They’ve Been to ’Em All

On Monday morning, a tournament volunteer eased a PLAYERS Championship courtesy car into the circular driveway, and there to greet the volunteer was someone who knows a little something about THE PLAYERS Championship. Taking receipt of the vehicle was former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman. The blue sedan with the tournament logo affixed to the driver’s side door is something he and his wife, Judy, will drive back and forth this week between their home and TPC Sawgrass, a golf course the Bemans also know a little something about.

For the 51st consecutive year and 50th consecutive tournament—darn that COVID year of 2020, when the TOUR canceled THE PLAYERS Championship due to the global pandemic—Deane and Judy will attend the PGA TOUR’s signature event.

And while Beman didn’t come up with the idea for the tournament (that honor goes to his predecessor, Joe Dey), Beman, the TOUR player turned executive, carried out the vision—and then some—and saw the birth of THE PLAYERS Championship. Nine months after taking over as commissioner from Dey, Deane and Judy were at that 1974 tournament at Atlanta Country Club, and they’ve been to every tournament since.

Although there aren’t records to prove the fact, conventional wisdom suggests that Deane and Judy Beman are the only two people on the face of the planet who can make that claim.

As they prepare to watch their 50th PLAYERS Championship, and for the 43rd time at venerable TPC Sawgrass, the Bemans reminisced about some of their favorite moments and why this tournament is so important to them.

Judy and Family Daycare

It’s interesting when I’m asked to pick out a tournament memory or something great a particular player did. I can remember the winners, but many of the shots they hit, those have gone by in a blur, especially after 50 years. But what doesn’t go by in a blur is our early years at the tournament watching the volunteers. I think that’s very important, and this is a lasting memory. I remember going up to the children’s nursery a few years after the tournament had introduced childcare for the players. I was talking to a gal, and she told me she came down from North Carolina every year, taking two weeks of vacation to babysit players’ children so the players wouldn’t have to worry about them and the wives could watch their husbands play golf.

Judy Watching Her Husband Take His Famous 1982 18th-Hole Swim

After Jerry (Pate) had won that first tournament at TPC Sawgrass, he told me to make sure I got Deane’s wallet and watch. So, I knew what was going to happen, that Jerry planned on getting Deane in the lake. What Deane didn’t do was take off his suit jacket and necktie. And in he went.

Deane on His Wet Clothes

Nothing I was wearing was salvageable. We took everything to the dry cleaner, and they tried everything they could but they were ruined. We eventually just threw it all away.

Judy on the Fallout from Deane’s Swim

I took a call the next day from the mother of Jerome Fletcher. The Fletchers had donated the land for the TOUR to build TPC Sawgrass. Let’s just say Mrs. Fletcher, who was quite elderly, didn’t appreciate Deane, Jerry and Pete (Dye) going in the water. She told me she thought it was disgraceful. I think more than anything, she was embarrassed for Deane. All I could say was, “Yes, ma’am.”

Judy on the Inaugural 1974 Tournament

Oh, yes, the rain in Atlanta. It just poured rain that first day. I was still young and just getting acquainted with the TOUR and tournament golf. I remember trudging through the rain on both Thursday and Sunday, and I was watching [the grounds staff] using a squeegee on the greens. Removing the water that way was something I wasn’t really familiar with. Of course, Jack (Nicklaus) won that week with the Monday finish, but on Sunday, I was walking along, getting soaked, and a man driving a cart said, “Hey, lady, want a ride?” It turned out to be Jim Trinkle, a sportswriter from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Just because of that gesture of him giving me a ride, he became one of my dear friends.

Judy on the Second PLAYERS, at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth

The tournament was in August that year, and it was so extremely hot in Texas, so, actually I was glad to pitch in and help when the tournament office had lost an employee to sickness. I worked inside, which got me out of the heat. But what really stood out was the kindness of the staff. It never felt like we weren’t in our own hometown from the minute we arrived in Fort Worth. They treated the Tournament Players Championship like it was their own tournament even though there was no Colonial (National Invitation) that year.

Deane on How Far the Tournament Has Come

My vision of the tournament was that I wanted it to be as good or better than any that we’ve ever held anywhere. I think maybe in some people’s minds, what resonated toward making a tournament the best was one where you played for the most money. In my mind, what I wanted was a tournament that provided for the spectators a better place to watch their favorite players and giving them an option of either following their favorite player or being able to find a place on the course and watch a lot of golf coming past them. This is what stadium golf was all about.

Deane on What Was an Extraordinarily Difficult Golf Course When It Opened

We had originally thought we would have the first PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass in 1981, but the course just wasn’t ready for tournament golf. After we had built the course but before the dedication in October 1981, I had played the course a lot of times. I knew the golf course, and it was clearly too severe. There’s no telling what the winning score would have been had we left it as it was leading up to 1982. So, we made a lot of changes before the first tournament was actually held there. Now golf is not particularly fair anyway. But even with the changes I recommended [TPC Sawgrass] was still on the wrong side of being not particularly fair. But once we made more modifications after the 1983 tournament, we enlisted the help of a lot of the players, who served as design consultants. They came to Ponte Vedra, and when we walked around the golf course, many of the things that they wrote down or said needed changing, they decided that we didn’t need to do. I would say they probably nixed more of the things that they wanted to do once we were together as a group than what they had originally proposed. That’s not to say we didn’t make changes, though, and those alterations made the course better. We finally got a good balance, but we didn’t quite get it right at the beginning.

Deane on the Local Winners

We of course were thrilled when Mark (McCumber) won (in 1988). He had grown up in Jacksonville and was a very popular winner. We knew Calvin (Peete) well, and it was something to see him win (in 1985). After I retired as commissioner, of course, David Duval (1999) and Fred Funk (2005) both won, David having grown up in Jacksonville and Fred adopting Ponte Vedra as his home. [The win] really seemed to mean something to Duval, and I was happy for both him and his dad, Bob, who I knew well. And Fred winning was also a very popular victory.

Judy on Watching the Tournament Take Off

When we moved the TOUR headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Ponte Vedra, the tournament had to be built. There is a great lot of fun, and there’s a whole lot of hard work. But it’s fun building something, especially when you’re creating something and following somebody who has a vision of what he wants to do.

Deane on Deciding to Permanently Keep THE PLAYERS in North Florida

(Commissioner) Joe Dey had the notion that the Tournament Players Championship would be like the U.S. Open and travel around to a different site every year. I became convinced immediately that that was the wrong strategy. One of the first things once we finished our third PLAYERS, in Fort Lauderdale, was to get the board to approve a change of the schedule, to move the tournament from the late summer to the spring and to one city. That city was Jacksonville, in general, and Ponte Vedra Beach, specifically. I think we found a good home.

Judy on What the Tournament Means to Her

I go to TPC Sawgrass and play Dye’s Valley a lot. Whenever I drive onto the property, I always look up and see the new clubhouse, which, I guess, isn’t so new anymore. There’s a quiet pride every time I do that because it’s not just because of what Deane oversaw and built—both the golf course and the tournament—but what he envisioned. When I go up the driveway toward the clubhouse, I know I’ve arrived at the home of the PGA TOUR.