For a two-week period in March of 2019, the First Coast will be a focal point of national and international sports.

 

That’s the immediate effect of Tuesday’s announcement that The Players Championship will be moved to March of that year, after being contested for the past 11 years in May. The Players had been played in March from 1977 to 2006 before moving to May as part of an overall renovation of the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course and the clubhouse.

Coinciding with that move is the shift of the PGA Championship from August to May. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America announced the changes in a joint news conference from the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., the site of this week’s PGA Championship.

The 2019 PGA Championship will be May 16-19 at Bethpage State Park Black Course on New York’s Long Island, while Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said The Players that year would be “mid-March.”

Given those parameters, The Players is likely to be scheduled on March 14-17 of that year since the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be in Jacksonville March 21 and 23 for first- and second-round games at Veterans Memorial Arena.

The Players is nationally televised on NBC and reaches a worldwide TV audience in more than 200 countries. The NCAA tournament is on CBS and its cable platforms and last year averaged 9.3 million viewers during each broadcast window, up 24 percent over the previous year.

The first- and second rounds of the 2017 NCAA Tournament were the most-watched since 1993.

Relishing the opportunity for that kind of exposure was Jacksonville Sports Council President Rick Catlett, who said the benefits for the city and region “will be off-the-charts good.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us,” he said. “Jacksonville is going to be the sports hub of the nation for a two-week period. When you consider the Jaguars, Florida-Georgia, the TaxSlayer Bowl, last year’s Notre Dame-Navy game — all the times Jacksonville has been on national TV and will be — those aerial shots of the St. Johns River, the Jacksonville skyline and the beach are very recognizable to the nation by now. Now it’s up to us to be smart enough to have a plan to advance the business of sports through all of the people who will be here or will be watching.”

Among those visitors the week of The Players will be the heads of golf’s worldwide governing bodies, corporate sponsors and business leaders who entertain clients.

It’s also an international visitor list.

“The Players is the largest global event of this community,” said tournament Executive Director Jared Rice. “The number of attendees from outside the five-county area has increased every year and that is not going to change.”

Rice also said budgeting for corporate hospitality at The Players will be easier for companies with a March tournament.

“It puts us into the September, October, November time frame of the prior year for their budgeting purposes,” he said. “We’ve already gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from our clients.”

The week of the NCAA Tournament will bring to Jacksonville a parade of college presidents, athletic directors, NCAA officials, conference commissioners and TV executives who are among the decision-makers in deciding bowl matchups, neutral-site football games and the College Football Playoff national championship game.

“It’s going to be invaluable to us, and we have to take advantage and use it to our benefit,” Catlett said.

PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua joked that it was the “worst-kept secret in golf,” after 10 months of speculation that he launched when he broached the subject at his organization’s national meeting.

He said the PGA had been considering the move since golf was added to the Olympics for the 2016 Rio Games, which created a tight fit in the schedule for players who were competing in both events. The PGA Championship has been in August and the final major of the year since 1972.

Bevacqua said the PGA had also considered February and March but the swap with The Players was a natural. Bevacqua said the Tour approached him several years ago when its officials found out the PGA was considering the move.

“Jay was well aware of our analysis,” Bevacqua said. “August has worked great for us, but the sports landscape in August has changed with Olympics and alterations to the FedEx Cup, and the TV market in May is stronger.”

The change also makes the Open Championship the anchor major and returns The Players to a spot on the calendar that Tour officials used to market as “Before all others, there is The Players.”

Monahan said the Tour is still considering changes to the FedEx Cup schedule to end its playoff closer to Labor Day to avoid going deeper into football season.

However, he did say the Tour’s “wraparound schedule,” which includes six tournaments in the fall, will remain in some form. That includes the RSM Classic at Sea Island, Ga.

“The wraparound seasons has elevated all of our events,” he said. “I don’t expect that to change. I think it works very well for our product.”

Player reaction at the PGA was largely positive.

“I think it’s great for the golf schedule,” said defending FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy. “And just from a player’s perspective, to now have one really big tournament a month … it just has a better flow to it. I’ve been a big supporter of it from the first time I heard about it, and the announcement today, I think, has been very well-received by a lot of the players in the locker room.”

Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, said getting some distance between golf’s bigger evens will be helpful.

“It’s going to kind of space everything out a little bit more instead of it all being kind of crammed together,” he said. “So it gives you a little bit more time to prepare.”