The 2007 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass was, as one writer put it, all about change. From remodeling the clubhouse to replacing the dirt on the course, the changes revitalized this Championship venue, bringing a fresh look to the anchor of the PGA Tour’s Florida swing. And nearly every player in the tournament greeted these changes positively, especially Phil Mickelson, last year’s winner.
But two changes stood out. The re-schedule of the tournament from March to May and the on-course alterations significantly increased the challenge of winning The Players Championship for a star-studded field that included Tiger Woods. These changes not only illustrate just how much weather conditions can impact a player’s score, but also why even weekend golfers must study the courses they play if they want to maintain a low golf handicap.
Re-scheduling The Tournament
The Players Championship anchored the Tour’s Florida swing for years. When most of the country was just warming up to the golf season, this tournament was showcasing the sport. However, the reasons for moving the date of The Players from March to May outweighed the tradition of maintaining the Florida Swing,which remained intact with the addition of the PODS Championship in Tampa and the playing of the World Golf Championships-CA Championship at Doral in Miami.
The schedule change eliminated the late March pattern of inconsistent weather in north Florida, which often brought tournament-halting rain. It also brought together the game’s top players in key tournaments for five straight months, from The Masters in April to the PGA Championship in August. The change creates a nice flow of events, good for attendance, players, and television viewers. With all these pluses going for it, the change was easy to approve.
Shaping Up The Course
The change of dates also meant that tournament officials could set up the course the way course designer Pete Dye intended,fast and firm with Bermuda grass rough. When the tournament was played in March, officials seeded the course with rye grass to get the course ready. But now, they didn’t have to use rye grass.
In addition, the officials had the grounds keepers dig up the entire playing surface and replace the soil with 6 to 8 inches of water-draining sand. The old soil had become clogged over the years with organic material that inhibited drainage. Officials also lengthened some holes.
“Over the years, technology has taken away some of the holes that were at one time considered the long holes,” said PGA Master Professional And TPC National Director of Golf, Billy Dettlaff, in a recent interview. “So we’ve added a little bit of yardage to certain holes to bring back the original integrity of the course. Now for example, hole no. 8, which was always intended to be the longest par 3 on the course, will play as a long par 3 again, vs. a mid-iron shot which is what it had become in recent times.”
In addition, the PGA TOUR installed a SubAir subsurface mechanical drainage system under the greens to vacuum water in wet conditions and inject air, if necessary. However, the course was draining so well on its own last year that the maintenance staff only had to turn on the SubAir for testing before last year’s tournament. Hopefully, it will be the same this year’s.
Forced To Be Accurate
The changes at TPC Sawgrass force players to be more accurate off the tee than previously, since off-line tee shots would bounce more readily into difficult positions. Meanwhile, new chipping areas around the greens make the short game even more vital to good scoring. In addition, the change to drier weather and the course alterations make the surface firmer. It also makes scoring more difficult.
In short, the course is designed to host championship golf and the conditions reflect that. The course tests every facet of a player’s game. You have to hit good approach shots, so you need good drives in order to hit those. All your short game shots have to be working, because if you miss the green, saving par is a really tough task. And you have to putt well to win, since the greens are small and roll fast.
Add to the changes three of the toughest finishing holes in golf and you have a challenge worthy of the Tournament’s field. With Tiger Woods out, look for Phil Mickelson to win again this year or at the very least, make a strong showing. To do so, however, he’ll again to account for all the changes made to the course and play accordingly. Adjusting to weather and course conditions helps players maintain low golf handicaps year after year.