Organizing a large event can be a challenge. Organizing two massive events within one week’s time sounds crazy. But for the city of Jacksonville, it’s become a yearly tradition.
The Gate River Run is the largest 15K race in America. This year, it will welcome 20,000 participants on March 4 as runners from around the world will test themselves in this race that features a scenic route along city streets and bridges.
Once that event ends, one of the premier tournaments on the PGA Tour starts — the Players Championship, March 7–12 at TPC Sawgrass, which sits southeast of Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville hosts many iconic sporting events each year and the Gate River Run and Players Championship are two of the highlights,” said Katie Mitura, chief marketing officer at Visit Jacksonville. “Having world class athletes participating not only helps to draw big crowds, but also contributes a great economic impact to our community hotels and businesses.”
These two events found a home in Jacksonville one year apart. After spending its first three years in other locations, the Players Championship moved to Sawgrass Country Club in 1977; the Gate River Run was created in 1978 by the Jacksonville Track Club.
The Gate River Run draws all types of runners as the event happens to be the National Championship for 15K’s across the country. The race, which has an estimated economic impact of nearly $2 million, has had Olympic athletes Deena Kastor, Shalane Flanagan, and Meb Keflezighi take part.
“The Gate River Run is the world’s largest 15K that winds through some of our neighborhoods and the Downtown area,” said Mitura. “It gives runners an opportunity to run across bridges — one that’s coined the Green Monster — that are not open for pedestrians at any other time, so it has a bit of an exclusivity factor as well.”
In an effort to showcase Jacksonville, the race starts and ends at the Sports Complex, taking participants through the historic streets of downtown, San Marco, St. Nicolas and across the city’s popular bridges. The final two miles of the race along the Hart Bridge is known as the “Green Monster” in reference to the color of the bridge and the steepness of the incline.
There is a prize pool of $26,500 for both the men’s and women’s divisions, with the winners each taking home $12,000. Each participant receives a medal and the top 10% also receive a hat. All proceeds stay locally to support running and important community initiatives.
Once the running is finished, it’s time for the best golfers in the world to take to one of the most picturesque courses you’ll find anywhere.
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is a masterpiece, with the jewel being the 17th hole. The pin sits on a small island and getting the ball on the green is a challenge, making it one of the most difficult holes on tour.
“The Players Championship is always a great draw for golf fans, families and people who want to come see the world’s best golfers on a fan-friendly course,” Mitura said. “Each year they do a great job of having different fan experiences, including bringing in local chefs to have their food at the tournament so people can get a taste of Jacksonville at the course, and then go explore the city after the tournament.”
Nearly 200,000 people descend on Jacksonville and the surrounding areas each year for the Players Championship. The event was held in May from 2007 through 2018. It was moved to the second week of March in 2019 to accommodate the PGA Tour schedule and as a result, Jacksonville has its own version of March Madness with two large events running back-to-back.