Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Golf in North Florida: It is (and isn’t) all about The Players

While most of the country is waiting for the “golf season” to start, we’re in the height of it here in North Florida. I know we generally never go out of the golf season, but there’s not a better time to play here than spring through early summer. The days are longer, the weather is milder and the golf courses are all nearly perfect. For three decades, The Players (TPC, Players Championship for those of you who have been around for a while) ramped up our thirst to play, scheduled in March. First at the beginning, then in the middle and finally at the end before making it’s move to May to occupy the spot open between the Masters and the US Open.

The move to May for The Players has mixed reviews so far. In the current spot on the calendar, it’s a natural “big tournament” for professional golf, filling the month-long void between the majors in April (The Masters) and June (The U.S. Open.) But if The Players is to every be considered a major it’ll take time, the respect of the players themselves, and a fan base that just can’t get enough. Right now, buying a ticket to The Players early in the week is not a problem. If you want to see the best players in the world “up close and personal” buy a Tuesday or Wednesday practice round ticket and head to TPC Sawgrass. It might be the easiest and best ticket in sports. The Players is not only the best run golf tournament in the world; it might be the best run sporting event around. Fan friendly, easy access, reasonably priced, plenty of food and drink and the best in the world at what they do right there.

Its taken a while for The Players to find a true identity. Deane Beman’s dream was to create a fifth major, run by the PGA Tour, a true Players Championship. But you can’t force things like that and the media, and a lot of fans rebelled. The move to a permanent home was met with some resistance by Tour players who were building a golf course design business of their own and didn’t think the Tour should be their competition. The Stadium Course itself struggled early-on with problems associated with being built in a swamp. And did the Tour want the winning score to be Greg Norman’s -24 or David Duval’s -3 on their home course?

The Tour is in Ponte Vedra because Beman brought it here. The success and the size of the volunteer force at the Greater Jacksonville Open convinced him that North Florida was the right place. The tournament is here because, through a few machinations, Deane couldn’t buy Sawgrass Country Club and the Fletcher’s had the foresight to sell the land to the Tour for $1 to build their course.

They’ve gone through a lot of growing pains to get where they are now, even forgetting that Jacksonville, and all of North Florida and South Georgia is where their bread’s buttered. Nonetheless, the tournament’s in the right spot, and in the right hands, with the right leadership, poised to grow in the players, the fans and the media’s eye every year. So when’s your tee time?