It wasn’t 24 hours after Jason Day won the 43rd Players Championship that construction equipment began chewing up the putting surface on one of the key holes to his final round on Monday.
The uprooting of the 12th green of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, which Day birdied on his way to a four-shot, wire-to-wire victory, is only the first step in a series of enhancements that will be made to the course, practice facility and infrastructure before the 2017 Players.
Although attendance records continue to fall and the world’s best players continue to view winning at the Stadium Course a career highlight, no one at the PGA Tour is interested in standing still.
“We look at everything in finding ways to improve,” said Jay Monahan, the chief operating officer of the PGA Tour who is scheduled to replace Tim Finchem as commissioner by the end of the year. “Changing the putting surfaces, No. 12, the practice rounds … together, it’s all intended to be another step forward for an event already at a very high level.”
Here’s the to-do list:
■ The putting surfaces will be replaced for the second time in four years, getting rid of Miniverde Bermuda and replacing it with Tifeagle Bermuda that will hold up better over the winter and early spring to extremes of cold and heat. It is especially effective during cold, damp winters.
■ The 12th hole is being changed to a drivable par-4 by leveling the mounds on the left, adding a water hazard and changing the greens complex to allow players to run the ball onto the putting surface.
■ In addition to changing the grass, the greens at Nos. 1, 4, 8, 9, 13 and 14 will undergo slight modifications that will counter wear and tear, the lack of direct sunlight, and open up more areas for pin positions.
■ The practice facility will be revamped with more “target greens,” actual putting surfaces with similar slope and speed to the tournament greens. Grasses of different colors and lengths will be cultivated and trees added to enable players to simulate shots they might need on the course.
■ The players-only side of the practice facility will have more “wedge greens” for shots of between 50-to-100 yards. In addition the building on the back will be re-designed as a players lounge with a patio and outdoor seating.
■ The entrance road to the TPC clubhouse will be re-designed for a more dramatic view of the clubhouse as members and resort players enter the facility.
■ The agronomy staff and its equipment will be re-located to a site beyond the current practice range, more centrally-located between the Stadium and Dye’s Valley. The volunteer headquarters also is being re-located. The area vacated by agronomy and volunteers will be turned into parking.
Players are most intrigued about what the practice facility will look like when it’s done.
“The target greens need to be better, if they want this to be a top-notch facility,” said Steve Wheatcroft. “At places like Firestone and Quail Hollow, they have greens, with bunkers … here you just have flagsticks in the ground.”
“Right now, we have no wedge pin options,” added Will Wilcox. “It would be great to have some baskets out there, 50, 75 yards, for us to aim at.”
Players also want practice greens to be closer to tournament speed. Wheatcroft said one reason for the high scores on Saturday is that the tournament green speeds picked up dramatically without a corresponding increase on the practice greens so players would get a hint — and a feel — for what was to come.
“We need a putting green we can use,” he said. “Every practice green on this place runs about an 8 in the Stimpmeter [the Stadium Course greens were more than 13 on Saturday] and they’re unusable.”
Players are also in favor of the changes made to No. 12, largely because it had turned rather drab, with a stock strategy of iron off the tee and a wedge into the green.
“I never really liked No. 12 the way it had become,” said Davis Love III.
During the course of construction, the earth moved can be used to construct new spectator mounds for the tournament. Players executive Matt Rapp also said the changes to the practice facility would also enhance the fan experience.
“People love to watch the guys practice and they’re going to love the look of the new facility,” he said.
The project is expected to last until mid-November, weather permitting. Two tournaments have already been moved, the Junior Players on Labor Day weekend to the Sawgrass Country Club and the Web.com Tour Championship in October to the Atlantic Beach Country Club — which may be its permanent home, depending on the reviews for this year’s tournament.
“The changes to the course and facilities represent another elevation of the championship,” Monhan said. “We’re ready to get going.”
Garry Smits: (904) 359-4362
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