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THE PLAYERS Championship and Our Gold Standard
Athletic achievements are measured on several dimensions. Some are easily quantified. Others, such as the personal pride registered within one’s soul, are not.
As for the prestige and historical significance of a sporting competition, what is recorded for posterity comes in the form of a trophy, a tradition that invites much imagination and has evolved majestically since that first prize for athletic excellence, the laurel wreath.
It is the most public of these winning dimensions, the indelible image of a trophy being raised or embraced or kissed. Yet, when these sights are absorbed, you are left with the thought that trophies come in all shapes, sizes, materials and some include intriguing features. From the 153-pound Borg-Warner Trophy that goes to the winner of the Indianapolis 500 to the 7-pound Lombardi Trophy awarded to the Super Bowl champion, to the pineapple adorning the men’s trophy at Wimbledon, to two athletes lifting their arms in celebration while holding up the globe, which goes to the winner of soccer’s World Cup.
Into that landscape, the PGA TOUR will soon add the latest sparkle to the realm of world-class victory prizes: A first-of-its-kind trophy that will be awarded to the winner of THE PLAYERS Championship this March. Just as THE PLAYERS Championship annually showcases a striking balance, seamlessly blending the game’s traditions while integrating modern enhancements for the enjoyment of fans and viewers, the new trophy’s timelessness has been maintained through intricate engineering. The centerpiece statue is made of sterling silver and 24k gold vermeil that was brought to life utilizing cutting edge 3-D technology and a process called “electroforming.”
The golfer in the trophy that will be hoisted up by THE PLAYERS Champion will be 7 ¾ inches in diameter, 17 inches tall, and 7.6 pounds in weight. At least that will be “the keeper,” the prize that will likely take a coveted spot inside the winner’s home. But for the public to witness year-round in the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse, a larger, “perpetual” trophy will be on display. That will measure 32 ¼ inches and weigh 34.46 pounds as it will feature the statue of the golfer atop a 15 ¼-inch base onto which all the storied winners of THE PLAYERS – from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods – will be inscribed.
Of all the tangible examples of improvements that will usher in THE PLAYERS Championship in 2019, one might say the new trophy will, in effect, tie a bow on the introduction to a new era of this flagship event. There is a new look to the PGA TOUR schedule in 2019 – from THE PLAYERS and the best field in golf moving to March and three FedExCup playoffs closing the curtain on the season in August – so to be consistent with that theme, fans attending THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass during championship week will witness levels of “newness,” from a stunning entrance way to a golf course that will play differently for the competitors because of the conditioning options now available to the superintendent’s staff.
And when the champion is feted, he will hold a new trophy that represents an ambitious collaboration between PGA TOUR officials and designers at Tiffany & Co., capitalizing on the newest technology in trophy-making that was embraced by these creative minds.
“This project was both challenging and fun,” said Andy Hart, vice-president of diamond and jewelry supply at Tiffany & Co. “We had to engineer and design a trophy that was held together from the inside. It was like a puzzle. Seeing the project executed by our 18-person shop from concept to completion is always a pleasure.”
This will be the fourth different trophy in the 46-year history of THE PLAYERS. Which, for context, is not unusual with golf’s greatest tournaments. Consider Tom Watson, who, if not for the change of a trophy, might have five belts of rich Moroccan leather hanging in his closet. Probably four too many.
That Watson never received even one Moroccan leather belt is owed to a rule that was in place more than 150 years ago, allowing Young Tom Morris to keep “The Championship Belt” for having won three straight years. With no prize available in 1871, The Open was canceled, and when it returned a year later, the winner’s prize was a medal. (Young Tom had something to go alongside his belt.) But in 1873, Tom Kidd received the first Claret Jug and Open Championship officials had a trophy with staying power.
Another notable change in heralded trophy presentations involves the Masters. It wasn’t until the 13th edition of the tournament that the fabled green jacket became an official part of the ceremony and the wooden plaques that went to Horton Smith, Gene Sarazen and other early winners of the Masters are no longer part of that tournament.
So, against such a backdrop, THE PLAYERS Championship isn’t alone. “There’s been an upward evolution of championship trophies,” said Travis Puterbaugh, curator at The World Golf Hall of Fame where some now-extinct trophies are on display. Those wooden plaques from the early Masters, for instance, and “The Championship Belt” that went to the first winners of The Open. Oh, and the “Joseph C. Dey Jr.” trophy, which was the official prize given to the winner of THE PLAYERS from 1974 to 1981, an understated wood and bronze plaque that Nicklaus must have taken a liking to. After all, as the only three-time winner of THE PLAYERS (1974, ’76, ’78), he claimed a trio of those plaques.
When THE PLAYERS moved across the road from Sawgrass Country Club to TPC Sawgrass in 1982, a new trophy was introduced – a large black slab that depicted a golfer amid scenes of northeast Florida flora and fauna. But given the impracticality of using it for presentations, officials opted for a sleek piece of crystal to present to the winner, though the black granite still resides permanently inside the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse.
The crystal was first lifted by Jerry Pate was then claimed by an array of Hall of Fame talents in-between, from Fred Couples to Tom Kite to Davis Love III to Nick Price to Greg Norman and then, after a slight remodel heading into the 2007 tournament, Phil Mickelson and most recently Webb Simpson.
That the crystal is giving way to a new trophy makes sense when one considers the unique landscape that will accompany the new-look 2019 PLAYERS. But deep respect for the uncanny sense of imagination that was extended to this new trophy should be given.
Now plucking a few branches off the old olive tree might be both romantic and aromatic, but the ancient Greeks didn’t have access to the craftsmanship with which the folks at Tiffany do. And, oh, how they utilized it to create the most elegant PLAYERS Championship trophy ever, which, it should be noted, will be the only gold trophy of those that go to the winner of golf’s biggest tournaments. (The others being silver.)
They started with what is called electroforming, “a process that uses electric current to build up layers of a precious metal around a temporary core to create a smooth and seamless finish,” said Hart. That process alone was fascinating, but it entered the realm of state-of-the-art to come up with the mold for the golfer used. Starting with the inspiration of the swinging golfer in the longtime iconic PGA TOUR logo, then applying sophisticated computer modeling, designers incorporated aspects of each of the 38 different winners of THE PLAYERS – from Nicklaus to Simpson.
“To create the statue, a Tiffany designer worked with the PGA TOUR to replicate a golfer with the perfect swing,” said Hart. “The form of the golfer was then created into a mold using 3D printing technology.”
If you turn your attention to the perpetual base, you’ll realize we’re eons removed from the days of engraving a name into an alloy plate and slapping it onto some pressed wood. That’s because the Tiffany craftsmen have provided a sense of water on a trophy. That’s right, water. It’s THE PLAYERS, right? So, where else would you put the statue of a golfer – one who has beaten the best field in professional golf – but at the famed island-green 17th, which is where Tiffany artists went to work. “To mimic the texture of the water around the peninsula, the silversmith used a variety of special hammers to mark the silver on top of a hard surface,” said Hart. “He used different angles of blow stokes and different spacing between blows to make the water come alive.”
Hammering, electroforming, spinning, cutting, filing, soldering, assembly fabrication, finishing, etching - The layers of artistry and craftsmanship were plentiful, and the end-product is a fitting way to put an exclamation point on this bold new era of THE PLAYERS Championship.
Our Gold Standard has a whole new look.Each Past Champ is a part of the new trophy. Electroformed. Dipped in gold.Here's how it all came together. pic.twitter.com/4L4RLLzyvv— THE PLAYERS (@THEPLAYERSChamp) February 7, 2019
Our Gold Standard has a whole new look.Each Past Champ is a part of the new trophy. Electroformed. Dipped in gold.Here's how it all came together. pic.twitter.com/4L4RLLzyvv
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