tampabay.com

The Players' new look

About the only recognizable facets of the TPC are the event's name and island green at No. 17.

By BOB HARIG
Published May 7, 2007


They have been playing the course for years, a venue made famous by its island green 17th hole at the home of the PGA Tour. But the best golfers in the world will hardly recognize the place.

The Players Championship, which this week will be contested for the first time in May, does not just have a new date.

It has a new look with a state-of-the-art clubhouse. And the course, with a new irrigation system and a new layer of turf, won't play the same, either.

"Almost everything has changed, " said Brian Goin, TPC executive director. "Very few things actually will remain the same. The date, the logo, the clubhouse, the course updates, the range, outside the ropes spectator viewing areas and mounding . . . a lot of it is new."

And it was all done with the idea of enhancing what is already the PGA Tour's signature event and generally regarded as the fifth major championship.

For the first time in its 34-year history - and 26th at what is now named the Players Stadium Course - it won't be dwarfed by the NCAA basketball tournament. Nor will it be considered a warm-up for the Masters.

The Players Championship is five weeks removed from the year's first major and five weeks before the U.S. Open. It finally stands alone.

For years, the tour had kicked around the idea of moving it from its traditional March date. Last year, with a new contract with the networks in place, it made the jump which opened up a spot in March for the PODS Championship at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor.

"We're going to have our five biggest events spread out each month, " Phil Mickelson said. "I think that's terrific. I love the way that those five months set up for our tour because it puts more emphasis on the quality of this event."

The move to May also changes the way golf will play and how much of it will be viewed on television - with just four minutes of commercial interruption per hour, like the Masters.

And because course officials did not overseed in the winter, the Stadium Course should play firmer and faster, which typically means it will be more difficult.

"The date change affects the golf course and television, " tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "By moving to May, we have later air times. We have more daylight. We can play later, which translates into better television. We can reach more people. We have warmer weather and drier weather, which means we can prepare the golf course in a more consistent fashion and keep it firmer and faster.

"The bottom line is we can challenge the players more effectively with much more firm and fast conditions."

Since Stephen Ames won last year, the old clubhouse has been torn down and rebuilt while an $8-million renovation occurred on the course. Simply, layers of organic material were peeled away after years of overseeding and replaced with 27, 000 tons of sand and new Bermuda grass. Each green was equipped with a Sub-Air system to suck moisture out in case of rain. And the par-72 course was lengthened 122 yards to 7, 220.

"A lot has changed under the surface, " said David Pillsbury, the CEO for PGA Tour golf course properties. "We have 30 miles of new drainage, a mile of bulkheading, 7 miles of dump trucks of sand, rebuilt all the greens, added the Sub-Air.

"That is all transparent to play except what it delivers are consistent, firm and fast conditions. We've had that before, but it's always been a function of dry weather. We are not able to deliver those conditions year in and year out regardless of weather."

Bob Harig can be reached at or harig@sptimes.com and (727) 893-8806.

 

TPC

When/where: Thursday-Sunday; TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach

Course: Players Stadium Course, par 72, 7, 220 yards

Defending champion: Stephen Ames

Purse: $8-million, $1.44-million to the winner

TV: Thursday-Friday, 1 to 7 p.m., Golf Channel (9 p.m. to midnight replay); Saturday-Sunday, 2 to 7 p.m., Ch. 8.