AKRON—The Bridgestone Invitational will celebrate 65 years of professional golf in Akron when the World Golf Championships event tees off at Firestone Country Club on Aug. 2, 2018.
But John Feinstein, a best-selling author and contributor to the Golf Channel and PGA Tour Radio, believes the event could be a last hurrah of sorts for the tournament in Akron.
Feinstein has reported on his PGA Tour Radio show, A Good Walk Spoiled, that when the Tour changes its schedule around for the 2018-19 season, there might not be a Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, a club whose history with pro golf dates back to the Rubber City Open in 1954.
"That's the plan at the moment," Feinstein said.
Feinstein said multiple sources have told him that, because the PGA wants the FedExCup Playoffs to end before Labor Day, there are several other scheduling changes that must take place.
The Tour announced the two biggest in August, saying that, beginning in 2019, the PGA Championship will be moved to May and The Players Championship will be contested in March.
According to Feinstein, FedEx, the title sponsor for the four playoff events that determine the season-long PGA champion, wants its annual tournament in Memphis, the St. Jude Classic, to be a WGC event. If the sponsor gets its wish, Feinstein said "the plan is to move it to Akron's spot in August."
He added that the corresponding domino is that Bridgestone—headquartered in Tokyo—wants to have an event in Japan. That tournament would be added to the Asian swing on the fall calendar.
"It certainly wouldn't be the first time the Tour went away from a great, traditional golf venue," Feinstein said of the possibility of the Bridgestone Invitational not being held in Akron after 2018. "But the first priority is always what sponsors want. I hope that's not the case."
Through a spokesperson for Falls Communications, which has worked with the tournament since 2008, Bridgestone Invitational executive director Don Padgett III said that conversations about the future of the event continue.
"All of our focus and energy now is going toward hosting a great tournament next summer, and planning for the 65th anniversary of professional golf at Firestone Country Club," Padgett said.
Reached later by phone, Padgett, who is entering his 12th year as the executive director of the tournament, said the club will continue to talk with the PGA.
A PGA spokesman declined comment.
Bridgestone's sponsorship of the WGC event expires after the 2018 tournament at Firestone. Four-year sponsorship extensions were announced prior to the final rounds of the 2009 and 2013 Bridgestone Invitationals. Both deals were announced one year before the lucrative title sponsorship was scheduled to expire.
The 2017 Bridgestone Invitational was played without the tournament and PGA celebrating another sponsorship extension.
The most recent extension, announced in August 2013, covered the 2015-18 tournaments.
A Bridgestone spokesman said the company is "in talks with the PGA Tour about our official marketing partnership and the Bridgestone Invitational.
"Those conversations are taking place at a natural stage, as our current contract ends after 2018," the spokesman said, adding that the company can't comment on the current negotiations, and that it has "a great relationship with the PGA Tour dating back 12 years."
That partnership began with the Bridgestone Invitational in 2006. Prior to that, the event had been called the NEC Invitational.
Asked if the company's commitment to golf extended to having an event in Akron, the spokesman said, "Bottom line, there is nothing better than a Bridgestone sponsored tournament at the Firestone Country Club."
Steve Carter, the general manager of the Akron club whose South Course became a stomping grounds of sorts for Tiger Woods once the tournament became a WGC event in 1999, agrees.
"We have hundreds of amazing employee partners, thousands of incredible volunteers and the best golf fans in the world that will be ready in 2018 and well into the future to welcome the best players in the world," Carter said in an email.
After calling Bridgestone "an amazing partner," the Firestone GM said, "Unfortunately, they don't give me a vote, but if they did, my vote would be to extend this terrific run for another 60-plus years."
The tournament was moved from the first weekend in August to the weekend before July 4 to accommodate golf's return to the Olympics in 2016. That year, Padgett told said in July, the tournament's total attendance slipped to about 75,000.
In 2014, the last year in which Woods competed at Firestone, the attendance for the event was in the range of 90,000, tournament officials said 2015.
The event annually produces a seven-figure commitment to charity, and a 2011 study estimated that the Bridgestone Invitational generated $21.4 million in economic impact and 42,000 visitors.
Should the event not be held in Akron in 2019, it wouldn't be the first time the Tour moved a well-regarded tournament away from the Rubber City.
The 2002 NEC Invitational was played at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. That year, Akron hosted the Senior PGA Championship.
It's possible that Firestone, no matter what happens with the future of the Bridgestone Invitational, will continue to host a pro golf tournament beyond 2018.
"Nothing is set in stone yet," Feinstein said. "They have to square everything away with the sponsors."
If it were left up to the golfers, Feinstein—whose 1995 book, "A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour," reached No. 1 on The New York Times' best sellers list—knows where the Bridgestone Invitational would be held.
"It would be unpopular with the players. I can tell you that," Feinstein said of the possibility of Akron losing its WGC event.