PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – News flash: Changes are coming to the PGA Tour’s 2017 Players Championship.
Truth is, that statement could be made about The Players every year. The PGA Tour constantly makes changes to the biggest championship it operates, all with the goal of creating what new executive director Jared Rice calls “the best fan experience in golf.”
That’s not mere hype; the Tour for years has been relentless in trying to improve the experience for ticket holders. Every year the Tour can point to improvements such as new food vendors, more shaded viewing areas, more and better restrooms and the addition or subtraction of mounding to help fans see more action.
This year the changes will be more evident because of renovations to TPC Sawgrass’ Players Stadium Course that should create more excitement on the course and better sightlines to see the action.
“The plan of the renovation was to thin out some overgrown areas,” said Rice, who has worked for the PGA Tour for 10 years and was promoted to executive director of The Players in December. Hurricane Matthew contributed to those efforts in October, felling 203 trees on Players Stadium and another 46 around the practice area and clubhouse.
Rice said the improved sightlines will be obvious when fans enter via a new walkway between Nos. 9 and 17. They will be able to see some or all of the final four holes on the front nine.
“It really opens up and makes those areas more viewable,” he said. “I don’t think fans realized how close they were to those holes (in past years).”
Two striking design changes were made to the Players Stadium Course since last year’s tournament:
- Mounding was removed and trees thinned between Nos. 6 and 7, which run parallel, and the narrow water hazards separating the holes have been turned into a much wider, rectangular lake. That creates new challenges for the players but better viewing options for fans.
- Even more striking is the 12th hole, which was turned into a drivable par 4 with the fairway and green sloping toward a new water hazard on the left. That will make it difficult to recover on bailouts to the right. And a long, narrow fairway bunker that runs down the left side of the hole and stops about 50 yards from the green should create headaches even for players who want to layup.
Rice noted that No. 12 already was a popular gathering spot because of TacoLu’s “Tacos on 12” food stand. TacoLu will be one of nearly 20 local food vendors sprinkled around the course. But Rice pointed to other less-noticeable changes that will enhance the spectator experience as more traffic flows toward No. 12: lower spectator mounds between Nos. 14 and 15, and also behind No. 11, where some oak trees were planted to create a grove.
“Fans will pass those areas on the way to No. 12, so we’re really bringing them through multiple areas that have improved as part of the overall renovation,” Rice said. “We expect a different traffic pattern, but we’re prepared for it.”
(Note: This story appeared in the April 24, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)