Rice: THE PLAYERS Championship a boon to local economy

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THE PLAYERS Championship is more than just a world-class golf tournament, Executive Director Jared Rice told local business leaders last week. It’s an economic engine that pumps millions of dollars into the local economy while showcasing Northeast Florida to a global audience.

“This is extremely important for our community,” Rice said at a joint meeting of the St. Johns County/Ponte Vedra Beach and JAX Beaches chambers of commerce held at Sawgrass Beach Club. “Five years ago, 60 percent of our ticket purchases originated from within the five-county area. Today, 55 percent originate from outside of the five-county area. So, we are bringing quite a bit of out-of-town business to this community.”

Yet as Rice prepares for THE PLAYERS Championship 2017 – his first since becoming the tournament’s executive director – he remains firmly focused on one goal.

“We want to live up to and exceed the promise of being the best fan experience in the game of golf,” Rice said. “We seek to maintain that level of excellence, of being best in class.”

Rice shared some of the key pillars of THE PLAYERS’ business plan, which include ensuring that the PGA Tour’s “Fifth Major” offers the best field of competitors of any major tournament.

“Statistically, (THE PLAYERS) is the best field of golf, period,” Rice said. “It is the best of the best playing each other at TPC Sawgrass.”

It is also, he contended, the purest test of golfing ability. “The course was built to favor no one style of golf,” he said. “You have to have every phase of your game working to perfection.”

Adding to the Stadium Course’s challenges are a number of major modifications and upgrades made since THE PLAYERS 2016, including the transformation of the 12th hole into a drivable par 4 – a change Rice said will add additional excitement to the back 9.

“The original vision of this course was that every hole would be a risk/reward hole,” he said. “Now, the 12th hole can be an eagle, or a birdie, or something considerably worse.”While acknowledging the traffic woes that plague THE PLAYERS Championship each year, Rice noted that over the past seven years, the tournament has generated nearly $50 million for local charities.

“That is life changing giving and it is staying here in Northeast Florida,” Rice noted before introducing Kevin English, the 2017 tournament chairman. English will oversee the nearly 2,000 volunteers who staff THE PLAYERS, enabling the proceeds to be donated to local youth charities.

“Last year we raised $8.5 million,” English said, “and we’re looking to make that $9 million this year.”

THE PLAYERS Championship 2017 will be held May 9-14 at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.

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