By Mike Mazur
The PGA Tour has had little control over scoring conditions at its flagship event, The Players Championship. That will change beginning in 2007.
In an effort to create firm, fast surfaces more to the liking of its membership, the Tour next year will begin a major renovation of the TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The Tour plans to rebuild all 18 fairways, replacing 6 to 8 inches of the existing organic soil base with a fast-draining sand, and install subsurface aerification and drainage systems to its greens, similar to the SubAir system in use at Augusta National Golf Club.
“Our objective is to (essentially) take a 20-acre piece of Gore-Tex and put it over this golf course,” said David Pillsbury, chief operating officer of the Tour’s Golf Course Properties.
The course renovation is being overseen by Pete Dye, who designed and built the Stadium Course, which opened in 1981. It is part of a broader, more comprehensive branding overhaul for the facility and the tournament – which, beginning in 2007, will be known simply as The Players. The Tour plans construction of a chic clubhouse, a Walk of Fame entrance and enhanced spectator viewing positions around the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.
“This is a massive project, and it really represents a merging of the PGA Tour and The Players Championship,” Pillsbury said. “It represents the nexus of both those powerful brands.”
The project coincides with the facility’s 25th anniversary, and construction is set to begin immediately after next year’s event in March. The cost will be at least $22 million to $26 million, Pillsbury said, covered entirely by revenues from TPC resort operations.
Course renovation, slated to be completed by November 2006, will comprise about $6 million to $8 million. The new clubhouse is expected to open in time for The Players in 2007 and will cost $16 million to $18 million. Spectator enhancements such as jumbo TV screens and interactive kiosks will add to the project’s total.
The Tour began planning the TPC facelift two years ago and already has rebuilt two fairways. Despite much debate over the distance today’s professionals hit the ball, no additions of length to the Stadium Course are planned. Rather, data compiled by the Tour’s ShotLink system indicates that the introduction of consistently firm, fast conditions – which will bring the course’s severe rough and mounding more into play – is enough to challenge the game’s elite players.
The 2007 debut will coincide with the first year of the Tour’s next television package, which many insiders have speculated will result in The Players moving to a new date. But Bob Combs, the Tour’s senior vice president public relations and communications, said the project was “not about moving The Players Championship to May. We may play it in March, we may play it in May.”
Combs also said the initiative was not designed to turn The Players Championship – long regarded as the tour’s “fifth major” – into a bona fide major championship.
“We don’t control that process,” Combs said.
Among other changes to the venue:
ShotLink technology will be taken to new heights, with locator boards and touch-screen kiosks that display real-time tournament and player stats and information.
A caddie program will be implemented at Sawgrass and throughout the Tour’s TPC Network.
Practice facilities will be expanded, and a PGA Tour Golf Academy will be built on site.
The new clubhouse, designed in a “Grand Mediterranean Revival” style, is expected to increase special event capacity by 160 percent. That will come largely through two “Proud Partners” meeting rooms branded by UBS and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.