Matt Rapp, a Kentucky native and a national champion rower at Penn, is the executive director of THE PLAYERS Championship. Now in his third year overseeing the PGA Tour's flagship event, Rapp has helped implement many fan-friendly initiatives around TPC Sawgrass' famous Stadium Course. He recently answered a few questions over e-mail about what's new at THE PLAYERS, his schedule and his own history at the island-green 17th hole.
VISIT FLORIDA: Every year THE PLAYERS offers some new fan wrinkles; what's your favorite this year?
RAPP: We have dozens of changes this year that I think fans will really appreciate. Former Commissioner (Deane) Beman once said that, "Even though it is called The PLAYERS Championship, the concept was to build a golf course dedicated to to the golf fan." With the changes in recent years, we are just adding the next chapter in his book. Led by Taste of JAX (which highlights local restaurants Pele's Wood Fire, Metro Diner and Indochine), food offerings are more diverse and more plentiful and the two large-scale permanent bathrooms (next to The Patio and Wine and Dine on Nine) are sure to be popular with fans.
VF: Your job is different from many PGA TOUR tournament directors in that you don't have to worry about who's coming to play, allocating sponsor exemptions, overseeing pro-ams, etc. Are you the envy of your peers?
RAPP: It is not a fair fight! We have a golf course that was purposely built for this event. That includes the incredible spectator-friendly features like being able to see any golfer hit any shot on any hole at any time, the purest test in golf with only the best players in the world (no amateurs or sponsor exemptions) competing on a course that favors no one and challenges everyone.
VF: If fans don't know about the youth ticket policy, they should. One adult could buy a ticket and bring an entire school class, Little League team, what have you. How successful has this been?
RAPP: We are dedicated to providing a fantastic experience for fans of all ages. We have lots of activities for kids from special kid-only autograph zones, the PwC First Tee Challenge (a 1/3 replica of the 17th hole that kids can take their chance on), and The McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation Kid Zone with face painting, arts and crafts, mini putt-putt, a video game truck and much, much more.
VF: You've got two hours on Friday afternoon all to yourself at THE PLAYERS, with no job responsibilities (dream on, I know). Where are you watching the action? What are you eating?
RAPP: M Shack is a great burger joint from just up the beach that started serving out here last year. I would probably grab one of those and a Sawgrass Splash and watch the eighth hole from our new grandstands. Other favorite spots include under the tree on the back deck of the Nolet Silver Lounge that overlooks No. 9 tee and Wine and Dine on Nine -- great food, great bathroom and great access to both the fifth and seventh greens!
VF: Divers pull some 120,000 balls out of the lake around the 17th every year. How many are yours?
RAPP: Believe it or not, I am not that great of a golfer -- a hack, really. I enjoy the game every time I play but in a very relaxed way. That said, for some reason I do very well on 17, when you are as bad as I am, I guess there is no pressure!
VF: What’s the biggest miracle in pulling off an event of this size that the average fan doesn’t see?
RAPP: When I first got the job, several people said, seriously, "What do you do the other 51 weeks out of the year?" In reality, we are building a temporary city to hold 45,000 people a day on a golf course with very little permanent infrastructure. Our build out takes almost four months. Planning is a huge part of it and regular tournament operations are based on an 18-month cycle, and when you add in some of the fan-focused capital investments (bathrooms, entryways/rest areas) that we are currently working on, the time frame stretches out many years.
VF: How many hours of sleep do you get during tournament week? Do you go home?
RAPP: Not a lot even in the weeks leading up. So many little details weigh on your mind and we only have the one week to get it right. Tournament week is a blur but I live pretty close by so I do try to get at least a few hours each night.
VF: What would be your dream script on late Sunday afternoon, May 12?
RAPP: The same as we have had the last two years -- great weather, huge crowds and a tight finish. Is that too much to ask for?