fact that Ohio now has only one PGA Tour event didn’t sink in until Friday, when her husband, Jason Day, missed the cut at the Memorial. Ellie Day grew up in Lucas, near Mansfield, met Jason while working in Twinsburg, and several family members still live in the Buckeye State.
“Somebody was just saying, ‘When will we see you again at an event?’ And they’re like, ‘Akron, oh, wait, no, just kidding,’ ” Ellie Day said. “I looked forward to that every year. It’s such a good event. It’s a real bummer, and I know everybody up there is bummed about it, too.”
Jason Day echoed his wife’s thoughts, saying, “I’m going to miss Akron a lot. I guess the senior guys are going to have a good time there, but it’s kind of sad because I actually really loved that tournament.”
Adam Scott, who won the 2011 Bridgestone, compared his feelings about Firestone to what the players went through with the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral, last played in 2016.
A PGA Tour event had been played on the famed Blue Monster for 55 years; only Augusta National with the Masters had a longer continuous run on the same course. A loss of sponsorship was reportedly the reason, and with that WGC moved to Mexico City.
“It is disappointing. We went through this same kind of feeling with Doral a few years ago after going there many, many years,” Scott said. “I think it is going to be the same with Akron. We’re going to miss it because it was such a great event, it was one that you felt privileged to be in and it was a helluva golf course to try and beat any given week.”