For nearly 30 years, the golfing event that annually shines an international light on St. Johns County had been held in March. Then, in 2007, The Players Championship was moved to May, when the weather was a bit warmer but maybe not as windy.
This year, the competition returns to March. Just 15 days from today, the sport’s top-ranking golfers will tee off on the greens at TPC Sawgrass in hopes of earning the coveted title and moving forward in the PGA Tour.
The reason for the switch has to do with a general shift in the PGA Tour schedule. Moving The Players up two months means the last of the major tournaments, the PGA Championship, will be finished in August.
“The overall schedule, including that in August, has been compressed so the results are completed two weeks before Labor Day,” Jared Rice, executive director for The Players, said in a recent phone interview with The Record. “This puts us in a position to be part of the kickoff, and overall, it’s a positive move for our business.”
Rice said the promise of travel to a springlike climate — while other cities across the nation are still under ice and snow — has proven attractive for both corporate sponsors and fans alike.
Rice estimated ticket sales are up about 10 percent over previous years, adding there has been more demand for tickets from people in Chicago and New York. But the March tournament has also been driving up sales in markets such as Orlando, Gainesville and Tallahassee, which are within driving distance of Ponte Vedra Beach.
So far, Tuesday and Wednesday practice days have sold better than previous years, as well as the final round on Sunday. Rice said it may be easier than ever to make the March tournament a family outing as Duval County schools are closed that week, and St. Johns County students have off Friday, March 15, for a teacher planning day.
According to The Players, the tournament brings in an estimated $151 million in annual economic impact to Northeast Florida.
“Anytime you have a change, you have to continue to emphasize how important it is for our whole Northeast Florida market here,” Rice said. “We want to grow here in Northeast Florida as well, with such a great opportunity to capitalize on showing the area to a national and international audience in our telecast.”
Rice added that many large St. Johns County corporations use the tournament as an opportunity to bring employees in from satellite offices across the county and to network with other companies. Both hosting and sponsoring packages are available. Just a couple of St. Johns County business sponsors this year are Advanced Disposal and Ring Power.
What remains to be seen, however, is if the Players’ return to March will impact tourism in St. Johns County in May, as that month had traditionally been a slower time for visitation before the Players turned it into a high point of the season.