When Charlotte’s Webb Simpson hoisted the crystal championship trophy last year at THE PLAYERS Championship, many Queen City residents were among the throng of spectators there to cheer him on.
Charlotte-area golf enthusiasts and A-list event seekers know the quick one-hour flight or easy six-hour drive south to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. is the on-ramp to a premier sporting event featuring golf’s strongest field, a diabolically difficult and storied course, and a week-long buffet of concerts, parties, and culinary extravaganzas where fans are celebrated unlike anywhere else on tour.
Add a side trip to Jacksonville, a visit to nearby St. Augustine—the nation’s oldest city—and explore some of northeast Florida’s best beaches, and you’ve got an enchanting springtime antidote to the gray winter blues.
With THE PLAYERS Championship dates shifting from their previous May timeframe to March 12- 17 this year, the tournament is garnering more enthusiasm than ever.
“We’re excited about our new spring dates,” says Ryan Hart, tournament director of THE PLAYERS. “Returning to the original March timeframe finds cooler temps, enhancing the experience of our stadium village for everyone.”
As for other fan attractions, Hart touts the giant PGA shop, kid zones, and the on-course dining offer, “Tacos on 12,” hosted by Jacksonville favorite TacoLu.
And then, of course, there’s the opportunity to witness history. So many of THE PLAYERS championships have come in dramatic fashion, as many of the game’s greats—from Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson and Davis Love—have captured the trophy.
But one of the most distinctive parts of THE PLAYERS Championship comes down to the phenomenal course itself.
Whether you’re there to see the greats play the tournament or you’re planning a visit without the hustle and bustle, you’ll quickly realize why TPC Sawgrass is consistently ranked among the top 15 U.S. public courses by Golf Digest. The original “Tournament Players Club,” TPC Sawgrass serves as the home course for the PGA headquarters and delivers one of the best-thrill rides in golf.
It’s known as the purest test in golf because renowned course architect Pete Dye’s masterpiece doesn’t favor any one style of golf, offering a true challenge year after year. Perhaps best known for its infamous island hole—the short but feisty par three 17th—TPC Sawgrass enthuses high and low handicappers alike.
Guests touring the stunning Mediterranean-Terrazzo styled clubhouse enjoy all manner of golf-ephemera on display. The original Pete Dye napkin-sketch of the back nine layout fascinates, as does a display of a clubs used at THE PLAYERS from past champions, and a thank-you note from Jack Nicklaus to tournament organizers.
Golfers teeing it up on the championship course get the complete experience by engaging their own caddy, accessing the pristine practice facility, scoring logo-golf balls, and a personally engraved bag tag. And those who want to work on their games can seek out the PGA TOUR’s Performance Center, where instructors like putting guru Mike Shannon can help shave strokes off a player’s game.
Of course, you’d be remiss if you didn’t explore a little while you’re there. Northeast Florida’s beaches are legendary, from The Poles on the north end of Hanna Park’s Atlantic Beach to St. John’s County Ocean Pier in St. Augustine, where the water is always warm and the surf is always up.
There’s a lot to love at Jacksonville’s Cummer Museum, once the home of philanthropist Ninah Cummer and now home to more than 5,000 European and American paintings and a spectacular collection of Meissen Porcelain. And don’t miss the gardens—they’re dazzling.
America’s first city, St. Augustine is a history buff’s dream. The Castillo de San Marcos, now a U.S. National Park, represents the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., dating back to 1692. The fort is amazingly intact. On the self-guided tours, visitors learn the history of conquering Spaniards and invading British, while getting a healthy dose of Florida history as well.
Nautical enthusiasts enjoy the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, where visitors can climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse for far-reaching views of the port city.
Ponte Vedra’s Marriott Sawgrass Golf Resort & Spa is only a chip-shot away from TPC Sawgrass and just off Florida’s A1A, the scenic coastal highway.
This ultra-comfortable resort offers a myriad of amenities including their own private Cabana Beach Club, bike trails, miniature golf, tennis courts, surf/wave pool, and a mini-island golf-hole floating amidst a landscaped lagoon where guest can try their luck.
And after a day of exploring, the signature Sawgrass Spa offers pampering, with a full range of treatments, beauty salon, yoga, and high-tech equipped fitness center.
EAT & DRINK
Vernon’s at the Marriott is a true treat, featuring Florida’s finest seafood and produce grown on property. Consider the flavor-forward dishes, such as Black Grouper with Seafood Rice, Tomato, Olive and Caper Relish and Fennel Salad, and then indulge your sweet tooth with the pastry team’s Bourbon Pecan Tarts or the Hot Chocolate and Marshmallow Cookies.
Southern-soul sings with a bit of Cajun thrown in at Gilbert’s Southern Kitchen in Jacksonville Beach. Fiery Alligator Gumbo is made with a traditional brown roux and the Pan Seared Flounder is pulled in daily from the intercoastal waters.
St. Augustine’s Columbia Restaurant has been pleasing diners since 1905 with traditional Spanish and Cuban cuisine. Pallela a la Valenciana stars with clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamari, chicken, and pork served in a saffron rice. Roast Pork “a la Cubana,” tender from the savory marinade, is served with Cuban black beans, rice, yucca, and plantains. It’s the perfect way to end a day on the green—and fuel up for another one.