In this issue, we go deep on the PGA Tour’s premier event, the Players. Dean Knuth, who created the Slope Rating system for the USGA, calculates what normal golfers would shoot on TPC Sawgrass in tournament conditions (brace yourself), and our undercover survey of pros asks whether the event should become a fifth major (a not-insignificant number say yes). In a rare photo dug from our archives, we glimpse the early transformation of a snake-infested bog to the Stadium Course, and our final page is a tribute to that greatest digger of all, Pete Dye, who left us this year at 94.
Head to Ponte Vedra this March to take in the Players and you’ll notice that construction of a new PGA Tour headquarters is underway. More than 750 employees will move in when it’s finished in January 2021. But one person who won’t need a desk is Claudio Rivas, tournament administration manager on PGA Tour Latinoamérica. Built like a middleweight boxer, he quietly leads one of the most interesting lives in golf.
Like other executives who ran the previous Tour de Las Américas, Rivas began with PGA Tour Latinoamérica as an independent contractor. In 2014, Rivas was at a tournament in Colombia when he received word that violent political protesters were edging near his apartment in Caracas, Venezuela. Immediately, he put his wife and two young sons on a plane to Miami. They met there and hunkered down for a month, and rescue came in the form of a full-time offer from the PGA Tour that generated the paperwork to apply for a U.S. visa. And so Rivas began his life in Florida with one suitcase, which had only a few golf shirts, slacks and a set of waterproofs.
Rivas fields a lot of anxious phone calls from parents. “I tell them not to worry. If your son goes and stays where we tell him, he’s going to love it. I tell parents they’re going to be amazed how much their son develops as a person. Even for the player who finishes last, it’s a wonderful experience learning how to travel and interact with other cultures.”
For every location, Rivas’ team creates a detailed fact sheet for players, including if Uber is available and which neighborhoods are safe for Airbnb. Indeed, making correct rulings about knee-height drops is the least complex part of the job. When a schedule of 18 tournaments moves across nine countries, just having everybody show up is a win. Golfers, and even officials, have boarded the wrong plane. The alternate list is volatile, and Rivas routinely rings golfers after midnight, and they’re glad to get the news and any help arranging last-minute travel.
As a rule, Rivas expects two sets of clubs lost or delayed per tournament. “We tell host clubs to have a couple of really good loaner sets ready,” Rivas says. He laughs when he remembers Erik Barnes going low with a set a caddie scrounged for him, and then after the round the caddie charging him a rental fee. Caddies have endured 26-hour bus rides for the chance to work. The ultimate dream is to get hitched to a golfer who advances to the Korn Ferry Tour and brings you along. Suddenly, a tour card and a green card can hang in the balance.
Two seasons ago in Argentina, neighboring farmers decided to raze their fields, and the smoke made it nearly unplayable. Three years ago in Ecuador, play was interrupted every hour when a government helicopter fighting a wildfire gathered water from a pond on the course. On the northern tip of Patagonia, Rivas got lucky when the snow melted just in time.
“What makes our tour great is each event has a unique identity, whether it’s the layout, the food, the people. Typically, we’re going to the best course in each country, and the members are proud and go out of their way to treat players warmly.”
Rivas foresees a day when PGA Tour Latinoamérica awards more than five promotions. As such, he roots for past graduates like Lanto Griffin, Sebastian Munoz and Keith Mitchell to keep winning on the big tour as emphatic validation.
Of course, seven years after the death of the authoritarian president Hugo Chavez, the unrest in Venezuela still hasn’t settled. Rivas nor his family has returned to Caracas since their rushed exit. His sons thank him for getting to grow up in Florida.