[nggallery id=15 images=1]The Players Championship is the PGA Tour’s Super Bowl. While technically not a “major” golf tournament, it is the biggest annual happening the Tour itself hosts each year. And, just like the Super Bowl, the action on the field of play represents only a fraction of the activity associated with the event. It all tees off with the first practice round Monday, May 9, at 7:30 AM. Competitive play starts on Thursday morning and a champion is crowned late Sunday afternoon. During the week we can expect countless great golf shots, lots of laughs, cold drinks, good food and terrific people-watching.
For the first time, the Jeld-Wen Stadium Village is totally tented and air-conditioned. And not only will the temperature be comfy, the giant tent features Wi-Fi access, the nicest public restrooms on the course and a cash bar. The 17th First Tee Challenge is located here, too. Think of it as the closest you can get to teeing up at the iconic Island Green. Don’t choke on the pressure of all those people watching. Also, this is one of only two locations (the other being The Terrace) where grounds patrons can purchase mixed drinks. It’s the next best thing to having your own private corporate hospitality tent—and it’s waaay less expensive. The Stadium Village is located between the clubhouse and the 10th tee.
There are several new venues for on-course eats and drinks this year. Sure to be among the most popular is The Grove, a shady area situated directly behind the 17th tee. Here patrons will find umbrella tables and a giant LED video board, and it’s just steps from the Food Court. Sure, they’ll be selling over-priced sandwiches, beer and burgers, but also on the menu is grub served by local restaurants like Bono’s Bar-B-Q, Brucci’s Pizza and Tropical Smoothie Café. Expect this spot to be unusually crowded and loud. Entry gate P2 is nearby and the 17th is the course’s must-visit hole.
The Players’ annual charitable contribution is enormous. It’s been that way since the first year of the tournament. However, new this year is an official National MS Society Day on Thursday, May 12. This first round day, fans are encouraged to wear orange in support of the organization and its campaign to spread awareness regarding multiple sclerosis. If you live close enough to ride a bike to the event, volunteers from the MS Society’s North Florida chapter will be operating a bike valet service during all four tournament rounds, Thursday through Sunday. The valet station is located at ATP Boulevard just off A1A near gate P1 behind the 16th green. There’s a $5 suggested donation for the bike service but additional support for the group would be appreciated. So, don’t be a cheapskate.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Well, yes. The PGA Tour unveiled a new cell phone policy for 2011. In short, you don’t have to leave your mobile device at home. That said, there are some rules of which you need to be aware. First, put the phone on silent before walking through the gate. There are designated areas around the course where making and receiving calls is permitted. Check the course map for “Mobile Talk Locations.” Video recording is not permitted at any time during the week and taking pictures with a mobile device is allowed only during practice rounds. Spectators will be warned on the first offense; the phone will be confiscated (with a claim check for you to retrieve it later) upon a second incident.
May I Have an Autograph?
Sure. But it depends on how and whom you ask. To begin with, cute kids have a better shot than a soused 40-year-old dude. Asking a golfer while he’s playing a round is a big no-no. Players are typically more fan-friendly during practice rounds, which is understandable because the nearly $10 million in prize money isn’t at stake Monday through Wednesday. Following a group during a practice round is a good way to endear oneself to a favorite player. During competition days, there are a few areas that are unofficially known as “autograph alleys.” Roped areas near the clubhouse, practice facilities and scoring tent are hands-down the best place to get close and personal with the pros. Don’t expect the golfer to have a pen. Bring your own (and a spare). And would it kill you to throw in a “please” and “thank you” while you’re at it?
The Players Mayport Shrimp Wrap is the tournament’s signature sandwich. It debuted last year and the culinary team at TPC Sawgrass is bringing it back for 2011. The wrap is a tasty shrimp salad medley made with local Mayport shrimp, mayo, Old Bay seasoning, red onion, celery, lime juice, lemon zest and Tabasco served with cabbage on a wheat tortilla wrap. It can be yours for $8. The sandwich is served during the tournament, as well as throughout the year at Nineteen inside the clubhouse.
Excuse Me, Please…
Few things spoil a nice afternoon out with your pals more than a nasty public restroom. Worse yet, an odoriferous port-a-potty. The good news is the Tour takes its bathrooms seriously. The best facilities are located inside the clubhouse. But admission here is strictly limited to certain badge holders. The next best option is the line of restrooms at the Stadium Village. These are practically luxurious, with air-conditioning, sinks and attendants. The Grove and The Patio also provide upgraded restroom facilities.
Orange & Blue
The weekend before this year’s tournament sees TPC Sawgrass become something of a Gators heaven. The inaugural Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic tees off Saturday, May 7 on Dye’s Valley Course (even Tebow doesn’t have the clout to get onto the Stadium Course just two days before the tourney starts). Joining the UF gridiron legend (hey, he’s got his own statue now) will be his old ball coach Urban Meyer, current Florida head coach Will Muschamp and fellow Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel (he’s got a statue, too). The festivities commence Friday night with an evening gala at the clubhouse. The golf tournament begins with a shotgun start at 7 AM on Saturday. Tickets are $12.50 with proceeds benefiting Tebow’s foundation and The First Tee. A roster of other sports and entertainment celebs have been invited to participate, but as of presstime the Gators listed above were the only confirmed attendees. Noles and Dawgs fans are welcome. Though, how many will really want to go…
All in the Family
Mom and Dad, you don’t have to leave the kids at home for this one. The little ones get in free with a paid adult. And you can arrive with an entire bus full of them. There is no limit but the policy applies only to Grounds passes. Kids over age 6 will need an upgraded ticket to get into the Benefactor and other high-end venues. The Stadium Village is a good rally point for families because the sprawling tent complex includes areas with eats, video games, merchandise and outdoor seating. Take a shot on the First Tee Challenge and take a seat at the Stadium Snapshot experience, where you can get a commemorative photo taken. The Family Plan package includes two adult tickets, unlimited kids’ admission and four meal vouchers (good for a hot dog, chips and a drink) for $99. The Grove is stocked with picnic tables so it makes another good spot to meet up and have lunch. Remember, bringing food into the tournament is not allowed.
Have A Seat
That can be a difficult proposition out around number 17. However, there are lots of less crowded areas that tend to reel in only the dire-hard golf fans. On a course infamous for extreme “risk and reward” shot decisions, the par-5 11th hole may be the one that offers players the most choices. Golfers have two separate fairways to which they can lay up with their second shot. Some will elect to go for the green in two. It’s at that moment weekend duffers realize these guys are much, much better than they will ever be. The 13th hole offers a far more intimate setting to see players hit to a par-3 than the 17th. Early arrivals each day to The Bluff will be treated to an actual chair on which to sit. The Bluff is situated adjacent to the 18th green, one of the best finishing holes in golf. As an added bonus, a staff of servers is on hand to take food and drink orders, meaning you never have to leave your seat.
Park & Ride
A big change this year is that there is no public parking available at UNF. In years past, a shuttle service would bus patrons to and from the campus and course. Not any longer. There is ample parking available next to TPC Sawgrass, but you’re going to want to buy a pass in advance. Perhaps the best way to avoid the congestion on A1A and access the public lot is via SR-210 from Nocatee Parkway.
I’ll Drink to That
Golf and beer go together like beer and pizza. New this year is The Players 20-ounce cup, available for purchase at all grounds concession stands, as well as The Turn and The Benefactor. For a buck more, you can upgrade a frosty beverage and take home the tumbler as a souvenir. Beer not your thing? Fine, try the tourney’s signature cocktail, the Sawgrass Splash. $10 gets you the fruity concoction and a plastic cup adorned with a Players logo and a list of past champions. Of course, concessions offering everything from bottled water to glasses of wine are scattered all across the course.
Do Not EnterSunglasses?
Check. Wallet? Check. Sunscreen, cell phone, sporty hat, new favorite comfy shoes? Check, check, check and check. All those items are allowed in, no worries. According to the official PGA Tour rules, fans are not permitted to carry in noise-producing electronic devices, cameras (except for practice rounds) or camcorders, bags larger than six inches by six inches, TVs or radios, food or drinks, coolers, pets, ladders or weapons. You can bring an umbrella and a folding chair, but leave the carrying case at home.
We Salute You
Men and women in the Armed Forces receive the royal treatment during The Players. In fact, all active duty, reserve and retired military personnel and their dependents get free admission to the tournament all day, every day. Please note: complimentary military passes must be secured beforehand. On Wednesday, May 11, rocker and avid golfer Darius Rucker performs as parts of the annual Military Appreciation Day. A ceremony will be held on the clubhouse lawn beginning at 5:30 PM featuring the National Anthem sung by the 82nd Airborne chorus from Ft. Bragg and flyover by the Blue Angels. Also that day, a US Navy helicopter will be on display adjacent to the Patriots Outpost, a hospitality tent for servicemen located on a hill between the 16th and 18th fairways. ]