PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For the first time since 2006, The Players Championship will be contested in the month of March and when it tees off, tournament officials expect bigger crowds than ever and golfers can expect to see different conditions than they have experienced at TPC Sawgrass over the past dozen tournaments.
"I think we'll definitely see more people out," said Ryan Hart, tournament director of The Players. "Great, sunny, 70 (degree) weather in March. Unencumbered by any other events in the week."
The course appeared in terrific shape Wednesday, but there is still more to do to have it in the best condition possible for The Players.
"We've been talking about the change to March for two years," said Fred Plotts, director, golf course maintenance operations at TPC Sawgrass. "The reason we're seeing the brilliant, green grass is because of the overseed. This is all new for our team. It's been a challenge and a great learning process. Our team has stepped up to the challenge. Aesthetically, it is very pretty, but it's not quite at the point we want it yet."
Players will have different weather and course conditions than they have experienced before in May.
For example, on March 14, 2018, the high was 64 and the low was 45. On March 17, the high was 84. Those same days will be the start and end points for the tournament. Over the course of four days, there was a 39-degree difference from the lowest low to the hottest high.
Wind will also likely be a bigger factor in March, particularly as it tends to blow off the ocean with some intensity during that time of year, which can make the tee shot on the island green 17th particularly tricky.
"Sure we can be chilly (morning temps in the 50s) and rainy (more than 4 inches one year), but it’s the wind that will impact the actual players most," said The Weather Authority's John Gaughan. "Often, morning conditions are with light winds, yet the afternoon sea breeze can roar. Typically, at least one March afternoon round will see winds gust over 20 miles per hour, something that we rarely saw with The Players played in May."
Not only will the course play differently with the ryegrass overseed, it will also look different in person and on television.
"As the weather improves, it's just repetition," Plotts said. "We start to mow a little bit more. We start to drop some height in certain areas. It's just polishing the stone, so to speak. I feel like we're going to have a really good tournament this year. It's going to look a lot different on TV. This green grass really makes everything pop."
Attendees to the tournament will also see some changes to the infrastructure.
"Every year, we continue to try to elevate the stature and status of the tournament," Hart said. "At the Nicklaus entry, you'll be greeted by a beautiful walkway, new boardwalk over the wetlands, right down into our new welcome experience with an enlarged PGA Tour fan shop, right into the grove and then to the iconic 17th hole."
Officials with the tournament announced three top players committed to the field Tuesday: Justin Rose, the world's No.1 ranked player, as well as Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. More big names are expected to be announced in the coming days.
"Being able to present the best field in golf is one of the great opportunities we have. Over the next six weeks, you'll see a lot more great announcements," Hart said.