PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The best field in golf is gathering in Ponte Vedra Beach for this week's Players Championship.
Rickie Fowler has his work cut out for him to defend his title as there's never been a back-to-back champion in the tournament's 42-year history. Fowler was among the pros taking a practice round Tuesday, and there was a large gallery following him.
The big focus of the day was on honoring those who keep America safe. The Players provides all active-duty military members complimentary admission to the tournament all week and discounted admission for veterans, and Tuesday is set aside as military appreciation day.
Tuesday's festivities included a flyover by the 125th Fighter Wing of the Florida Air National Guard and welcome from Gen. Mark Walsh, who is the chief of staff for the Air Force.
Toby Keith performs
The day culminated with a concert by country music superstar Toby Keith on the iconic 17th hole, known for its island green.
The concert was the highlight of the eighth annual military appreciation day, and fans said the nod to military members and their families means a lot to them. The tradition began with a Tim McGraw concert in 2010.
"My husband gave a lot. He was in Vietnam twice and when he came home, it wasn't as supportive as we see now with Toby Keith and with what we have now. And that means a lot to him when he has people (who) support and he knows are behind the military," military spouse Pam Mangine said.
There was so much gratitude at the concert not only from Keith to the veterans and active members in the audience, but also from the servicemen saying thank you to people like Keith for never forgetting those who serve our country.
"I've seen from both places; being active duty serving and then being a spouse and that means a lot when people show us respect and we serve our country. And Toby Keith, we can't thank him enough. He thanks us for serving his country and when you listen to his songs he loves our country just like we love our country and he saying thank you and we're telling him thank you," said Caroline Womble, who served 6 1/2 years in the Women's Army Corps. "Vietnam, (when) my husband came back, he was not supported. Nobody supported the Vietnam vets. But now we're supporting our vets. Our vets are supporting our vets now."
According to United Service Organizations, Keith has provided 250,000 troops with a touch of home with performances in 17 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Toby Keith is an icon (of) country music. He's loved by everyone in the military for what he stands for and what he does for the military here, Afghanistan and around the world," said military veteran Don Peters, who served for 33 years. "When you hear his songs, his father was wounded, a combat wounded veteran. He loved him. He loves the country and we're out here to show our love back to him."
Funding donated for service dog
Dozens of military members, past and present, and their families attended at ceremony at the Patriots' Outpost that will help a military member when they return home from combat.
Stryker Orthopaedics donated the funding for a service dog from the local charity K9s For Warriors, which pairs service dogs with veterans who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other issues when they come home from serving.
About 200 dogs and veterans have already been paired together, providing companionship and comfort that they need to adjust back to civilian life.
The Patriots' Outpost will be open all week next to the 16th hole. It's open to all military members and their families with an ID.
Spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of the golf pros this week at one of the most anticipated tournaments on the PGA Tour calendar need to plan ahead and get a parking pass before heading to the tournament.
Passes can be purchased online for $50 a day for preferred parking, $30 a day for general parking Thursday and Sunday, or $35 a day for general parking Friday and Saturday. Vehicles with four or more passengers can park for free but must have a downloaded Four for Free parking pass, which can be found online.