Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder at PGA Tour events
I have been blessed to work on my bucket list this year and I have attended both the Masters and the Players Championship. As the Masters is very popular, I have been besieged with questions that affirm or deny what people have heard. So let me share the answers to the most-asked questions before I discuss my experiences.
• Concessions are extremely affordable. I had a barbecue sandwich and an iced tea for $5.
• Parking is free.
• If you choose to sit, you have two choices. Grandstands or sitting in a chair with the Masters logo that you buy for a very reasonable $30 — a great souvenir — that produces a uniform appearance on television and also for fans not having to sit behind someone’s giant beach chair.
• The merchandise selection is unbelievable (as are the per caps) and the majority of items (including snack items) are sourced and produced by the Masters as opposed to a licensed third party.
With those questions answered, let me move on to my impressions.
The Masters is based on tradition and the purity of the experience. The fan experience is produced and to an extent controlled by the Masters. There is an expectation of procedures and decorum that are not only controlled by the course layout and the organization but by other attendees as well. The Players Championship is much less formal. There are areas for socialization and conversation with tables and seating spread throughout the venue via food and beverage locations. While the Players Championship is less formal than the Masters, it is still much more traditional and structured when compared to another PGA Tour event such as the Waste Management Open held in Phoenix.
Because of this unique difference, the Masters leans toward preserving the way it is — a tribute to the heritage and history of the game. On the other hand, events like the Players are seeking to evolve and find ways to address the diversity of its audience and their divergent tastes and interests.
While in Augusta I saw very few children under the age of 12, the Players Championship had an abundance of children, and to encourage their attendance and enjoyment, the tournament created a Kid Zone. I learned that the Players and the PGA Tour believe strongly in granting free admission to kids to bring them closer to the game and providing a great way for families to spend time together in an affordable manner. Additionally, recognizing members of our armed forces and first responders in a first-class manner has long been a priority.
Sponsors are not to be seen or heard at the Masters (when watching on television I do appreciate the flow of the coverage and the very limited commercial messages). The Augusta National Golf Club has the power to limit their presence and exposure and does so. The Players Championship embraces its sponsors and has encouraged them to activate in the Fan Village and interact with the fans through a variety of skills contests, demonstrations and product sampling. A fan at the Masters would never have the opportunity to pick up a golf club and hit a ball, but the Players Championship offers several opportunities to do so.
The Players Championship is played on the beautiful TPC Sawgrass course, and with the exception of the Island Green, the attraction is more dependent upon the players, their personalities and performance. The Masters is an iconic venue much like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Lambeau Field or Cameron Indoor Stadium. The venue is so esteemed and a true destination that it can overshadow the other elements of the experience. I would also offer the theory that the aforementioned Waste Management Open has one hole, the par-3 16th, that is a focal point. Attending and being a fan there and behaving in a way only acceptable at that venue is arguably the primary attraction in attending.
According to Jared Rice, executive director of the Players Championship: “Our approach … is to provide a unique and memorable fan experience in tandem with a competition that rivals any golf tournament in the world. A significant part of that fan experience is The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, a course that we consider the purest test in golf, favoring no one style of player. Pete Dye deliberately designed The Stadium Course with the fan in mind, as there are no restricted or obstructed views or access points, allowing for the greatest viewing experience in the game.”
Volunteers at both venues are essential, proud of their involvement and extremely helpful. I don’t think this is unique to the PGA Tour as I have seen standout volunteers at NCAA events — especially the men’s and women’s College World Series. On the other hand, I like that it provides the citizens of the hosting community with a way of becoming part of the event, serving as ambassadors and showing their pride.
The Players Championship is very conscious of first responders and offers a variety of opportunities for service people and other first responders to attend either at reduced admission prices or complimentary tickets.
What I find most intriguing about the PGA Tour in 2018 is that it is truly diverse in its appeal. Tigermania, rowdy behavior in Phoenix, Topgolf, fans, traditionalists, players and non-players, experience seekers, foodies and families all can find something about a PGA Tour event to enjoy. In our current world of emphasizing customization, it is refreshing to see that a diverse platform of fan experiences can also be a way of delivering that customization.
Bill Sutton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.