Out and About: Darlene's Diner, the barber chair and pink everywhere

May 13, 2012
Michael Curet, PGATOUR.COM

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Out and About will highlight some of the unique non-competition events and stories taking place this week at THE PLAYERS Championship. Whether it's one of the many interesting venues at TPC Sawgrass, or an unique fan, we'll get Out and About each day.


Patrons at TPC Sawgrass and millions of television viewers will certainly be seeing "pink" on the 17th in Sunday's final round of THE PLAYERS Championship.

Landscape crews worked until midnight ripping out old plants under the oak tree island at No. 17 and replacing them with 2,500 pink vincas, specially grown and delivered from Orlando for Sunday's Mother's Day Pink Out at THE PLAYERS.


TPC Sawgrass Landscape Superintendent Todd Fonda and staff have been preparing for the event since October. Even Sunday morning, crews were out enhancing Saturday's work with by planting a batch of purple Hawaiian Ti for as, Fonda put it, "an extra pop of color."

The crew of about 15 was sent out at 6:30 p.m., filling four boats, but didn't get started until after 7 p.m. after the final putt was struck in the last group on No. 18. What came out of the ground were hundreds of blue delphiniums, yellow marigolds and white begonias.

"We worked in sequence together, taking out and replanting right behind the removal," Fonda said. "They worked in teams of four, prepping, bagging the old flowers, hauling back and forth, raking and planting. It was a very successful operation."

Fonda said the pink vincas, which are a low-maintenance, summer flower, will remain in the ground until the end of summer.


Luke Donald had every intention of wearing pink Sunday for Mother's Day Pink Out but had to settle for blue instead when the anticipated overnight package never arrived.

Locker room attendant Gus Pocius was looking for the delivery Saturday, keeping a watchful eye every time the doors swung open. As expected, he did receive a couple of FedEx packages carrying pink attire for Phil Mickelson and Jonathan Byrd. But no Donald package.

"He's disappointed, but these things happen," Pocius said. "Other than that, it was one of the smoothest weeks we've ever had here."

On Sunday morning, Pocius' attention shifted to getting 2011 PLAYERS champion K.J. Choi's shoes ready for him to wear during the trophy presentation.


Each time the players walk through the locker room doors at TPC Sawgrass, an empty barber chair can be seen on the left. Rarely does anyone sit in the chair or get a haircut.

TPC Sawgrass locker room attendant Joe Schmalzried, an 18-year employee at TPC Sawgrass, and Gus Pocius, the oldest member of the locker room staff at 83, have heard many stories over the years about the "chair."


"They used to cut hair in it when the tournament was at Sawgrass Country Club," Schmalzried said. "Then, they would sit around and tell stories -- and I'm guessing that most of them had nothing to do with golf."

Pocius said he believes the tradition started when Ben Crenshaw shot something north of 80 one day and just wanted to kick back in the chair and vent. The frustration turned to humor and thus the tradition was born.

Today, the chair is left unattended and is somewhat revered as the younger pros are dared to sit in it. It's surrounded by names on the wall of all winners of THE PLAYERS.

Perhaps reluctance or superstition plays a role and players would rather take their seat after becoming a PLAYERS champion.

"We talk a lot, but not usually will they sit down in that chair," Schmalzried said. "They are all class acts. If you're going to talk with them, it's Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. It's all business after that. They put a different face on after Wednesday. When they put that face on, it's time to let them go."



"I don't think I've ever worn a pink cap," said PGA TOUR Rules Official Dillard Pruitt, who took off his traditional blue TOUR cap for the new color on Sunday. "I'm happy to do it. It's for a great cause -- especially on Mother's Day."

Pruitt lost his wife Fran to Cystic Fibrosis almost four years ago and the couple never had children due to the struggles and risks of the disease. Even though Sunday is Mother's Day Pink Out at THE PLAYERS to honor mothers and those who have fought breast cancer, Pruitt wears the cap with a heavy heart as he remembers his wife.

"The TOUR does a great job of bringing awareness to diseases like this," Pruitt said. "This is the least I can do. This doesn't just affect women, but families as well."


Darlene Riggs is on a first-name basis with many of the 2,150 volunteers she's been feeding at THE PLAYERS for 26 years. The food tent, now known as Darlene's Diner and hidden between the agronomy building and Media Center, is a highly anticipated stop for most of the volunteers from breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Saturday morning, Darlene and her 120-person staff cooked 150 dozen eggs made to order. "I can remember when we only did about 10 dozen," Riggs said. "Since we feed not just the volunteers, but some PGA TOUR staff, law enforcement officials, maintenance crews, first aid, and numerous other committees on the course, I know that some of them like to come here instead of the clubhouse. I take that as a compliment, although the clubhouse food is tremendous as well."


For the week, Darlene's Diner will go through an estimated 5,000 hamburgers, 2,200 hot dogs, 850 pounds of grilled chicken breasts, hundreds of loaves of bread and 42 pork roasts.

What few may not realize is the savvy chef is a vice president at SunTrust Bank, where she has worked 51 weeks out of the year for the last 25 years.

On Mother's Day, just as in year's past, Darlene couldn't be happier to spend it among friends, family and grandchildren all working to put out what has long been rumored to be some of the best food on the property.

Special pink "Darlene's Diner" T-shirts outfitted the entire crew Sunday, featuring a caricature of Darlene taken from an old picture of her holding up a spatula -- an image most that have been to the tent have probably seen.

"I love what I do," Riggs said, "and I'm very blessed with wonderful friends that come out and help me. I think it's one of the hardest working committees out here. I'm also blessed to working for an organization that does so much for charities."

Riggs has been so successful running the diner that she was asked in recent years to also run a similar concept at the The TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in Atlanta.


The 6th annual 26.2 with Donna is today's charity of the day at The PLAYERS.

The marathon, scheduled for Feb. 17, 2013, is dedicated to raising funds for breast cancer research and is expected to attract as many 12,000 runners from 50 states and 20 countries worldwide.