TPC SAWGRASS – Players Stadium Course – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
A+ – Playability & Challenge
A – Quality of Course
A+ – Memorability
A+ – Service Levels
A – Pro Shop
A++ – 19th Hole Experience
A+ – OVERALL EXPERIENCE
(Written By Jim Allen) … A MasterCard commercial was filmed at the world famous TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course that really summed up the “awe factor” of this world class golf facility. It’s a foursome of average golfers (like you) who are so enamored with the famed island green that they don’t realize the magnitude of their situation. As much as you might want to chuckle and blow it off as just another humorous attempt to get you to charge your life away, the fact is, that’s exactly the way you feel when you play the hole. Just like an anxious eight-year kid staring down a brand new skateboard the day before his birthday. And to be fair to the headquarters of the PGA, that’s the way you feel while playing the entire Players Stadium course. While the island green might be the most recognizable hole, it doesn’t necessarily define the course. Name your spot … whether it’s on the first tee box, on the fairway of the intimidating par-5 tree lined second hole, the par-3 eighth hole, driving back towards the clubhouse on number nine, the sharp dogleg left par-5 16th that ends on a green surrounded by water, or the most famous hole in golf best known as the island green at 17. It’s all awe-inspiring! So inspiring that it’s hard to stay focused when you reach into your golf bag. Let’s me see now … do I pull my eight-iron or my camera? The correct answer to that question is BOTH!
As you’re probably are aware, TPC Sawgrass hosts the Players Championship every May. It’s one of the most popular PGA stops on tour and is typically recognized as the fifth major among competitors and fans. And unlike many tour stops, it looks and plays just as awesome (and intimidating) in person as it does on television – and vise versa. TPC Sawgrass was the centerpiece of Golfest 2010 & 2011, and to this day is probably the most talked about venue on our extensive play list — and we have invaded all of the fabled gems from Bandon Dunes and Pinehurst, to Whistling Straits and Pebble Beach.
When this course opened in 1982, many of the tour professionals complained that it was too difficult to play, so you can imagine what the weekend hacks like you and me were saying. The good news is that Pete Dye jumped back into the mix to solve the problem over the course of several years. He contoured and reshaped some of the holes to create the distinctive layout that changed “difficult” to just “challenging and intimidating.” To put that in perspective, a nagging pain in the ass ex-wife can best be described as difficult. However, Mount Everest is challenging and intimidating, probably looks better in its natural surroundings and the stories are better afterward. And unlike a lot of traditional, predictable and somewhat “tract-like” tree-line fairway venues that litter the PGA schedule, TPC Sawgrass offers up a unique personality on literally every hole. You are not getting bored with the layout here. There is also enough strategically placed trees to start a lumber yard, and enough bunkers to recognize the Stadium Course as a state beach. As the pro’s play it, the course is 7093 yards long with a sweat-breaking slope rating of 138. Water can be seen, heard, or felt on every hole.
Now if you were a single-digit golfer, I would recommend that you go get humbled from the aforementioned (difficult) back tees. But since Golfest represents a more general slice of America’s actual golfers, we teed off from the the friendlier white tees, which still GPS’ed on my Droid at an impressive 6103 yards. And all that stuff I just mentioned about water, a lumber yard and a beach? It doesn’t go away!
I’m not about to give you a shot by shot breakdown of either of my rounds as much as to say I did well on the tough holes and make a mockery of some of the easy ones. What I am going to tell you is to always get a caddy here because there are so many nuances that without their knowledge, you would be committing at least a 10-shot scorecard suicide. Not to overuse an overused term, but the Stadium course is a shot-makers course. For example, a good drive and an average second shot on the par-5 16th earns you a relatively easy approach shot. However, a good drive, an average second shot, and a mediocre approach shot gets you a triple-bogey. To score well at TPC Sawgrass, you need to keep your head down, stay focused and play with remarkable consistency. Typically, that’s not going to happen admiring this challenging and picturesque venue.
Which brings us to the famed 17th island green. By most golf standards, it’s a very easy hole. It clocks in at only 139 yards – a simple little eight or nine iron – to a fairly large two-tiered green. Should be a piece of cake, except for the fact that it’s surrounded by water and as an optical illusion goes, appears to be the size of a hotel towel. When you mix in the hype, the anticipation, and just the actual fact you are playing the hole in the first place, your blood pressure rises, and swing-killing adrenalin begins to pump through the veins. In fact, it’s 78 feet deep and bigger than the average green on most muni-courses.
Our fantastic host, PGA Professional Jenny Heinz-Borocz, told us that 100,000 golf balls are pulled out of the surrounding waters every year, along with cameras, golf clubs, and other premium golf merchandise. I should also point out, that it’s not just the average Joe dunking it in the drink. Your favorite PGA Tour stars cannon-balled their prized Titliest and Callaways into the lake a record 50 times during a single round of the 2007 Players Championship. That’s the kind of thing that happens when the bar is set so high! My personal proof is that the first time I played it — a nervous double-bogey! The second time … a more-relaxed par! Most of our group mirrored that effort. For your entertainment and viewing displeasure, here is a video we filmed at Sawgrass in 2010 … Golfest Vs. the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
The 18th hole steers back to the famed TPC Clubhouse and is a perfect way to cure the 90210 drama of number 17. Just in case the simple island green didn’t inflate your scorecard more than the national debt, the par-4 final hole is the number one handicap hole. Two great shots get you the green. Just one bad shot and you are swimming with the gators (literally), because water lines the entire left side of the fairway and green. It’s an awesome finishing hole that dares every golfer to cut off some distance with a shortcut across the water. The water wins … a lot!
And it would be unfair to end this story without mentioning the prized 19th hole at this facility. The Pro Shop, the bar, the restaurant, the locker rooms, the service, and the overall golf history lesson dished up by memoribilia spread throughout make the TPC Clubhouse the best on our list of Top 100 clubhouses. It a great place to start and end the perfect day of golf – no matter what the golf gods dished up. Which brings this course review full circle! If you have ever considered playing the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium course, it’s time to get on your high horse and go make it happen. Put your money where your mouth is because it’s bucket list worthy – beyond any reasonable doubt. Or as MasterCard pointed out in the first video … it’s PRICELESS! Play now … pay later!