Wednesday, May 25, 2016

So Close, You Can Taste It (This Weekend): Preview of Wicked Barley Brewing Company

[Ed. Note, 5/29/2016: So as not to confuse anyone, these tastings occurred Friday/Saturday, May 27 & 28, 2016. But, read on, because you're going to want to go here when it opens. The beers offered at the tastings were on point: A good mix of styles, and some creativity. I loved the Black Rye IPA (in fact, that was my new No. 1800 beer checkin, a special occasion!) See photos on social media sites. See also, my story on the Beer Bloggers Conference, which included a visit here. Yeah, this is gonna be good .....][Opening Day is July 30, 2016, at 11am. They'll be serving food, along with beer from 20 guest taps until they get their federal brewer's license.]

It started with an idea six years ago. Searches of existing business properties didn't quite yield the "a-ha, this-is-it" place. Then, the co-founders of Wicked Barley Brewing Company decided to do an original build. When they saw the undeveloped property along Goodby's Creek on Baymeadows Road in Jacksonville, they knew that they had found "it," and they purchased the land in 2013. After a not-so-fast-forward through various financing and permitting issues, the group cleared the property and broke ground last summer for what will soon be Jacksonville's newest craft brewery.  

Signs point to the progress at the
construction site of
Wicked Barley Brewing, Jacksonville
Gearing up for a mid-summer opening, co-founders Philip Maple, Tobin Turney and Brett Baker are more than ready to open the doors and start serving craft beer and pub fare to the Jacksonville public at the brand new venue. While taking the project from creation through endless paperwork, and from groundbreaking through construction may be exciting (??), they're eagerly anticipating putting that chapter behind them, and starting the next phase of running the brewpub. I met with the guys and toured the property a few weeks ago, and I can tell you that it is an impressive venture (more on that below).  

There has been significant local press lately about the brewery, as it nears completion and generates more interest. Further, Wicked Barley recently made a pretty big-news announcement that it hired Fred Thibodeaux, lead brewer at Cigar City Brewing since April 2013, as its new production manager. And, while construction appears to be winding down, what you might not have heard much about is the beer!  

Just in time for the long holiday weekend, the brewers from Wicked Barley Brewing will do a two-part "tour" around Jacksonville, where you will be able to sample some of the beers that they have been brewing and intend to offer at the brewpub once its permitting process is complete. Because the brewery is awaiting notice of its federal brewer's permit from the government, it is unable to sell its beer at this time. 

One look at the Wicked Barley website, and you'll immediately notice the tagline "Naughty Ales for Noble Souls." Even the logo expresses the concept: a devil with a halo. It looks like the brewers will be taking some chances on the beer and delivering up some creative recipes that may be a bit different from the norm. I think we'll all be OK with that! And, they're making mead and cider, too. So, what can you expect to taste this weekend?

Join Philip, Tobin, and the "new guy" Fred first on Friday night, May 27, in Jax Beach from 6-8pm at Really Good Beer Stop, a craft beer package store that also features 20 taps of local, regional and national craft beer available for filling in a growler or "Crowler." (In case you don't know about it yet, check out my story here). Here's what the tap list will look like:

Drink Me Copper Pale Ale, 4.9% ABV
White IPA, served through a randall with Cascade and Orange/Lemon Zest, 6% ABV
Left Leg Lager, a German style lager, 5.5% ABV
Tropical Saison Gold, 6.5% ABV
Strawberry Mango Mead, 9% ABV
Wicked Barley Cider, 7% ABV, brewed with local orange blossom honey

Follow that up on Saturday, May 28, from 12-6pm, in San Marco/Jax at Beer:30 San Marco, a craft beer package store that also offers beers on tap and holds some pretty impressive tappings of new and limited releases. The Wicked Barley guys are really bringing the beer, because there's a new beer list for this one:

Token Black Rye IPA, 7.8% ABV
Brierwood Brown Cask Ale, 5.75% ABV, dry hopped with Fuggle hops
Raspberry Berliner Weisse, 3.5% ABV
Belgian Blonde, 6% ABV
Wicked Barley Cider, 7% ABV, brewed with local orange blossom honey
Adults Only Hard Rootbeer Mead, 6.5% ABV, made with local Gallberry Honey

I'd say that the Wicked Barley crew has been pretty busy lately! 

Photo by Linda Johnson
When the brewpub opens, you'll be able to get there by boat or kayak, too. The brewpub property features a newly-built 100-ft dock along the creek, that makes for a stunning setting.

Photo by Linda Johnson
The exterior of the building offers a covered patio and beer garden:

Photo by Linda Johnson
This is what it looked like a few weeks ago
Even if you're dining and having a couple of beers inside, you'll be able to enjoy the picturesque setting through the oversized picture windows:

Photo by Linda Johnson
Photo by Linda Johnson

And, I am really looking forward to seeing the completed brewery and its transformation from the buildout phase.  Here's what the brewhouse area looked like a few weeks ago:

Photo by Linda Johnson

The property is around 7000 sf, and the tap room occupies around 2200 sf. The brewpub will seat around 200 people. A glass wall will separate the brewhouse from the bar and dining area, and there will be an open kitchen. You'll be able to purchase Wicked Barley merchandise and packaged beer to-go, too. The brewpub will be a family-friendly place, so feel free to bring the kids, and there's even a kids' menu. Wicked Barley will be open for lunch and dinner right from the get-go. All of the food will be made in-house. The bar will offer 20 taps, with the capability to expand to 40.  If necessary, while it awaits its federal permit, the brewpub will serve "guest" craft beers. The brewpub menu will satisfy your hunger by offering appetizers, sausages and pizzas - perfect with beer! The theme will be woodsy, drawing on the nearby creek and trees. Lastly, there's on-site parking.

The 15-barrel brewhouse equipment is in storage and awaiting its move to the brewery, along with six 15-barrel fermenters and two 3-barrel fermenters for mead and cider. The guys also have a 1-barrel system that they currently use for homebrewing. The brewhouse will include a reverse-osmosis water system to produce crisper tastes and a yeast lab. While the focus is on the brewpub and offering the highest-quality food and beer onsite, the facility also includes pre-planned space for expansion of the brewhouse and a canning line for the future. And, those "Naughty Ales?" The brewery will brew a line of "core" beers that you can expect regularly, and there will be a wide range of different styles offered. 

The brewhouse operations will be staffed by Philip as brewmaster, who has homebrewed for over six years. Philip will create new recipes, run the yeast lab and oversee overall quality control in addition to brewing. The commercial brewery will already have around 18-20 solid recipes that have been brewed consistently on the smaller system. Dad, Bob Maple, takes on the role of Head Brewer, after homebrewing since around 1995, and he will continue to create new recipes and brew. Tobin Turney is the brewery operations director, and while he will also brew beer, he'll attend to all of the daily operations and administrative paperwork, like making sure that the bills get paid so that the lights stay on, and the electricity keeps the beer cold. Brett Baker assumes the duties of Tap Room Operations Director, and Bradley Sueflohn is the Executive Chef. Philip and Tobin currently work in corporate IT "day jobs," and they are looking forward to concentrating on the brewpub and trading in the corporate life for the full-time brewery life (that may be understatement). 

As mentioned above, now added to the mix is Fred Thibodeaux, most recently of Cigar City Brewing. When I toured the property earlier, Philip stated that the brewery was bringing on a "high-profile" brewer with expertise (who he couldn't name yet), to assist with sour and barrel-aged products that Wicked Barley will offer. Currently, Fred and Philip are evaluating the recipes to bring them to scale to the new 15-barrel system. In an interesting approach, the two are having a "brew-off" type of activity, in which they will further examine the recipes and make some "tweaks" as necessary -- may the best recipe win!  As Production Manager, Fred will oversee brewery procedures and controls, as well as creating new recipes and getting the lab going. 

It's all a team effort, and each one of the brewhouse staff will be working in any number of capacities and "doing whatever needs to be done" as the brewpub opens. Eventually, they expect to divide out the responsibilities a bit more and work on individual jobs at the brewery, but they are also making sure that each of them is "cross-trained" to handle anything. That is, anything "except lifting the heavy stuff," according to Philip, because it appears that that's already been delegated to Tobin and Fred. Hear that, guys?   

Wicked Barley Brewing Company is an independent brewery/brewpub, located at 4100 Baymeadows Road, just east of San Jose Blvd., in Jacksonville. Stay tuned for more information about the opening of the newest brewery in Jax, coming at you this summer.  

It's so close now, the guys behind Wicked Barley can taste it. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! And, here's to Summer! It looks like the summer of 2016 will be rockin throughout Florida with a number of pretty cool events. Be sure to check out the BeerSphere Events and Tap This Calendar pages on this website so that you can keep your taste buds happy with all this awesome beer in the Sunshine State. Hey, I'll see you out there around Florida somewhere....

Til next time,


Let's Have a Beer .... in Jacksonville, Fla! (repeat trip)

[NOTE: I thought it was time to write about the Jacksonville breweries, and, really, it's been long overdue. I am thrilled to have written this story especially for the Beer Bloggers Conference (BBC) 2016, and it was posted recently on the Beer Bloggers Conference website as a lead story. The Conference is held in a different beer-centric city each year. This time around, it heads to Tampa July 8-10, along with a featured pre-con visit to Jacksonville. I'm excited to be a part of the BBC this year and want to say "Thanks" to the BBC for this opportunity. This is the first in a series of the Jax area breweries, so stay tuned.  And, by the way, a special "thank you" goes out to the Jax area breweries!] ....

[Edited from initial posting in April]

Where?  Craft beer popularity continues to grow all around the Sunshine State, and although the Tampa area may get the most attention, it’s time to take a look at the craft beer movement in Jacksonville that's been steadily gaining steam. After all, Jacksonville (known as "Jax") is home to eight craft breweries, a macro brewery, three established brewpubs, and at least two more breweries in the works. Jacksonville is the largest city in the US in terms of square miles. It's home to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the St. Johns River, one of only two northward-flowing rivers. And, nearby Jacksonville Beach provides the area with a laid-back, yet eclectic, beach and surfing scene. Generally, Jax is divided into different named sections. And, although they are separate municipalities, the cities of Jacksonville Beach and Orange Park are generally included in the Jax craft brewery mix, too. 

As a local beer blogger, beertender and brewery tour guide, I get to talk about beer and the area breweries, in addition to making regular visits ... and, doing some tasting! It's all part of the job (really, it's work; but, yeah, it's pretty cool). So, let's take a tour of what Jacksonville has to offer the craft beer enthusiast, beer traveler, and the craft beer newcomer alike. Each brewery is quite different from the other, and there’s something here for everyone!

If you're just getting to know the Jax breweries, you might want to start with an online visit to the Jax Ale Trail. An award-winning initiative of area tourism bureau Visit Jacksonville, the Jax Ale Trail provides an overview of the local breweries in an interactive way. Pick up your Jax Ale Trail Passport at any of the eight participating breweries or the downtown visitor center, and as you visit each brewery, get that passport stamped. Obtain four stamps, and you'll earn a specially-designed Jax Ale Trail koozie. Get all eight, and you'll be rewarded with a logoed t-shirt. 

So, buckle up, and let's get this tour rollin'.....

Riverside and San Marco Breweries

Just outside of downtown Jacksonville across the river are the Riverside, Five Points and San Marco areas, several of the "hottest" parts of town, featuring walkable sidewalks lined with shops, restaurants and bars.

BOLD CITY BREWERY   Riverside is home to Jax's "oldest" and largest craft brewery, Bold City BreweryInspired by the city's moniker "Bold New City of the South," the brewery urges everyone to "Be Bold." Walk into almost any local bar or restaurant around town, and you’re likely to find at least one of the three Bold City core beers: Killer Whale Cream Ale, Duke’s Cold Nose Brown Ale, Mad Manatee IPA. 

Duke’s Brown Ale (6%), a mildly nutty brown with a touch of caramel and chocolate, is
highly recognizable and extremely popular around Jax. The Duke’s label features a likeness of the family’s late beloved pet boxer, Duke. If a refreshing, lighter beer with no hop bitterness is more your style, check out Killer Whale Cream Ale (5.5%). It’s a go-to beer for many, and goes with anything. You can always find Killer Whale watching over things at the brewery. The Mad Manatee IPA (6.5%) offers a hop bite along with floral and citrus flavors. And, note the artwork here: it’s a tribute to the Florida manatee and its struggles with boats. 

Bold City launched in 2008 when mother and son duo Susan and Brian Miller decided to say goodbye to their “day jobs” at an insurance company and pursue a life of malt and hops. Brian had also homebrewed since 2002 and realized his true calling.  When you drive up to the brewery, you may not immediately know what it is. Situated in a warehouse next to railroad tracks, the brewery now houses the biggest tanks in Jax. The 20-barrel brewhouse is complemented with these big boys: three 40-barrel fermenters, one 80-barrel fermenter and, one 120-barrel fermenter. Keeping those tanks company are three brite tanks, holding 40, 80 and another 120 barrels in each. The brewery took delivery of those 120’s last year. Look outside, and you’ll see the brewery’s two grain silos, the only ones in town. Demand for Bold City beer is high, as the brewery produces reliable and consistent beer, enjoyed by both craft newbies and regulars.

Bold City started canning its beers onsite in July 2013, and the three core beers are readily available in virtually every local grocery and liquor store. In addition to the Jax/North Florida area, the distribution also extends to Tampa, Sarasota, Daytona, Orlando and Gainesville.

If you want to taste the beers “at the source,” visit the Bold City tap room, open Thursday to Saturday. The tap room is reminiscent of a cozy inn.  It offers the core beers, plus additional house beers such as Archie’s Rhino Rye Pale Ale (one of my favorites), named after the white rhino at the Jacksonville Zoo. Be on the lookout for Roxy’s Finest Imperial Cream Ale, 1901 Red Ale (a roasty, smoky red ale named after the Great Fire of Jacksonville in 1901), Big John’s Apricot Wheat, Fritz Hefeweizen, Secret Stout, and seasonals like Oktoberfest or Pumpkin Ale. Every so often, the brewers release a few surprises, such as cask beers or special treatments of Killer Whale or Duke’s (the almond coconut version last fall was a special treat). An onsite kitchen staffed by LaBodega features Cuban and finger foods. Stop by when one of the local bands plays in the brewhouse, and your feet will be tapping right along with that beer. “Firewater Fridays” are hugely popular once-a-month foot-stomping nights when local band Firewater Tent Revival appears. And, if you’d like to get a look at how the beer is made, take a brewery tour on Saturdays between 2-5pm.

In late 2015, Bold City announced plans to expand operations by building a new, smaller brewhouse and tap room in downtown Jax on Bay St. Anticipated to open in Fall 2016, the new digs will feature a 3-barrel brewhouse and will produce small and experimental batches.

All of the Jax breweries are active in charitable events, and Bold City is no exception.  The brewery regularly hosts events onsite and is a sponsor or featured brewery at other local fundraisers (many for animal welfare groups), such as the recent Toast to Conservation at the Jacksonville Zoo, which included the above-mentioned white rhino, Archie.

You’re sure to have a fun time at Bold City Brewery!

Next up, we only have a very short trek to our second brewery stop ….

INTUITION ALE WORKS  Literally just over the tracks in the Riverside area is Intuition Ale Works, founded in 2010 by local entrepreneur Ben Davis, who applied his coffee and wine background to the craft beer biz. Here’s another large production brewery that hasn’t had a shiny storefront, but it’s what’s inside that counts. The first time I visited, I drove right by. And, inside, Intuition has been producing a combination of popular core beers, one-offs, and its annual celebrated February release of the highly sought-after Underdark Imperial Stout (there’s even an annual all-day blockbuster of a party). The 2016 version of Underdark was aged in whiskey barrels.

The tap room is cozy and comfortable, and the bartending staff is friendly and knowledgeable. It’s always a popular stop on the bus. Find one of the 20 beers on tap on one of the two chalkboards on either side of the tap room. The four core beers are tried and true, and the brewers always seem to release new beers that are a bit out of the ordinary, from saisons to barrel-aged. Stop by the tap room on One-Off Wednesdays for a special treatment of one of the core beers or a special release.

 In February 2012, Intuition was the first brewery in the state to start canning its beers on its current 10-barrel system. The brewery has regularly canned four of its main beers, which are available just about everywhere in the Jax area: Jon Boat Coastal Ale (lager-like golden ale that’s a go-to lighter beer), People’s Pale Ale (citrusy and hoppy pale ale), I-10 IPA (a hoppy IPA featuring four hops), and King St. Stout (an oh-so-smooth imperial stout that’s one of my favorites here). Recently added to the canning line is Easy on the Eyes (citrusy Session IPA). Intuition’s beers are regularly found on draft all around town and are distributed throughout Central and North Florida. 

The tap room offers a variety of house beers, and at any given time, you’re likely to find a kolsch-style ale, several Belgian ales,  black, red and brown ales and others. Recently, Intuition tapped Knothead Alt, a malty, easy to drink altbier that I enjoyed so much I made a point of bringing it to the attention of the riders on my bus tour last weekend. Another new tapping you’ll want to try is the Wheelhouse Dark Brown Ale, a toasty and nutty ale made with rye for a bit of spiciness.

And, when Intuition throws an anniversary party, it does so on a grand scale. For its fifth anniversary all-day party last November, in addition to featuring two bands and food trucks, Intuition offered  just under 50 house beers on tap, including core beers, special treatments, familiar re-releases and more.

Lately, however, the big news surrounding Intuition Ale Works has been the construction of its new brewery and tap room in downtown Jacksonville, adjacent to the sports complex and Veterans Memorial Arena. Work is underway, and when completed, Intuition will move its operations to the new location (over 20,000 square feet of leased space). With the new location also comes an increase in brewing capacity, in the form of a new 30-barrel brewhouse. The brewery will be neighbors with Manifest Distilling, also under construction on the property. An opening by Fall of this year is anticipated, much to the joy of sports fans and concert attendees (including yours truly). Get ready for that Sixth Anniversary party, because it promises to be one major event. And, about that shiny storefront? I don’t think anyone will have any trouble finding it.

Now, let’s head out for a short drive over to the San Marco area of Jacksonville …

AARDWOLF BREWING COMPANY  burst on the beer scene in early 2013, and its 15-barrel brewhouse produces a wide variety of beer styles, from sours to IPAs to Brown Ales to imperial stouts to barrel-aged and everything in between. In that short time, the brewery has earned eight competition medals, including a Bronze Medal at GABF 2015 (Great American Beer Fest) for its Belgian Pale Ale (malty pale ale with Belgian yeast), and a Bronze at this year’s Best Florida Beer Championships for its San Marco Sour (sour blonde ale). A couple of the most unique beers you’re likely to find in the city just may be Aardwolf’s Lactic Zeppelin, a Berliner Weisse with the funk of Brettanomyces, and Hipster Popsicle, a cherry lime gose.

The building was home to a municipal ice plant dating back to the 1920’s and then a tile factory. Each of these is evident: The interior includes the brick wall from the ice plant days, and the exterior features the brewery name in a brick and tile-like format. What about that name, anyway?

The “aardwolf” is an insectivorous, nocturnal mammal native to Africa. The name means “earth wolf,” or as the brewery explains it, “humulus lupulus,” for a hoppy beer connection. Need proof? Take a look at the brewery’s mascot, Alvin, who always is perched over the bar. Alvin is also known to sport apparel coincidental with holidays, so be on the lookout.

While you’re always likely to find a few Belgian style beers on tap, the variety among the 20 or so taps can be intriguing. Add to that a pilot batch released every Wednesday. I can’t really tag a favorite here, although I thought that the White Russian Imperial Stout, with coffee and vanilla, was undeniably worthy of all the positive comments and huge popularity that it enjoyed while on tap (in other  words, it was pretty damn awesome). Another popular brew is the Styrofoam Pony Stout (around 6% ABV), served in the tap room and around town.

While the Belgian Pale Ale is the most popular beer that Aardwolf distributes locally and serves in-house, co-owner Preben Olsen explains that Aardwolf brews a mix of what’s popular and what the brewers like to drink, rather than focus on any particular style, origin, or type of beer. That said, I have found that the tap list has indeed grown with respect to beer styles, and Aardwolf recently introduced a very refreshing Helles Lager that’s sure to keep the “lighter” and more conservative beer drinking crowds happy. If you’re the adventurous beer type, not to worry: there’s no shortage of beers for your taste buds to experience an array of different styles and flavors.

Aardwolf also brews up some traditional “old world” styles, too. Try The Pen is Mightier, a 4.2% ABV 80-shilling Scottish Ale, for a malty, toasty beer that you can repeat. You can even find a schwarzbier here, the Weltschmerz (easing the “world pain”), a 5.3% ABV, dark, malty and roasty beer that drinks very easy. On one of my recent bus tours, I persuaded one rider to try this beer (the “I don’t like dark beer” type), and as soon as she finished the taste test, her glass was raised for another (love when that happens!). Aardwolf has the IPAs covered for you hopheads, too, ranging from “regular” citrusy, piney IPAs to a session IPA to double IPAs.

Aardwolf’s tap room isn’t a “sports bar” themed type of place, although there is a TV in the back room that is often used for parties. Generally, the tap room is a mix of the modern and the industrial, with a long main bar and ample tables and chairs, along with that ice plant brick wall that holds the beer menu. Behind that is a cozy and quieter separate room, that can be used for private or special events, with plush sofas and a view of the brewhouse. Feel free to bring food with you or order from a food truck on site or one of the nearby restaurants.

Be sure to make a stop at Aardwolf Brewing when in Jacksonville!

Next, we head to the beach! Stay tuned for a tour of the Jacksonville Beach breweries: Engine 15 Brewing Company, Green Room Brewing, and Zeta Brewing. And, there's also an up-n-coming brewery that's included, too (news of that one just broke, and I met with the co-founders for one of my recent posts; so if you're curious or haven't seen that yet, take a look).  

Hey, there are lots of events going on around Florida, so be sure to check out my BeerSPHERE Events tab and the "Tap This" Calendar tab!  And, I'll see you at a brewery, event or beerfest around The Sunshine State.  

Til next time,



Monday, May 16, 2016

Happy American Craft Beer Week! A Few of My Favorite Things......

Cheers to American Craft Beer Week!
National Toast: Thursday, May 19, 8pm (ET)
HAPPY AMERICAN CRAFT BEER WEEK!  I thought I would take a look back over the past year at some of my favorite things ..... BREWERY VISITS!  In case you missed any of these, sit back, grab your snifter or pint glass, and get to know some of these Florida breweries (these are the ones I posted, with the most recent  on the back end). Trust me on this, you'll want to go to each of these!  I think I want to go back already! More on the way as I continue to make my around the Sunshine State in search of local beer!





BREW HUB, Lakeland







FUNKY BUDDHA BREWERY, Oakland Park (MBCP Day; but, I've been there before!)


HELL 'N BLAZES BREWING COMPANY, Melbourne (open soon)

SOUTHERN SWELLS BREWING, Jax Beach (opening 2016)



Thanks for reading! Be sure to take a look at the two events pages (Beer Sphere and Tap This) on this site for beerfests and events all around Florida, and tappings and such around North Florida. And, I'll see you out there in Florida Somewhere!



NATIONAL TOAST IS THURSDAY, MAY 19 at 8pm Eastern........



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, 


* 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.