The Significance of Sawgrass The Course that Changed the Tour Commissioner Deane Beman had to overcome years of pessimism and resistance to send golf in a new direction

March 23, 2004

A geologist might quibble over the use of the term swamp to
describe the 415 acres of Florida scrub that former PGA Tour
commissioner Deane Beman bought in 1978 for a dollar. The property,
a few miles south of Jacksonville Beach, had the requisite
alligators, opossums and water moccasins, but it was a good two
feet above sea level and would have had the capacity to dry out
between storms if humans hadn't built Highway A1A, shutting off the
natural drainage routes. "It was a man-made bog," says Vernon
Kelly, who was the PGA Tour's project manager during the golf
course's construction.

Four years later, at the 1982 Tournament Players Championship,
Beman showed the world what he had done with the site. Where there
used to be muck, there were fairways. Where there used to be mire,
there was an island green girdled in wood pilings. The Tournament
Players Club at Sawgrass was now a golf course, but it was still a
little bit wild. It had large, unruly dunes that looked as if they
had been imported from Scotland, sandy flats that seemed to be
awaiting a landscaper and grassed berms that resembled primitive
battlements. J.C. Snead played the course and then spoke the
enduring words, "They ruined a perfectly good swamp."

Time and tweaking have overtaken Snead's judgment. When the
tournament, now known as the Players Championship, is played next
week, 40,000 spectators a day will turn the stadium course at the
TPC at Sawgrass into a carnival. More than 400 corporations will
entertain clients in hospitality tents and skyboxes, and millions
of viewers in 140 countries will catch the action on television.
Meanwhile, the best golfers in the world will play for a purse of
$6.5 million--a financial bounty that can be traced directly to
Beman and his visionary concept of stadium golf.

But don't think for a minute that the trip from swamp to success
was an easy one. There's lots of stuff buried under the tightly
mown grass of the stadium course. Course architect Pete Dye pushed
around tons of decayed organic matter, piled it as high as 45 feet
and covered it with sand and grass, creating large mounds along the
fairways that formed a natural "stadium" from which spectators
could view the action. The soggy dumping ground of the stadium
course makes a pretty good metaphor for the state of the Tour in
the mid-'70s, when Beman took over as Tour commissioner.

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus enjoyed worldwide popularity and
commanded top dollar for commercial endorsements, but the Tour
itself was bogged down. The four major championships--the Masters,
U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship--were controlled by
other organizations. Tennis, not golf, was the hot participatory
sport. Tour events, which relied on the celebrity appeal of
tournament hosts like Bob Hope, Andy Williams and Joe Garagiola,
routinely got poorer television ratings than ... bowling! Says
Beman, "We were a minor sport with major stars."

To avoid sinking further, the Tour had to create new revenue
streams. One of Beman's strategies, controversial at the time, was
to replace the celebrity hosts with corporate sponsors who would
buy hunks of television ad time and boost tournament purses. An
even riskier gambit had the Tour, a tax-exempt membership
organization, staging tournaments on its own. In 1974 the Tour
launched the Tournament Players Championship, which started at
Atlanta Country Club and moved twice before finding a temporary
home at Windblown Sawgrass Country Club, near the current TPC site.
In later years Beman turned the World Series of Golf, a 36-hole,
four-player exhibition in Akron, into a full-field Tour event; took
a flier with the Seiko-Tucson Match Play Championship, which lasted
only three years; and created the season-ending Tour Championship,
a high-dollar shootout limited to the top 30 players on the money
list. "I was quite certain," he says, "that the Tour had to have
its own events to compete for the sports and entertainment dollar."

The notion of a permanent home for at least one of these
tournaments was always in the back of Beman's mind. A decade
earlier, when he was best known for winning two U.S. Amateurs and a
British Amateur, Beman had approached the USGA with a novel idea:
Why not build a rota of USGA-owned, spectator-friendly courses that
could host the U.S. Open and serve as laboratories for the Green
Section's turfgrass research?

The USGA had nodded reflectively, puffed on its pipe and thanked
Beman for his interest. Nothing happened.

Beman ventured into real estate, course design, equipment design
and professional golf--he won four Tour events in six years--but
stadium golf didn't make much headway until 1974, when he was
picked to replace outgoing Tour commissioner Joe Dey. At the 1975
Phoenix Open the new commissioner decided to see what the pro game
looked like from outside the ropes. "I had to buy a periscope to
see!" he says. "No wonder we didn't have huge galleries."

It would be several years before Beman could act on his plan.
"There were not a lot of people who were real supportive when we
started," Beman said recently. "Our top players were more
interested in themselves than they were in the organization and
advancing the game." Without prompting, he added, "Arnold Palmer
and Jack Nicklaus were dead set against this."

And not only those two famous players. In the spring of 1983
Palmer, Nicklaus, Tom Watson and a dozen other top Tour players
sent the Tour's policy board a letter charging that Beman had
exceeded his authority by leading the Tour into
non-tournament-related business ventures. They demanded that the
Tour "cease all marketing" and end Beman's efforts to start a
network of Tournament Players Clubs.

The letter was subsequently withdrawn, but "there was a lot of
tension there," Beman said. "I was not a commissioner who was
loved."

Considering his status among the players, Beman knew better than
to spend their money on his pet project. Club memberships were sold
to local businessmen to pay for start-up costs; bank financing
covered the roughly $5 million in construction expenses for the
course and clubhouse. Says Beman, "Not one nickel of the Tour's
money was spent here."

"It was really low budget," says Alice Dye, Pete's wife and a
course designer in her own right. The original greens, for example,
were of the old-fashioned push-up type, using native soil. For weed
control, course superintendent David Postlewait brought in a flock
of goats, which was kept around until the animals learned to climb
up a berm onto the clubhouse. ("Deane didn't like the goats on the
roof," says Pete Dye, looking wistful.)

To realize Beman's vision of a course on which spectators could
see the action whether they sat all day or walked the course, Dye
channeled the excess water off-site and lowered his fairways and
greens to sea level. That, in turn, gave him more soil to pile up
on the viewing mounds--most of which were positioned on the right
side of the fairways so that the fans wouldn't be looking at the
players' backs. Dye also made room for the merchandise tents,
concession stands and electronic scoreboards that have become
fixtures at modern tournaments.

The stadium aspects were brilliant and worked from Day One. The
course, on the other hand, exasperated the touring pros. Ben
Crenshaw complained of "Star Wars golf." Nicklaus said of the
greens, "I've never been very good at stopping a five-iron on the
hood of a car." Tour veteran Jay Haas says the course was "at the
very least unfair. The green complexes repelled the ball. You got
ricochets."

Facing an incipient player revolt, Beman called Dye after the '83
tournament and asked him to tour the course with a 10-member player
committee that included Nicklaus, Crenshaw and Hale Irwin. "It was
18 holes of grill and roast," recalls golf architect Bobby Weed,
who had been hired by Dye to supervise alterations to the course.
"There were a lot of egos, but Pete was gracious and
accommodating."

Changes would be made to the course--many changes over many years.
Dye and Weed softened the contours of the greens. They widened
several fairways. They eliminated a hungry pot bunker in front of
the 18th green. They installed marker mounds to give golfers
something to aim at from the tees. "The initial design was
compromised," Weed says, "but all courses evolve. As long as the
original architect is involved, it's fine."

More than fine, if you ask the current crop of Tour professionals.
"It's Pete Dye at his best," says defending Players champ Davis
Love III, who also won the tournament in 1992. "He made a course
that's intimidating and challenging and makes you put a lot of
thought into playing it."

Making the players happy may or may not have been important to
Beman. He did, however, want to impress those who had the power to
lift the Tour out of its mid-'70s doldrums--the corporate sponsors,
television executives and tournament chairmen. The real triumph of
stadium golf is that it led members of the PGA Tour Golf Sponsors
Association to want TPCs of their own. The Tour now owns 25 courses
and licenses five in 20 states and Mexico (although there are
reports that five of them will be sold in the near future), and the
network has changed the face of tournament golf.

Not only did the new courses attract corporate sponsors, but they
also brought in more fans and increased revenues from things like
parking and concessions. "The difference is billions of dollars,"
says Beman, citing a stratospheric rise in tournament purses,
marketing income and donations to Tour-designated charities. He
adds, "We're the only sport that has been able to commercialize
without selling our soul or the integrity of the game."

Beman's detractors will choke on that last assertion. There are
golf purists who haven't slept well since Bing Crosby's name was
removed from the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and others who fear that
classic venues like Westchester, Colonial and Riviera will soon
give way to some TPC in a subdivision. But you have to be very,
very stubborn not to give Deane Beman his due. It may have looked
as if he was building a golf course in a swamp, but he was actually
leading the Tour to higher ground.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY FRED VUICH SIGNATURE HOLE Sawgrass's famed 17th hole exemplified the course's punitive--and therefore entertaining--design. COLOR PHOTO: LANE STEWART STADIUM STARTER The spectator mounds of sludge were still settling beside the 1st tee at Sawgrass in 1981. COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH COLOR MAP: GIACOMO MARCHESI STADIUM COURSE COLOR PHOTO: PAT BENIC COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN THE PUTT Tiger Woods's double-breaking 40-footer for birdie in the 2001 Players cemented the 17th's place in history.

Ranked and Filed

The 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass gets all the airtime, but
since 1983, when comprehensive statistics were first compiled, the
17th hasn't even been the course's toughest par-3, ranking third.
Here's how the holes rank based on the field average over the past
21 years.

RANK HOLE YARDS PAR AVG.

1 18TH 447 4 4.33
2 14TH 467 4 4.23
3 5TH 466 4 4.21
4 7TH 442 4 4.18
5 8TH 219 3 3.16
6 10TH 424 4 4.14
7 15TH 449 4 4.13
8 13TH 181 3 3.11
9 17TH 137 3 3.10
10 1ST 392 4 4.08
11 3RD 177 3 3.07
12 6TH 393 4 4.05
13 4TH 384 4 4.01
14 9TH 583 5 4.97
15 12TH 358 4 3.89
16 11TH 535 5 4.86
17 2ND 532 5 4.75
18 16TH 507 5 4.66

TOTALS 7,093 72 72.93

TPC Trending

Since the Players Championship moved to the TPC at Sawgrass in
1982, TPC courses have hosted 220 PGA, Champions and Nationwide
Tour events. In 2004, TPC courses will host nine PGA Tour events.

EVENT CURRENT VENUE OLD VENUE
MOVED (Architect) (Architect)

PLAYERS TPC at Sawgrass Sawgrass Country Club
1982 (Pete Dye) (Ed Seay)

HARTFORD TPC at River Highlands Wethersfield Country Club
1984 (Bobby Weed) (Robert D. Pryde)

NELSON TPC at Four Seasons Las Colinas Sports Club
1986 (Jay Moorish) (Robert Trent Jones Jr.)

BOOZ ALLEN TPC at Avenel Congressional Country Club
1986 (Ault, Clark & Associates) (Devereaux Emmett)

PHOENIX TPC of Scottsdale Phoenix Country Club
1987 (Moorish/Weiskopf) (Harry J. Collis)

ST. JUDE TPC at Southwind Colonial Country Club
1989 (Ron Prichard) (Joe Finger)

BELLSOUTH TPC at SugarLoaf Atlanta Country Club
1997 (Greg Norman) (Willard Byrd)

JOHN DEERE TPC at Deere Run Oakwood Country Club
2000 (PGA Tour Design) (Pete Dye)

BOSTON TPC of Boston New event
2003 (Arnold Palmer)

Our top players were more interested in themselves than in
promoting the game," says Beman. "Palmer and Nicklaus were dead set
against this."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)