My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#17, 128 Yards, Par 3
#15, 416 Yards, Par 4
#13, 156 Yards, Par 3
#14, 436 Yards, Par 4
#10, 388 Yards, Par 4
#7, 407 Yards, Par 4
#5, 446 Yards, Par 4
#6, 360 Yards, Par 4
It's crazy to think that I could bring something unique to a review of one of the most written-about golf courses on the planet. If you know anything about golf, you know of TPC Sawgrass, if for nothing else, as the home of the most famous hole in golf. If you're a fan of golf, you know the TPC as the home of The Players Championship, pro golf's "Fifth Major." If you're a video gamer, you've probably played the TPC countless times on your PS3, XBox, PC, etc... If you're a Jacksonville resident, maybe you've had a beer or two around the 17th green, watching tour pros try to land a wedge shot onto an island, or make a big splash trying. If you work for the PGA Tour, this is your headquarters. If you're like me, you've thought about playing the TPC for years. That day finally came in September, 2012, and as a member of the Golf Channel Amateur Tour, my time came as part of its National Championship. So, not only did I play the TPC, but I played it in a tournament, and walked with a caddy...an awesome experience. While I'm sure there's not much I'll write here that readers won't already know, I'll try to throw in a few comments that go beyond whether to play the ball on the right or left of the fairway.
As everyone says, from the moment I knew I'd be playing the TPC, the tee shot on #17 was in my mind. A short par 3 on my home course plays from a similar yardage, and I'd been trying to visualize the shot every time I came to that tee that summer. Almost every course has a signature hole, and I've played many famous courses that are known for a particular hole, however, I can't think of any golf course that takes grasp of your mind and focuses it on one single swing. You can shoot 150 at the TPC, and trust me, nobody will ask what you shot--their entire line of questioning will be "did you hit 17?" or "what did you make on 17?" It's astounding. I won't make you read all the way to the bottom of my review. I made a 6. Two balls in the water, the third onto the surface, and a one-putt for six. When everyone inevitably asks how I did on 17, I always follow it up with, "but I parred 18," which most would say is a far more difficult hole (aside from the mental strain that #17 puts on you), but nobody cares.
So, the island was created in 1980 by Pete and Alice Dye (the Island itself was Alice's idea), and amazingly enough, there are 17 more holes around it (who knew!!), and actually 35 holes around it, if you count the adjacent Dye's Valley Course, which hosts the Web.com tour annually, and is no slouche. This is a pro golf Mecca. In fact, it slaps you in the face just driving into the parking lot, when you drive between the two buildings that house PGA Tour Headquarters. Many PGA Tour players live in the Ponte Vedra area and use the TPC practice facilities to practice and to stay sharp. Vijay Singh is probably the most frequent visitor, and yes, he was on the back of the range with his son Qass while I was there.
Here's where I try to be unique in my review! TPC Sawgrass sells the best yardage book I have ever seen. Taking a step back, I say this not from the perspective of being the most helpful book, because the Stracka books are the best, but being a book that bombards you with information and cool date. The yardage books at Sawgrass include stats from the most recent Players Championship. This includes a mark on each hole where the longest drive was hit and by whom, scoring statistics, longest putt made, etc... The longest drives on each hole are mind-blowing. I'm not sure what they charge for the yardage books because mine was included as part of the tournament, but whatever they charge, it's probably worth it just as a souvenir if for nothing else.
The Players Stadium Course is cart path only. As far as I know, forecaddies are required with carts. You can walk, but you must hire a TPC caddy to do so, and they are not cheap. I've taken caddies at a number of the high end resort courses in the southeast (Kiawah, Pinehurst, Sawgrass) and Sawgrass is the most expensive I've taken ($100 + tax + recommended gratuity of $40). For roughly $150, you can walk Bethpage Black, so this is a high price to pay in addition to the greens fees, however, Phil was also the best caddy I've had. He was very effective at reading the grain on the greens (I'm horrible at that), reading the lie in the Bermuda rough and backing me away from being stupid and trying to advance a long iron out of it, and just a cool guy who made the walk even more fun. I hate cart path only. It is my opinion that carts take away from the feel of the course, and driving through the trees and pine straw would give you even less of the experience. If you can afford it, get the caddy and walk down the fairways....totally different experience, and a better one at that.
The clubhouse is absurdly beautiful inside and out. Ridiculously over-the-top in my opinions, but WOW.
Sawgrass was part of a whirlwind of Pete Dye courses that I played from the end of 2011 through 2012. In a 15-month period, I played (in order), PGA West (TPC Stadium Course), La Quinta (Mountain), Whistling Straits (Irish), Whistling Straits (Straits), Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys), Blackwolf Run (River), TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), TPC Sawgrass (Dye's Valley), Kiawah (Ocean Course), on top of my home course, Radrick Farms in Michigan. So, I've become a bit of a Pete Dye connoisseur, and it wasn't until I walked around the Ocean Course this past December that it finally hit me--Pete Dye has a obvious routing philosophy that I had never noticed!
Granted, there are exceptions, but in looking at some of Dye's most famous tracks, I've noticed a definite pattern.
1. Start out with a playable Par 4
2. Next, #2 is probably a Par 5
3. Short Par 4 in the first few holes.
4. The start of the back nine is like the front nine for those who start off the back.
5. #10 is a playable par 4, and #11 is a par 5.
6. Finish the course with Par 5, Par 3, and Par 4. Make the Par 5 a risk/reward exciting hole, and make the Par 3 and Par 4 TOUGH!
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
TPC Sawgrass 4 5 3 4 4 4 4 3 5 4 5 4 3 4 4 5 3 4
Kiawah 4 5 4 4 3 4 5 3 4 4 5 4 4 3 4 5 3 4
Whistling Straits 4 5 3 4 5 4 3 4 4 4 5 3 4 4 4 5 3 4
PGA West 4 4 4 3 5 3 4 5 4 4 5 4 3 4 4 5 3 4
Blackwolf River 5 4 4 3 4 4 4 5 4 3 5 4 3 4 4 5 3 4
Blackwolf M/V 4 4 3 5 4 4 5 3 4 4 5 4 4 4 3 5 3 4
That was enough of a sample size for me to say that Dye likes the 5/3/4 finish.
So, finally to the golf course. This golf course is not a bomb-and-gouge course, and it is not all that long (7,215 for The Players--pretty short by Tour standards). Sawgrass is a test of precision, and if you're lacking it, you'll be punished severely. There is trouble everywhere you look, whether it be sand, water, thick Bermuda rough, or uneven lies on the mounds that were constructed for Deane Beaman's vision of "Stadium golf." Hitting the fairways is critical to avoid the crapshoot that is Bermuda rough. If you miss the fairways and are on grass, you might be fortunate enough to have a decent lie, or you might have to just hit a short iron or wedge back into play. Once you're on the greens, things don't get a ton easier. They're grainy, and there are some fairly severe slopes on some of them where being on the wrong side of the hole can be deadly (again, play your approaches from the fairways).
The pictures below are unique for my blog posts, in that I didn't take them. I had my own "gallery" following me around for the Am Tour National Championship, so most of these pictures are "Action shots" to some degree. This is a little different since many of the views are not from the players' perspective (spectators were only allowed on the cart paths), but since this is the TPC, you've probably seen those angles before anyway.
Yardages below are from the blue tees, which play to 6,661 Yards and a Rating/Slope of 73.9/146. These tees are recommended for players whose average drive is between 250 and 285 yards. There are white tees in front of the blues (along with the forward green tees), and the scorecard offers a blended tee as well which mixes the whites and blues and plays 6,402 yards and 72.3/143. Front/Middle/Back pin locations are detailed on the scorecard with a daily pin position of 1, 2, or 3.
The TPC is a really fun course to play and playing where the pros play is always a trip. If you're a golf nut, you've got to play the 17th hole at least once in your life (Since I took at 6, I'd like to play it twice!). Standing on that tee is really a surreal experience. If you have time, stick around after your round and get a drink and a bite to eat at Nineteen. I can vouch for the Burger or the Blackened Grouper Sandwich....Yum! Also, if you like trying new beers, try the Duke's Cold Nose Brown Ale, an offering from Jacksonville's own Bold City Brewery. This was on tap when I was there, and it's worth trying.
#18, 426 Yards, Par 4
#16, 486 Yards, Par 5
Three very famous holes are left, and this one presents an option to score, and depending on how much risk you're willing to take, it's a possible eagle (18 eagles were made here during the 2012 Players). A draw is the play off the tee. The optimal landing area is 245 yards from the tee, but you can hit it longer than that, especially if you can bend it right-to-left. Depending on your drive, you might have an iron into the green, but it's well guarded by water on the right and rear and some deep and nasty pot bunkers that would leave a terrifying up-and-down with water beyond the green. What's more, trees block the left side of the green, so if you're looking to lay up, you need to keep it on the right side of the fairway, right where a large pond awaits. Oh yeah, and look into that pond and the 17th hole is staring right back at you....distracted yet?
#12, 332 Yards, Par 4
Love this next picture!
#11, 519 Yards, Par 5
#9, 546 Yards, Par 5
#8, 195 Yards, Par 3
#4, 359 Yards, Par 4
The yardage book depicts a "Scoring Area" on each hole, which is defined as the zone in which 70% of the players hit their drives during The Players Championship. On #4, the center of this zone is a 242 yard shot from the tee and leaves a shot of about 120 yards into the hole. This hole as a drastic slope from right to left around the center of the green as long as a slope in the front right corner. A pin position on the left is very close to a water hazard that guards the front and left of the green, but aiming further away from the water toward the middle of the green and using the slope of the green can make that pin position easier to get to.
#2, 507 Yards, Par 5
#3, 160 Yards, Par 3
#1, 394 Yards, Par 4
#31, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2013)
#7, Top 100 You Can Play (2013)
#58, Top 100 Courses in the World (2013)
#1, Best Golf Courses in Florida (2012)
#47, America's Greatest Golf Courses (2015-2016)
#9, America's Greatest Public Courses (2013-2014)
#2, Best in the State of Florida (2013-2014)