THE PLAYERS a Blend of Then and Now

I’ve always said that most of the locals who attend THE PLAYERS think every PGA TOUR event is like this week in Ponte Vedra. The Players is like nothing else out there, taking the best from every PGA Tour stop all year and incorporating it into the TPC at Sawgrass for one week.

It’s not only the best run PGA Tour event, right with The Masters; it might be the best-run sporting event anywhere as well. It’s a sought after hospitality opportunity for corporations all over the world as well as businesses in Jacksonville and North Florida. It’s a nice blend of both.

With the old burden of achieving status as the “Fifth Major” gone, you knew it was only a matter of time before The Players moved back to March.

The Tour never could get the golf course to play they way they wanted in May, how Pete Dye designed it and more than a few players said the course was “tricked up” after the move on the schedule.  Both The Players and the PGA Championship, now contested in May, have a history of moving dates so it’s not that big of a deal.

When he took over as the PGA Tour Commissioner in 1994, Tim Finchem had many of the same thoughts about The Players as the tournament’s originator Deane Beman. What it was, what it should be and how it should be considered. And he had even more thoughts about its relationship with Jacksonville.

Under Finchem, the Tour tried to separate the tournament once known as the “GJO” from the city entirely, stressing to the assembled media, “the dateline is Ponte Vedra.” There was no reference to it being one of the beaches associated with Jacksonville in any of the promotional material regarding the tournament nor on the national telecast.

The dis-association with the city was strongest when Finchem and the Tour decided that The Players should be a national and international destination for fans and that the local flavor and support of the tournament was holding it back from it’s rightful place in the pantheon of professional golf competition.

They came to their senses a few years ago. Matt Rapp took over as the Executive Director and was given the directive to refocus on the local community; it’s support, fan base, and the tournament’s reputation as a “must attend” event (and party) in North Florida are part of what makes THE PLAYERS, THE PLAYERS. Current Players boss Jared Rice seems to have the same charge from new Commissioner Jay Monahan.

Monahan sees the right fit with the move back to March. Jay doesn’t seem to have a problem with the proximity to the Masters nor the concurrent time frame of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. On the golf schedule, it’s the first really big, significant tournament of the year.

He sees The Players as a stand-alone sporting event and now, in 2019, he’s right. The tournament has it’s own following, it’s own stature and maybe most importantly, it’s a very big deal to the modern day PGA Tour and International player. Adam Scott was the first champion to say, “This is the tournament I’ve dreamed of winning.” And that was in 2004.

Gone are the days that “Deane’s tournament” was vying for significant status ahead of “Arnold’s tournament” or “Jack’s tournament” on the PGA Tour. Beman’s drive to put the Tour in the club and course building business rankled more than a few of his contemporaries, so they weren’t all fired up about supporting the TPC, as it was originally called. Raymond Floyd made his feelings well known at a famous players meeting during the TPC in the ’80’s.

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, the move to March brings the golf course condition and the wind direction back to where the Stadium Course was originally designed. They can make the course play the way they want.

And it puts The Players back in the “Florida Swing” on the golf schedule where it belongs. While much of the country looks to the Masters as the start of spring and the beginning of the golf season, those of us in North Florida know, our games are already rounding into shape during some good weather days in February and March.

It’s the right call and a good fit. Nothing’s ever wrong with being 1st on the schedule.