PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., May 10 It's a public course, in a manner of speaking. Not this week - what with the Players Championship clogging up the place - but any other week you can stay at the Ponte Vedra Marriott and play the Stadium Course for $350, which includes your cart, and, get this, your caddie. Tres chic.\n
\nThe whole thing is about getting the private-club treatment at a semi-public resort course. The new clubhouse is so mammoth that it blocks out the fierce wind for anyone sitting on the veranda. Take the White House, add a few West Wings, top it off with a massive, Spanish, red-tile roof, and you have the new clubhouse. Spiffy. \n
\nIn the dining room, there's a large fireplace stuffed with faux wood, and above it, an oil painting featuring a scorecard, virgin tees and a bottle of 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon bearing the name Commissioners Private Reserve. There's that word again, private. No half-crushed cans of Miller Lite spoiling this still life. \n
\nIt's very nice if you're into opulence. There are flat-screen TVs at every turn, and in the pro shop you can buy mock turtleneck for $111.50. But, you see, it's a mercerized cotton, so that explains the high price. A prize to the first person who has a layman's explanation of the mercerization process. You can buy Sharpie pens in three different colors. You can buy every brand of golf ball. The thing you cannot buy is a golf club. No clubs for sale, not this week. \n
\nEverything's well thought out. The boss's title is National Director of Golf - with the title in braille by the door. A title so fancy you can hire lots of people underneath you and give them big titles too. Somewhere, maybe, there's a head pro. \n
\nThe Tour would like The Players to be thought of as the fifth major, and the clubhouse decorator did a bang-up job giving it that old-timey feel you get at Oakmont and Oak Hill and all the other oaks. Here's the shovel used to turn the first pile of mud in '78. Here are action portraits - beautifully done by an artist named Bart Forbes - of Tiger fist-pumping and Jerry Pate splashing and Davis Love backswinging. It's all modern history, but it's history. \n
\nAt the heart of it all is the players' locker room. It's all natural light and stained wood and brushed metal. The "smellies," as Nick Price refers to the sprays and lotions available in such settings, are hidden in a woven basket. There's a robe hanging next to every shower stall. The players your Ryan Moore's and your Rich Beem's and your Brandt Snedeker's and all the other fellas get a brass nameplate and a chance to compete for a few million dollars.\n
\nIf you pay your $350, you can use the locker room, too - although you won't get a nameplate and you won't get to compete for millions of dollars. But you can always pretend, right?