When the biggest sporting event in St. Johns County moves around the calendar again in 2019, it’s going to lead to an adjustment for those in the tourism industry. But it won’t be a huge alteration, tourism leaders say.
The PGA Tour’s Players Championship is going from its current date in early May back to March starting with the 2019 golf season. The concept driving the change is to move the PGA Championship, a major, to May so that the tour’s top events can be played earlier in the year and get to the FedExCup Playoffs earlier in the summer.
This year’s PGA Championship is taking place this week.
When it comes to total attendance at the tournament, which takes place at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, and visitation to St. Johns County, the move isn’t expected to have a huge impact.
The biggest issue, according St. Johns County visitors and convention president and CEO Richard Goldman, is that March is already a very busy month for tourism in the county. The destination doesn’t really need a world-class event like The Players in order to draw people here. In May, the tournament is much more helpful in filling up hotel rooms.
“Moving it to March does present some challenges,” Goldman said. “There’s a great deal more lodging availability in the first two weeks of May than there is in the first two weeks of March. It’s frequently spring break, and that’s our highest rate season and one of our fullest as far as our accommodations (is concerned).”
Goldman said May gets more popular as children get out of school, which seems to be happening earlier and earlier in the month.
The original move from March to May in 2007 was a boost to the county’s tourism industry, but the market has changed in the past 10 years. The destination has grown in popularity since then and doesn’t really have many slow times as long as the country’s economy overall is good.
Some of the hotels that serve many of the visiting golf fans are anticipating little change from the move of the golf tournament.
Jay Marsella, director of sales and marketing at the Sawgrass Marriott, said his hotel has been hopping since the renovation was done about a year ago. He expects that to continue regardless of when The Players takes place.
“The Players is going to attract crowds whether it’s March or May, so those weeks, wherever it falls, are going to be busy for us,” Marsella said. “It was good in May. It’s going to be good in March. So there’s not a huge difference.”
For the Ponte Vedra Inn &Club and The Lodge &Club, the schedule change for the tournament won’t alter its business much, according Gate Petroleum spokeswoman Misty Skipper.
“Both the Ponte Vedra Inn &Club and The Lodge &Club enjoy great partnerships with The Players Championship,” Skipper said in an email to The Record. “Based on historical experience, we do not see much of a difference for our resorts between a March event and a May event.”
The most important things for those in local tourism is that the tournament isn’t going to some other city and it isn’t being reduced in significance. The Players touts itself as having the best field in golf, based on world rankings, and had the highest total purse in golf until this year. The U.S. Open boosted its purse to $12 million, but The Players is still tied for No. 2 with the PGA Championship at $10.5 million.
“It’s great for the destination,” Goldman said. “It helps keep us on the world stage. That’s real important to us.
“We look at this as not just the immediate impact of the tournament on the destination but also the long-term impact of presenting our destination to the world.”
Jared Rice, The Players executive director, said the event will continue to shine the spotlight on Northeast Florida.
The tournament, which attracts more than 200,000 spectators and has an estimated economic impact of more than $150 million to the area, is only expected to get bigger in terms of attendance and global visibility.
“Each year we’re driven to do a little bit better,” Rice said. “We’ve had great success in May, and fortunately, there’s comfort in understanding March because we’ve had the tournament in those months before.
“It’s going to be better for us for a number of reasons. For the national and international audience, we have heard that this time frame is going to be much better from a timing perspective.”