Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Players: 'It's Beautiful as Always'; Golf Tournament Gets under Way with a Few Enhancements

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Players: 'It's Beautiful as Always'; Golf Tournament Gets under Way with a Few Enhancements

Article excerpt

Byline: SHAKAYA ANDRES

PONTE VEDRA BEACH What golf fans wanted, they're getting this year at The Players Championship.

Lower ticket prices, more rest-rooms, shaded areas including concession stands and the ability to use cellphones have been added this year at the tournament at TPC Sawgrass. The improvements impressed fans who braved the hot, humid weather during Monday's practice rounds.

"It's beautiful as always," said golf enthusiast Don Jessup of North Carolina. "I've been every year for 10 years. I think it's wonderful because it gets really hot out here."

Fan feedback and fewer fans the past two years led to the changes this year, said Matt Rapp, the tournament's executive director. The enhancements are intended to give people a place to eat, drink and cool off.

"I've heard lots of positive feedback," he said. "The bottom line is [fans] are leaving, and that's not good. We want them to stay. People come out at 9:30 a.m. and by 2 p.m. they are spent, so they go home."

There's a lot of walking to do at the tournament. The course, clubhouse, parking lots and practice facilities make up 400 acres, officials said.

Last year, 132,000 fans attended The Players; this year, tournament officials hope that will increase to 150,000 to 175,000.

For Jacksonville resident Len Thom, who has attended the tournament for the past 10 years, the enhancements make the it much more enjoyable.

"It looks better than it's ever looked," he said. "This place is fantastic. I thought I'd come out and have a look at the course and see how the players look."

Meanwhile, security this year is similar to last year. Fans' purses

are being checked and searched with security wands before they are allowed on the grounds. More St. Johns County police officers are on duty to make sure things run smoothly, officials said.

"A couple of things are happening, nothing dramatic," Rapp said. "More uniformed police officers are for the bad apples. We have 35,000 people a day. It's like a small city for the day. It's family friendly and we want to make sure its stays that way."

Spectators were happy about being allowed to bring cellphones on site for the first time in the golf tournament history. People who bring their phones must keep them in silent mode at all times. Calls can be made or received in designated "mobile talk locations" throughout the golf course.

"I think adding the cellphones is moving into the 21st century," Jessup said. "I think the golfers need to play and not focus on a little phone ringing."

The new fan zones filled up quickly as the day went on and more fans than golf officials expected were seen walking along the courses and inside Jeld-Wen Stadium Village and PwC First Tee Challenge cooling off and enjoying the activities. …

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