Rory McIlroy will be the first to admit he isn’t fond of The Players Championship being unofficially referred to as the fifth major.
“It doesn’t need to be,” McIlroy said.
Held annually at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida, The Players Championship is often mentioned in the same breath with The Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship.
After a reshuffling of the PGA Tour schedule, which included moving The Players Championship from May to March—this year’s is March 10-15—the tournament actually kicks off a five-month stretch of high-stakes, big-money golf with the four majors following one per month over the next quarter of the year.
“The tournament has definitely grown on me over the years,” said McIlroy, the 2019 Players Championship winner. “It separates itself from a regular Tour stop for sure.”
Played on the Stadium Course since 1982, The Players Championship boasts the strongest field in golf with 144 players who qualified based on Tour victories the prior season, major wins from the prior 3-5 years, FedEx Cup points standing and other distinctions. There is no pro-am, there are no amateurs in the field. The event also features the highest purse on Tour at a cool $15 million; up from $12.5 million in 2019.
The Stadium Course itself, featuring the famous par-3 No. 17 Island Green, doesn’t cater to a specific style of play, so winners range from Tiger Woods to Fred Funk, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and McIlroy. No golfer has been able to defend his title at this course, designed by the legendary Pete Dye, who passed away on January 9, 2020.
“The way the golf course plays sort of makes everyone play a similar way,” McIlroy said. “There are some holes I can take advantage of with my length but not all of them. One of the reasons I didn’t like it when I first came here was I couldn’t play the way I wanted to play. I wanted to be aggressive and hit driver, but I learned after three missed cuts you can’t do that. I have to play by the course’s rules a little bit more.
“It evens the field out a little bit, which is part of the reason why no one’s come back and defended. Obviously I’ll try to change that this year.”
While McIlroy and the other 143 golfers will try to conquer the course over four days in March, event organizers will welcome approximately 200,000 fans to TPC Sawgrass beginning with Military Appreciation Day on Tuesday, March 10 through the final putt on No. 18 on Sunday, March 15.
Hospitality and experiential offerings are as strong as the field, ranging from the ultra-VIP, all-inclusive Players Club to Tacos on 12, Dye’s Pavilion, The Oasis, Food Court, and Wine & Dine on 9.
“The core of what the course and tournament are have had the fan in mind since its inception,” said Jared Rice, executive director of The Players Championship. “Our focus is creating an event that really appeals to a wide range of fans and that’s central to who we are. Whether you’re entertaining a business partner, looking for a community-based event or a destination bucket list that provides a premium experience, we focus on building out an outside-the-ropes experience that delivers for a diverse audience.”
The PGA Tour has even created Fan Journeys that provide visitors with suggested pit stops and experiences while at TPC Sawgrass whether they are a family of four, a socialite searching for the best selfie spots, a foodie looking to sample an array of offerings or a golf nut striving for the best vantage points. Offering something for everyone is necessary, knowing 60 percent of online ticket sales last year were from outside of northeast Florida.
The Players Championship will also continue to be a leader in technological innovation—for example, it was the first event to feature an electronic scoreboard—this year by broadcasting every shot from every player live. There will be 120 cameras placed throughout the Stadium Course to broadcast approximately 32,000 golf shots via PGA Tour Live (NBC Sports Gold, Amazon Prime).
Rice said the additional resources and equipment needed to accomplish this feat won’t be a detriment to players or fans and only sees positives, including fans (especially those around the world) following their favorite players who might not be in featured groups or play during certain broadcast hours.
With the 2020 Players Championship one month away, Rice and Co. are looking forward to continuing to make the event a unique stop on the Tour while having it serve as a potential jumping off point to kickstart a player’s season, much like it did McIlroy’s last year as he went on to win the 2019 FedEx Cup while being named 2019 PGA TOUR Player of the Year.
“From a move-to-March perspective, being the first in a series of major events over the course of five months really kicking off the ‘Season of Championships’ is really well positioned for how we’re growing nationally and internationally,” Rice said.