Food, Booze, Piracy (And A Tiny Bit Of Golf) In Northeast Florida

03.17.17 2 years ago 21 Comments

Northeast Florida is set to host the Player’s Championship in a few short months, but unless you’re a die-hard golf fan (and really, who is), that’s probably not something you care about. What this article presupposes is… maybe you should?

Look, golf is boring. There’s really no point arguing the conventional wisdom on this one. Unlike most, I say this not from a place of ignorance. I played competitively throughout my formative years, from about 9 to 19, which seems like more than enough time to develop an appreciation. And yet, if you’re looking for someone to try to sell you on the thrill of a fairway wood or the agony of a missed putt, continue looking.

All that being said, here’s a less publicized aspect of golf: boring sports make the best live events. I think there’s actually reverse corollary between sports that are exciting on TV and how much fun they are live. Football and MMA are my favorite TV sports, but without closeups and slow-motion replay they’re kind of terrible.

Conversely, some of my most memorable live-sports experiences have been with sports I never cared much about. Car racing, horse racing, motorcross, baseball. An Australian friend summed it up best when he was inviting me to a cricket match. “Mate, four exciting things will happen all day and you’ll miss three of them.”

It sounds like an insult, but he was right. You know you’re having fun at a sporting event if you’re not really paying attention to the sport. You don’t need to enjoy or even appreciate cricket or baseball to enjoy a cricket or baseball game. Not with shining sun, green grass, and a full cup. In fact, if the sport is too action-packed it almost detracts from the experience.

Which is a long way of saying that you don’t have to find golf not boring to enjoy The Player’s Championship, which returns to Ponte Vedra Beach, in Northeast Florida, this Mother’s Day weekend. You don’t have to know that it’s one of the longest-running tour events played at the same course every year (TPC Sawgrass for 35 years, only other four other PGA tournaments have been played at the same course for as long, not including The Masters), or that it’s considered an unofficial “fifth major” (thanks to its elite field and massive purse).

Do you even know what a major is? If not, please respect my decision not to explain it.

It probably does help a little that TPC Sawgrass is so famous that you probably remember playing it on PGA Tour Golf on Sega Genesis (or at least I do), with its signature island green on the 17th†. That part is pretty cool. And even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, there are a lot worse things to stare at on a nice day with a drink in your hand than this:

Above all, though, The Players Championship is a spectator’s event. That was the entire idea behind the course, which is why it’s called “the stadium course.” It’s not really a stadium, mind you, just the closest equivalent that could be created for golf — with raised areas around the tees and greens in addition to the grandstand, so that you always have a pretty good view. A recent redesign opened it up even more, and without getting into the arcane details, let’s just say that it’s sort of like the open-concept kitchen of golf courses (side note: I’ve been watching way too much HGTV lately).

Which is to say: The Player’s Championship promises the sun/grass/booze of a baseball game and the bougie glamour and people watching of a horse race. Only with… more. More sun, more grass, and possibly even more booze. And, at the very least, better food.

In fact, the food was the reason I was there. The folks behind The Players are trying to make it as much about the food as the golf. As part of this initiative, this year’s tournament is set to include a section called “Wine and Dine on 9,” a French-American bistro setup with a menu from Matthew Medure (a James Beard nominee) where you can sip wine and eat wagyu beef sliders, tuna tartar tacos, and pork belly (some excerpts from this year’s rumored menu).

Behind the 11th green there’ll be “Taste of Jacksonville,” featuring food from local favorites. A few of the ones I got to sample were Mojo Kitchen in Jacksonville Beach, serving up Kansas City “burnt ends” — the most heavily spiced and charred ends of the brisket — and lots of the usual southern barbecue fare (their super smokey corn was a particular highlight).

View from the Four Points in Jacksonville Beach. Didn’t suck.

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