The Players Championship, arguably the “fifth major” golf tournament of the year, is held every year at the famed TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida. But few people know the real story behind its evolution into one of the greatest golf venues in the world. We had the pleasure of playing TPC Sawgrass with its founder, Deane Beman, and it didn’t disappoint. Whether you’re attending this year or watching on television, this story will undoubtedly enhance your experience. Here’s what we learned:
For those who need a brief golf history lesson, Beman was a PGA Tour Professional and won four times between 1969 and 1973. He became the PGA Commissioner in 1974 and served for twenty years during a critical time for golf when the number one televised sport in America was…wait for it…bowling.
Beman was a powerful force in the sport. Under his guidance, the PGA Tour Board passed a policy requiring all tournaments to support a charitable effort. He also engineered the Tour’s television initiative, which made golf one of the most popular televised sports today.
We teed it up with Commissioner Beman last fall at TPC Sawgrass after a delicious lunch at the majestic TPC Clubhouse. As we played, he regaled us with his experiences during his career, such as playing $0.25 cent Nassau at Burning Tree with President Eisenhower (“I’m still a member, but haven’t been up in a while.”) and engineering the birth of televising golf tournaments.
But most fascinating was the story he told of his vision behind TPC Sawgrass. Before he became Commissioner, Beman and renowned course architect Ed Ault came up with the idea of building something called “stadium courses” – specialized golf courses with mounds that invited spectators to see action from numerous vantage points. Their vision was to create several stadium style courses around the country where the major events could be rotated each year. Their pitch to the USGA was quickly turned down.
Beman remained undeterred. When he became Commissioner in 1974, the event currently known as The Players Championship was being held at Sawgrass Country Club nearby. A local developer needed amenities around the area to sell properties, and in 1978 Beman purchased 400 acres of nearby swamp land from him for $1. (The framed check still resides at the TPC Clubhouse.) He hired an old friend, Pete Dye, to transform the dismal swamp into a world class stadium golf course. Since the board wouldn’t support the construction, Beman convinced 50 local businessmen to put up the funds necessary to finance the construction.
Dye set to work. They filled in the fairways and green areas using excavated soil, which created the lakes present on the course today. When it came to the iconic 17th par three island green, Dye’s wife Alice weighed in, suggesting they leave the green in the middle of “the big hole filled with water”. “And the rest”, says Beman, “is history”. Today, stadium style courses are scattered around the US inviting golf enthusiasts to watch their favorite players tee it up each weekend.
If you plan to come watch the Players Championship or want to tee it up yourself afterwards, here are the best places to stay, play and eat.
- The Marriott Sawgrass is a seven iron from the 13th hole and provides excellent stay and play packages for golf enthusiasts.
- Across the street, the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club offers two excellent golf courses and beautiful beachside accommodations.
- As for dining, Ponte Vedra offers a host of excellent restaurants with scrumptious dining.
- Nona Blue (Graeme McDowell’s place) and Aqua Grill are conveniently located at the entrance to Sawgrass Village.