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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Round-up: A Round at TPC Sawgrass, and Have a Round in Jax Beach Afterwards! Round 1: The Players Championship®

It's now a tradition in the month of May. Last year, 191,000 people attended.  It's the busiest week of the year at Jacksonville International Airport.  Over 400 businesses take part through corporate hospitality and tickets. It reaches one billion total households via broadcast in 226 countries. It generates significant funds for charities: in 2015, over $8.1M raised for over 300 local organizations. The tournament record is 264 (-24) by Greg Norman in 1994.*  

Two words, that's all you need: THE PLAYERS®. 






The Players Championship®. May 10-15. I've said it on social media: It's the best week of the year (my opinion, and, I think, shared by many) at one of my favorite places. And, now that I live in the area, it's the week I look forward to most. As a golf nut, this tournament has been my favorite for many years, since I lived in the Chicago area before relocating to North Florida (I even had a job interview at the PGA Tour way back when and fell in love with TPC Sawgrass). I've played the Stadium Course a few times. 


Everyone who's played it has a 17th Hole story, and here's mine. On a visit from the Midwest a number of years ago, the first time I played it, my tee shot hit the green, but bounced and rolled off into the water. After getting back on the green, I had a putt about 50 feet or so away from the hole (Sunday pin placement, by the way). I made that putt, as it traversed the slopes that you really don't see on TV ("Better than most"?). Not only was that cool, but I got a standing ovation from the crew assembling the stands around the famed hole in advance of the tournament. That's my 17th Hole story. I didn't keep score that day, so don't ask -- it was about the experience of playing here for the first time. That putt was my most memorable golf shot!

Whether you're a seasoned golf fan, a new golf fan, new to The PLAYERS, or you've been to the tournament before, you've played the course, or just dream of playing it, it's a week like no other. The fan experience is, in a word, awesome. There are various events held on the TPC Sawgrass grounds leading up to the tournament, including the Donna 5k at The Players on Saturday morning (May 7), which raises funds for breast cancer research through 26.2 With Donna. I think you'll be able to find me there! The 5k course is the back nine of TPC Sawgrass. The views are amazing at this time of day, and it's quite peaceful, except for the runners all decked out in pink. The 5k concludes with a party behind 17 Green. Look for my photos again this year!
Jaxson DeVille at the 5k festivities 2015


Donna at the 2015 5k




On Sunday, May 15, wear something pink for Pink Out Sunday to support 26.2 With Donna (hashtag #PinkOut4Donna)!


And, don't forget Military Appreciation Day starting at 6pm on Tuesday, May 10! The ceremony and celebration are being moved to the 17th Hole this year (from the clubhouse). Apparently, there are some changes to the 17th Hole viewing area, including double-tiered seating. If you haven't heard, country singer Toby Keith is the featured performer this year! The event always draws a crowd, so get there early.  

Last year's concert:  Big and Rich
The tournament itself boasts the best field of PGA Tour players (144 players including top-ranked players and previous tournament winners; no sponsor exemptions; by invite only). The course is spectacular, and come Sunday, Holes 16, 17 and 18 will undoubtedly again provide drama. There are merchandise tents, concession and food/drink areas. There are bleacher seats throughout the course, or you can sit on the grassy areas. And, try your hand at the replica 17th Challenge Hole for The First Tee, located under the tent at Stadium Village, behind the 18th Green and adjacent to the magnificent Clubhouse. I'll be working the Challenge Hole again this year (my fourth year). Stop by and join in the fun and help raise some funds for The First Tee (I'm also a coach, so I get a little excited about this). 










So, how do you survive a week at The Players? First of all, get your tickets and your parking pass. Check the above link -- it has everything you need to know! If you're going to the tournament rounds Thursday to Sunday, you'll need a parking pass ahead of time -- get that online, because you won't be able to buy it on site. No parking pass is required for the practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday, and you can park in the general parking areas off of County Road 210 at no charge on those days. Different ticket options are available, from daily grounds tickets to hospitality tents.  Each day features a different charitable organization. If you have a MasterCard, use it to purchase merchandise, food and beverages, for 10% off. 

The Clubhouse ... amazing.  I actually saw this
on a vacation while it was under construction.  I've been
inside it, too. Just amazing.

Yes, there's a bag policy. The best option is the "clear plastic bag." I have found it to be
very convenient, and it holds a lot of things. You can bring in your own food in a clear plastic gallon container bag, but outside beverages aren't permitted. I'll bring a towel for sitting on the grass areas, along with sunscreen and sunglasses. Don't bring a big tote bag or opaque bag larger than 6x6x6, or you'll be getting more exercise as you walk it back to your car. Cameras are allowed during the practice rounds. No photos of the players are allowed during the tournament rounds Thursday-Sunday (even with cell phones), and, yes, the marshals are on the lookout for that. And, be sure to put your phone on vibrate or silent as a courtesy to players and other spectators. 

Let's talk shoes. Wear gym shoes or extremely comfortable footwear, because you are going to be walking, walking, walking!  If you're like me, you are going to cover a lot of ground moving around everywhere from the front nine, to the back nine, to the practice range and everywhere in between. And, one thing you might not realize: TPC Sawgrass isn't flat; it's fairly hilly. Unless your flip-flops or super-stylish heeled sandals can take that kind of terrain while keeping your feet, knees and back happy and healthy, opt for the gym shoes. Your feet might get tan lines, but they're going to be happier at the end of the day! Of course, you can always take your shoes off if you're going to be sitting around a particular hole for a while, but remember the sunscreen! 


Never know who you might see....


Stay hydrated, and make sure you grab something to eat. What about the food and drinks? The food options are plentiful. Various concessions are located throughout the course, along with soft drinks, beer and wine. Want a Bloody Mary? You can get one at the entrances from open til 11:30am. In addition, there are dedicated food vendor areas, like Tacos on Twelve (between 12 Green and 13 Tee), Trucks on 10 (between 10/11 fairways and 15 Green), The Blue Room VIP Party Lounge at the 10th tee (ticketed tent), Taste of Jax (between 11 Green and 12 Tee), Wine and Dine on 9 (mid-fairway on 9th hole), Wine Lounge at 8 Green, and the Food Court behind 17 Tee. Bubba Burgers will be available at a number of spots, including The Benefactor (hospitality tent), The Turn, The Patio, The Grove, Stadium Village and refreshment stands. Hold onto your water bottles, because you can refill them with filtered water at several locations. There is plenty of shade while you enjoy your food. 

The tournament is very active on social media, too! Don't forget to hashtag your photos #theplayers and/or tag @ThePlayersChamp on Twitter and Instagram. You might even see your posts on one of the big boards around the course!



I found the electronic board a few times last year

When can you go?  Gates open Tuesday and Wednesday at 7am for practice rounds. On Thursday-Friday for first and second rounds of tournament play, gates open at 6:15am. After Friday's round, the field will be cut.  Gates open on the weekend at 7:30am. The closing ceremony and trophy presentation takes place on Sunday at approximately 7pm. Make sure you get a course map, too! Even if you're already familiar with the course layout, the map includes the concession and restroom locations. 

Get a daily pairing sheet. The tournament does a really good job of keeping you informed of scores and players' whereabouts on the course via electronic boards positioned throughout the course. Even during practice rounds, the boards let you know who's where. Want to see Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson or another favorite or popular player during tournament play?  You need to know how to work the multitudes (I'm not kidding) following these guys around the course. That's where the pairing sheet comes in. To track your players, stay ahead of them. Let's just say you're into watching these guys hit massive tee shots off a tee on a par 5 (for example, No. 16) (ahem, that would be me, (I'm into tee shots, so look for me hanging around 16 tee at times), get to that tee well ahead of time, position yourself, and watch the other groups go through. Then, wait for the crowd to move along before you try to get somewhere else. And, now, I've just given away my secret for watching certain players or groups, but hey, I like helping you guys out. 

If autographs are your thing, you can approach players to sign your merchandise at the autograph zones at the practice areas or by the scoring area behind 18 Green. That policy has changed a bit over the years. 


I met Graeme McDowell at The Players!

After a day at The Players, check out the nearby local bars and restaurants around A1A in Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville Beach. Pusser's Caribbean Grille is located right at A1A off PGA Tour Blvd. Fantastic views of the pond on the outside patio! There is no shortage of places to go in Jax Beach, just a short drive north on A1A from TPC Sawgrass, including (but definitely not limited to): HoptingerBrix Tap House, The Blind Rabbit Whiskey BarReally Good Beer Stop (that one's not a bar, but rather a bottle shop that has craft beer on draft and for filling in growlers or crowlers; read my blog post about it HERE), Lynch's Irish PubRitz Bar, Mellow Mushroomand a little further north still, in Atlantic Beach/Neptune Beach: Ragtime Tavern (part of a brewpub chain offering house craft beers)Poe's Tavern.

If you're around next weekend (May 13-15), you might want to check out a couple of sure-to-be-lively events also listed on the BeerSphere™ Events page of this blog: PLAID PARTY at Hoptinger/Shim Sham Room (Friday night, May 13), and THE TPC'S LARGEST AFTERPARTY at the SeaWalk Pavilion, 4-10pm, presented by 904HAPPYHOUR.


Green Room Brewing, Jax Beach
BUT, WAIT A  MINUTE, there are also BREWERIES! Yes, there are craft breweries in Jacksonville and Jax Beach, too: Bold City BreweryIntuition Ale WorksAardwolf BrewingPinglehead BrewingVeterans United Craft BreweryEngine 15 BrewingGreen Room Brewing, and Zeta Brewing, and brewpubs Seven Bridges and River City Brewing Company. I recently wrote about the Riverside/San Marco breweries Bold City, Intuition, and Aardwolf, in Part 1 of my Jacksonville brewery series HERE. And, next up, I'll be taking a look at the Jax Beach breweries: Engine 15, Green Room, and Zeta. And, there's an up-and-coming brewery in Jax Beach -- Southern Swells Brewing (see my story HERE)-- that'll be waiting for you to visit next year after your day at The Players! Add two more to the list that are on tap for Jacksonville, too: Wicked Barley Brewing (independent brewpub coming to the Mandarin area of Jax; I visited the construction site and took photos, and I can tell ya, it's gonna be something!) and Hyperion Brewing (I've sampled their beer at tastings and events; beers are on point; the real deal)


Engine 15 Brewing at Jax Beach

Zeta Brewing at Jax Beach


Hey, enjoy The PLAYERS, and I'll see you there! I'll even buy a (one) beer for the first person (over age 21) to recognize me each day I'm at The Players and tell me you read it on my blog! Yeah, I'll really do that.  I'll be around all week taking photos and using those hashtags!

Til next time, 
Cheers!



Linda









* Statistics from PGA Tour "A Closer Look" brochure. 
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP, and the Swinging Golfer Design are registered trademarks of PGA Tour, Inc.