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.
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!
Pete Dye is the master of visual intimidation. The stadium course is much more playable than it appears. No wonder the Players Championship has had such a wide range of winners over the years as the course allows for such a wide range of ways to play it. I personally didn't love the new 12th hole and think it will get refined in the coming years. The closing stretch is awfully exciting.
We played here less than a month to The Players, and whe found an overwhelming scenario, with the grandstands all set.
About the course, from the tee felt harder than it actually played, since many missed hits ended in play.
Overall, a great course empowered by the incredible atmosphere.
TPC Sawgrass is a course that every golfer should play at least once in their lifetime. First of all it’s one of the Top 100 World Courses that are accessible by the general public, if you are willing to fork out that kind of money. If you can easily get past this you will be treated to quite an experience. Quickly you find out that not all golf courses are created equal and while nearly everyone has seen this famous course on TV, as they always say, TV just doesn’t do it justice. Sawgrass will give you a first hand experience of just how amazingly good the pros really are.
It’s a course that really lives up to it’s reputation as one of Dye’s diabolical feats of terror to golfers serving up one butt cheek clinching tee shots after another. However, if you can block out diagonal water hazards, bunkers running the full length of your field of vision and possibly tight trees on one side then you’ll be fine.
One has to keep in mind that TPC Sawgrass was designed to put the fear of God into the world’s best players and just try to enjoy and survive. It becomes readily apparent that not only are there a ton of all or nothing shots but on top of that angle of attack is essential with the highly undulated greens. Rarely will you encounter an experience where what feels and looks like a great shot leaves you short sided with an impossible up and down out of deep Bermuda rough.
The finish at TPC Sawgrass was indeed the highlight of the round as well as my favorite section of the course. 16 being a reachable par 5, with a huge risk reward in going for a peninsula green bordering a water hazard coming into play for either your 2nd and or 3rd shots. In some cases perhaps your 4th and 5th shots as well. 17 is of course the famous island green. A rather scary 9 iron with not much margin for error. Finally 18 is one of the most awkward tee shots I’ve ever seen. Water all down the left side, a narrow patch of fairway and a hill on the right side. The dogleg left dares you to cut off all you can chew and rewards a draw. Right is dead, left is dead a 4 or 5 here and you’ll be wiping the sweat off your brow.
In the end TPC Sawgrass is a great experience to have. I’d go back but in order to go out there and turn in a good score I’d personally need to play it quite a few times. I think it’s easily the kind of course you can just automatically add 10 shots to your hcp on. Great however to have a matchplay game with your mates.