When the Players Championship moves to May next year the event will have a new look and feel as the tour implements an ambitious multimillion-dollar plan to upgrade the tournament and its host facility, the TPC at Sawgrass, for the next generation.
In many respects, the tour's revamping of its flagship property -- including renovating the course, building a new clubhouse (price tag: $16-$18 million) and creating a new tournament logo -- is a matter of putting its money where its mouth is. "We spend a lot of time talking to our tournaments about the need to upgrade what they do," said Bob Combs, the tour's senior VP for communications. "Yet we're the marquee event, and if we're going to urge others to keep raising the standard, we have to show them what it is."
While Stadium Course designer Pete Dye previously noted the tour's interest in overhauling the famed Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., course officials confirmed a $6-$8 million restoration that would not add length to the layout but rather address a more pressing issue: moisture. Days after the 2006 Players ends, construction crews will dig up all 18 fairways, scraping away six to eight inches of soil and replacing it with sand while installing a new drainage system. Tour officials estimate 24,000 tons of soil and sand will be removed and added, enough to cover 16 football fields. Additionally, the greens will be ripped up and an underground air system installed (similar to the one at Augusta National GC) to regulate temperature and moisture.
"[When completed] we'll almost have placed a layer of Gore-Tex over the entire 20-acre complex of fairways and greens that will allow us to ensure consistent, firm, fast and fair conditions regardless of weather," said David Pillsbury, COO of the Tournament Players Club network, who expects the course to re-open in November 2006.
On-course alterations will be subtle compared to outside-the-ropes changes. Spectator mounds surrounding the 16th, 17th and 18th holes will be lowered and slopes made more gradual to improve sightlines and traffic flow. Electronic scoreboards will be redesigned to incorporate full-motion color graphics and images. Hospitality pavilions with interactive fan-zones will be added along with a museum and Walk of Fame chronicling the tournament's history.
Sawgrass' enhancements won't be limited to tournament week. An expanded practice facility will be available to members and resort guests and include a new golf academy. A caddie program also has been implemented and walking will be permitted on the course (as will be the case at all TPC facilities).
Pillsbury was quick to note the overall plan isn't an attempt to position the tournament as a major championship but rather a necessary step to "elevate the entire experience" for players, spectators and everyday golfers. Said Combs: "It's the right thing to do, and it's the right time to do it."