It used to be called THE PLAYERS Championship. Now it is simply THE PLAYERS. But that is only one of many changes that will give one of golfs premiere events a completely new look.
THE PLAYERS, which for its entire life until next week, was always a fixture during the PGA TOUR's Southern Swing in March, will now occupy a May date roughly halfway between The Masters and the U.S. Open. The date change itself will alter the conditions at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course as the layout will not be over-seeded with ryegrass as it was in March.
However, the massive renovation that was recently completed will have more to do with how the course plays than the date change. All of the tees, fairways and greens were rebuilt with new sand and a drainage system, which will produce firmer and faster conditions. With the fairways playing faster, perimeter trouble will be much more in play places like waste areas, trees and of course the water hazards.
The greens promise to be quite firm next week as a Sub-Air subsurface mechanical drainage system was installed under the greens, which can vacuum out water when needed. Six of the eighteen holes have been moderately lengthened and new mowing cuts such as chipping areas will provide a wider variety of shot options. When you add up all these changes to the course, what has always been a great test for the PGA TOUR's best will now be even more strenuous.
But to me, the thing that sets THE PLAYERS apart from any other PGA TOUR event is the atmosphere. The crowds are always large and enthusiastic and the amphitheatre down at No. 16 and No. 17 is like none other in golf. In fact , I can now make a good argument that the 17th is the most famous and recognizable par 3 in golf.
And next week the electricity in this remarkable arena will be turned up significantly. More spectator mounds have been added behind the 16th green and 17th tee. The hillside along 17 has been modified to allow for more seating. Grandstands have been added up near the green and when players leave the island they will walk through a tunnel to the 18th tee.
There are times that no matter where you are in the course, you can hear whats going on down at 16 and 17. It must be very difficult for the players to attack the Stadium Course one shot as a time. Probably like no other venue, the thought of playing the shot at 17 creeps into your mind before you ever get there.
And for me, this tee shot is always one of the most difficult of the year to call. If I stand on the side between the tee and the green I can tell if an airborne ball is the right distance but I cant tell if its really on line. If I stand behind the tee I can see if the ball is on line but where it will come down is pretty much a guess from that angle.
When you watch THE PLAYERS on GOLF CHANNEL and NBC Sports next week know how much we enjoy broadcasting it to you . This is without a doubt one of my favorite events of the year and I believe that with the PGA TOUR making all the right moves, the stature of THE PLAYERS will be elevated even higher.
Thats My View.
Editors Note: Mark Rolfing, a Maui resident, is one of the leading forces in sports event marketing and production in Hawaii. As NBC Sports award-winning golf commentator, Rolfing continues to cover top golf events such as the prestigious Ryder Cup, The Players Championship and The U.S Open. Rolfing also hosts Golf Hawaii on The Golf Channel. Golf Hawaii, now in its twelfth season is one of the longest running sports shows in the nation.