At any other golf course, the sound of hammers, slamming metal, tractors and lawnmowers would be distracting. But TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course isn’t any other golf course, so the noise seems muted.
Work around the famed golf course is a warp speed ahead of this year’s PLAYERS Championship. Corporate villas started being erected the first week of December. Every blade of grass, grain of sand and flowering bush has been manicured to create an intoxicating atmosphere of both golf and tranquil splendor.
A year after the world came to a screeching halt by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s PLAYERS Championship marks the one-year anniversary of a national shutdown — and the slow return to some normalcy.
Last year’s tournament was canceled shortly after the first round. The PGA TOUR originally said the tournament would continue without fans, but hours later they shut it down and sent everyone home.
The Tour returned with extreme protocols that excluded galleries and required daily medical checks three months later.
“As we think about what’s happened since that day for the PGA TOUR, we’ve really been back at playing golf for the course of the last 30 weeks or so since June, and we take a tremendous amount of responsibility and pride and care and consideration for how we’ve been able to do that with health and safety being the priority of everything that we’re doing,” said tournament director Jared Rice.
Rice said a limited number of tickets will be made available. Galleries will be restricted to 20% maximum occupancy, and tickets will be available to subscribers of THE PLAYERS newsletter and past ticket purchasers, who will receive an email from the tournament in the next few days. The pre-tournament offer for Stadium passes will be made available on Feb. 16.
Tickets and parking passes will be issued digitally. All patrons will be required to wear masks and hospitality areas will be designed to better assure proper distancing. And entry gates, souvenir shops and snack bars will be contactless.
“We feel that hits our priority of how we can deliver the tournament in a healthy way and with the safety of everybody in mind, our sponsors, our fans, our volunteers. All of that is mission critical to us,” Rice said. “And that number also — just for reference, that’s the total tickets issued or access issued. We know over the course of 150-plus acres of turf grass out on the golf course, 18 holes, 12 hours that fans will be able to be walking around freely and enjoying every bit of this golf course that Jeff [Plotts, director of golf course maintenance] and his team makes look so spectacular.
“From a hospitality perspective we’ve modified everything. That means in hospitality zones we’ll have open-air venues, and again, looking for ways to make sure it’s as safe as possible, limiting some access there. And then from a fan perspective, again, really looking at ways we can focus on social distancing as part of, again, any food and beverage experience but still make it great for our fans.
“You’ll see a lot of commentary about three Ws: Wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance, and those are things that we’ll talk about when you’re on-site.”
The world’s top players are expected to return to the Stadium Course. They will find a course that’s in spectacular shape.
Included in the never-ending renovations is a complete makeover of the green at the famed par-3 17th hole. Tee boxes have been reshaped and are protected with black mesh until the players arrive.
“This is their home,” Rice said. “This is everybody’s home course, and they’ll make all attempts to be here.”
THE TOUR also will work with local retailers, restaurants and hotels to encourage everyone to follow safety protocols. Rice said his group will encourage the creation of watch parties and other ways for the community to enjoy the tournament without being on the property.
It’s hard to understand all the work that goes into hosting one of world’s premier golf tournaments. Hundreds of groundskeepers are committed to a yearlong effort to keep every inch of the course in pristine condition. Hundreds more work nearly four months hammering and digging to get everything else in place.
All that’s missing — for now —are the players.