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Sawgrass renovation well under way

A pile of dirt was all that remained from what used to be the TPC at Sawgrass clubhouse. The driving range looked more like a dirt bike track. There was a shovel in the middle of the first green, not a flagstick. The island green on the par-3 17th resembled a pie shell, ready to be filled with pumps, pipes, gravel, dirt and grass.

It was enough to make PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem take a deep breath.

"I was up there the other day looking at the stuff and said, 'Oh my goodness,"' Finchem said. "We're going to have The Players Championship a year from now?"

Last week was the date of next year's tournament, as the PGA Tour's crown jewel moves to May. And while Sawgrass looked like an abandoned municipal course, the overhaul is right on schedule.

"When you do it all at once, it looks a little daunting," Finchem said.

Also daunting is a new tee being built on the 219-yard eighth hole, making it play closer to 240 yards. David Pillsbury, chief operating officer of the tour's golf course properties and the man in charge of the TPC project, said the new tee on No. 8 is among five holes that will be lengthened by a combined 75 to 100 yards. But that's not to say the tees will be used.

"The winds will be different in May," he said. "This gives us flexibility for setting up the course."

There were other subtle changes, beyond reconditioning the fairways and greens. More than two dozen oaks, pines and palm trees have been planted on the left side of the par-5 ninth fairway, making for a difficult escape. Pine trees have been added to the right of the sixth, seventh and 10th fairways.

The slopes on four greens -- Nos. 4, 13, 15 and 17 -- are being reduced by an inch.

And the practice range is all dirt, although Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and others are not at a loss. The ninth fairway has been transformed into a practice area for PGA Tour pros only.

"I was skeptical at first," Furyk said. "I actually don't mind it. When you're on a driving range, you're limited to one spot. Here, I can move around the fairway, hit back toward the tee, get some different shots."

Pillsbury said the next month is critical for planting grass on the greens, although the weather has been favorable. The only concern is whether the Mediterranean-style clubhouse is completed on time, much of that depending on hurricane season, although Finchem said the tour has a contingency plan if it's not ready by The Players Championship.

"That's going to go down to the wire," Finchem said. "Everyone tells me we can do it. We've put a solid plan together. If we don't have a clubhouse, that would be a disappointment. But we need to plan both ways."

But while the course remains a work in process, there were other signs that brought optimism. Finchem played in his club championship at Pablo Creek over the weekend, and couldn't help but notice the blue skies and bright sun.

"I told everybody that's the weather we can expect the next 10 years," Finchem said. "Then I was on the beach the next morning with my daughters, and porpoises were up and down the beach. It reminded me that our guests will have a good time."



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