Your plans to build a stadium course in Ponte Vedra Beach was received with a lot of skepticism at the beginning, but it’s quickly evolved into one of the biggest golf tournaments of the year. How did you make that happen?
TPC Sawgrass has become what it is because the tournament is held there regularly, and you golf fans are familiar with it year after year. They get to see the same golf course year after year. They turn the television on, they’re waiting to look, to find a hole that excites them – a hole like 17. I think that is a big part of it. The other important part of that is it’s the PGA TOUR’s most important event, and it’s a very special event for the players.
Was it the unique attraction of TPC Sawgrass that helped evolve THE PLAYERS Championship into the worldwide success it’s become, or was the tournament responsible for TPC Sawgrass’ success?
The combination of the golf course and the tournament, and the 17th hole in particular, I think that was probably just as important as anything. It excited people. It was dynamic. It was something people really haven’t seen before. The combination of those things — not any one thing in particular — the things that happened at 17, good and bad, that affected the tournament showed the spectators and the television viewers this tournament wasn’t over until you ran the gauntlet — 16, 17, 18. On those three holes, you can play even par and play safely with a couple shot lead and end up losing the tournament — which has happened on more than one occasion. Or you can be three or four shots behind with three or four holes left to go and you can overcome it if somebody plays it too safe. The golf course was designed so that the finish was dramatic.
When you became the commissioner, you said your first priority was to find a permanent home for THE PLAYERS? Why was so much attention put into that?
One of my first jobs as commissioner of the PGA TOUR was to put on the first PLAYERS championship. Part of that responsibility of not only putting on the first one, was to make it a very important event in golf. I was assigned that and it was my inspiration that moved the event out of the summer schedule. It started in August. It played in Atlanta first and then in Fort Worth [Texas]. I felt that was a very crowded part of the schedule and I moved it to the first quarter of the year so that the event could be the most-important event of the season for the players. Our season used to kick off in January.
Finding a permanent home and putting it early in the season when the weather is more accommodating in Florida and when seasonal residents are in town was a critical piece of the tournament’s success?
It was part of my responsibility and my vision for it to be the most-important event at that time of the year. Then, I felt if it were held at the same place year after year, the roots to it becoming an important event would be a lot shorter because the spectators who came to it year after year, particularly those who saw it on television, would have that familiarity with what they were going to see in anticipation and actually seeing what they remembered from the year before.
Is it fair to say TPC Sawgrass was built solely for THE PLAYERS?
All those were just elements of it, and building a golf course to suit it, I felt building a golf course that was designed, not just for the players to play and amateurs to play and enjoy, but a golf course built for spectators to accommodate the modern spectator of golf.