The Players Championship

‘I’m quite surprised The Players isn’t considered a major’

Half a century ago, Deane Beman pioneered The Players Championship. Steve Carroll sat down with the legendary former PGA Tour Commissioner to discuss the landmark tournament


For many, it’s the ‘fifth major’. It’s a tournament Rory McIlroy says needs to part of any great player’s legacy.

For Deane Beman, it’s done everything he wanted it to – and much more. Fifty years ago, the inaugural Tournament Players Championship was won by Jack Nicklaus at Atlanta Country Club.

Now, TPC Sawgrass, the star turn in the former Commissioner’s dream of a network of courses operated by the PGA Tour, has transformed the fledgling tournament into an iconic event which attracts the very best players eligible.

NCG sat down with Beman to discuss the tournament’s legacy, what has made it such a success, and whether it should be considered in the same light as the ‘big four’.

Breaking down The Players with Deane Beman

The 50th Players is clearly a huge landmark for the tournament. Can you believe what it has become?

It certainly is a special event and I believe that means a lot to the tour. For so many years, it’s had the strongest field in golf of all tournaments – and it has had the leading prize money for at least the last 20 or 30 years. I’m quite surprised it isn’t considered a major.

I don’t want this to sound as it’s going to but I believed from the very start we could build it into a tournament to rival any in the world. I knew we could do that. I didn’t think it would take as long as it did but there was never any doubt in my mind that a tournament representing The Players on the tour, that they owned, would be as significant as any in the world.

There were some challenges in getting the venture started. You had to find the sites for the TPC network and then raise the money to get it off the ground…

The Tour had very little financial resources and it was just not possible to get their 100 per cent approval and financial backing. They approved it, but they were unwilling to give financial backing. We had to find another way of doing it, which we did, and which has turned into the development of stadium golf and the TPC network that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars today – without a nickel invested by the PGA Tour.

Deane Beman fifth major

That’s incredible, isn’t it? The $1 cheque (the amount Beman would pay for the site of TPC Sawgrass) is legendary but it came with some risk. Golf course and real estate are common now but it wasn’t a guaranteed success back then…

We were able to sell the concept to the landowner as well as the people who helped us finance it and we used other successful club developments, which held major tournaments or held regular tour events, as a way of selling them to support us.

Harbour Town is a perfect example of that. That golf course was built in a very remote area and, because the tournament came there, the development became very successful overnight in a very difficult real estate market.

When we started the Tournament Players Club there, the real estate market was very much on the downside. We were able to convince people and show them if they supported us – and Harbour Town was our best example – that bringing a tournament there that was televised, and had the best players in the world playing, could enhance the development round it.

The people supporting us were able to put up the money because they believed they would be successful. Within months, when we announced what we were doing, and even before the tournament had its first debut at The Players Club, the property around the golf course, that the developers still owned, was sold off and they became incredibly rich before the tournament was even played. It took courage to do it but it worked out without any bumps in the road.

Rattlesnakes and accidental island greens: The fascinating tale of how Sawgrass was built

It’s got to be one of the best deals in golf history, doesn’t it?

I would say there were not very many as good, I’m sure of that! I gave them the check for a dollar but I took it back because I wanted to frame it.

You mentioned stadium golf, which is obviously one of the keys at TPC Sawgrass – allowing spectators to watch the action at height from a variety of points on the course. How did you come up with that concept and encourage Pete Dye to deliver it for you?

The conditions, in hiring Pete Dye, was that he would build on the concept of stadium golf. This was a course in the late 70s but my concept of stadium golf happened in the early 60s.

I was scheduled to partner with a golf architect in Maryland – Eddie Ault – and we were in the planning stages of a golf course that was actually never built. The develop didn’t follow through.

But as we were planning the golf course, laying it out and discussing it, I talked with Eddie about the problems of tournament golf. I’d played in several majors and I had been in the gallery of others and the biggest seller was not beer, soft drinks, or hot dogs.

The biggest seller on the golf course was a periscope, so you could look over the top of the heads of the gallery in front of you to watch the golf.

That’s when I came up with this concept of building a golf course where the fairways and greens and tees were down. It was very difficult to do where we were – because it was a dead flat piece of ground. If you have a big piece of ground with some ups and downs to it, it’s much easier to build a stadium golf course then it is when you have to move dirt to construct the vantage points.

But in the early 60s, Eddie and I travelled to New York and met with Joe Dey (then executive director of the USGA) and presented to him a programme for the USGA to build a dozen half a dozen golf courses around the United States to play their championships.

They would be stadium courses for the benefit of the gallery. At the same time, they could be used for their agronomy programme that was just starting.

It took about 30 seconds for Joe and the USGA to decide they didn’t like the idea and it was put in a desk drawer for nearly 20 years.

When I became PGA Tour Commissioner, and it was my responsibility to build The Players Championship into an important event, the stadium golf concept came back into focus. That’s what we did. We carried it through and it’s proven to be a very successful concept.

fifth major

And TPC Sawgrass is the highlight of that. Clearly everyone talks about 17. You must have played it countless times. Is it ever not an intimidating shot?

It’s the simplest shot in the world when it doesn’t mean anything, and one of the most difficult when it does. I think it’s probably the most famous par 3 in the world.

What were the keys for you when TPC Sawgrass was being built?

Before we signed an agreement with Pete to build the course, I had two criteria. The first was we were going to build a stadium golf course. We accomplished that.

But the other thing was understanding that The Players Championship was a full field event – not a small event with limited players.

The way that’s done is that the players tee off on Thursday and Friday on one and 10 and then they switch around.

The concept of the holes was that the beginning of each nine would be similar – because we had players starting on one and 10 – and I wanted the sequence of all 18 to be as many right-to-left holes as there were left-to-right so there was no one advantaged based on the way they played golf.

I believe Pete was able to accomplish that. You’ll see the 10th and 1st are fairy similar. The 10th is almost a dogleg left and the first is almost a dogleg right.

The second hole on each side is a par 5. The third on each side, one is not a difficult par 3 and the other is a not very difficult par 4.

With the finishing holes, 16, 17, 18, I wanted them to be not so difficult that there couldn’t be substantial birdies, but I wanted the last hole to be quite difficult. He accomplished all those objectives – a tournament-style golf course that would be attractive to the fans and difficult for the players.

deane beman

You talked earlier about The Players being the strongest field in golf. Some high-profile players are now on LIV. Does that sadden you a little for the tournament, or do you hope the PGA Tour and LIV might come back together and we’ll see everyone back at The Players?

There is a great deal of hope with a lot of people in golf that it will come together at some point. I think it will come together but how soon? Nobody knows. Probably not soon enough for this year but I believe it’ll come together.

The question that’s always asked is whether The Players should be a major. You’re in no doubt it should be the fifth major…

In my opinion, it is. It just hasn’t been labelled a major. But it is as important an event as possible. It’s important to the players and if you look at the history of the game of golf, it has stood the test of time and attracts the strongest field in golf year after year, and it has all the attributes of a major.

To add to that, the players are very foolish not to embrace it as a major. If you look at the television rights fees, US and worldwide, for the Masters, The Open, the US Open and the PGA Championship, those events probably receive more than $50 million a year more than the players get for their own championship.

Since the money goes to them, as it’s their own championship, they are foolish not to embrace it as a major. It’s costing them probably $50 million a year not to embrace it as a major.

Hey, gee whizz, it’s all about the money. They want to go take money from the Saudis, but they could create an extra $50 million a year for the PGA Tour, and the money they play for, if they would just embrace the tournament. They’re not very smart.

The players have to be smart enough to embrace it, because it’s their event and they own it. I think the players have to be a bit smarter about what they embrace.

Now have your say

What do you think of Deane Beman’s views? Is The Players a major for you? Should the men’s game bring in a fifth big championship? Let us know by leaving a comment on X.

Tournament Players picture courtesy of the PGA Tour

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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