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Tournament Players Clubs
The network of properties owned and managed by the PGA Tour has adapted to a changing world while maintaining its high standards
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N A RECENT Tuesday afternoon, a young couple with children is eating lunch in the grillroom at TPC Boston. Two nights later, a group of members conducts a wine tasting in 2118, the elegant dining room at TPC Potomac named for the number of bottles in its cellar. Any afternoon, a foursome of new golfers can be
seen playing from the far-forward “family tees” at TPC Sugarloaf. If you thought TPCs only held PGA Tour events and corporate outings, it’s time to take another look. “We can’t just be about golf,” says Blane Merritt, general manager at TPC Sugarloaf. “We have to attract the family.” The TPC Network is itself a family, a consortium of 32 golf clubs near major American cities. When the first properties were built in the 1980s and ‘90s, memberships were targeted at corporations and potential home owners. Extensive TV coverage showed the world’s best players at the likes of Sawgrass, Southwind, and Summerlin. Golfers scheduled business trips with extra days for on-course entertainment. But with changes in the economy and the golf industry, the TPC Network has had to adapt. Every TPC shares the advantages of PGA Tour management—notably firm financial footing—but it’s how each club maintains its individuality that creates compelling stories. Here are three of them.
TPC Boston Located about 45 minutes from downtown, TPC Boston isn’t “the neighborhood club,” says head pro Dave Corrado, “so we have to let our members utilize it in ways that suit them.” For example, club events aren’t spread over a few days or a weekend: One-day member-guests are held on Wednesday afternoons, which makes them perfect opportunities for corporate entertainment but still allows members to get home to their families at night. General Manager Dan Waslewski notes that as families move farther from downtown into the suburbs, his membership is getting younger. “We cater to them by providing the best and friendliest service. Since this is Boston, we call ourselves the Cheers of private clubs.” The biggest asset, everyone agrees, is the golf course, which hosts the Deutsche Bank Championship, part of the season-
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ending FedExCup Playoffs. “Our members get to play the same course that Tiger, Phil, and Rory do,” says Waslewski of a cachet that many TPCs share and sets them apart from other venues in their communities. The course, which originally opened in 2002, was renovated during the winter of 2006–07. Led by architect Gil Hanse with the assistance of PGA Tour player—and local boy— Brad Faxon, the old design was “New Englandized.” Bunkers were reshaped and allowed to grow grassy edges. Long fescues and other wild vegetation filled in formerly manicured areas, while surrounding wetlands were brought into play, as were big trees and natural mounding. Not surprisingly, TPC Boston—as well as the majority of other TPCs—has achieved Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status for its commitment to environmental excellence. In giving the course a more traditional feel, Hanse and Faxon shortened some holes, for instance, creating the drivable par-four 4th and short par-three 16th over water. Bunkers were repositioned and old-style crossbunkers added. Big boulders along the 18th fairway recall a time when land was cleared by man and horse, so sometimes wasn’t cleared at all. As at all TPC golf courses, quality conditioning is critical. Says superintendent Tom Brodeur, “It always plays firm and fast while also being green and pretty. When the Tour is here the greens run at 13; the rest of the time they run 10.5–11. And we make the rough punishing but not penal.”
TPC Potomac Avenel Farm in Potomac, Maryland, used to be horse country, all trails and trees. But as the nation’s capital has grown, the middle of nowhere has become a suburb. Yet TPC Potomac maintains a faraway feeling, the club sitting on 220 acres of tall hardwoods, flowing streams, and lush valleys surrounded by stately homes. Washington is the ultimate company town, and for a number of years the club—originally known as TPC at Avenel— catered to the corporate market. But outside play is being reined in. Says General Manager Mike Sullivan, “We’ve made this a boutique club with a very high level of quality.” Our nation’s capital also is a diverse and international town. Residents are world travelers who may not stay too long. They appreciate the different levels of membership and privileges that the TPCs offer, such as the TPC Passport program, which allows members access, preferred pricing, and playing privileges at more than 50 courses around the world. “In D.C., people come and go so we have relocation options if someone moves,” says Sullivan. “We have to react to our market. We can’t keep doing things as we did in years past.” TPC Potomac also mirrors local values with its commitment to philanthropy. While charity is ingrained in the fabric of all TPCs, Potomac regularly welcomes members of the military, hosting Birdies for the Brave, Wounded Warriors, and other organizations that help active and veteran soldiers.
TPC Boston: 16th hole, 161 yards
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TPC Boston: 8th hole, 213 yards
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JASON BROWN/GOLF CLUB IMAGES
At TPC Boston, long fescues and other wild vegetation filled in formerly manicured areas, while surrounding wetlands were brought into play.
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When the club was rebranded five years ago, more than $26 million (of the Tour’s money, not the members’: there are no assessments at TPCs) was put into the clubhouse—creating a bright, airy structure dappled with color—and the golf course. After discussions with players, PGA Tour Design Services, with help from Jim Hardy, spent more than a year fashioning a stern test incorporating the land’s natural features. A network of streams and wetlands touches on many holes. Elevation changes create raised greens—many with old-fashioned run-up areas and chipping bowls—and devilish carries. Vast tracts of land have been given over to native grasses, a deviation from the well-mown look of most area clubs. The sloping landscape also created some tricky angles, such as on the narrow, water-lined par-four 6th. The par-five 10th drops from an elevated tee into a lush valley that turns left along the wetlands, which continue along the long and lanky par-four 11th. After a series of short par fours—par is 70—the final holes open up with plenty of room to fit the hospitality tents for a Tour event. The course has hosted the 2010 Senior Players Championship and, before the redesign, the PGA Tour’s Kemper Open was a mainstay. “The redo has been tremendous,” said Champions Tour star Mark O’Meara during the Senior Players. “It’s a great test for us and it would be a great test for a PGA Tour or Champions Tour event. I think all the players would like it: It’s very straightforward, very fair, but very difficult.” “Now we would like to host a bigger event,” says Sullivan. “Maybe a World Golf Championship? Or the Presidents Cup? Now wouldn’t that be a good fit in Washington, D.C.?” TPC Sugarloaf “Sugarloaf is a little different from other TPCs,” explains General Manager Blane Merritt, “because it isn’t just the golf club, it’s the whole package. We also have 14 tennis courts, three swimming pools, a fitness area, and more.”
Residential clubs have had to change with the times, too. Since TPC Sugarloaf is so entwined with its community, the outreach has been to families. “Wednesday night is family night, with special menus and pricing, and we’ll have 150 or 200 diners,” says Merritt. “We had a Halloween carnival, a New Year’s party, added family tees. We try to be all things to all people.” For most members of the TPC Network, one of the main attractions is the ability to tackle courses with the PGA Tour’s brand—and bragging about playing where the pros play. That’s been an especially important draw at Sugarloaf, which hosted the PGA Tour’s BellSouth Classic for many years until 2008. With the Champions Tour coming to Sugarloaf in 2013—the Greater Gwinnett Championship will be held the week after The Masters—the community is getting excited again. The course hasn’t changed much since opening in 1996. Greg Norman’s first design in the United States, it is comprised of the Stables and Meadows nines (a third nine, Pines, opened in 2000), which feature rolling hills and stands of oaks and pines. Many of the greens are raised and protected by bunkers, putting the emphasis on high, soft approaches. It also helps if you can shape the ball, especially right-to-left off the tee to take advantage of the sloping fairways. “The hole everyone remembers,” says Merritt, “is the dramatic 18th, a reachable par five that is true risk/reward.” The final fairway narrows as it gets longer, producing more than its share of dramatic finishes. The player needing birdie has to use driver off the tee and try to fly the second shot to a green protected by water and sand. Having the lead lets a player lay back on the drive and second shot, then wedge it on. This birdie hole can easily end in double bogey. Everyone expects the TPCs to offer great golf, and they definitely won’t be disappointed. But for first-class dining, a commitment to charity, environmental excellence, and member service, as well, the TPC Network is second to none. ■
OPPOSITE: JASON BROWN/GOLF CLUB IMAGES
TPC Sugarloaf: 18th hole, 628 yards
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Many of the greens at Sugarloaf are raised and protected by bunkers, putting the emphasis on high, soft approaches.
TPC Sugarloaf: 9th hole, 472 yards
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Norton, Massachusetts PAR 72 YARDAGE 7,279 YEAR FOUNDED 2000
Potomac, Maryland PAR 70 YARDAGE 7,139 YEAR FOUNDED 1986
Arnold Palmer Gil Hanse Brad Faxon
PGA Tour Design Services, Inc. Jim Hardy
Duluth, Georgia PAR 72 YARDAGE 7,309 YEAR FOUNDED 1996 ARCHITECT Greg Norman
TPC Potomac: 13th hole, 360 yards On the cover: TPC Potomac: 18th hole, 465 yards
JASON BROWN/GOLF CLUB IMAGES
This is the section abut the Tournament Players Club found in our 2013 issue of LINKS Premier Clubs.