Thunderstorm pauses play for 4 hours in first round of The Players Championship

Start of play delayed earlier Thursday morning because of overnight storms

Overnight thunderstorms and rain have delayed the first round of The Players Championship. (WJXT)

PONTE VEDRA, Fla – Play in the first round of The Players Championship will resume at 3:15 p.m. Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach after being suspended at 11 a.m. because of an approaching thunderstorm.

Spectators were told to leave the course and seek shelter when play was suspended.

Earlier Thursday morning, the start of The Players was delayed an hour because of thunderstorms and heavy rain overnight. Officials warned News4JAX at the time that it might just be the beginning of additional breaks in the action because of the weather.

The first golfers were supposed to tee off at 6:45 a.m. Thursday, but play didn’t start until 7:45 a.m. Ground crews could be seen drying the course as best as they could after last night’s rains.

The three big factors for any pause in action are: Lightning, heavy wind and heavy rain.

“The health and safety of our athletes, and their support teams and our fans is the No. 1 priority. So we are looking at lightning in the area and those types of things when we make those decisions. We are thinking of everyone when we do that,” said Jared Rice, executive director of The Players Championship.

The Players has its own meteorologist to keep an eye on the skies and help make decisions about when to pause the action at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra.

“Lightning and winds will shut us down,” DTN Meteorologist Wade Stettner says. “Of course, if the rain becomes too heavy where the greens start to hold water and resulting ponding, then they will have to suspend that just because of the rules of play but that would not be a dangerous situation and they would not ask spectators to exit the course in that event although people will get drenched so people would probably be heading for their cars anyway.”

Stettner says Saturday morning is the time frame that really poses the biggest threat for significant delays.

Stettner uses several instruments -- like an electric field meter to detect when there’s a lightning strike -- to keep track of any disruptive weather.

DTN Meteorologist Wade Stettner keeps an eye on the weather to determine if play needs to be suspended at The Players. (WJXT)

Stettner, the chief referee, the tournament director and other officials are in constant communication for when to make the call to suspend play.

Stettner says usually when a storm is about 8 miles away from the course, that’s when they would make the call to stop play.

It could be sooner than that to give spectators time to evacuate the course.

There is one thing Stettner is encouraging anyone to do if they’re coming to watch the tournament over the next three days

“Sometimes we delay and it is just a tiny little cell that passes by quickly. Other times it might be severe weather with damaging wind and squall lines. I always tell people to have that radar app on your phone, monitor it when you see some of these messages come up on the board, look at your radar and see what’s coming your way so that you can make the best decision and you can actually get out to your car before the storm hits,” Stettner said.

There will be weather updates on electronic boards of possible delays and if people need to head back to their cars, or just evacuate the course.

There are more than 20 of the boards spread across the course.

Beyond the weather, most of everything else is back to normal at The Players. There will not be any restrictions in place like last year when capacity was capped off at just 20% due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020 at the start of the pandemic, golfers played the first round, then the tournament turned away fans and ultimately canceled the tournament as the world shut down due to the spreading pandemic.

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