Whether or not you treat the Players Championship as “the 5th Major,” what’s undeniable is the special buzz that percolates throughout the event. Unquestionably, the course has something to do with the vibe. Pete Dye’s Players Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass may dish out the finest collection of risk/reward holes on the globe. The frighteningly tantalizing island-green par-3 17th hogs all the glory, but for pure should-I-go-for-it suspense, the short par-5 16th and the rugged par-4 18th tops the charts. To be there in person for the drama that unfolds on those three holes on any day is a treat.
Factor in, too, the fact that year-in, year-out, the Players serves up the finest field in golf, with more World Top 100 players than any of the four traditional majors. Finally, Sawgrass — and the PGA Tour — call Ponte Vedra Beach home. That makes this tournament the ultimate home game on the PGA Tour.
If you’ve made the decision to do your entertaining at the TPC Sawgrass and in the Greater Jacksonville area, here’s how to do it right.
Where to Stay With Clients: Surprisingly, thanks to its 500-plus rooms, you can actually book a stay during tournament week at the on-site host hotel, the Sawgrass Marriott (904-285-7777, sawgrassmarriott.com). Though the weekend is sold out, you can stay Tuesday through Thursday, May 4-6, for $279 per night on a Players Two-Night Package. The chance to pull a pint of Guinness at V.Kelly’s Irish Bar as Rory McIlroy strolls by (He turns 21 on May 4) is certainly an appealing prospect. Steaks at the resort’s Augustine Grille or a stroll through the lagoon-laced acres might be the perfect way to seal a deal.
The PGA Tour (pgatour.com) offers special ticket, golf and hotel packages, with lodging options in downtown Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach and 25 miles to the south at the World Golf Village. One package starts at $728 per person and includes three nights’ lodging, weekly tournament Grounds pass, weekly parking pass, admission to the World Golf Hall of Fame and a round at the Slammer & Squire course.
For class and elegance, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club (904-285-1111, pvresorts.com; room during Players week from $217, with packages available) is the place to camp. Two fun courses, an oceanfront fitness center and terrific restaurants have made this 300-acre retreat a favorite among the upscale set since 1928.
Where to Buy Tickets: Players tickets aren’t as hard to come by as Masters badges — but few in sports are. Still, this can be a tough ticket. A brand new offering for 2010, called The Turn, is already sold out. The Turn is a casual hospitality spot that affords superior views of both the 9th and 18th holes.
For any and all ticket needs, visit pgatour.com. Daily practice round tickets are $30 apiece, Monday through Wednesday. Daily grounds, Thursday through Sunday go for $65 apiece. A Monday through Sunday weekly grounds ticket is $165, while a weekly clubhouse ticket will run you $449, but that includes access to the magnificent new TPC Sawgrass clubhouse, plus the Turn and grounds. You can add on parking with any purchase. Another popular option is the Family Plan package. Thursday, Friday or Saturday, it’s $129 and you get two adult tickets, two youth (18 and under) tickets, and an on-site parking pass for the day of your choice.
If you’re into serious entertaining, you may want to consider opting for The Benefactor Package (pgatour.com). It’s not cheap, at $4,200, but depending on your business requirements, it might be a great value. Situated behind the tee box of the island-green 17th hole, this upscale environment features two levels for entertaining, with both interior table seating and exterior stadium seating. It’s easy to see why the tax-deductible Benefactor Package sold out in 2009. Included is access to the Benefactor, the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse, the Turn and grounds. You also receive gourmet-quality food and a premium bar available for purchase; televisions and courtesy phones; complimentary daily pairing sheets; ShotLink Scoring System access; and private restroom facilities.
The Benefactor Package provides admission for 30 guests per day, Monday through Sunday, 10 additional Grounds tickets per day, four VIP parking passes per day, 12 Preferred parking passes per day, a social membership for one year to the TPC Sawgrass (including golf access), a gift certificate to the TPC Sawgrass Golf Shop and two invitations (for two people) to the Players Charity Celebration.
Where to Take Your Clients to Play Golf: For this week, not only is the Players Stadium course off-limits, but we’ll wager that its sister layout, the Dye’s Valley, will be a trifle busy as well. Nonetheless, the Greater Jacksonville area teems with appealing alternatives. Ponte Vedra Inn & Club’s Ocean course (904-285-1111, pvresorts.com; $100-$250) was slated to host the 1939 Ryder Cup, before World War II intervened. It’s best known for its tiny par-3 9th, one of golf’s earliest island-green holes. A Bobby Weed renovation has made the Ocean a short but relevant and very playable track. Its sporty sibling, the Lagoon, also benefited from a Weed retrofitting. It now measures 6,022 breeze-fueled yards, with artistic bunkering.
It’s not easy dragging yourself away from the amazing memorabilia and engaging interactive exhibits at the World Golf Village (904-940-6088, golfwgv.com; $69-$169, with Players Championship week pricing around $229). Bobby Weed’s Slammer & Squire, named for consultants Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, was praised by the likes of Lee Trevino and Gary Player as a tournament site. The Redan-style par-3 7th and option-laden, short par-4 14th are sterling examples of memorable designs. Even more challenging is the King & Bear, a co-design by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, which favors draws and fades in equal measure.
North of Jacksonville but worth the drive is Amelia Island Plantation (888-261-6161; aipfl.com; $150-$200) an environmentally friendly complex with four courses, including the Oak Marsh and Ocean courses, two Pete Dye designs with Bobby Weed touch-ups that brim with moss-drenched oak trees, marsh carries and ocean views.
Where to Dine With Clients: Aside from the aforementioned resort restaurants at the Sawgrass Marriott, a bevy of other renowned eateries graces the byways of Ponte Vedra Beach/Jacksonville. Local resident Jim Furyk is fond of Dwight’s Bistro (904-241-4496, dwightsbistro.com) a blink-and-you-might-miss-it spot tucked away in a Jacksonville Beach strip mall that features marvelous crab cakes and a wine list to match. Furyk is also fond of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (904-285-0014, ruthchris.com) The steaks sizzle as much as Furyk’s putter lately, though in full disclosure, he used to be sponsored by the chain.
If you’re looking for a laid-back, roll-up-your-sleeves night out on the town, slather on the sauce at Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q (bonosbarbq.com), with multiple locations, or else head to the outskirts to Saltwater Cowboys (904-471-2332, saltwatercowboys.com) for a taste of classic Florida that you’ll never forget. Alligator tail, frog legs —Vyou name it — if it slithers in the Lowcountry, you’ll find it on the menu here.
What to Do With Clients: Whether you encounter a rainy day, or just need a break from the action, the Greater Jacksonville area is chock full of activities. Ancient clubs, one-of-a-kind exhibits and interactive golf experiences at legendary courses such as St. Andrews highlight the fare at the World Golf Hall of Fame at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. (904-940-4000, wgv.com) The Bob Hope exhibit, “Shanks for the Memories,” is held over from 2009.
If your clients are willing to roll back the years, take them to America’s oldest surviving city, St. Augustine (1565), where one of the highlights is the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, where you can imbibe the same waters that Ponce de Leon (and Freddie Couples, apparently) sampled back in 1513.