PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – Deane Beman served as commissioner for the PGA TOUR from 1974 to 1994 and in that time he helped to transform the game of golf. Beman faced numerous obstacles and push back as he worked to fulfill his dream of building golf into a major sport.
"I tend to think in terms of how things could be rather than how they are,” said Beman. “And that drives me."
There are a lot of things Beman, 79 can do in life, "But I always stick around here come tournament time."
Sitting back and enjoying his true labor of love, now known as THE PLAYERS.
"I conjured up the concept that I had tried to sell the USGA in the early 60s, that we really needed specialized built golf courses to accommodate the galleries for golf tournaments,” said Beman. “And my first opportunity to do that was of course for The Players Championship."
A stadium course with mounds high enough for fans to see their favorites in action. Construction began in 1980 on swampland in Ponte Vedra, decades after Beman and golf course architect Ed Ault were quickly turned down, by Joe Dey who served as the USGA executive Director from 1934 to 1969.
"It took him about three and a half minutes to tell us he wasn't interested at all,” said Beman. “So I think we had some lunch and went home."
Disappointed but not defeated, in 1974 Beman would become commissioner of the PGA TOUR and host what was then called the Tournament Players Championship. The event was held in several different locations year after year.
"I decided the easiest way and the best way to make this tournament special was to hold it at the same place every year," said Beman.
A local developer in Ponte Vedra needed amenities around Sawgrass to be able to sell his properties. Beman jumped on the chance to purchase about 400 acres of land, swampland for $1.
"There's the $1 we paid for the property," said Beman pointing to the framed check hung on the wall in the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. "That was all I had to work with because my board would not approve spending any money to do what I wanted to do."
What he wanted was a stadium course, an idea shot down once before.
"I knew that if we could build a stadium golf course that it would be successful," said Beman.
He convinced 50 local businessmen to put up $20,000 each to help finance the construction.
"Up until then, almost all golf courses were built just for the players on the course,” said Beman. “They weren't built for the spectators that were trying to watch. "
He hired an old friend, architect Pete Dye- tasked with turning marshy swampland into what became known as a 'dyeabolical' course. Players complained it was too difficult.
"The players hated the course,” said Jerry Pate, the first winner at TPC Sawgrass in 1982. “It was too difficult, they didn't want to be in the golf business. All of the old golfers said we have no business owning our own golf course. We shouldn't be designing and owning golf facilities. That was the first club that the PGA Tour owned. It's the wrong thing. People talked in the locker room- maybe we'll fire Deane Beman, we need to hang Pete Dye by his toenails and this is terrible."
Modifications were made several times.
"It's supposed to be tough,” said Beman. “But it has to be fair and it has to be reasonable. I think where we are today is where I wish we had done it at the beginning. This golf course even though its owned by the players, its owned by the PGA Tour, it's built for the spectators. It was built as a reminder to us that the spectators are what makes us what we are today."
Beman’s resume as a player is also impressive. He won four PGA TOUR titles, a pair of U.S. Amateurs, The Amateur Championship and competed on four U.S. Walker Cup teams.
Thursday on Back in the Day with GMJ, you'll meet the "First Lady" of golf architecture, Alice Dye. She and her husband, Pete Dye designed TPC Sawgrass. She is the woman who came up with the idea for the iconic island green on 17. She's 90 years old and can still handle a golf club.