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Many of those people will gather around the 17th green and the surrounding holes without knowing the history behind the storied tournament. The history of THE PLAYERS dates back to 1974 when the tournament wasn’t even played in Florida.
The inaugural tournament began on a heavily overcast and rainy August day in 1974 in Atlanta, Georgia. It was on that wet Thursday at Atlanta Country Club that one of golf’s greatest would begin not only the tournament’s journey through history, but also his journey to a tournament record that still stands today.
World Golf Hall of Fame member Jack Nicklaus shot 66 in the opening round that was delayed twice by weather and saw 44 players finish the round on Friday morning. In the final round, delayed three times by weather and completed on a Monday, Nicklaus overcame a 3-shot lead by third-round leader J.C. Snead to win the first ever tournament.
Nicklaus would go on to win the tournament every other year (1974, 1976, 1978) for the next four years -- all at different courses. Six other players have won THE PLAYERS twice. But to this day, Nicklaus remains the only player to have won it three times.
After the tournament’s first three years saw it held in as many states, THE PLAYERS found a temporary home at Sawgrass Country Club from 1977-1981. It was during the tournament’s time at Sawgrass CC that then Commissioner Deane Beman pursued his dream of building a site for the only tournament owned by the players of the PGA TOUR.
Beman first offered to purchase Sawgrass CC from Arvida Corporation. Arvida Chairman Charles Cobb and his associates not only refused to sell to Beman, but they said Beman would never get approval or financing to buy a facility. Cobb went so far as to propose a bet to Beman that he would never achieve his dream.
With a renewed inspiration and drive, Beman was soon able to find two men who were willing to sell land to Beman. Jerome and Paul Fletcher, who owned the land across the street from Sawgrass CC, believed in Beman’s dream so much that they sold 415 acres of swampland to the PGA TOUR for $1.
After receiving approval from the PGA TOUR Policy Board in 1980, Beman’s dream was realized and the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course was built -- THE PLAYERS had officially secured its home. Two years later, on a clear and sunny March morning in 1982, THE PLAYERS was hosted at TPC Sawgrass for the first time.
Three days later, on a Sunny and warm Sunday afternoon, Jerry Pate made his final putt on the 18th hole and became the first player to win THE PLAYERS on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.
But what about the bet with Charles Cobb that Beman would never achieve his dream?
For those who walk into the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse today, a plaque given to Beman by Cobb and his associates before the grand opening in 1980 still adorns the clubhouse walls. Inside the framed plaque sits a $100 bill with a message next to it:
For Beman, TPC Sawgrass was a dream come true -- now more than 30 years later and thanks to Beman’s relentless drive to fulfill his goal, thousands of people visit TPC Sawgrass for the first time each year and leave saying the exact same thing.
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