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Behind the Scenes at The Arnold Palmer Invitational

Ever wonder what goes on before an actual PGA tour event starts?  A fascinating bevy of activity begins long before the first tee times on Thursday.  Sure, there are practice rounds and pro-ams, but there’s a whole lot more happening in plain sight for the astute patron to see.  And even more activity behind the ropes.

Weeks Ahead 

As you can imagine, the spectator stands, concession booths, and VIP venues take weeks to construct.  This year, the Arnold Palmer Invitational also unveiled a special statue to honor The King, and it arrived with much fanfare the week before the tournament.  It became the backdrop for countless photos and social media posts.

Many players wanted to wear or display something in honor of Mr. Palmer, so extra boxes were arriving daily at Bay Hill.  Where do all those staff bags, hats, and head covers with the Arnold umbrella go?  They fill the pro shop closets and get stacked in every corner of the locker room.

Similarly, if Golf Pride needs to restock grips in all the trailers, they send a shipment to the venue.  The players go through a lot of gear, and the circuit never takes a break.  It’s a logistical puzzle that the support crews have down to a science.

Sunday Prior

While most folks are home watching an exciting Sunday finish on TV, a steady stream of equipment trucks are arriving at the event that starts the next day.  All the big name companies – Cobra, Taylormade, Wilson Staff, etc. – have trailers fully stocked with components and club building equipment to support their players.

Parked right next to them might be the trailer of a shaft manufacturer like KBS.  All are packed in tight after the drivers work together to fit them.  Equipment commercials can be brutal to other brands, but out on tour the drivers, equipment technicians and reps have to work together.  The PGA Tour has a silent motto:  keep the players happy.  Heck, there’s even a hospitality tent for the caddies tucked out of sight.

Driving Range

On Monday and Tuesday, players arrive to get familiar with the course and tune up their game.  There are the A listers that everyone is clamoring to get a look at and those on special exemptions or just up from that barely get a glance.  On the range, layers of people surround each pro.  Caddy, coach and manager make up the inner layer.  A media person looking for a quote, a few VIPs, and equipment reps who’ve been called into action stand outside them.  In the photo above, Keegan Bradley and his team are working on the back of the range away from most prying eyes.

Typically, players aren’t actively looking to change equipment, but with Nike no longer producing clubs, there is a lot of activity this spring.  And there are always a few players in a slump, or that just tried their buddy’s driver, who want to give something new a try.   But don’t be fooled by the latest head covers – underneath may be a 5 year old model or a prototype.

Standing back on the range is a line of equipment with reps ready to jump.  Rory wants to try a Callaway GBB Epic wood with an ACCRA TourZ RPG shaft?  No problem.  After joining the huddle around Rory, off go the Callaway and ACCRA reps to work together in the trailers.

The True Temper/ACCRA trailer has a wall of wood shafts (color coded for quick grabs) and drawers filled with iron shafts for any model and flex combination a technician possibly needs.  Fifteen minutes later, Rory is testing the new club on the range thanks to special glues and high tech machines used to accelerate the drying process.  You or I have to wait a few hours before swinging a new club but not on tour.  And not to worry, every trailer has drawers of grips of every make and model.  It’s good to be a pro.

Putting Green

All round the practice green, staff bags are filled with putters from all the manufacturers.  Odyssey, Ping and such come along in their tour trailers.  Boutique companies like Bettinardi catch a ride with independent haulers like Steve Hulka of H.O.P.E (Hulka Overland Players Express).  Steve and his service turned out to be a story in itself so be on the lookout for that feature down the road.

Players are much more apt to try a few putters because it doesn’t take nearly the effort of woods and irons.  Depending on club contracts some players are free to play what they desire while others must stay within the umbrella of their brand.  And there’s no shortage of training aids in use Monday through Wednesday.  Getting dialed in week to week is crucial to success.

Locker Room

The locker room is the definition of organized chaos. Think back to high school and how tight the area was to change clothes.  Now picture that same space (but with nice wooden lockers) crammed with golf bags, travel bags, those extra putters, shoes for every outfit, and giant tubs of gear.  Sounds stressful but at the same time it’s peaceful away from the droves of spectators.  Inside each player’s locker reps place a fresh stock of balls, hats, and gloves for the week.  Staff distributes tournament and sponsor gifts in the lockers also.

Ricky Barnes gets 3 boxes of compression matching FG Tour balls.  Ask your local PGA Tour Superstore for those and see what happens.

Tour professionals are out in the sun most of the day, and sun protection is a priority.  Skin Sunscreen rep Ron knows exactly who’s due for a fresh tube of product, and he’s always around if someone needs more.  Why not just give them a bunch each week?  Because it lasts a month, and players don’t want anything extra to haul to the next stop.  And unlike the hats, balls, and gloves that they can sign and give away, most fans don’t desire a signed tube of sunscreen.

Tournament Eve

Come Wednesday night, trailers are packed, and one by one trucks hook up and haul them away.  Off to the next tour event, which might be in a nearby city or all the way across county.  Equipment reps and technicians fly home for a couple of days, then on to meet up with their trucks again on Sunday.   That precious, packed space, so critical for a few days is quickly transitioned to tournament support and player autographs.  Hopefully the players will take the time to sign legibly – Arnie did.

Matt Meeker
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