THE PLAYERS Championship’s efforts to expand its reach beyond the United States did not go unnoticed at TPC Sawgrass this past weekend.
Nowhere was that more visible than on the final leader board, which featured players from nine different countries outside the United States in the top 15, including tournament winner Si Woo Kim of South Korea. Finishing the weekend at 10 under, the 21-year-old Kim is the tournament’s second straight international winner, with Australia’s Jason Day winning in 2016, and the third in four years. Following his victory, Kim praised the influence of mentor and fellow South Korean, K.J. Choi, who won THE PLAYERS Championship in 2011.
“He’s been a great golfer representing Korea, and I’ve always wanted to be like him,” said Kim, adding that Choi and Tiger Woods motivated him to start playing golf.
Trailing Kim in the top five were Ian Poulter of England, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain and Kyle Stanley of the United States. In total, 56 international players competed in the tournament, representing just under 40 percent of golfers in the field of 147.
Since 2012, PGA Tour International Media has invited media outlets from around the world to cover these international golfers live from THE PLAYERS Championship International Broadcast Village, which is situated a few hundred yards behind the Stadium Course’s 17th hole. Over the past five years, the village has grown from two broadcasters in 2012 to six in 2017. Due to renovations made to the facility this year, the village can host up to eight international broadcasters.
According to THE PLAYERS Championship Executive Director Jared Rice, the tournament credentialed 943 media staff from 202 media outlets from 18 countries, in total. The tournament was broadcast to over 1 billion households across 226 countries and territories outside the United States, in 30 languages, he said. For the first time ever, the tournament was broadcast live in Times Square in New York City – a destination for international travelers – on the side of tournament sponsor Morgan Stanley’s building. Also for the first time, Rice added, three international media outlets rebranded and dedicated their respective channels to the tournament all week long. These included Sky Sports UK/Ireland, Fox Sports Australia and Golf Network Japan.
Reiko Takekawa, a golf writer for Japan’s Kyodo News, said she believes the tournament is becoming increasingly popular overseas. She said the PGA Tour, in general, has grown in popularity in Japan over the past few years, especially with the rise of Japanese player Hideki Matsuyama. She credits the extensive international media coverage of THE PLAYERS Championship to its recognition as the sport’s “fifth major,” with the deepest field and most dramatic finish.
In addition to an increase in international media coverage, Rice said the number of international fans at the tournament is growing. According to the tournament director, 5 percent of the event’s ticket sales were from outside the United States, which accounts for about 10,000 of the 200,000 fans that attended. In addition, 55 percent of attendance came from outside of Jacksonville’s five-county area, he said. There’s nothing more important to Rice than this.
“Our number one goal is to grow the national and international fan base,” he said.
As a result of this growth, it was more common than not to hear people speaking in multiple languages about the tournament as you walked from hole to hole.
Edgardo Catari, a golf enthusiast from Venezuela, attended THE PLAYERS Championship this year for the first time to see the “best of the best” play in what he called a “very prestigious tournament.” He went home to South America extremely impressed with the Stadium Course.
“It’s the best I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve been to other tournaments,” said Catari, adding that he met fans from Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador, Japan, Italy and Spain over the weekend.
Mark Ellis, a fan from England, has been watching the tournament for years on television, and he’s always wanted to attend.
“It’s an absolute dream being here,” he said. “I just can’t believe how beautiful it is. Every single one of my friends is watching it back home: my dad, my mom, my sister, my brother, cousins and friends abroad all the same. I think it’s just amazing.”