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 golf.
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, that's 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.
I'm a big fan of the Dyes and and have a truly great one out my back to play 6 days a week, I've played maybe 50 Dye courses since my first (Delray Dunes, FL - 1968) ; I have loved their uses of angles and creative deception from day 1. I just played this course again and have more respect for it than ever, never mind that it is over-seeded for the professionals and all that, it is also a 51 week golf course as well, is Bermuda turf and you will generally play it on Bermuda turf.
It is a far better and more representative Dye Course that the perennially higher ranked Whistling Straits - which has at least two awful holes, perhaps the two worst on a single touted golf course world-wide (but I digress). So many Dye courses lose nuances when adjusted for the professionals, TPC Sawgrass is not immune to those changes, it has been over 20 years since I first played this course. So currently ...
Here is : an Iconic tournament venue and geared towards better players to be best played with the greens lightning fast. The greens weren't up to tournament speed so they don't always present as clever as they are, the contours much more subtle than they could be. They have been softened (as has much of the course) since creation, the greens as a result of the PGATour obsession with lightning fast greens.
Lost in all of that is just how well-designed this golf course really is. The routing undergoes many changes in direction, some radically more than one gets an idea just from seeing this course on TV. I also find it extremely aesthetically pleasing, this trip around was my first time in person (I have always seen it with stands in place and that is a pity in retrospect) or seeing on TV what the course looks like without stands and tournament trappings. The 16th and 17th amphitheater is an extremely tranquil arena without all those artificial structures, obviously this is the highlight for most visiting and with it is so well-constructed and shaped - it really is a treat.
The Par 3 holes might be the least impressive as a group as the Par 4's are magnificent in their variety and use of angles, Of the Par 5 holes 17 without crowds is not as fear-inducing as one might expect, even to me on this visit having a particularly awful day of controlling my golf game, it presented a variety of options to easily make a par 5 with a legitimate birdie chance. The Par 5 second is remarkably straightforward with but a small twist in fairway shaping - however 9 & 11 are notably superior Par 5 designs, an area the Dyes truly excelled (And the type of hole that I feel strongly is the most challenging for an architect to create true excellence). Hole 9 is one example of why tree management is necessary in places, it is in need of some pruning, especially for most golfers, yet it creates angles of play that are really fun to devine.
The modern equipment in the hands of the elite player negate some of the brilliance of design in Par 4 holes, yet holes 4, 5, 6, 10, 14, 15 all shine in their design. Slower green speeds with greater contour of the greens is usually seen in holes of similar intent on other Dye courses and would further increase the quality of this course. However - the missive of this course - to host and test modern elite golfers with every engineering advancement at their disposal negates that need. PGA professionals would howl with greater contour and slower speeds on these putting surfaces.
This is an iconic TV course that exceeds its expectation, unlike some (Whistling Straits, MVGC and others) which just don't have the goods on the ground. This course is not a slog - it has real interest. It can be considered a lifetime goal and bucket list course for all the right and wrong reasons.
Despite the price tag, Sawgrass truly gives you the feeling of hitting some of the same shots that the pros do. Pretty much always in pristine condition. Definitely worth it's place on a golfer's bucket list.
Pete Dye’s TPC Sawgrass has an undeniable allure and an almost gravitational pull towards one of the most famous par 3s in the world. But is it worth the $700 price tag?
Whether or not we’re willing to admit it, most golf nerds cannot deny the appeal of playing on a course that the pros play. Add in some tournament history and the biggest names in golf, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for fanboy-level excitement. TPC Sawgrass has all the makings of a bucket list destination: the massive, 77,000 square foot Mediterranean style clubhouse, the cache of the Players Championship, and one of the most influential and accomplished design teams in Pete and Alice Dye. But with a nauseating price tag that exceeds even Pebble Beach’s greens fees, you have to wonder: is it worth it? The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is yes, but only once. For diehard and casual fans alike, TPC Sawgrass is the most well known course on tour, with one (large) exception: Augusta National. The Players Championship is such a marquee event, with drama and danger readily apparent at nearly every hole, that television viewers get to know each tee shot and each green, especially on the back nine, which presents more opportunity for heroism and failure (in equal measure) than any other course I can think of.
For golfers familiar with Pete Dye’s style, all the trademarks are here, from the railroad ties to the slithering shapes of fairways and greens. But at TPC Sawgrass, the visual deception, and its ability to make you nervous while standing over any shot, is on full display. Similar to the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, your brain pulses with cries of “Danger! Danger!” But for all the frightening obstacles from tee to green, it’s worth noting that our foursome did not lose a single ball until the 17th hole (whose only victim was an 80-year-old who simply couldn’t get enough height to keep it on the island green).
And whatever merits the first nine has (and there are many), the back nine beckons with a closing stretch that is as unforgettable as it is terrifying. But getting to the epic finale requires survival of a different sort, with some of the most testing putting surfaces on the course, and tee shots that require nearly as much thought as their corresponding approaches.
Sidehill lies and hidden tiers on certain greens accentuate the benefit of experience at TPC Sawgrass, but it’s hard to dwell on such challenges when bombarded with the pristine fairways, immaculate sand, and undulating putting surfaces. In other words, the course is a visual stunner that helps to explain the appeal of copycat courses all across the state of Florida (and beyond), though few can come close to the risk/reward strategic brilliance of TPC Sawgrass.
I mentioned earlier that the 17th hole has its own gravitational pull. Even though 16 is one of the most exciting holes at TPC Sawgrass, the epic view of the island green to your right as you stroll up the fairway all but guarantees your focus will be reduced to nothing. With hands shaking, the thrill of simply hitting your tee shot onto the putting surface at 17 is enormous. But the fireworks of Alice Dye’s major contribution to the course can’t headline your brain for too long, as the home hole provides its own adventure. There’s no ocean, no distant mountains or jaw-dropping cliffs at TPC Sawgrass, but for a course built on a swamp, there could be no more invigorating closing stretch. It’s enough to make you want to return to the first tee and try it all over again… if it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
It's important to note that this is a tournament course set up for Rye grass in March. If you played in June, it was Bermuda (and actually the course is closed for almost the entire month of June), and playing off the Bermuda vs. the Rye is a bit like visiting Augusta in the summer. It isn't the same course. Oh, and greens fees are $840. This is the flagship tour property and there's really no "need" for the greens fees or for paying members. And paying the minimal rate with a forecaddy on a cart path isn't ideal either. So it's really $1000 during the season or I wouldn't even bother because that won't be the ideal TPC.
To most, this is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list "gotta do it" course. Market demand dictates price, absurd as it might be.
Here's an example - I played yesterday with a 2-3 hip who was thrilled like a little kid the entire time, it was on Bermuda, he didn't care, he'd been a number of great places and he really had a day of it, the 5:15 (without the thunderstorm delay) was the big negative for me with a morning time. Oh, and the guy? He drove 3 hours each way to do it, leaving his family in Orlando on Holiday.
The architectural merit of 8 holes (not including 16-18 which are their own draw) are worth most people seeing as they are otherwise not likely to see such design as the best Dyes are private; I'll tell you that you surely won't see such individual strategic design on any "OH, they're the darling duo" course.
All said and done, there is some really significant design out there, Whistling Straits doesn't have it, PGA West has some, but not as much as Sawgrass.
After playing the Stadium course for the second time on March 17, 2021, I marveled at how good the top professionals are. Justin Thomas won the most recent Players championship two days before I played it. The course was in its top condition with many of the stands and suites still surrounding the course, although less than normal due to Covid-19.
Pete Dye built this course intending it to be very difficult during a period of his designs when he was building courses that he felt the best players would not be able to conquer. Yet the winning scores for the Players championship if there is good weather are almost always in double digits under par.
I am an average length player so as I played the course I looked at the professional tees to get an appreciation of how narrow the fairways and landing zones must look for them. I tried to look out from there tees to 290-340 yards to see what obstacles awaited them. I looked at the length of the forced carries over water. I did all of this to judge how many strokes they would have to give me each round, not per hole, in order to compete against them from the tournament tees. Given the difficulty of the Stadium course, I estimated I would need at least 25 shots per round and on a bad day for me, perhaps as many as 40. The Stadium course is difficult for most players, just not for the best professionals.
The challenge is evident on nearly every hole, with only a few holes being “easy” such as the third. One can get themselves in trouble on nearly every hole if one hits an errant shot or if one is not on the correct side of the fairway bringing the possibility of a double or triple bogey. Mistakes are magnified here perhaps more so than on any other golf course with the most recognizable penalty being missing the island green on seventeen.
This is a course that requires a lot of strategy. Even the longest hitters cannot simply overpower the golf course. On nearly every hole one has to choose a side of the fairway or whether to attack a hole or to play it more conservatively. Then, even if one makes a good decision they have to have the courage and conviction to follow through.
The critique that one can make of the course is that it is hard. It is likely not a fun course to play day after day given the high quality of play one must have. This leads to a mental strain and perhaps ultimately even mental weariness. One thing is likely, a handicap from this course is likely to travel well to other courses.
The easy part of the course is the greens in comparison to the rest of the course. While the greens are tricky, they are not as beguiling as finding a path to them. These are some of his best green shapes among his many outstanding golf courses.
There are no two holes that look or feel the same, quite an accomplishment for a course built on swampland. This is also despite the fact that in a sense, the Stadium course is a “typical” Florida course with water everywhere. Mr. Dye incorporated water on most of the holes for it provides a nearly always irreversible penalty of a dropped shot. While I found the water features to be no more numerous than at the Stadium course at PGA West, I did find them to be more of a factor in playing Sawgrass.
Is this Mr. Dye’s masterpiece? It’s hard to say given the brilliance of his other designs such as the Ocean course at Kiawah, the confining aspects to Harbour Town, the rolling farmland upon which lays The Golf Club, Whistling Straits and its incredible par 3’s, etc. One thing is for certain, Pete Dye built numerous terrific golf courses.
From the scorecard given, the Players tees are set at 7245 yards, par 72, rated 76.4/155. We played the Blue tees at 6670 yards, rated 73.3/149. There are two sets of lesser tees as well as combination tees.
1. Par 4 423/394. I imagine Pete Dye felt this to be a difficult start given the narrow pond down the right side along with a long bunker that fronts the far end of the pond. This is followed by a rough area of mounds. Trees line the left side making the hole feel narrower than it is. A long bunker on the left starts 75 yards short of the green finishing halfway up. The green is a terror due to its length at 40 yards with a sizeable slant at the front third and subtle rises and swales with an overall tilt to the right. For the pros this is considered a good chance for birdie but for most it is a daunting tee shot that asks for conviction followed by needing a deft putting stroke.
2. Par 5 – 532/507. The hole offers a forced carry over 200 yards to the beginning of the fairway. For the longer hitters they will try for the green in two while shorter players will play out to the left to avoid the pond and long bunker snaking around the pond on the right side of the fairway. There are manufactured mounds down the left side that get larger as one nears the green whereas the left side has mounds/hollows set below the green. There is a single bunker set into one of the mounds on the left about 35 yards short of the green. Surrounding the green are two small pit bunkers left, one on the right and a large bunker on the right. The green has a narrow opening and a couple of tiers in it as it widens with an overall tilt to the left due to a vertical spine on the back half of the green. This hole feels like it should be an easy par, yet one can quickly get into trouble.
3. Par 3 – 177/160. There is a pond here but it is early and even though it continues down the left side it should not be in play. There is a large bunker fronting the green and going down part of the left side but it offers a chance to land a ball short and still make the green. The green has a diagonal spine halfway through it. Overall this is the weakest hole on the golf course. One almost wonders why the green is not raised to make it more interesting. However, for the 2019 tournament, this was the third hardest hole on the course as there are not many birdies made here.
4. Par 4 – 384/359. The first two are among trees and then you step into an open hole at the third. The fourth is a bit of a hybrid with the tee shot coming out of a chute where one has to hit the ball over both a pond and a long, thin bunker down the right side. If one misses left they will likely end up with a side hill lie given the ridge line that was built down the left. This is one of the more scenic and compelling greens on the course, set right against on the other side of a pond that fronts the green wrapping around its left side. It is a thin green with a depth of 25 yards. If one wants to play conservatively out to the right they could find a tiny pot bunker, a series of mounds or by going long there are two pot bunkers and higher ground behind the green. Any recovery shot from these areas are going to be difficult as the green has a defined right to left tilt and a defined tier that magnify the tilt. Putting up from the left side to a right side pin location is difficult given the height of the tier. It is one of my favorite holes on the golf course.
5. Par 4 – 471/446. This is a very difficult hole if one suffers from a lack of length. The tee shot is to a plateau fairway and one needs to carry a pond and then avoid the pond that continues down the right. Between the pond is a bunker that is easily 100 yards long and sits well below the fairway. Down the left side but only about 30 as long is another very deep bunker where one has only a blind shot. Further up the fairway is only trouble with a bunker and a pond that begins 150 yards from the green for about 50 yards with a fronting bunker. On the right side is a long bunker that begins 100 yards from the green for about 35 yards with a couple of heavy grass islands in it. Behind this right side bunker are scattered trees, very deep rough, and hills. The green has a narrow opening set left to right with a back left bunker. The overall tilt is back to front but all corners have a fall-off. One tries to survive this hole and a par is a very well earned score.
6. Par 4 -393/360. This tee shot must stay to the right of a pond that parallels the left side of the fairway. A bunker begins early and extends another 100 yards down the left between the water and fairway and is likely 150 yards long. It also is set below the fairway. The right side of the fairway has a manufactured rise. Scattered trees come into play from the left and right as you near the green creating a narrow opening. There is an early bunker on the left about 35 yards short of the green followed by three large and two small bunkers all on the left side of the green. This green has a sizeable spine on the left half as well as fall-offs near all of the edges. Four through six are very difficult holes.
7. Par 4 – 451/407. This hole is a bit similar to the previous hole but only on the tee shot as it has water off the left side with a long 200 yard bunker separating the water from the fairway. As ne nears the green there is a bunker set well off to the right that should not be in play with another 100 yard long bunker between it and the fairway. This bunker eats into half of the right side of the green. There are two small pot bunkers, one placed middle left and one off the back right corner of the green. The green is relatively long at 34 yards with fall-offs on all of the edges. A shot to the middle of the green is the correct play no matter where the pin position is. Although the green rolls off at all of the edges I felt this is one of the easier greens on the course.
8. Par 3 – 237/195. There are ten bunkers surrounding the hole beginning with a small center line bunker ten yards short of the green. Of the ten, only ten have any size to them, both being placed at the front of the green. The green is smaller at its front, although long overall at 36 yards. There is a vertical spine one third into the green that one can use to bank a ball to a front pin location. Much like the third, it is a straightforward hole, yet the pros in 2019 made it the second hardest hole simply because it does not yield many birdies. It does yield a lot of pars.
9. Par 5 – 583/540. Much like the fifth hole, this hole separates a good golfer from a mediocre one, or at least a golfer who either makes the wrong decision or does not play to the correct side of the hole. This hole features an expansive fairway, especially to the left of this double dogleg. Going down the right off the tee could lead to one either finding the water or the long bunker sitting between the water and the fairway. The water diagonally crosses the fairway making the left side the safer play while the right side is nearer and therefore in play from the tee for the longer hitters. If one has only gone 200 yards off the tee, they will be faced with a shot of nearly 200 yards to clear the water down the left side as going right over the water could leave one in the rough. One must land their ball far enough to the right after the water to both avoid a long bunker on the left beginning about 125 yards from the green as well as trees that will block one’s view of the green. There is a narrow stretch of fairway left before the green which sits behind a small pot bunker fronting the green, with an additional two small bunkers on the right and a large one on the left. The green has rises away from those bunkers and a lot of internal movement. This is a hole one must keep their nerve and hit only good shots if they want to make par or better. Any slight miss on this hole will be heavily penalized. I admire this hole for the multiple decisions one has to make on the hole as well as its requirement for execution.
10. Par 4 – 424/392. This hole is meant to be a mirror image of the first hole with the pond and long bunker now on the left. However I did not see many similarities to the hole as the next bunker crosses the fairway about 100 yards out and then continues down the right side ending at the middle right of the green creating an angle left to right for this green. The slopes on this green seemed less pronounced to me. I walked away from the hole thinking it to be an unmemorable hole relative to the others on the golf course.
11. Par 5 – 558/519. Water goes down the left followed by a bunker that bisects the entirely of the fairway. The bunker should be avoided if one can hit a drive of at least 200 yards. The hole seems to force one to the right to avoid a very large bunker complex with four internal grass islands. This bunkers is nearly 100 yards long. The issue with playing away from the bunker is that one can get blocked by a tree whose limbs block a shot to the green from as much as twenty yards to either side of it. The ideal second shot is between the tree and the large bunker complex if one does not have the length to go for the green in two or cross the large pond by playing well left of the green. For most players the third shot has to carry a pond and a long bunker between the fairway on the other side and the green. This bunker fronts the green and wraps itself around the back. There is a central bunker about 5 yards short of the green if one has carried the water with their second shot or a left side bunker if they have not. There is another bunker at the rear/left middle of the green. The green is elevated about five feet above the bunker. The green is relatively flat which is disappointing for the hole. I have seen previous photos of the bunkering when the course was first built when it was less manicured. The previous bunkering was more irregular and rugged, vastly superior to the hole now. Maybe they have tried too hard to make the course look like Augusta National, albeit without any natural land movement. I like the hole for the strategy and the requirement to place one’s ball in the proper spot. I do not like the hole for its visual look which is too crisp.
12. Par 4 – 358/332. This is another hole I did not favor although others did. For the Players tournament, most pros will attempt to drive the green despite the water that comes right against the left side of the green. The green is slightly raised with a run-off on the left side so anything going near the left side will likely run off all the way into the water. There is a long bunker of nearly 100 yards placed between the pond and the fairway. For shorter hitters one simply hits down the right side of the fairway, although not too far right as that leaves an angle into the green that can have too much speed towards the water left of the green. There is a small bunker right middle of the green as well as two small bunkers placed fifteen yards to the right of the green that all of us agreed were silly. The green has a defined swale in the front and a defined ridge near the back right. I do not think I could ever like this hole.
13. Par 3 – 181/156. There is along bunker fronting the green that is completely unnecessary as the green sits with much of it tucked behind a pond. Two small pot bunkers are at the front corners of the green. The green has a sizeable tilt to the left with the right side becoming a plateau. The green also has a spine sending balls back towards the water. It is a nice hole but as there is a bit more land to the left I wondered whether the green should be relocated even more to the left. As it is, I feel it is a hole I have seen many times before and lacks originality.
14. Par 4 – 481/436. I feel this is the hardest hole on the back nine. This hole is somewhat of a similar look to the sixth hole with the tee shot requiring one to clear a bunker placed around 180 yards out that continues down the left side all the way to the green. It might be the longest bunker in the world. To the left of the bunker is a pond. Down the right side is mounding and small rises peppered with scattered trees. Trees pinch the fairway beginning about 100 yards from the green making the opening to the green much narrower. The green is angled slightly to the left with a large bunker on the front right corner and then four small bunkers scattered around the right and back of the green. A front pin location is very accessible and somewhat flat with all of the movement in the green in the back half which has a shelf on the back right and a slope to the left. This is a very difficult hole and bogey is not a bad score here. My first time playing here I hit my second to 1”, the second time I made a six feet putt for bogey.
15. Par 4 – 470/421. This is one of the holes that separate good golfers from average players. Most of the drama is early here with a 200 yard carry over a pond from the back tee followed by another 10 yards of rough before the fairway begins. Trees feel tight on both sides making one aware that only a straight shot will work here. You cannot draw or fade the ball from the tee. This is one of those holes where I might require 3 shots to keep up with a top professional. Down the right side is a long bunker of 100 yards with thick trees down the entirety of the left. Another bunker comes into play about 100 yards from the green crossing all of the fairway and continuing down the left halfway up the side of the green. The green has two small pot bunkers on its right side. The first time I played this hole I felt it to be the flattest green on the course but now there are run-offs on nearly all of the edges as well as a sizeable mound on the middle right. The first time I played the hole I nearly birdied it, this time I double bogeyed it because I tried to outthink it by hitting a hero shot too close to the lip of a bunker.
16. Par 5 – 523/486. From an elevated tee one plays over a pond that should be easily cleared. Heavy trees go down the left side and there is a single crescent shaped bunker on the hill to the right side of the fairway. A pond comes into play down the right side about 175 yards from the green and continues down the left side and behind the green. Up ahead there is a large tree placed inside a bunker to the left of the green about 40 yards short which must be avoided as it will block one’s approach to the green. In our group three guys thought they had either laid back far enough to get over the tree or could punch something below it; all three failed. The only play is to stay to the right of the tree even if the fairway is sliced in half about 50 yards from the beginning of the green. There are three bunkers near the green, a large round one between the tree and green, one on the front right corner next to the water and one middle left built into the mound that impinges on the shape of the green. The green has essentially one larger break which is a slope on the front right side. Balls hit into this green must land early as there is no relief from the green to the water. We had a back left pin position and my wedge from 75 yards left me a 18 feet try for birdie. I was not tempted to try to get all the way to the pin with the approach. This is very much a classic risk-reward hole. One wonders whether the tree should remain and instead be replaced with a more dramatic bunker.
17. Par 3 – 137/128. Is this the most famous par 3 in the world? Or is it the sixteenth at Cypress Point, or the twelfth at Augusta National, or the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon? It is certainly in the top five. This is an all-or-nothing hole for the island green and proper club selection and conviction are paramount. The green has two perpendicular spines, one going to the right and one cutting across the middle pushing balls to the front of the green and left. The back and middle are a sort of plateau where if you land your tee shot here the ball is likely going to go over the green. The first time I played here we were facing a 25 mph wind with gusts blowing from the right. I was the third to play and took two extra clubs and was still short. The final player took 3 extra clubs and was the only one to make the green. On my recent round I choose the proper club but fanned it a bit to the right and was wet again. Of course the next one was right in the middle. It is a fun and visually exciting hole.
18. Par 4 – 462/426. We played this hole closer to 440. This hole curves around the water as a dogleg left with thinned out trees down the right side. All one has to do is to stay dry and they will have a good chance for par or better. The green rises to its highest point on the back right of the green. The hole demands courage whether one is trying to draw the ball to pick up more distance or taking the tee shot over the water with a fade. A straight ball hitter merely hits it straight. It is a dramatic hole and completes the round in a similar finish to PGA West Stadium where Mr. Dye has nearly identical final two finishing holes, both preceded by a par 5.
I have the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course ranked fourth among the courses designed by Pete Dye. There is a lot of genius to it but it does tilt too heavily in stressing difficulty and penalty. On my ranking criteria it gets low marks for playability. The course can be a grim test if one is too serious about the game or worried about their score. As such, there is a chance that one will not have fun or enjoyment on the course. In addition, there is no natural feel to it. It does feel manufactured, although not quite as contrived as the Straits course at Whistling Straits. The course is also perhaps a bit too perfect with bunker edges tight and straight, water features primarily in straight lines, the small bunkers often only round. Having bunkers (waste or not) stretch 100-350 yards seems to be overkill.
With the exception of the famous seventeenth, the par 3’s are the weakest part of the course, both visually and in design. They are better than average, but relative to many of the other holes they lack both the visual appeal and strategic appeal.
However, I like the Stadium course for the puzzle that it presents on many of the holes. If one gets slightly out of place, there has to be a very good recovery shot to get one back with a chance to save par or avoid a calamity. There are trees on three par 5’s that can block one’s line to the green (nine, eleven and sixteen), there are narrow chutes to play from (one, fifteen), there is water to consider on all-or-nothing holes. In essence, there is a very good variety of holes here.
For me the top attraction of the course are the greens which are very good in size, slope, and surrounding features.
Although it is pricey to play here, even with a member, I would encourage everyone to try to play here at least once, if not more. It’s nice to have a comparison to the world’s best players, even if it does mean you likely need 30 strokes a round if you had to play from their tees.
I do think this is a top 100 course, but whether one wants to play it consecutively for seven days is debatable.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium is possibly the single best course you and I can play which truly depicts just how good the PGA Tour players are. You see this course continually on TV and watch them eat it up. It is right there as one of the toughest courses I have ever played. The 16th the pros chew up, but the green sits right on the pond with a shear edge and short left is a massive tree which plays havoc for most of us. 17 is well known but what doesn't figure in to most is that predominantly that hole plays into the wind. 18 also plays into the prevailing wind. This is a superb course with conditions which are the very best. It's public and open for play always so get there and get beaten up and love it.
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