PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — When play began in the first round of the Players Championship Thursday morning, defending champion Cameron Smith was teeing off on the sprawling TPC Sawgrass property.
But not on the famous Stadium Course.
Smith played with friends and posed for photos with fans at The Yards, a nine-hole course that sits a mile from the driveway of the course where the best players in the world compete.
“It looked great. You can tell in his eyes that he’s a quality young man,” said a golfer who spoke with Smith during his visit Thursday morning. “Extremely cordial and nice.” The Yards staff confirmed that Smith played on Thursday morning, but declined to comment further.
The 29-year-old Australian won the 2022 Players Championship and was victorious at the Open 150 at St. Andrews. A month after his Open victory, Smith joined LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded rival league. That move earned Smith an immediate suspension from the PGA Tour. He last competed in the Tour Championship in August.
“It’s awkward,” Commissioner Jay Monahan admitted earlier this week when asked about Smith’s absence. “But you know, ultimately, that’s a decision he made.”
Smith lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, his home located just a few miles from TPC Sawgrass and the home of the PGA Tour. Earlier this week, he was quoted as saying that he could attend the event as a spectator, but at least he would be watching from home.
But while stars like Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy played in the $25 million tournament, Smith was enjoying a round with friends nearby.
Reports have suggested that Smith has had a difficult time joining a golf club in the city since moving to LIV. He lost privileges at TPC Sawgrass and was reportedly barred from Pablo Creek, a high-end club where Monahan and former Tour commissioner Tim Finchem are members. The Yards is a public membership facility that opened in 2020. It features nine holes with a driving range and six-hole par 3 driving range.
The story originally appeared on GolfWeek