Derek Sprague is the general manager of TPC Sawgrass. Appointed to the position in October 2017, Sprague previously served as managing director at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Can you please tell us about your background?
I grew up in Malone, New York, which is as far north as you can get in the state of New York. It’s about three hours north of Albany or Syracuse. I grew up on the first hole of the Malone Golf Club, which is now today a 36-hole, semi-private facility. About 10 percent of the town’s population were members of the club there. I worked there for the majority of my career, and then I moved down to Jersey City, New Jersey, and I managed Liberty National Golf Club, host of the 2017 Presidents Cup. It also hosted the 2009 and 2013 Barclays FedEx Playoffs. Last December, I moved down here to start managing TPC Sawgrass in lovely Ponte Vedra Beach.
What makes TPC Sawgrass so special?
The course was designed to challenge the world’s best golfers. It sets up to not favor any particular shot. And the fan experience here that THE PLAYERS produces is really second to none. With Tiger coming back this year, it’s going to be extra special for those who attend and get a glimpse of him and all the other great players. It’s just a wonderful venue that not only challenges the best players in the world but just a great stadium for all the fans to watch that great play.
What does it mean for TPC Sawgrass and THE PLAYERS for Tiger Woods to be coming to town?
It’s very exciting, not only for the fans but for the players who are going to play. I think all the Tour players will tell you they love playing when Tiger’s in the field. You hear the stories from the young players today who idolize Tiger. And he’s still playing very, very well. I think it’s maybe a little bit of a "David and Goliath" story.
What are you most looking forward to with the tournament in your first year as general manager?
I’ve been to this tournament as a spectator. It was a great experience then, and now, I’m looking forward to working with our 350 team members and 2,000 volunteers. I’m looking forward to seeing our team execute on months and months of planning to deliver a great experience, not only for the fans but the players themselves. This is the home of the PGA Tour. We’re here to serve the Tour players. It’s our biggest stage.
What does it take to prepare for the tournament?
It’s about a 120-day buildout, which means building all the structures and temporary structures that go on here. Preparation for that is with the structures, the cable crossings for all the TV that will be here, repurposing of all our permanent structures, etc. That all begins to unfold about 120 days out. It’s staged over those 120 days right out to the first tee shot. In 2019, THE PLAYERS moves up from May to March, so we’re going to have an accelerated turnaround. It’s going to a new ballgame for many of us. We’re going to be overseeding this November. That closes the Stadium Course for about 20 days. That’s going to be new for our agronomy team. All of our other planning and special events we’ve held in March now need to move because of THE PLAYERS. We have to orchestrate those calendars to make it work in 2019.
What are you enjoying most about living in Ponte Vedra?
The people here are so nice. It reminds me a lot of Malone, New York, where you have those small hometown values. I keep thanking my team here for welcoming me here at TPC Sawgrass. They’ve made my wife and me feel right at home, and it hasn’t been a big adjustment in that regard, where I need to learn a whole new way of living. It just seems to be like coming back home. The cherry on top is the weather. The Northeast has had a cold and long winter, and I picked a good year to come south.