5 Things You Need to Know: The Players Championship

All the best players in the world are in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., this week for the Players Championship, the tournament that would be golf’s fifth major if the powers that be ever decided another one is warranted (chances are slim).

Here are five things you need to know about the tournament and its surrounding area:

It’s a major test
Unlike some majors, invites for the Players Championship are not extended to top amateurs or club professionals. It’s pros only, and the best of the bunch, including the top players from the senior and developmental circuits (Champions and Web.com Tours). Thus, it can be argued that the Players features the toughest field in golf. It can also be argued that the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course’s 17th hole is the hardest in golf. That, of course, is the 137-yard par 3 with the infamous island green. What’s not up for debate is that the Players Championship offers a lot of coin. It’s $10 million purse is one of the largest in golf with only the Masters and the PGA Championship matching. This week’s winner will collect a cool $1.8 million.

All the legends are just down the road
Ponte Vedra is a beach town not far from Jacksonville, and also the headquarters for the PGA Tour. Twenty-five miles south is the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine. Give yourself at least a couple hours here, but golf nerds might want to plan for the whole day. There’s the Member Locker Room, showing off gear and mementoes from the Hall’s members; the Wonderful World of Golf Theater, which shows classic golf battles; Trophy Tower, displaying the game’s prized possessions; and the Golf Simulator, where you can play the Old Course at St. Andrews or the Plantation Course at Kapalua, among others. Then head outside where you can play the Putting Course – 18 holes of natural grass putting greens – or tee it up at the Challenge Hole – a 132-yard island green mirroring the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

A good bite to eat is across the street
Just outside the club’s gates is Aqua Grill, tucked away in a corner of Sawgrass Village, right on a lake that offers nice views — especially if you’re able to grab a seat on the patio. The dinner menu includes a wealth of fresh seafood items, along with chicken, pork, veal and steak dishes. Then there’s the massive wine list or the comprehensive custom martini list. Maine Lobster and the “The Ponte Vedra Beach” (Absolut vodka, black raspberry liqueur and a splash of pineapple) is never a bad way to end the day.

Letting your day go up in smoke is good too
Maybe you’d prefer a cigar and a drink over seafood and a drink? Then find the Island Girl Cigar Bar, just a couple minutes down the A1A from TPC Sawgrass. The cigar lounge features sofas, padded barstools and chairs, and the “best selection of cigars in Northeast Florida” – more than 20,000 cigars in inventory. There are also 20 beers on tap, a full liquor bar for that top shelf single malt scotch or small batch bourbon, and a healthy wine selection.

The Catty Shack Ranch is a must-see
Every golfer loves the movie “Caddyshack,” right? You’ll also love the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary in North Jacksonville. Ranked No. 1 on TripAdvisor.com’s list of things to do in the city, Catty Shack houses and educates the public about endangered big cats. On site are numerous tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, and bobcats, with arctic foxes and coatimundis serving as “honorary cats.” Nowhere else can you see such a collection of cool cats.