“Can we just go in and check out the golf course?” Ron asked the guard at the entrance gates. Both of us were nervous, afraid he would say no.
With a smile on his face, he said, “Yeah. Fourth left, Championship way.” Looking at each other, smiles broke across our faces as we breathed a sigh of relief. At $600 a round, plus caddy tip, playing the course, definitely above our pay grade. But one of Ron’s buddies told him we had to check out the clubhouse.
TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse intimidated me. Grand doors, heavy to pull, opened into a golfer’s wonderland. Decorated for Christmas, paintings of the momentous events hang along the walls. Two gentlemen in green coats sat chatting quietly in the corner, greeting us when we entered.
“Can we help you?
“Yeah, we’re just here to check out the club. Can we just look around?”
“How about I give you a tour. I’m Dave Kristoff, from Geary, IN, and I’m a TPC Storyteller.” Ron and I had no clue what to do, so we said “Yes.” And away he went. When I stopped to take a picture of the Christmas tree, Dave asked if he could take a picture for us. I knew then; we were in for a treat.
Our first stop, Jack Nicklaus’ money clips, having won three times, all were on display. None of Jack’s wins occurred at Sawgrass. When a player registers for the event, we learned that they receive a money clip as their player I.D. card.
Building Sawgrass Clubhouse took less than a year. Accomplishing the fete required 225 men to work 24 hours a day. The tournament ended in March, moved to May the following year, building the clubhouse in the interim.
“Most famous golf hole was designed by a woman,” Dave said. Stopping in front of Alice Dye’s tribute, I loved the irony. The male-dominated sport needed a woman to create the best hole. Her husband Pete designed over 100 golf courses. While constructing hole 17, vast mounds of dirt used in other course areas left a dilemma. Pete didn’t know what to do with the area around the hole. Alice said, “Why not just make an island green?”
“Every year, the winner of the tournament donates a golf club,” Dave said as we entered the golf club-lined hallway. He walked us over to Jack Nicklaus’ Persimmons Driver, the first one in the row, winning the first PLayers at the Atlanta Country Club in Marrietta, GA, in 1974.
“Any lefties ever win this tournament?” Ron asked
“Right here,” Dave said, pointing to Phil Michelson’s club.
“Same lockers, same furniture, same everything,” Dave said as we approached the guest locker rooms, which we explored. The pros locker room mirrored the guests. One exception, the pros have a game room with a pool table, ping pong table, and bar. Since they spend more time in their locker rooms, they need something to pass the time.
“Sterling silver. Gold plated. Each winner gets to take one home with them.”
Dave led us back into the main hallway, where the unique trophy sits encased glass in front of the grand staircase. Pointing up the stairs, Dave told us banquet rooms could feed over 1100 people if necessary. When I backed up to take a picture of the staircase, I bumped the trophy case.
“I can’t take her anywhere,” Ron said as Dave rushed over. He honestly can’t. Embarrassment still flushes my face as I recall the moment.
“The guy in the green, he’s a new storyteller with me. There are 49 storytellers, five new.” Jerry Pate, 1982 Champion, threw Pete Dye and Deane Beman into the pond. Now, one of the photographers spends his days telling the story to those who come for a visit.
“Bart Forbes, he’s done a lot of stuff. NFL, Olympics. You can google him.’ Impressive describe his paintings. Lifesize, authentic, when Dave pulled out the bench and told us to take a seat facing the picture of Tiger’s infamous putt on 17, I was skeptical.
“You’re becoming part of the crowd. Put your arms up, turn slightly towards me.” As awkward as we felt, Ron and I followed Dave’s commands. Fun at Sawgrass comes in all different ways.
“When he hit the putt, he said, “Better than most.” Dave quizzed Ron on what day Tiger made the infamous shot. Ron guessed Thursday.
“Look at his shirt, white. And there’s two guys. It was Saturday.” Tiger always wore a red shirt on Sunday, finals day. And after cuts, pairings are in two, not three. Learn we did, all day long.
“Big supporter of the military. Military gets free admission.” For any of our military friends, free entrance to the tournament; take advantage of it.
The champions hallway was the last bit of our indoor tour. Lined with elegantly crafted caricatures, Dave said, “Chris duke does these prints after each tournament.”
Walking us over to 2020’s Championship print, words replaced a face. The only year the tournament doesn’t have a champion, 2020.
“Took the purse, divided it among the players. Each player got $53,000,” said Dave when we questioned him about the purse.
Dave volunteers at the tournament each year; 2022 is his ninth. Next year he will drive the shuttles for disabled people. In 2020, Dave was on duty day one of the tournament. At the end of his shift, supervisors informed him he didn’t need to come the next day because they weren’t allowing spectators. Then, organizers canceled the tournament entirely. My niece was in attendance and received a full refund for the event.
“One last story…in the player’s locker room, there is a barber chair. It has three beautiful wood balls around it, and the chair is in the middle, like a throne. They use the barber chair to vent about their round.” Dave showed us pictures of himself in the barber chair.
“The golf academy is over there. Forty-six cameras will analyze your swing and perceive the plan from there.” Dave said as we began our outdoor tour. Antsy to see 17, he took us to the outdoor vending area first, where he snapped a picture of us in front of the clubhouse. Then we headed to 16, where the guys discussed how “Makeable it is in two.” Of course, they were referring to the pros.
“We’re not allowed to spot balls anymore because of gambling. They have official ball spotters for that now.” Dave marshaled for the tournament before, but now it’s a different name. Crowd management instead of ball spotting.
“9200 pounds of grass to oversee it. They use rye over the winter, usually Bermuda,” Dave said when I asked him how well the grass survives the spectators at the tournament. Because of the overseeding, minor damage occurs.
Finally, hole 17 appeared on our left. Listening to Ron express surprise over the size made my heart smile. No one was playing at the time. Dave said when players are teeing off during a tour, e makes bets with his passengers on how many will make t green. Some day, Ron and I are hoping to play the infamous hole.
“Ok. We’ll head back to dodge. In about an hour, there will be golfers out here. 108 on the stadium course today.”
Dave steered the 8-passenger golf cart back to the clubhouse with those words. After tipping him, we enjoyed lunch overlooking the course, bought a couple of hats, and left.
Next time we come, we’ll come to play! (Or more likely, to watch the tournament:-))