A look back: Visionary turns swamp into world-class golf venue

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World Golf Hall of Fame member Deane Beman has made his mark on the sport as a player, administrator and visionary. Beman is the reason one of the most popular golf tournaments worldwide takes place in the heart of Ponte Vedra Beach. THE PLAYERS Championship celebrated its 46th year in 2019, and all but the first three tournaments have been played there.

During his tenure as PGA TOUR Commissioner in the 1970s, Joe Dey proposed the division should have its own tournament. The first Tournament Players Club was held in 1974.

 

THE PLAYERS evolves

The first three tournaments were played in Atlanta, Fort Worth, Texas, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The original intention was for THE PLAYERS to rotate like the USA Championship using existing sites instead of adding a new event to the full tournament schedule.

“The first tournament location was picked before I became commissioner,” Beman said. “I picked the second location quickly, but the third took a little longer to determine.” 

He wanted it to be the first event of the year. Further, he decided rotating courses would not allow the tournament to “develop a total identity of its own.”

“To be successful it had to be at the same place every year,” Beman said. “The only way to do that was to find a tournament that would fully embrace THE PLAYERS Championship and give up its own event and fully embrace this one.”

On a spring break trip with his son during the Greater Jacksonville Open, he played the course at Sawgrass Country Club.

“I thought the course was something very special,” Beman said. “Instead of playing 18 holes, we played nine and I went back to the GJO and started the discussions about how I thought Sawgrass Country Club had tremendous potential.”

He proposed moving the tournament there to GJO officials.

 

Let’s make a deal

He negotiated a purchase agreement with Sawgrass owners, but the PGA Board would not approve it.

Beman noticed 4,000 acres were under development across the street from the Sawgrass Country Club.

“I convinced the Fletcher Brothers that if they gave us property, we would make it valuable and it would be profitable for them,” Beman said. “They gave us the property for $1 and we paid them a dollar for the 415 acres and started the process of finding someone to be the architect and putting the finances together to do it.”

The board, once again, denied financing the property.

Beman went to work raising capital. He secured a non-recourse loan, and found 50 local business leaders to buy $20,000 memberships. Another 3,000 associate memberships guaranteed play.

 

The first stadium course

With the purchase of the raw 415 acres, Beman’s dream of a spectator-friendly course could be a reality. He worked with course designer and architect, Pete Dye.

“We were dealing with a low-lying area that had a lot of vegetation so we had to remove all the stuff to build the tiered-seating to create the stadium experience I envisioned,” Beman said. “What is now hole 17 had the best sand on the property, so we kept digging to build the greens.”

The end result was a great big hole and no more sand to excavate.

That’s when Alice Dye suggested to her husband, Pete, “Make it an island green,’” Beman said.

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