The Players Championship – Never Been Better!
How about The Players?
For the past eleven years, I have attended The Players Championship, and for as long as I live in this city, I will keep that streak alive. The tournament sets the Jacksonville area apart from other cities. Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
First, just what defines The Players Championship? It is a tournament for the players run by the PGA Tour. Previously, The Players had been played in Marietta, Georgia, Fort Worth, Texas and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It needed a place to call home. Time was running out, and a decision had to be made. That year’s PGA Tour commissioner and visionary, Deane Beman, stepped up and made the final decision.
On August 26, 1978, a press conference was held to announce that the Tournament Players Championship (TPC) had a new home: Jacksonville, Florida. In my opinion, this led to the second biggest sports achievement in Jacksonville history behind Jacksonville’s acquisition of an NFL expansion team. Nice work, Deane!
On that summer day, Beman stated that construction of the Players Club course would begin soon and that it would be completed at the very latest in 1982. Under the direction of course designer Pete Dye, it was finished nearly two years early -- in 1980.
Interestingly, when the players voted to decide the location of the TPC, only three PGA Tour eligible golfers opposed the move to the Jacksonville area. The remaining 100 players voted in favor of it. Of all the players, Jack Nicklaus was one of the professionals who had opposed the move prior to the vote.
Well, that so-called “Jacksonville area” is now Ponte Vedra, and Jack Nicklaus is still considered one of the two most accomplished golfers ever. Oh, how much has changed.
Twenty-nine years later, all golf enthusiasts refer to the tournament as The Players Championship. Amazingly enough, the 1988 Players Championship was won by Jacksonville native Mark McCumber. Other PGA locals to have won The Players are David Duval in 1999 and Fred Funk in 2005. The TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass has become a shrine for golf fans around the world. Hole No. 17, the island green, is easily one of the most recognizable holes in all of golf. Anyone who sees the 17th wants to try his luck at the hole. But, it just comes down to how many golf balls you have in your bag and if you packed your patience. While challenging, No. 17 is even more intimidating. Even the finest of golfers approach the hole with nervousness and then breathe a deep sigh of relief when hitting the island. Holes 16, 17 and 18 can be either a golfer’s dream finish or worst nightmare on Sunday. It’s an understatement to say this course has made a name for itself.
The Players has undergone a number of recent changes. The 2007 PGA Tour season was the first time the tournament was played in May instead of March. This was to avoid rain delays common in March and split viewership between March Madness and The Players. These are no longer problems for the tournament. Today, its only competition is the NBA playoffs. The Golf Channel, NBC and all local networks cover the event.
The stadium seating at The Players provides the feel of a college football game. Even the six-dollar beers don’t keep the fans from enjoying libations. And, with the remarkable (and classy) 77,000 square foot clubhouse, the addition of the air-conditioned Benefactors’ tent behind No. 17 and the placement of the Island Club off No. 10, fans don’t have to travel far to be refreshed. Along with those refreshments, spectators can refuel with thirteen-dollar steak sandwiches. Surprisingly, the taste trumps the price, much like the entire TPC at Sawgrass experience.
It has been almost thirty-one years since that first press conference. Tremendous achievements have been made and missteps overcome. This tournament has it all: atmosphere, loyal fans, paradise weather, a grandiose clubhouse with manicured landscaping, thousands of devoted volunteers and the world’s best golfers. That is a recipe for continued success. In the late 1970s, Jack Nicklaus believed the tournament wouldn’t become a major until it moved from March to a better placement among the majors. Well, now that has happened. So don’t be shocked if The Players Championship becomes “golf’s fifth major.” But even if it doesn’t officially receive that moniker, it will always be recognized as such by the fans. Locals would be proud, but they know this event has nothing left to prove.
The Jacksonville Observer welcomes Richard Miller to our sports team. He graduated with Honors from the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville, Florida, with a degree in Communications. While at UNF, he co-hosted a sports talk webcast twice weekly for over two and a half years. He has been involved in different aspects of the sports talk radio industry for almost two years.
Richard can discuss sports ranging from college football to women’s tennis. He frequently watches, reads and debates local, national and international sports topics.