TAMPA BAY, Florida – The first of four tournament known as the “Florida Swing” of the PGA Tour started with an exciting playoff win by Chris Kirk at the Honda Classic and it will end with the Valspar Championship March 16-19 at Innisbrook Resort and a chance for a three-peat by Sam Burns.
In between there are two great events with top-notch PGA Tour stars. The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando has always gathered an excellent field in honor of “The King”. This year is no different with 27 of the top 30 ranked PGA Tour players competing. The API has also grown to offer the second largest purse on the PGA Tour at $20 million and a winners share of $3.6 million. With the field as “an invitational” there is also the Puerto Rico Open happening on the same weekend. The PRO offers a much smaller purse at $3.6 million and a winners share of $684,000. It’s a great opportunity for a lesser-known tour player to earn a PGA Tour victory and a cherished spot into the Masters, as well as a number of other perks.
Move forward to The Players, in Ponte Vedra, commonly known as the “fifth major”, for typically having the best field other than “a major”. The Players is the richest event on the PGA Tour outside of the Tour Championship. The Players purse is $25 million with the winner taking home a record $4.5 million. The Tour Championship technically has the largest purse ($70 million) and the winners share ($17 million), but that represents the final event of the FedEx Cup.
The Players is one of, if not the, most watched golf events in person and on television thanks to the TPC Sawgrass golf course and its famed 17th island green. There are very few amateurs that don’t enjoy watching the best players in the world hit the ball into the water on the 140-yard par 3. It’s makes for great theater in the world of golf.
Then there is The Valspar Championship March 16-20, labeled the “most colorful event on the PGA Tour” for the Valspar paint label. With a purse of 8.1 million and a winners share of $1.458 million, the Valspar doesn’t have the monster money that the PGA Tour offers in the two previous weeks, but it still gathers its share of top players to the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort of Tampa Bay.
It is unique this year with Sam Burns trying to become just the 11th player since World War II to three-peat. Having won The Valspar in 2021 and again in 2022, Burns can join an elite field of three-peat winners such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods with a victory at the ‘23 Valspar. He will be joined by former major winners Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner to name a few. Whereas it doesn’t have the draw of the 17th at Sawgrass, the Copperhead course features one of the toughest of finishes on the PGA Tour, “the Snakepit”. The 16th hole is a par four, 460 yard dogleg right with water all along the right side on a bite off as much as you can chew tee shot.
The 17 hole is a 206 yard par three with serious deep bunkers to the left, right and back of the green. A birdie there gets you a “one-up” on the field. And then there is No. 18, named “the Copperhead” hole on the Copperhead course because is quite the snake. You have church-pew bunkers on the right off the tee, with additional bunkers to the left. Your approach shot is uphill to a very tricky green surrounded by bunkers. The typical Sunday pin is just over the front left bunker making a tough hole to get a short birdie putt. It makes for a great finish.
The Valspar Championship may not have the popularity of the Arnold Palmer Invitational or The Players, but it is a tremendous treat for the fans attending. You will be hard-pressed to find more “party places” than at The Valspar. From the “Owls Nest” (a Hooters party) overlooking the 12th and 13th holes, to the new roof-top entertainment area overlooking 18, Valspar has it all.
“We have a ton of activities planned,” said Tournament Director Tracy West. “It really is a party,” she added. “We have 144 tremendous PGA professionals vying for the Valspar Championship and it’s a terrific atmosphere. We have a ton of activities planned with all kinds of fun beverages and food.”
This year’s tournament will honor General Chairman and newly announced Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronde Barber (14 years with the Tampa Bay Bucs) on Thursday, March 16. On Friday (March 17th) they will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with plenty of green beer. And it will be festive Saturday night as well as they bring on country and pop singing star Darius Rucker for a free concert. All this before the final round of the “Florida Swing“ scheduled Sunday March 19.
So if you’re anywhere in the state of Florida in March, there’s no shortage of PGA Tour entertainment. There’s a lot on the line for the players on the course and the fans have only themselves to blame if they don’t have a great time. Cheers!