The Players Championship and TPC Sawgrass

 

 

Courtesy of Craig ONeal

Courtesy of Craig O’Neal

Professional golf split into two organizations in 1968: the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR.  Founded in 1916, the PGA of America consists of local club and teaching professionals at golf courses throughout the country.  This group focuses on growing the game of golf and working closely with amateurs.  Also, this organization oversees the PGA Championship each year.  The PGA TOUR operates as the organization for professionals who play in tournaments. It hosts almost 50 events each year and consists of the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour, and the Web.com Tour.  The PGA TOUR does not host one of the professional Majors:  the Masters, the British Open, the United States Open or the PGA Championship. The fact that the PGA TOUR hosted no signature event led to then-PGA TOUR commissioner Deane Beman’s brainchild:  the Tournament Players Championship.

Beman sought to have a championship for the PGA TOUR, much like the PGA Championship for the PGA.  Only recently split from the PGA of America, the PGA TOUR, according to Beman, needed to establish important events that would lure the television networks and the money they could provide.  The Tournament Players Championship became the first of such events.  Later, the World Series of Golf (currently, the WGC-Mexico in Mexico City, the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, TX, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, OH, and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China), Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge became PGA Tour mainstays.  All of these tournaments helped establish credibility for the PGA TOUR and attract much needed television revenue.

The Tournament Players Championship (TPC) teed off in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club.  Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural tournament in early September and would win three out of the first five TPCs.  The event moved to the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas for 1975, then in 1976 to Inverrary Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The event moved to Sawgrass Country Club’s Oceanside Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for a mid-March date in 1977 and remained there until 1982 when the Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass opened.

Before the construction of the Stadium Course, Beman envisioned a special and unique site for the Players Championship.  He believed the players of the PGA TOUR should own the event and the host site.  Beman sold his idea to landowners Jerome and Paul Fletcher, who liked it so much that they offered to sell 415 acres of wooded wetlands and swamp to the PGA TOUR for $1.  This land served as the basis for the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course.

Beman told Dye that he wanted a course that would favor no specific player or style of play.  The course had to be balanced; must contain a selection of short, medium and long holes within the categories of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s; and had to have right and left doglegs.  Also, the course must not have two consecutive holes played in the same direction so that wind direction would have a more balanced influence on the players.

Because the site was to be built on wetlands and amidst heavy woods, Dye created lakes for strategic play of a hole and for fill necessary to create contours of play and “stadium” mounding, according to TPC.com.  Spectator viewing became an integral part of Dye’s design. Strategic viewing areas lined the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th, 16th, 17th and 18th greens.  These mounds allowed thousands of spectators to have unobstructed views of play.

The famous 17th island hole came about by accident.  Dye originally designed the green near a small pond. However, constructors continually dug out valuable sand around the pond until the green was surrounded by water, and arguably the most famous par-3 hole in golf emerged.

The event changed its name to the Players Championship in 1988.  The event and TPC Sawgrass are indeed owned by the players and the tournament has the richest purse of any tournament on the PGA TOUR, $10 million in 2015.  The field consists of 144 players chosen by various criteria, including rankings, PGA TOUR victories and Majors titles.  Players can also receive invitations from the Players Championship Committee.  Winners of the Players Championship receive exemptions of five years on the PGA TOUR, three-year exemptions for the Masters and British Open, and an exemption for the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship later that year.

Beginning in 2007, the Players Championship moved from its March date to its current May date in a restructuring that accommodated the new FedEx Cup, which concludes with the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in September.  Players now have a significant event for six consecutive months beginning in April (The Masters in April, The Players Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June, the British Open in July, the PGA Championship in August, and the Tour Championship in September).

The Players Championship has become known as golf’s fifth major because of its lucrative purse, exemptions and FedEx Cup points awarded (the same as the four Majors). TPC Sawgrass offers a challenging, yet fair, golfing experience for players of all levels, professional and amateur, while the course contains one of the most famous par -3s in golf, the 17th island hole.  It may have taken a few decades, but Beman and the PGA TOUR found their signature event.

 

 

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