PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – At noon on a practice-round Tuesday, The Players Club inside the palatial clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass was the new place to be and be seen at The Players Championship. Some of golf’s biggest powerbrokers, including PGA Tour chief operating officer Jay Monahan, entertained guests and dined at a raw bar, sushi and crepe stations and so much more. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams? They can be yours for $5,000.
To some, it strikes as another example of the Players trying to imitate the Masters, which built the ultimate VIP venue, Berckmans Place, in 2013. When told that some have called the TPC’s version Berckmans Lite, Matt Rapp, the Tour’s vice president of business development, replied, “We’re Berkmans, only better. You can actually see golf from our venues.”
The concept was a few years in the works in recognition of a lack of a premium experience. And by premium, they mean pricey: tickets cost $5,000 per person and are purchased on a weekly basis, with individually issued tickets Tuesday-Sunday that can be transferred each day to another individual. The fact is, ticketholders get a lot for their money. The finest in modern amenities include everything from valet parking to food and beverage to exclusive on-course viewing areas. Women can get a manicure, blowout and makeup makeover; there are hot shaves and haircuts for the men. Throw in a $500 gift card to the clubhouse golf shop or two other merchandise locations on course and access to a personal shopper, and it starts to look like a bargain.
You need to rent a house? There is concierge service to handle it. David Beacon, director of hospitality, informed one guest that if he required help with dinner arrangements, he had prime-time reservations at some of the hottest eateries. You want to grill rules czar Mark Russell, NBC’s Johnny Miller and even the PGA Tour’s commish? The rules committee, NBC talent and Tim Finchem will conduct 15-20-minute Q&As with ticket holders.
Then there’s the food with a daily menu. On Tuesday, TPC Louisiana executive chef Ryan Gall, who learned his craft under Emeril Lagasse, cooked New Orleans BBQ shrimp, while David Trevelino from TPC Twin Cities, who has cooked for two U.S. presidents, presented prosciutto-wrapped pan-seared walleye fillets with maple and white balsamic-dressed kale salad, roasted butternut squash, Humboldt fog-aged goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and squash-seed oil and an aged balsamic drizzle. The raw bar, consisting of Florida stone crabs, Blue Point oysters, snow-crab claws and lobster tail, was not to be missed. One patron, his plate overflowing, smiled and said, “They’re going to lose money on me.” His mate added, “I haven’t eaten this good in a long time.”
As good as it is, exclusivity in this case means not many have jumped at the opportunity.
“I think you’ll find space available,” one Players Championship regular said.
An estimated 500 ponied up for the right to have full run of the clubhouse for the week as well as access to private hospitality suites behind the 17th and 18th tees, with more food, top-shelf drinks and plasma-screen TVs.
“You’re not far off,” Rapp said of the 500 figure. “We deliberately wanted to keep it low. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and we want to wow people with the experience.”
In 2014, 22,000 spectators trudged through the clubhouse during the course of the week. Last year, in advance of The Players Club, clubhouse passes were reduced by 70 percent by transitioning them to other venues.
“The old clubhouse experience was a circus,” Rapp said. “Honestly, it smelled in there.”
In years past, there were more people in line for the bathroom than eating lunch on opening day. But to M.J. Weeder of Austin, Texas, who went online and said “her dog” had purchased a pair of tickets for her husband, Barry, as a Father’s Day present, it was a perfect day. A first-time attendee, Barry is crossing off a bucket-list item, and he and his wife spent for The Players Club because as she put it, they had FOMO: fear of missing out.
Never fear. Their champagne wishes and caviar dreams came true.