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Winning Strategies for Golf Spectators

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times


Although he never had to worry about such things himself as commissioner of the PGA Tour, Deane Beman realized that golf fans had a difficult time viewing what they had paid to see.

Perhaps it was the look of strained spectators, who had spent most of the day on their tip-toes -- to no avail. Maybe it was those unsightly periscopes people used, devices which helped fans get a great look -- at the periscope directly in front of them.

No matter, Beman knew something had to be done to make his sport more friendly to fans.

So he came up with a radical concept that initially brought the wrath of professional golfers but the blessings of the people who watch them.

He introduced "stadium" golf courses, which afford fans unrestricted views. The TPC of Tampa Bay at Cheval, in Lutz, was built with the idea of hosting a golf tournament, and after four years at Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club, the area's Senior PGA Tour event moved to the TPC of Tampa Bay.

The 10th edition of that event takes place this Friday through Sunday, and each year record crowds have attended. Last year, when Jack Nicklaus won with a final-round 68, more than 60,000 fans crammed the grounds on the last day.

Those folks, and the crowds are similar courses, are finally getting prime views.

The credit goes to the spectator mounds that are a part of the landscape design. Much like tiered "seating," these mounds allow a better view of the action. The 18th hole at the original TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach can accommodate crowds of up to 30,000 people -- and they can all see what is happening.

The TPC of Tampa Bay in Lutz is much the same way. It is one of a network of courses that began in 1980 with TPC at Sawgrass, home to the Players Championship on the PGA Tour. Now there are 15 such courses around the country -- including five in Florida.

The TPC at Eagle Trace, in Coral Springs northwest of Fort Lauderdale, is the former home of the PGA Tour's Honda Classic, which switched to the TPC at Heron Bay, also in Coral Springs. The TPC at Prestancia, in Sarasota, is home to next week's American Express Invitational on the Senior PGA Tour.

"I think this TPC is the best we play anywhere," said Raymond Floyd of the Tampa Bay course. "I've got to believe that's the strong point. You've got a marvelous golf course and people appreciate playing a good, quality golf course. It's not tricked up -- it's straightforward, but it's demanding. And I think we all enjoy that kind of golf course."

And that's why so many of the top names in golf come. Floyd, Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Dave Stockton, Gary Player and others are expected to be in the field this week.

When the big names come, so do the fans. But nothing is more frustrating than being herded onto a golf course with no chance to see anything.

And no matter how spectator-friendly the course is, when thousands of people are in attendance, not all of them are going to get a close-up look at their heroes.

So here is some advice on how to watch a golf tournament. While the tips are aimed specifically for those attending the GTE Classic, the advice works for most any well-attended tournament: 1. Attend one of the pro-am rounds.

Although you have to be wary of errant shots by amateurs, the crowds are smaller and the players more relaxed. For spectators, maneuvering between holes is also easier. And the chance to get autographs is probably better because the players are more accessible. 2. Camp out at the driving range.

Bleachers are set up within a few yards of the range, and if you really want to watch a player hit shots, this is the place to do it. You can see them work their way through the entire bag, learn their routine, marvel at the consistency with which they launch golf balls into orbit. 3. Arrive early, stay late. The crowds are typically smaller in the early morning, and this is a good time to get to the course and map out strategy. You get a better look at the holes with fewer fellow spectators around. Staying late is a good idea for the first round. Sometimes the "name" players are bunched together in the middle of the day. But there are still good golfers on the course when play is concluding. 4. Pick a hole and stay there. If exercise is not your bag, and you're content to watch the entire field play shots to one hole, this is for you. Find a spot in the bleachers behind a green, or get near a tee box -- and stay there. This way you get to see everybody, at least for a little while. 5. Follow one player. If you have one player in particular you want to see, and hope to follow him or her for the entire round, you must be willing to put up with some hassles. First of all, you will not get the best position on every hole. Trying to follow Jack Nicklaus, for example, can be an adventure.

So why not follow your favorite through one hole and when it is completed, skip ahead a hole to get a better position. For example, if you go with your golfer on the first hole, stake out a position at the third hole while the golfer plays the second. Meanwhile, you'll get a glimpse of other players, and probably a better spot while the masses hang with Nicklaus or whoever. 6. See as many players as possible. This requires knowing a little bit about the course and where you can make your move. Get a pairing sheet, which lists when the players tee off and where. Then pick a couple of good spots. For example, the third green and eighth tee at the TPC of Tampa Bay are near each other, meaning you can follow a group for the first three holes, then catch another one finishing the front nine.

At this course, the fourth through seventh holes are the farthest from the clubhouse, which means there are fewer spectators. There is also a good variety of holes, including the only par-5 on the front nine.

On the back nine, there is an area that allows quick access to the 10th green, 11th hole, 17th green and 18th tee. This is a good spot to pick up plenty of players or to follow them for several holes.

If these tips don't do it, you probably need to stay home and watch on television.

Or, you can wait for the latest invention to become popular. Called GolfWatch, it is a premium ticket that allows spectators to walk the course through the use of "express lanes," preferred viewing at each green, multiple on-course hospitality areas, etc. It will not be available at the GTE Classic, but it will be at four other tournaments around the country this year on an experimental basis.

Of course, you'll have to pay for the privilege. For example at the Los Angeles Open later this month, where they will be trying this new idea, the cost will be $1,500 for five days.

In the meantime, it's best to learn to be creative. Bob Harig covers golf for the Times.

Originally published February 9, 1997



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