With 42 days remaining until the first golfer tees off in The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra, 2012 Tournament Chairman Curtis Hazel predicted Monday that this year’s competition and related events could be historic.
“We’re off to one of the most exciting beginnings to a season in a decade,” Hazel said, referring to Tiger Woods’ comeback victory Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. It was the former perennial No. 1-ranked player’s first win on the PGA Tour since 2009.
“I think he made a clear statement that he’s back,” said Hazel.
The annual professional golf event attracts the best players in the world, he said. Hazel compared The Players Championship to the Super Bowl in terms of international media exposure and also cited the tournament’s lasting contributions to the community.
Last year’s tournament raised $5.9 million for local charities, part of more than $46 million that has been donated in the event’s 38-year history.
Hazel said the PGA Tour has committed to raising another $50 million through the tournament in the next 10 years for North Florida nonprofit organizations focused on child development.
Hazel said the 2012 event, in addition to the strongest field in golf, will offer four evening concerts with proceeds benefiting the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, The Boselli Foundation and Dreams Come True.
Capitol Records country artist Luke Bryan, 2009 Academy of Country Music award winner for Top New Artist and Top New Solo Vocalist, will headline the Saturday night concert.
“It has been the worst-kept secret in Ponte Vedra for a month,” said Hazel.
He said this year’s event will begin April 14 with the 2nd Annual Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic, which is expected to draw a field of golfers including Emmitt Smith and other former University of Florida players and coaches.
“Tim is very fond of the Stadium Course,” said Hazel.
The military appreciation aspect of The Players Championship also will be expanded this year.
Hazel said there will be free admission for active duty and retired military personnel and their dependents every day of the tournament.
He said there will be a job fair that is free to participants and will feature area companies that are hiring as well as local educational institutions with programs for veterans and career counseling and resume-review assistance.
Hazel, who first volunteered at the tournament 18 years ago as a standard bearer, attributed the success of the event to the more than 2,000 people and the companies who contribute their time and resources.
“It can only be made possible through the work of our volunteers and corporate partners,” he said.
Asked if he thinks Woods will enter the tournament, and then withdraw as he has in recent years, Hazel made another prediction.
“With the momentum he has and his desire to reclaim his position as the best player in golf, it’s hard for me to think he won’t compete here this year,” Hazel said.