When millions of people tune in to watch the winner of The Honda Classic claim the Waterford Trophy and a $1.2 million check next Sunday, a gleaming 2018 Honda Accord will be hovering on the water in the background, creating an illusion that would impress even David Copperfield.
But it’s not really floating… is it?
The answer is no, but getting the car out on the lake is still somewhat of a minor miracle.
It takes a five-person crew two days to maneuver a 3,360-pound sedan on a wooden raft through the 5-foot-deep muck along the 18th hole of the PGA National Champion Course.
And, yes, there are gators lurking in that murky water.
“We always watch out for them. We know there’s a big one out there,” Roger Garvin, of George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, said nonchalantly. “We saw him this morning.”
His crew coaxes the car to the precise position — down to the angle — that retired Honda advertising exec Bill Palm pointed out when the tournament moved to PGA National in 2007.
“He said, ‘I like it right there,’ so that’s where it is,” Garvin said.
Just getting the Honda onto the water safely — never mind jockeying it into the right position or anchoring it — is an arduous process.
Two weeks before the tournament, the team puts down plywood to avoid destroying the well manicured grass around the pond. That’s because when the tournament starts, more than 200,000 people will pass by the spot.
They haul in a ramp that allows them to safely get the car over the curb along the cart path and onto the the water. When all of the equipment is in position, Elliot Wachman, vice president of Regal Show Services, carefully drives the Accord over the ramp and onto the float — with no margin for error.
The one question Garvin said he won’t answer: Have you ever lost one?
“I’m superstitious,” he explains.
There was a close call in 2015, when the skies opened and dumped more than 7 inches of rain in 90 minutes. The rising pond water almost came up through the car’s floorboards, Garvin said. His team set out on their small aluminum boat with a 2 hp motor, Honda, of course, to adjust the height of the raft.
“We got out there just in time,” Garvin said.
The raft is full of foam to make it float, and the team uses about 1,500 pounds of weighted tires to sink it so that the car is just above the waterline.
After the crew gets the car onto the float, one man wades into the mud with a spray bottle and rag to polish the Honda so that it will glisten for its big TV moments.
The hours-long endeavor to get the car onto the water ties up golf cart traffic at times, but most golfers seem to relish the spectacle. Some stopped to take pictures.
“Like I said, we always want to see how they get the car in the water,” one golfer said before going on his way.
As the crew was getting the car into position, a group of golfers asked to have their photo taken on the 18th green with the floating Honda in the backdrop.
Because people are still playing the course leading up to the tournament, Garvin keeps an eye out for stray golf balls headed his way as he directs his team by phone. One of his men in the rowboat stays on the line, relaying Garvin’s instructions to another man up to his neck in the water so he could adjust the car.
From the morning to the afternoon, the wind picked up, which blew the car toward the shore.
“It’s like a sail with that car on there,” Garvin said of the raft.
When the crew gets the car in the right position, they drop two anchors, plus the weighted tires, to secure it.
They stick around for the week of the tournament, making sure the Honda — and with it, the longest-running active sponsor on the PGA Tour — gets its due when the winner sinks the final putt Sunday afternoon.