Less than half an hour before a single Tiger Woods tweet swept across golf’s collective radar, Valspar Championship tournament director Tracy West was thrilled to receive a commitment call from one of the world’s top players: Jordan Spieth.
“These literally were happening simultaneously,” West said of commitments from Spieth and Woods, laughing. “It’s crazy over here this morning. It’s absolutely crazy, but in a great way. It’s Tiger and Jordan, right? We’re equally excited for both of them.”
Spieth’s commitment meant that the Valspar, the Tampa-area event which in recent years has fought to attract long-term sponsors and top-tier players, was already on track for a banner year. Rory McIlroy is set to make his debut, and Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, and Adam Scott are among the big names in the field. As for the game’s ultimate draw?
“Tiger is just another thing,” West said. “I mean, it’s one of those things you dream will happen, so for it to really happen is incredibly exciting.”
West said that she was contacted by Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg less than 30 minutes before his Twitter announcement, allowing her to set in motion “extra-operational plans” they had been preparing for weeks just in case Woods committed.
Now in her fourth year running the event, West listed off the changes that Tiger’s appearance dictates. Valspar organizers will open up two additional parking lots to handle 5,000 to 6,000 more spots. They’ll set up more buses, and volunteers to handle those buses and fans at admissions gates. Increased security. More porta-potties. More food (and beverage) orders from caterers and concessionaires. Friday’s announcement has organizers ready to see 10,000 or more spectators per day. Tiger changes the game.
Acknowledging her excitement that crowds could potentially sell out the venue, West remained cognizant of the potential for rowdy Tour crowds like those that have come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
“We’re not the Phoenix Open,” she said. “It’s a balance, right? You want as many people to come and see these guys as possible. We don’t want to turn people away. However, we don’t want to make this something that gets out of control, and we’ll make some judgment calls.”
For fans of Woods, who was expected to play at Bay Hill, adding the event is encouraging in that it means the 14-time major champ feels his health is sufficient to handle playing four out of five weeks in the lead-up to Augusta, where he’ll tee it up for the first time since 2015.
Although Woods has never played at the Valspar’s Tour stop, he has competed on Innisbrook’s Copperhead course, where the event is held. In 1996 he played in the JCPenney Classic, a cross-tour event featuring players from both the PGA and LPGA tours. Woods and playing partner Kelli Kuehne finished in second place. Twenty-two years later, a stacked field has made for an ecstatic tournament staff.
“We’re grateful for everyone who is playing and we were already ecstatic with the field we had,” West said. “We love Jordan — he’s one of our past champs — and we were very, very, very hopeful that he was going to commit.”
“As for Tiger, we’re excited for the fans of Tampa Bay. Unless they’ve traveled, most probably haven’t gotten a chance to see him play. So we’re ecstatic about that, and we’re excited to see what this might mean for our local charities.”
When Woods comes to play, the golf world wins. Whether Woods himself can win again, that question could be answered as soon as next week.