While others considered a 415-acre plot in Ponte Vedra Beach as nothing more than swampland more than 40 years ago, Deane Beman had a vision for something completely different and revolutionary.
One dollar and 20 years of planning later, TPC Sawgrass was raised from primordial swale to one of the most-iconic layouts in golf.
The course, which has been the permanent home to THE PLAYERS Championship since 1982, transformed the way fans watched the sport. High banks along the fairways and a favorable layout to accommodate NFL-like crowds provided a stage like no other.
For Beman, it was the culmination of a lifetime of work and vision.
“I can remember it used to be a couple thousand people watching a golf tournament – maybe 10,000 or so would watch an important event,” Beman said. “Of course, today the galleries are much bigger. Building a golf course that speaks to the people coming to watch the tournament, I thought was a very important concept. It was christened stadium golf. My idea for stadium golf goes back to the early ‘60s.”
When Beman became the second PGA TOUR commissioner in 1974, he finally had the authority to turn his dream into a reality. At the same time, he could make TPC Sawgrass the permanent home to THE PLAYERS after bouncing from Atlanta; Fort Worth, Texas; South Florida and across the street at Sawgrass Country Club in the first eight years.
It wasn’t easy to convince others of his unique plans. He had talks with then-PGA TOUR Commissioner Joe Dey as early as 1960 about building a different kind of golf course that would be more fan-friendly.
“It took Joe about five minutes to say he didn’t like the idea,” Beman said. “That was that. It went in the drawer and it sat there until I was responsible for building the PLAYERS Championship. I had the opportunity to build the golf course to accommodate the event and that’s how stadium golf got started.”
Beman bought the original plot for $1 from Jerome and Paul Fletcher. TPC now is the mothership of a network of 30 other spectator-friendly stadium courses around the world.
But none are more revered than the first, TPC Sawgrass.
“I’m particularly proud of it,” Beman said. “A lot of people were involved in getting it done. It was difficult to do. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done. We prevailed over an extended period of time to bring it about. We made sure it served, not only the players, but served the public’s interest.
“For a lot of reasons, the concept of stadium golf is very, very successful. [Sawgrass] was the first stadium golf course built. Others have been built after it. One that you would recognize would be Phoenix [TPC Scottsdale Champions Course]. I think the last number that I saw was the Phoenix Open got 300,000, 400,000, 500,000 people. Years ago, that was unheard of.”
With the U.S. Open being conducted by the USGA; the Masters being run as an invitational; the PGA Championship being part of the PGA of America; and the British Open being the flagship event of the R&A, THE PLAYERS is the biggest tournament on the PGA TOUR schedule because the players are the stakeholders of the Tour and the course.
Although Beman clearly was ahead of his time, TPC probably has evolved into something grander than his original expectations.
But it all started with one man’s dream — and a single dollar.