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A brief history of The PLAYERS Championship trophies

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Gregory Shamus

The PLAYERS Championship has evolved considerably since its inception in 1974. What’s changed? Namely, the purse ($15 million in 2021) and Every Shot Live (plug: GOLF.TV, start streaming on Thursday in select markets). Even the hardware they award the champion has undergone a few facelifts.

In its nearly 50 years of existence, the PGA TOUR has handed out four iterations of The PLAYERS Championship trophy. The most recent edition (that only 2019 champion Rory McIlroy has been lucky enough to call his own) is stunning. The 7.6-pound trophy is made out of sterling silver and 24k gold vermeil. For how opulent it is, the champ is probably taking home a few extra bucks in value on his way out of Ponte Vedra. It’s an appropriate party favour to one of the game’s most cherished events.

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PGA TOUR Archive

Jack Nicklaus 1974 Atlanta Golf Classic - The Players Championship PGA TOUR Archive

From 1974 to 1981, champions received a, shall we say, understated trophy. The wood and bronze plaque was known as Joseph C. Dey Jr. trophy (we owe a lot to Dey, who was instrumental in uniting the USGA and R&A in an effort to standardize the rules of golf). Nicklaus claimed three of these plaques – the third of which came in 1978 after the tournament had made its way to the Sawgrass Country Club.

In 1982, the Tournament Players Championship crossed the street from Sawgrass CC and found its lasting home at TPC Sawgrass, just two years after Pete Dye had built his masterpiece in the middle of a Florida swamp. The move came with an upgrade to the winning prize. In an attempt to match the TOUR’s flagship tournament to an equally as impressive trophy, the tournament revealed a large black slab of granite that features a golden golfer and silver trees. Deane Beman, the former PGA TOUR commissioner who sits in the photo below, agreed with his constituents that the prize was impractical for use in a trophy ceremony, so they came up with an alternative (though the original granite trophy remains in the front hall of the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse).

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PGA TOUR Archive

The crystal was an iconic prize from when Jerry Pate first raised it in 1982 through when Webb Simpson cradled it in 2018, even surviving the tournament’s name change from Tournament Players Championship to The PLAYERS Championship in 1988. Designers at Waterford Crystal would take up to 40 hours to engrave the intricate detail of the golf scene on the front of the crystal. In 2007, the bottom of the vase was altered to allow space for the winner’s name.

Old PLAYERS trophies

GOLFTV

While elegant, the vase lacked the emphatic exclamation point the TOUR desired for its flagship event. In 2019, Rory McIlroy ushered in the next generation of golden champions by raising a trophy befitting such a prestigious tournament.

In addition to its impressive gold finish, the newest version of The PLAYERS trophy is also somewhat of a craftsmanship feat. When the design was released, Andy Hart, the vice-president of diamond and jewelry supply at Tiffany & Co., stated that a “Tiffany designer worked with the PGA TOUR to replicate a golfer with the perfect swing.” To bring that golfer to life, they used 3D printing technology and even made the face of the golfer a composite of each of the tournament’s winners until 2018.

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Icon Sportswire

The version of the trophy above is the perpetual trophy with each winner’s name engraved on the base, which sits in the clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass. In addition to this golden prize, Tiffany & Co. has also designed the FedEx Cup, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Charles Schwab Cup Championship and Northern Trust trophies. But as Jared Rice, the executive director of the PLAYERS, points out, the PLAYERS is unique: “I love that the trophy is gold, and there is no other championship of significance that gives gold.”

To learn more about how the trophy is made, watch the video below.