Much has been written about the Stadium course at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass and we all know about the signature hole, the notorious and infamous 17th. Sufficient has been written about this hole to rival Tolstoy’s War and Peace. In Pete Dye’s original design, the 17th green was not an island, it was planned to have water only on the right hand side. Alice Dye had a different idea and the result is perhaps the most well-known and most photographed hole in American.
Sawgrass started out in life as a swamp, as did most of the Florida Panhandle, but this did not deter Deane Beman who purchased the 400-acre site for the princely sum of $1 in 1978. Three years later, after performing minor miracles with drainage works, the Stadium course opened for play and it’s one of Pete Dye’s crackers.
Unfortunately, most people leave Sawgrass with water on the brain and either a positive or negative memory of the 17th hole (depending on how many balls were dumped into the drink). But this is really a course for the strategist with a selection of brilliant holes – including the magnificent strategic par five 11th which requires an accurate drive down the right in order to avoid a beach on the left, which is roughly the size of Daytona. Big hitters may elect to go for the green in two but it’s a risky option with the lateral water hazard cutting its way diagonally across the front and then off to the right of the green.
The 16th heralds the start of a brilliant closing sequence with another reachable par five but again it’s fraught with water danger. Then there’s the infamous 17th and the corking 18th a par four that doglegs its way around a lake.
Immediately after the Players Championship event in 2016, a range of improvements were made to the course by Steve Wenzloff, in-house designer for the PGA Tour. Foremost of these alterations was the redesign of the par four 12th, the most significant hole renovation since the Stadium course opened.
Gone is the old, boring 358-yard, drive-and-pitch par four, replaced by an exciting, drivable 302-yard hole. The old par four was short and in reach for most of the big hitting pros but few would ever go for the green from the tee because the penalty for missing the target was so severe.
The old doglegged fairway has now been removed, along with the severe greenside mounding and steep drop-offs, replaced by a straightforward fairway which leads to a large, rectangular-shaped, right-to-left sloping green. There’s also subtle mounding to the right of the putting surface that can easily push a tee shot further right or left than intended.
A new lake sits to the left of the green and a long waste bunker needs to be carried, around 255 yards from the tee, with pot bunkers positioned to the right of the putting surface. For those who choose to layup, sound risk/reward judgment is still called for and a tee shot to the left side of the fairway is the one offering the best angle into the green.
Everyone knows this course, but its fun to walk where the pros play. Nothing like standing on the 17th tee waiting to hit. Worth the price to play once.
This is not my type of golf course And this is not my sort of place... The TPC at Sawgrass - Stadium course is the site of the Tournament Players Championship each year, and as such is seen on TV by golfers all over the world who instantly recognise the island 17th green.
As a direct result of the exposure gained from the tournament each year, the TPC course is in high demand from the golfing public. Everyone wants to try their hand at that island green!
The stadium course is a money making machine which churns out golfers every 9 minutes like clockwork. There is a real cookie cutter mentality to the process which is designed to get the golfer moving on time around the course. You can hear the cash registers turning over!
This commercial side of golf is a necessary evil, and not necessarily what brings each of us to the game. Nevertheless The Travelling Golfer had to be thorough and made the effort to play the Stadium Course....
Pete Dye designed the course back in 1980 specifically for the PGA Tour, and designed a course that demands precision shotmaking, with lots of spectacular water and bunker carries to very tightly bunkered greens. It is not a course for the faint hearted.
I thought the greens were terrific with enough movement to make them interesting, and lots of pin positions including some that were pretty hard to get at behind water, bunkers and/or mounds.
I don't remember another course where I had to deliberately aim away from the pin and go for the centre of the green as much as I did at the Stadium course- the pin positions were that tight.. But the green surrounds did not impress me at all.
The small deep pot bunkers were fine, but the majority of the green surrounds were 'chocolate drop' mounds covered in long fescue. Miss a green and your shot was a flop shot out of the long rough, often off a side slope to tight pin positions. No other options! Just play the flop shot each time you miss a green.. Which is a pity because for me the possibility of playing different types of shots around the green is one of the great things in golf.
The course itself is extremely penal, but that is obviously what the PGA wanted. They want to showcase the skills and precision strokeplay of the PGA members. After playing Sawgrass you will certainly have an enhanced appreciation for just how good the professional golfers are! For the less gifted, you just need to hit fairways and greens and if you are good enough to do that you can score well. This is target golf personified. Miss anywhere and you will rack up the score!
Personally I really did enjoy the constant challenge of all the water carries and played well with a number of birdies - but I am generally a straight hitter. And I really enjoyed tacking my way around the course hitting to specific positions - chess with a golf ball... But I am picking that the player who sprays the ball will go through more than a few balls, and not want to count his score...
I thought the most interesting holes were:
- hole 4, a shorter par four with double water carry
- hole 10, a tight dog leg par 4 where position off the tee is everything
- hole 13, an attractive and challenging par 3 with water to carry off the tee
- hole 16, a nice par 5 which really comes to life at the end with the green hanging on the edge of the water and the 17th threatening in the background
- hole 17, a thrilling all or nothing moment in the round
- hole 18, an epic closing hole for the tournament..
So play the TPC at your peril! Prepare to thrill at the challenges, and celebrate the occasional success - but accept that there will be more than a few disappointments as well
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I was pleasantly surprised when I played Sawgrass. I have played a number of courses in Florida and due to the largely flat terrain, they are mostly devoid of memorable character. Pete Dye must have moved a lot of dirt to create this masterpiece, with so many well designed tee shots, hitting at angled fairways and approaches into demanding raised greens.
I played in February when the Bermuda grass had been over seeded and it was the most beautiful surface I’ve seen. The course was very wet with plugged balls, but the green staff had the place immaculate shape.
The green fee is extortionate, although it was a once in a lifetime experience. Caddie fee was included and I always enjoy walking with a caddie, however it was compulsory carts which detracted from the experience.
All in all, the course is by far the best I’ve played in Florida and it’s worth playing if you’re willing to spend the money.
In terms of conditioning, service that you receive at the club house, valet, bag boys, cart girls, it is hard to top the experience. The routing is unparalleled, with every shot requiring a serious challenge and multiple approaches.
There are very few courses with such conditioning, especially if you aren't on the fairway.
There are two holes I'm not crazy about: 8 and 12. The logic of 12 is well known and great for tournament play. 10 can be a tad rough to start the round (Wednesdays you start on 10).
I've played the Stadium well over 100 times. I know the course pretty well! The wind changes so holes play much differently.
The only real weakness can be the pace of play for some groups. If you get stuck behind a 20 handicap playing from the blue tees, well, enjoy an extra drink because it might take awhile.
The best way to describe TPC Sawgrass is through the prism of "do or die." Either you hit the correct shot -- time after time -- or you suffer big time consequences. There's no gray color -- just black and white realities. The course was created to test the world's top players and when the event is held each year the exposure time has clearly propelled the reputation of the course globally. Candidly, who plays golf anywhere in the world and is NOT familiar with the island par-3 17th?
The words "torture track" have been penned by a few others and I completely concur. There is little rapture when you complete a round of golf here. It's more akin to survival and a wiping the brow free of sweat as you attempt to reach the 18th green with your sanity -- and golf balls -- intact.
Architect Pete Dye designed a number of stellar courses throughout his career but frankly it is TPC Sawgrass that likely will forever get the lion's share of attention by the broader golf masses. That's a shame when you think of other notably efforts such as The Golf Club, Harbour Town, Teeth of the Dog, etc, etc.
Televised events have a habit in pushing upwards the visibility of any course -- no matter where the architecture may rest. Just check out the unfathomable attention paid to such vapid designs such as Torrey Pines South and Firestone South, to name just two that come quickly to mind.
TPC Sawgrass was constantly refined by Dye over the years and clearly the vested interest from the PGA Tour has been to constantly hype the public relations arguments about the event being golf's 5th major. To Dye's credit he took the least attractive site possible and transformed it into the layout one sees today. It helps immeasurably when the PGA Tour plunked down millions of dollars to make sure that the final result would be the edifice one sees today.
The ending trio of holes is where all the commotion ramps up in a big time manner. I actually see the par-5 16th as the least appreciated of the closing holes. The specter of a possible eagle and, quite possibly, a bogey or worse, is certainly doable. The hole is quite fair because there's plenty of elasticity and the green is well-contoured to provide a range of enticing pin positions.
No hole in golf -- even the famed Road Hole -- has generated as much hype as the par-3 17th here. Frankly, the 17th's position as the penultimate hole has been the driving catalyst. The players in contention know full what's at stake when they arrive at the tee and it amazes me to no end how the game's best players can literally throw-up over themselves and splash their approaches with nothing more than a 9-iron or PW in their hands to a green that is especially receptive.
The 18th is without question -- a very hard hole but hardly, in my mind, a great hole because it overly states the "do or die" mantra that lies at the heart of the course. The visual intimidation is second to none and it's Dye's way to inflict as much mental anguish before one has even pulled the driver out of the bag. You either hit a perfect drive or the probability is you will donate one's golf ball to the water left or be forced to play from a far right position where the water again comes into play with any pulled approach shot. As I said earlier -- the layout was meant for the world's best players and Dye's determination to overly use water in the proceedings ensures plenty of manufactured drama each year during the Players event.
For many people who are not deterred by my thoughts be prepared to spend just short of a king's ransom to play it and be equally prepared to be stuck behind people who will likely need extra space on their scorecards for the painful numbers that will follow.
There are people who equate difficulty with greatness when in all truthfulness the former has little to do with the latter. TPC Sawgrass was created for one specific purpose and there's little question it sorts out such matters as ruthlessly and efficiently as a hired assassin. For those who are driven to play the course no matter what I or others of similar stance say -- be forewarned for what will be a session with Hannibal Lecter -- just be sure to add the fava beans and a nice glass of chianti.
M. James Ward
I’m not the biggest fan of the Stadium course. Absolutely, it makes for dramatic TV to see professionals hit into the water on the 17th, but does one made-for-TV tricky hole make a good golf course? No. For me there is too much water for the average handicap golfer. The Bermuda grass is also too high and difficult to hit out of. And the round is VERY expensive relative to the quality of the course. It has Pebble Beach prices without the views. One of the reasons I didn't particularly like the course was that I found the front nine and a couple of holes on the back to be a bit bland and uninteresting. If a course is going to rank high in the world rankings it shouldn't have a preponderance of weak holes. Exhibit A is the second hole, a par-five which could be a hole on any course in Florida. It is not a particularly distinctive hole, sitting on flat ground. It is understood among tour professionals that one the toughest finishes on tour is the closing three holes at the Stadium Course, summed up in three words: water, water, everywhere. From the 16th tee in, you either hit a shot with precision or lose a ball. A watery grave awaits any shot that is not on its intended line. The approach to the 16th green is guarded along the right side by water with a firm green that can kick balls into the water. Thus, begins the nightmare for any golfer with a hitch in his or her swing. David Feherty calls the stretch of 16-17-18 the 'schizophrenic ward' of the golf course, and he is right. If you want the novelty of saying you’ve played the 17th, go for it, otherwise there are better public alternatives in the state (Streamsong and World Woods to name two). Or if you are a very good low handicap golfer and want an extreme challenge, go for it.
I first played this course in April 2018 on my way to the Masters, on a very cold afternoon and very windy. I had landed in Miami and drove with no stop directly to first tee. The course had not had Rye Grass over seeding as it had this year for The Players but it was in very good shape.
This time the experience and the 2 rounds were completely different. We were staying at near by Sawgrass Marriott 2 mins from the courses, our golf bags were there all week, arriving we had our carts ready and the pre round time was very easy, even hosting 32 golfers on my own.
Four sunny days for all rounds and with some wind which made it even more challenging. I played one great round the first one and on the second, when I felt the under par round was close the course beat me like a beginner. The Stadiun Course is like that, it might not look very tough but it really is, on a good day you may score but in a bad striking day the score can and will be high because you will miss fairways, greens are small and playing around them is as tough as a course can get. Even playing a bad round can be fun, because you will see the challenge in full throttle. Upto 14 the round could be saved, but then one missed shot per hole made it 3 consecutive doubles, just one missed shot per hole. That is The Stadium Course.
It was maybe in the best condition you can see it with good climate, the rye grass still there and firm conditions, it can’t get better. Of course big stars are 16-17-18 that all of us will have fresh in our memories, but there are some other great holes there:
- Par 4 4th is my favourite after the last three, a short 4 with an extremely challenging green. An accurate tee shot will not be enough, you need to be even sharper with the second one.
- Par 5 9th is a 3 shot hole for everybdy. I went for it, landed on the right car path and ended 60yds to the right of the very small green. Was able to make a good par, but a wiser decision is to lay up.
- I really like 11th, my single birdie on the very bad second round, it gives you options and there is more than one way to play it. Greediness will punish you, if tee shot is not long enough and on the fairway, lay up. You will have a chance of birdie.
- 12th is very good, better than it used to be in terms of risk/reward but not sure if a nicer hole now.
It is not only playing the course, hanging around the Club House for 4 days, being able to meet Greg Norman right there, diving into Tournament’s History, buying staff on the massive ProShop and the Class A service they deliver it is just great.
The Stadium course is inside a select group of Tour Courses which you can play just calling and booking, but the cost will be high. Is it worth the price? Absolutely. I put it in the Pebble, #2, Whistling Straits, Blue Monster league of greats you can play. Maybe not as nice as Pebble or Straits, but the challenge to your game is the highest you can expect. And once you play it you will figure out how good the Tour Pros are!
Played TPC Sawgrass this past fall. Felt it is highly overrated. It was not overly enjoyable to play (even though I played reasonably well). The PLAYERS gives an allure that, in my opinion, the course would not have without it. Many of the holes were nondescript and not very memorable. Obviously the 17th's island green was something I looked forward to conquering and was fun to do, but this is not a place I am running back to play.
There is no way this is the number two course in Florida, but it is still pretty cool. The Stadium course was the brainchild of Deane Beman while he was the PGA Commissioner. The concept was a world class golf course to host an annual tournament that was fan centric and had the capacity to hold over 30,000 spectators. Beman chose pat Dye as the architect and it is a pretty balanced layout, with long and short holes and doglegs right and left. Today it is an unquestioned success, but when it opened in 1982 the players did not like it at all. The famous Nicklaus quote in answer to whether it suited his game, "No, I've never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car.” After the tournament Dye went back to work and the result is a much more playable course.
To the course, there is lots of sand and water, but the water does not come into play that much. The equalizer is the speed of the greens and they are VERY GRAINY. The fourth hole does have a forced carry over water but more prevalent is the par 4 6th with water on the left but it is protected by a long parallel bunker. Unless you hit a big hook in the air the water is not in play at all. Another word of caution, there is a plethora of large pine trees that are just dying to block you out. One of my favorite holes, if only because I birdied it, is the par 3 13th. It does not get the love it deserves, for obvious reasons, but if the pin is tucked way left it is a daunting golf shot.
TPC Sawgrass has three great finishing holes. Sixteen is a great risk/reward par five, relatively short with water down the right side and a big oak tree protecting the green on the left. I had hit a very good drive that must have a hit a sprinkler head, as I was only 230 yards out. I pulled out my seven iron to lay up. At this point, my alleged good friend Carlos says, “You’re laying up? What a wimp.” Rising to the occasion, I then reached for my five wood. Typically, I move the ball right to left; as the green was protected on the left, I had to aim out over the water hazard and bring it back in. Of course, I didn’t. I hit it well and in a statistical aberration, dead straight. As we finished up the hole we were watching the group ahead of us on the famous Island Hole, number 17. For pure entertainment purposes we started counting how many balls went in the water. Once they got to thirteen, we started driving the cart up so as to nudge them along. (it is estimated that this water hazard claims over 100,000 balls per year). While we waited for them to clear the green we noticed that they had left a hat and a camera on the tee. I couldn’t resist. I took a couple of pictures of Carlos. All tasteful, except perhaps for the one where he was bending over teeing up his ball. A few moments later they drove up and we asked if they had left a camera. This was back in the day when cameras used something called film. I wonder what they thought when they got the pictures back from being developed?
We finally get to tee off on 17. Carlos nuts one right at the pin, but alas, too much testosterone. He flew the green. I steered mine onto the green and ended up with an anticlimactic par. As you exhale and get to the 18th tee you realize the fun is not over. Hit it right and you are in woods, left, more water
Legend has it that Pete Dye’s wife, Alice, had a flash of inspiration to make the 17th hole at Sawgrass The Island Green. However, across the street at The Ponte Vedra Inn is the original island green, number nine on the Ocean Course. While Sawgrass gets most of the press, The Ponte Vedra Inn is a five-star resort and I highly recommend it. I have stayed at both, and I know where I stay when I am in northeast Florida. Talk about shameless plugs. As a historical note, on June 16, 1942, four Germans who had spent a considerable time in the United Sates prior to World War II, came ashore from a German submarine on Ponte Vedra Beach. They caught a bus to Jacksonville and then took trains to Chicago, Cincinnati and New York. All four were caught before they could cause any damage and were ultimately executed.
"Better than almost most" ... I had a tee time Saturday 1:30pm but was flying the night before from Argentina. Plane was scheduled to land 5:30am so pretty much time but the play got a 2hs delay and I had to rush on the road. Not too fast, but enough to get a USD285 fine on my way!!!
I arrived just on time to jump off the car, change my shoes and hit my driver, a wedge and a 30 foot putt for the only birdie of the day! Then the course bit me every time, especially in the front 9 on a cold windy early spring day. I am not sure moving The Players to March will be good, if they get 4 days like this scores will be extremely high and people won't have the fun we have experience attending to The Players.
But lets go to the course! 2nd is a reachable par 5 but the green is so tough that if not on the green, with how firm they were playing, the chances of up and down are very small. 3rd plays easy from the tee and second shot is very tough to that small green and even more when hitting it from a divot!
5th and 6th are two great and tough 4s, but 7th is even tougher with across wind from left to right as we had to start it on the water!
I don't like 8th, too long and trees make it even tougher to that narrow entrance. 9th played so long that it was completely different from what you see on TV. 10th from the tee says nothing, it is tough to identify where to aim. 11th is an excellent risk/reward hole where just a narrow miss with the 3 wood left me an impossible chip so had to lay up to the center of the green. I haven't played old 12th but new is great, although into the wind and with that cold it was not reachable.
From 13th to 18th you get everything you need to demand your game: this one downwind was not tough but to the left side pin there is no chance of birdie. I believe 14th into the wind could be a Monsters, downwind 440yds played not that tough.
16th was reachable, but that left side tree 40 yds short to the green got my ball and had my only real birdie chance after a great bunker shot to 5 feet but a 360° lipped edge denied it. When you walk after second shot you see 17th green and start to feel adrenaline.
When you stand on the tee it doesn't look that small and it is just 135yds, but with across wind right to left played tough. 9 iron to 50ft and my putt just lipped out, could have been epic! A note at this hole: I played with a one armed 18hcp (incredible skills) who could hit 210yds but here for him it was impossible. He hit a perfect hybrid and then a 4 iron landing them in the center of the green and none stopped. All the same we were able to win the aggreggatte match.
18th is a monster, it can terrify the bravest golfer. It was a rush, but a very challenging round which I expect to repeat with propper warm up and in a sunny day!
I used my Arccos app and you can see how I played 17th, at least dry ball and 2 putt par!