Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The PGA Tour has come a long way since 1978, when it began construction on its flagship Tournament Players Club, the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

\nThe project cost less than $5 million (including $1 for the 417 acres of swampy land, thanks to the generosity of developers Paul and Jerome Fletcher). That price tag stands in stark contrast to the $60 million that's been spent since the 2006 Players Championship to renovate the course and build a new clubhouse. To celebrate the refurbishment, the Tour reunited the people responsible for envisioning, planning, financing and building that original Sawgrass course, a layout that made history and launched the Tour as an amazingly successful business entity. Here are their memories, excerpted from their reunion last March at Tour headquarters.

\nIn The Beginning ...

\n

Deane Beman, PGA Tour Commissioner:

\nMy son was on spring break — he was 12 or 13 — when we came down to Jacksonville for a tournament I was playing in at Deerwood, and I asked one of the officials if I could find a place to take my son to play.

\nHe said, "Go out Beach Boulevard to A1A, then seven or eight miles south, and on the left there's this place called Sawgrass."

\nHe said that not very many people knew where it was. The original Sawgrass was quite a course. It still is. I cut the afternoon short, went back to those tournament officials and told them what I was really looking for. We made an agreement with the banks and made modifications so that we could hold (the Players) tournament there. That's how we got to Jacksonville.

\nWhen I thought the Players Championship had to get to the next level, the group that owned Sawgrass wasn't willing to sell us the course, so we started looking for property. The first time I saw this piece of property, you went in at your own peril. Paul Fletcher showed me around. Pete Dye and his engineers wanted to know what kind of soil it had, so test holes were dug.

\nThe first test hole we looked at had the biggest water moccasin in it. It must have been five feet long and as big around as your arm. That was my first look at this property.

\n

Bob Dickson, PGA Tour Director of Marketing:

\nDeane initially hired me to look at property. The land here is flat, about six feet above sea level. It was a solid forest. The word swamp never left our mouths — we let other people say that.

\n

Beman:


Paul Fletcher, President Fletcher Land Development:

\nIt was not easy to give away 417 acres for $1. We were kind of fending off Chase.

\n

Vernon Kelly, Project Manager:

\n\nWith the sale of that land came a world-class course that drove development in the area and enhanced the value of the Fletchers' other land tremendously, so it was win-win.

\n

Dickson:

\nDeane had to put on his selling shoes big-time to get the players to sign on.

\n

Beman:

\n This happened to be the only meeting he ever came to. His style was, when there's a problem, find a way to split the baby. He said, "Well, if I could make a few suggestions, why don't we have the players vote on it?" I went absolutely white. The board said O.K., and it was gaveled in 10 seconds. My blood hasn't returned to my face, and now we're going to have a vote of the players for the first time in the Tour's history.

\n The Tour is not a democracy, like the good ol' U.S. of A., and the players had never directly voted on any business issue and never should have. If we had lost that vote, we'd have lost the Tour's ability to function as a really good business, and then that would become a bigger issue than the golf tournament.

\nI went out on Tour for six to eight weeks and scheduled player meetings at the most inconvenient times I could because I didn't want more than five or six players at any one meeting. I had meetings at five or six in the morning or in the afternoon before the pro-am, when half the field was on the course. It was impossible for them to be there.

\nI put up a voting sheet on the bulletin board and went to the first 10 or 12 players that I knew would go for it and had them sign the sheet under yes. There was nobody on the no side. After that, the sheep followed the shepherds.

\n

Fletcher:



Beman:



Fletcher:




One Big Dye Job

\n

Alice Dye, Golf Course Architect:



Beman:


Alice Dye:

\n

Pete Dye, Architect:


Vernon Kelly:

\nMiraculously, a day later the plans showed up, so we gave them to the bank and they were tickled to death. The closing occurred, and everything was fine. The first time I went on-site with Pete, we drove out in a pickup truck. We were walking to look at the cut lines from the survey, and I said, "Wait a minute," and went running back to the truck and got the plans.

\nWhen I got back, Pete said, "What's that?" I said, "Well, these are the plans." He said, "Put them back in the truck. I don't want to see them again."

\n\nThe Island Green

\n

Alice Dye:

\nSo we drove out and looked. I said, "Why don't you put the green back where it was and leave the big hole filled with water?" So he built the green. The (front) two thirds of it went back toward the tee, and the back third sloped straight down to the lake. I said, "Pete, you know the tournament's in March. I can just see the TV — we're on the air, and the first threesome is still on the 17th tee. Nobody has been able to stay on the green." So, thankfully, he enlarged the bunker in front and smoothed the back.

\n

Beman:


Pete Dye:



Beman:


Alice Dye:

\nThe next day was the pro-am, and they had the markers on the pro tee. They had beautiful young ladies sitting there with a bucket of balls in case you hit one in the water. Pete strides up there, like no problem. While his ball is still in the air, the girl rolls him another ball. Put a scorecard in your hand, and that hole gets tougher.

\nKings of the Jungle

\n

Dave Postlethwait, Construction Superintendent:



Kelly:

\nWe took the soil from the ditch and flattened it out, and that was the only road into the property. When we started the clubhouse, Dave would stand at the end of the road and tell the cement trucks to come on in. They'd get about 100 feet in and get bogged down up to their axles. At that point we had 'em because they couldn't get away. We'd come get 'em with a bulldozer.

\n

Beman:


Kelly:

\nSo I'm standing there — I don't know where Paul is now, but he's a long way away — waiting on the snake to come up. Fortunately, it came up facing away from me and went the other way.

\n

Postlethwait:

\n\nMarroitt Points

\n

Kelly:

\nSo we put him in the weapons carrier, and there weren't enough seats. He was magnanimous and said, "I'll sit on the hump in the middle." There was a stump in the road. You'd hit it every fourth or fifth time you went out, so it was never annoying enough to fix, but when you'd hit the stump in that weapons carrier, it was like World War III.

\nBy this time, Bill Marriott told us that he'd told Deane that he'd never build a hotel in Florida that wasn't right on the beach. We're coming back to the compound, and I was driving, and I hit that damn stump. Bill Marriott flies up in the air, hits his head and crashes down onto the floor.

\n I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, I've killed Bill Marriott." When he left, I told Deane, "I am so sorry. I didn't mean to do that." And Deane says, "I wish you'd broken the s.o.b.'s neck."

\n

Alice Dye:



Judy Beman, Deane's wife:



Firing Line

\n

Postlethwait:


Deane Beman:

\nYour man Dave went down to one of the leaders of Palm Valley, right to the gentleman's home. He came out on the front porch, and Dave says, "We've been having some fires up around the trailers; it's getting a little dangerous."

\n And the guy says, "Yep, so what?" And Dave says, "It's a funny thing about fire. It can jump all the way from those trailers right down here to this house." We didn't have any more problems.

\nIndiana Jones Returns

\n

Kelly:

\nThere was a sink hole right in the middle of the 5th fairway. I said, "Well, it's just a sink hole." He said, "Yes, but you're going to have to stop construction while we check it out with the state." And I said, "You're trespassing. I'm going to have you arrested."

\n\nHeroes and Goats

\n

Kelly:

\nThey would eat the underbrush and did a terrific job. But people would see them and thought they were so cute that we started letting them out. We'd come in the morning, and if it had been raining, there would be all kinds of sheep excrement around the clubhouse because the sheep didn't want to get wet.

\nOne time we were in the clubhouse dining room, and this baby goat went to the lake to drink. A gator came up and knocked him in the water with his tail, then pulled him under. Everybody eating lunch was horrified. This cute baby goat (was) getting consumed before their eyes.

\n All of a sudden the goat pops back up, and he's swimming like crazy. The gator is coming behind him, and everybody in the dining room is yelling, "Go! Go! Go!" Somehow, the little goat made it out.

\n

Pete Davison, Head Pro:


Kelly:


Parting Shots

\n

Judy Beman:


Deane Beman:

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