Preview: 2011 THE PLAYERS Championship

Golf Writer Andy Reistetter continues his exclusive “Play-Write” series recently playing the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and writing about this week’s PLAYERS Championship. This is the ninth article in his “Play-Write” series.

IslandGreenDriving down PGA TOUR Boulevard the turn onto Championship Way may be elusive if you are not paying attention to the matter at hand.

After all, it is a neighborhood and the corner anchoring the East-West buildings of the PGA TOUR headquarters look residential if you can see them amidst the garden-like landscaping of the Sawgrass Players Club community.

This is the American home of golf.

Right there on that corner of Championship Way and PGA TOUR Boulevard stands the aluminized portrait of the game’s all-time greatest golfer, “Champion Emeritus” Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus won the very first PLAYERS Championship, which was then known as the Tournament Players Championship, in 1974. With even-year frequency, he triumphed in 1976 and 1978. The Golden Bear is the only three-time champion in the tournament’s 37-year history.

The drive that winds down Championship Way and then rises to reveal the majestic Mediterranean-Style Clubhouse is like no other in golf.

From TOUR headquarters to TOUR playground this ride sets the stage for an exciting visit to the most iconic golf course and golf hole in the world—the famed par-three 17th with the island green.

Along Championship Way, one is introduced to the tall pine trees, sprawling oak trees with a splash of palm trees that grace the property. TPC Sawgrass—home of THE PLAYERS—is what former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman envisioned and built with the design assistance of the great golf course architect Pete Dye.

After passing the headquarter buildings some water comes into view but one has to wait until putting the peg in the ground on the first tee before it comes into play.

The first green is there off to the right but it is hidden by one of Dye’s signature spectator viewing mounds.

As the road curves along its path there are a total of 31 champion portraits beginning with “the great one” and ending with 2010 Champion Tim Clark.

Like Nicklaus, two-time champions Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton and Davis Love III only have one lamppost rendition with the multiple years of victory noted below their portrait.

As PLAYERS tradition calls for, defending champion Clark’s portrait was erected late last week immediately before the commencement of this year’s event.

Another tradition at THE PLAYERS is volunteering and charitable giving.

The PLAYERS volunteer organization led by Red Coat Chairmen date back officially to the 1965 Jacksonville Open. The roots are deeper than that and go back to the 1945 when Sam Snead won the first one here on Florida’s First Coast.

Current Executive Direct Matt Rapp and Tournament Chairman Jim Fuller have made their own signature improvements in this the fifth year of the PLAYERS with a May date.

While the golfers will have “fun in the sun,” the patrons will have it “made in the shade” with the additional of several upscale gathering and relaxing venues to enjoy between golf shots.

The UBS Stadium Village has been enhanced and improved with the one-third replica of the par-three 17th hole still a hole anyone can play when they come out to the PLAYERS Championship.

Two volunteers I have worked alongside the past few years on the course prep team, Jimmy Davis and Ted Dill, passed on over this past winter to the promised eternal golf course in the sky.

Their friendship and generosity, along with other volunteers that have passed on, will never be forgotten at THE PLAYERS or within the Northeast Florida communities.

A record $4.8 million from the 2010 PLAYERS benefited nearly 100 First Coast charities.

The Stadium Course is in excellent condition. The growing season this spring was optimal. Hot and sunny weather is predicted through tournament time. Look for “firm, fast and fair as can be on a Dye course” conditions for this post-Mother’s Day competition.

The big year of change before Mickelson’s victory in 2007 came with a new clubhouse and major golf course renovations including the extensive rebuilding of every fairway and green.

TPC Sawgrass General Manager Bill Hughes, Head Golf Professional Matt Borocz and Golf Course Superintendent Thomas Vlach and their staffs are prepared to make this year’s experience the most magical ever for players, spectators and the millions watching the acclaimed NBC Sports broadcast on television.

What golfers have won and not won the PLAYERS?

The first PLAYERS was staged 10 years after Arnold Palmer won his last of seven majors at the 1964 Masters. Though well past his prime, Palmer played in a dozen PLAYERS with his best finish a T40 coming in 1977.

It would have been nice if Gary Player had a portrait on one of those posts as well. He played in 10 championships and posted top-10 finishes in 1976 and 1980.

Tom Watson competed in his prime at the PLAYERS on 26 occasions though never won. With nine top-10s his closest pursuit of the title was a distant second to the hot Lanny Wadkins in 1979.

The man who analyzes the action at the PLAYERS for NBC Sports had his chances as well. Playing in 14 PLAYERS, Johnny Miller won his second major after the creation of the PLAYERS and 15 other PGA TOUR events but nary a PLAYERS Championship.

Most of the best golfers have won the best tournament in the world, including Lanny Wadkins (1979), Lee Trevino (1980), Raymond Floyd (1981), Tom Kite (1989), Nick Price (1993), Greg Norman (1994), Tiger Woods (2001) and Phil Mickelson (2007).

Those are six current World Golf Hall of Famers and two future inductees.

The creator Beman and architect Dye are also in the Hall of Fame in large part for their noncompetitive PLAYERS triumphs.

Hale Irwin, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Price, Vijay Singh, Larry Nelson, Hubert Green, Jose Maria Olazabal, Payne Stewart, Ernie Els and Curtis Strange all had chances in their prime but did not win.

Isn’t that strange?

As the players emerge from the TPC Sawgrass locker room heading to golf’s finest stadium they pass a sign that reads, “Through this tunnel pass the greatest golfers of the world competing for the right to be called the PLAYERS champion.”

Not everybody is destined to win THE PLAYERS Championship or is good enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps this is the year that Ernie Els does both?

“PLAYERS’ Passion” catch the excitement on NBC Sports or make that left turn onto Championship Way and come out to the Stadium Course to see something spectacular.


Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Research and Broadcast Assistant for the major golf broadcast companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.

Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.

A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website Andy’s Golf & Travel Diary or by e-mailing him at