GOLDEN JUBILEE, THE PGA TOUR

06 Mar 2024

THE PLAYERS celebrates 50 years of excitement.

There is a marvel to the PGA TOUR that explains the passion with which we are invested.

As a sport with great vision, it is one that creates excitement, which was proven on 30 January 2024 with the announcement of a billion-dollar partnership with the Strategic Sports Group.

But so, too, is it a sport that is proud to look back and smile at its rich history and toast all the efforts that have gotten it this far. The greatest example being its annual, THE PLAYERS Championship.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL – MARCH 4: Aerial view of the 17th hole at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 4, 2021 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)

Simply put, THE PLAYERS has been affixed the moniker “flagship event” for years,  but to students of the professional game and aficionados of golf history, it is more. Much more.

When the game’s elite players gather at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass from 14-17 March in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for the 50th anniversary of THE PLAYERS Championship, there will be reasons aplenty to celebrate. Not only for the awe of a US$25 million purse, or the strength of a field that will include a huge majority of the top 100 players in the world, or the rousing cheers of tens of thousands of fans. No, the celebration will also extend to memories that have built this championship into the sports spectacle that it is.

Harken back, for instance, to the debut of THE PLAYERS at Atlanta Country Club in 1974. Could  there have been any better way to introduce what you wanted to be a marquee event than to have Jack Nicklaus triumph? Oh, and to win it again in ’76 and ’78, as Nicklaus did, then to be followed in succession by Lanny Wadkins, Lee Trevino, and Raymond Floyd?

A proverbial march of Hall of Famers, those names. But such a trend has continued throughout a 50-year history that has done what the best tournaments do: Produce stalwart and legendary names, players who need no introduction.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – MARCH 12: Scottie Scheffler of the United States plays his shot from the 17th tee during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 12, 2023 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

To wit, when it comes to recent history, there is this with THE PLAYERS – six of the last 10 winners have at one time or another been world No. 1 and one could make a case for Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Scottie Scheffler – three of the last four winners – someday earning a World Golf Hall of Fame status.

Marvelous bookends, Nicklaus and Scheffler, winners of the first and most recent PLAYERS, respectively.

Nicklaus shot 272 in 1974, Scheffler was 271 a year ago, which indicates that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Except the course because whereas Nicklaus 50 years ago won at Atlanta Country Club, Scheffler triumphed a year ago at what is arguably among the most hallowed cathedrals in golf.

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in 1982 became the fifth course to host THE PLAYERS and there’s two generations of golf fans who would tell you that there are two courses they know intimately, thanks to televised golf – Augusta National and TPC Sawgrass.

What a beginning TPC Sawgrass had for itself. Considered a diabolical and penal challenge by famed architect Pete Dye, the course with the iconic island-green par-3 17th is such a daunting challenge that the 1982 winner, Jerry Pate, became obsessed with it.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – MARCH 14: Justin Thomas of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 14, 2021 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“I wasn’t playing against Bruce (Lietzke) and Brad (Bryant). I kept telling my caddie, ‘We gotta beat Pete (Dye),” Pate recalled a few years ago. “We gotta beat the course, not the scoreboard.”

Closing with 67 for 8-under 280, Pate added a phenomenal win to a resume that already included a U.S. Open triumph and was promp to celebrate in a fitting style. He pushed Dye and then PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman into a big pond that protects the left side of the 18th hole.

“It’s too early to rate this course,” said Pate. “It’s like trying to rate girls when they’re born. They get better later.”

Fifty years later, TPC Sawgrass is as good as it gets – and if you need to check all the boxes, you sharpen your pencil when you sing the praises of The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass it’s a quick checklist:

Unforgettable hole? (The island-green 17th where Pate in 1982 played the hole in 2-2-2).

Famous roll call of winners? (Beyond Nicklaus, Wadkins, Floyd, Thomas, and Scheffler, Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Davis Love, Hal Sutton, David Duval, K.J. Choi, Jason Day and Adam Scott, all have their names on the walls at TPC Sawgrass.)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL – MARCH 17: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland attepts a birdie putt on the 17th green during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 17, 2019, in Ponte Vedra Beach . (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

Consider that a sweep of what you have always been told you must have to be a championship course of historic lengths – history, quality winners, unforgettable list of winners – are in TPC Sawgrass’ corner.

From the very beginning, the island-green 17th stole the headlines. But it was written at the debut of TPC Sawgrass 50 years ago and is still true today, that “the 17th is only one jewel in the course Pete Dye designed for the Tournament Players Association,” according to Shav Glick of the Los Angeles Times.

What Dye produced was a golf course with a multitude of spectator amphitheaters, which is why the years have treated this championship kindly. Spectators can rattle off the memories at the short, par-4 fourth; the corkscrew of par-5 ninth; the demanding par-4 14th; and possibly championship golf’s most famous finishing stretch – the par-5 risk-reward 16th; the iconic 17th; and the par-4 18th with what might be the toughest driving hole in golf. “We feel confident that in the Tournament Players Club we have the future of golf today,” said Beman in 1982 and half-a- century later, those words still ring true.

But while TPC Sawgrass and its series of waste bunkers and low-hanging tree branches that ask you to shape your shots is prominent in the greatness of THE PLAYERS Championship, what remains the most significant ingredient is the field.

Year after year, THE PLAYERS bring you the class of professional golf, from the brightest young stars to the most savvy of polished veterans. Year after year, THE PLAYERS has represented the best in professional golf, a championship without a weakness.

“It is special to be able to win a championship like this,” said Woods back in 2001 when he was riding a wave of success like the game had never seen. All the heralded titles had fallen his way but this triumph at TPC Sawgrass was counted as special as any of them for a sound reason.

“An extremely demanding golf course with probably the best field in all of golf.”

It’s a recipe that has stood the test of time and only gets better.

THE PLAYERS Championship will be played at TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course from 14 – 17 March 2024. Click here for the tickets.

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