The dream of a Tiger Woods-led golf league playing by January in front of ESPN cameras under a massive air-filled dome in Palm Beach Gardens got tossed to the wind this week by the twin hits of a temporary power outage and a wicked, windy Wednesday.
The rush to complete construction of the 1,500-seat arena in time for the new indoor TMRW Golf League, or TGL, to tee off on Jan. 9 now looks impossible to meet.
The white, parachute-like canopy that covered the 120,000-square-foot arena deflated Tuesday night after “an overnight failure to the temporary power system,” TMRW Sports Group said in a statement Wednesday.
Once deflated, the canopy became fodder for the pounding of persistent rains and 50 mph wind gusts. It now lies ripped to shreds, exposing support beams on the far-from-finished site.
League officials said Wednesday it was too early to tell what impact it would have on construction deadlines, a statement they didn’t update after the rains ended on Thursday.
But neighbors report near 24-hour-a-day construction since the Feb. 21 groundbreaking to get the site ready for the first event.
The dome went up nearly overnight in October on 10 acres at the Palm Beach State College campus off of PGA Boulevard, but it’s unlikely that league organizers ordered a backup canopy that they can simply unfurl over the framing to get back on track. The white canopy covers 3 acres and reaches a height of 75 feet.
And without a roof, electronics to simulate golf shots on a 46-by-64-foot screen can’t be installed. Likewise, the three pivoting, changeable putting greens and the broadcast compound undoubtedly will be delayed.
The sport turns on a three-on-three team competition, pairing simulated long shots with actual short shots. Among golfers to sign up: Woods and ownership partner Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose.
Initial announcements of an arena seating 2,000 have been reduced, with the arena offering space for 1,500 fans and 100 staff and players. But the real audience is expected on ESPN, which signed on to broadcast the weekly Monday night matches live.
No city say over college campus
One of the keys to meeting the tight construction timetable is that construction on state college campuses doesn’t have to go through city or county zoning and permitting approvals — even for profit-making tenants.
TMRW (pronounced Tomorrow) Sports Group, headed by Woods, McIlroy and golf TV executive Mike McCarley, worked with the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County to identify the 10-acre site, home to a little-used ball field. They said they considered other Palm Beach County sites as well as sites in Las Vegas.
Palm Beach State College agreed in November 2022 to lease the site to TMRW’s parent, NexGen Sports Group Inc., for promises of internships, student training opportunities and publicity through events and social media. Not referenced in the lease was a $1 million gift to the college’s foundation, delivered at the groundbreaking.
“Our goal is to be here forever,” Tom Veit, senior vice president of venue and events for TMRW Sports and a former head of global events for the WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment, told PBSC trustees. “The building itself has 30 years of useful life.”
The lease covers five years with two optional five-year extensions.
Veit also told trustees the arena would have its own power source because “the amount of data we’re going to use will probably power a small city.”
TMRW partner Mike McCarley, a former executive with NBC Sports Group and former president of the NBC Golf Channel, said his conversations with Woods predated the golf great’s crippling Feb. 23, 2021, car crash.
When he learned Woods wanted to move forward with the golf league, he said other golfers including McIlroy pointed out that the less intensive approach to golf would prolong Wood’s’ career.
“Maybe there are kids who didn’t get to see him play in his prime who will be able to get to see him play now,” McCarley said.
The discussion did not touch on NexGen making a monetary rent payment.
City sought answers
Despite having no regulatory authority, Palm Beach Gardens officials pointed out in a May 12 memo that the city had unanswered traffic, safety and security concerns, including what would happen if the power went out and the dome deflated.
The college responded in writing on June 6. On Oct. 18, college, TMRW/Nexgen officials and the city met, going over details and promising future meetings to continue to hash out police and fire safety concerns.
Among written answers from the college, particular to the canopy:
- “This primary event facility is an air-supported dome structure, intended to be a ‘temporary television broadcasting studio and live audience performance venue.’ This is NOT a permanent ‘bricks & mortar’ traditional building facility, and is intended to be deflated & removed at some future date with minimal impact to the campus landscape.”
- “This structure is designed for 140 mph wind speed zone. All fabric air-supported structures cannot meet windborne debris projectile resistance. The building must be deflated for all category 4 and 5 hurricanes.”
- In response to the questions: “Where will the extraordinarily large inflatable membrane structure be stored?” and how would it be deflated and removed “in a timely fashion for category 4 and 5 hurricanes?” the college replied: “This will be the responsibility of the tenant. … We will request a Hurricane Emergency Deflation & Storage Plan.”
- As to noise and light concerns from neighbors: “With 120,000 SF (square feet) of enclosed dome space occupied by 1,500 patrons maximum for a 2-hour ‘golf sports’ performance, it is our opinion that noise will not be a factor.” And, “The dome fabric is ‘opaque,’ no light will be emitted from the exterior surface.”
- To questions about backup power, the college said it would take 10 seconds to switch from primary to generator power and the generators would be on an Automatic Transfer Switch, or ATS. Additionally, the air-conditioning system would be backed by two natural gas emergency generators.
- As for traffic, the college said: “There will be minimal ‘patron’ traffic entering directly off of RCA Boulevard. All patrons will be directed to the west Campus Drive entry at the roundabout.” And “The campus RCA South entrance will be used during events only for players, staff, broadcast technical staff and food service vendors.”
From graduation to debates
As for how PBSC would take advantage of the rent-free lease, the college provided this list to the city:
- Annual fall and spring convocations for faculty.
- Campus-wide Professional Development Day spring and fall for all campus staff and faculty.
- Vocational graduation events, spring & fall for medical, criminal justice and Fire Academy programs.
- Potential state and national political debates and events.
- Business, sports and political speakers for both the campus as well as the PBG community.
- Student sponsored events and rallies, typically one each semester.
- Instructional programs for both vocational and non-vocational classes, including guest speakers.
- Hosting college & intercollegiate E-sports ‘gaming’ events.
- Hosting & broadcasting MOOCs — Massive Open On-line Courses of instructional study.
- Hosting & broadcasting ‘TED Talks.’
Thirty PBSC construction trade students toured the construction site earlier this month, getting a hands-on introduction to air handlers and airlocks, the college said. Students are applying for paid internships in eight areas and the college is forging a sports marketing track.
“TMRW Sports is bringing an incredible opportunity that’s going to benefit the students for years to come,” PBSC spokeswoman Angela Harrington said.
With its emphasis on technology and broadcasting, it takes an underused ball field and turns it into an unprecedented marketing and educational opportunity, she said.
“This,” she said, “isn’t your grandparents’, or great grandparents’, community college.”
Joel’s former Palm Beach Post colleague Christine Stapleton has filed three stories this week on PBSC’s golf deal, as well as the collapse. Here is Thursday’s Part 2.
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