Even if golf's fifth major remains in March, the PGA Tour has drawn up plans to make it the premier tournament by weatherproofing the TPC at Sawgrass, moving 65,000 tons of dirt to allow spectators better views and installing technology so fans can know what's going on no matter where they are.
``The goal is to make it as good as we can make it,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a recent interview. ``Hopefully, it translates to a tournament that all of our tournaments can look at as a model, and that's where the bar is set in terms of fan experience, player experience and sponsor experience.''
The cost for the ambitious project, including a Grand Mediterranean style clubhouse, is estimated at $25 million. Work is expected to begin after The Players Championships is held in March in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Finchem continues to work on revamping the schedule for 2007-10, which likely will feature a season that ends in late September with a series of four lucrative events through the Tour Championship.
As part of the new schedule, The Players Championship is widely expected to move to May.
Separately, however, officials have spent the last few years working on significant upgrades for The Players Championship, which has the best field in golf and the richest purse ($8 million this year).
The most dramatic renovation is sub-air pumps beneath each green that can remove 42,000 gallons per hour, allowing the putting surface to drain in minutes. Dirt beneath the fairways will be replaced with sand that drains faster, and the fairways then will be sod anew with high-quality Bermuda grass.
That will allow the course to all but guarantee firm, fast conditions even on rainy days.
``We're excited about the golf course infrastructure,'' Finchem said. ``It should allow us the flexibility to get the kind of conditions we want, whether we're in March or May -- although we're focused on May.''
The Players Championship, which began in 1974, has been played at the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course on the TPC at Sawgrass since 1982. It is among the most well-known courses in the world, particularly because of the island green for the par-3 17th hole.
It also was the first model for ``stadium'' golf, with huge mounds that allow more people to watch.
Tour officials said they would reconfigure the mounds and grandstands around the 16th, 17th and 18th holes, which includes lowering the hill alongside the 17th hole by 8 feet for a more subtle climb and more seating.
Around the course, video screens will keep fans abreast with action elsewhere on the course, and fans will have the option to rent or bring their own portable satellite radio to listen to six hours of live coverage and interviews.
An annual debate is where The Players Championship should be considered a major, although Finchem said that is not behind the renovations.
``We're comfortable in trying to make this as good as we can,'' he said. ``At some point, maybe there's a different configuration. But that has never been our focus.''
Tour officials are looking at broadening the appeal of The Players Championship, noting that about one-third of the fans come from beyond the northeastern Florida region.
Finchem said The Players Championship sells out each year at about 35,000, and the enhancements could allow up some 50,000 fans each day without making it feel too crowded.
``We are going to be much more aggressive reaching out to our fans around the country to come see The Players Championship,'' he said.
About the only thing that won't change is the length.
The Stadium Course plays as a par 72 at 7,093 yards -- the same length since 1999, and only 236 yards longer from when it opened in 1982. Tour research has not shown much difference in scoring except when the conditions are soft. Three of the last six tournaments have finished on Monday because of rain.
The tour previously said the clubhouse would be rebuilt after the '06 tournament.
``We asked ourselves, 'Since we're shutting down the club, what other things should we be thinking of doing? How broad should our scope be?' And we realized there were upgrades we could do in every area,'' Finchem said. ``It made sense to do it.''
The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2006.
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