TPC Sawgrass upgrades key to club’s future, general manager says


When it comes to planning for the future of TPC Sawgrass and its signature event, THE PLAYERS Championship, General Manager Bill Hughes says it all comes down to three little words.

Grow the game.

“(At TPC Sawgrass) we are all in charge of growing the game,” Hughes told attendees at the July 14 joint luncheon meeting of the St. Johns County and Jacksonville chambers of commerce. “Because if we don’t grow the game, we have no game.”

Achieving that goal, he said, requires an understanding that, unlike other golf clubs, TPC Sawgrass is all about showcasing THE PLAYERS Championship and serving an increasingly global audience that flocks to Ponte Vedra Beach each year for golf’s “fifth major.” He pointed to the opening of the $32.5 million clubhouse in 2007 as a seminal moment in the elevation of TPC Sawgrass and even The PGA Tour as a whole.

“The clubhouse changed the whole complexion of what the tour is,” Hughes said. “To see what has happened since then – and it didn’t happen by luck. It’s the result of a strategic business plan, and (Executive Director) Matt Rapp and his team have executed that plan on every pillar.”

Multimillion-dollar upgrades

Now, Hughes and his staff are preparing for the next phase in TPC Sawgrass’s evolution as the golf course undergoes a $50 million renovation. Hughes outlined for chamber members a number of the major upgrades happening this summer, including re-grassing all the greens with new varieties of grass, enlarging eight greens and lengthening two holes. The 12th hole is also being completely redesigned – an idea that at first gave Hughes pause.

“When I heard that, I said, ‘Pete Dye’s 90 years old – you don’t want to kill him!” Hughes quipped.

Much to his surprise, however, Dye was happy to tackle the project, which Hughes predicts may ultimately rival the popularity of the course’s 17th and 18th greens.

“We’re going to create this hub of fun in the middle of the back nine,” he said.

Other improvements now underway include ripping up the driving range and making it bigger and building a new golf course maintenance facility. The first change that most visitors will likely see, however, is what Hughes called the “arrival sequence.” While keeping most of the specific under wraps – other than to note a new roadway is being constructed to the clubhouse – Hughes promised that PLAYERS Championship fans would not be disappointed.

“We are creating an entry sequence that will be unrivaled in the game of golf,” he said.

 A global audience

Such improvements are critical, Hughes said, as both THE PLAYERS Championship and the PGA Tour win new fans around the globe. He noted that PGA Tour tournaments are now televised in more than 400 countries.

“The last PLAYERS had 1 billion viewers,” Hughes said. “Ten years ago, that (size audience) was Olympics-level viewing.”

He was quick to point out, however, that televising the tour was about more than just capturing tournament play.

“We’re not really broadcasting competitions,” he said. “We’re broadcasting this thing called golf – the life lessons: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship….

“You show me a kid who grew up on the golf course,” he continued, “and I’ll show you a good kid who’s going to amount to something.”

In addition, the PGA Tour’s significant charitable contributions and economic impact have the potential to transform lives far beyond the confines of a golf course, Hughes said.

In St. Johns County alone, he predicted, the economic impact of THE PLAYERS Championship Week will soon surpass $200 million.

“This place is being put on the map in a really big way,” he said. “That’s the best advertising you’ll ever see for this community.”