One month out: Players Championship ready for return to normalcy

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After a start and stop and then limited crowds, The Players Championship is back to doing what it does best.

The event at TPC Sawgrass is 30 days away and will feel normal for the first time since Rory McIlroy edged Jim Furyk by a stroke in 2019.

That feels like an eternity ago.

The Players was at the epicenter of the sports world in 2020 when the pandemic was ratcheting up across the world. The tournament played its first round before deciding that the remainder of the event would be played with no fans in attendance. Then, the NBA put its season on hold, and The Players subsequently canceled the remaining three rounds.

When the tournament resumed last year, it was under an umbrella of precautions that capped attendance at 20% of maximum capacity. It was golf in March, sure, but it didn’t truly feel like a typical Players Championship.

That won’t be the case this time around. Players executive director Jared Rice said that the tournament learned quite a bit during the two years it was impacted by COVID-19. It took some of what it learned and built off it.

“It was awesome that we were able to do what we did in 2021. The community was super responsible. And, again, it’s realizing how important that was for our sport at the time. But that’s not who we are long term,” Rice said.

“So we’ve looked at some things again, just mobile ticketing being one. How can we continue to moderate attendance, communicate to fans that there is something to do for everybody on all days, Tuesday through Sunday, and just kind of look at those some of those key elements to make sure that we’re still delivering a great experience.”

The Players continues to try and push past just the words “golf tournament” and focus on delivering the entire package over the course of the week.

“We’re aspiring to be the best experience in golf, period. And I think for anybody that has come out to the Players Championship in the past, you can see some of those steps that we’ve been making over the years,” Rice said. “Really focusing on culinary, diverse experiences, having programming over the course of the week. And, oh yeah, by the way, you can watch the world’s best players take any shot at any day on any hole.”

One of the main changes last year at The Players was contactless payments throughout the golf course. That means no cash is accepted at the tournament. That returns this year. There will be no offsite ticket sales at places like Publix or Daily’s like in the past. The popular carpool vouchers where four or more people riding together could receive free parking are not returning this year.

Rice said one of the most notable changes that he’s worked on getting the word out on is that shift in youth tickets.

“Our youth policy is slightly different this year and that’s pretty important,” Rice said. “Kids 15 and under are admitted with a ticketed adult, and in the past been unlimited. And moving forward, we’re asking for two children 15 and under per ticketed adult. So slight change, but feel like that’s still a great opportunity for families and youth in our community to get out to the tournament.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.