Scott LaPlant

Scott LaPlant's Take on TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)

TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)

Architect: Pete Dye
Year: 1981

110 PGA Tour Boulevard, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida 32082
(904) 273-3235

driving range available
motorized golf carts and caddies available
affiliated resort accommodations

There’s not much new that anyone can write about TPC Sawgrass. It is, without question, one of the most recognizable courses to the general public along with Pebble Beach. The course was initially built to be played by PGA Tour professionals, a small number of members, and guests of the Sawgrass Marriott. Golfers wishing to play TPC Sawgrass are no longer required to stay at the Sawgrass Marriott, but there are not many hotels in the Ponte Vedra Beach area to choose from. This, as well as the discounted rates available to those who stay at the Marriott, means that most golfers end up staying on property. There are a number of Tour players with ties to TPC Sawgrass who can often be seen on the grounds. Vijay Singh, Fred Funk and Jim Furyk are the most famous locals and recent Tour winners Matt Every, Billy Horschel and 2014 Masters runner-up Jonas Blixt are local residents as well.

TPC Sawgrass is a popular destination for those trying to get out of the cold of the north during the winter, but be warned . . . Jacksonville is in NORTH Florida, therefore cold days (45° and below) are more common than you may think. Because of the exceptionally hot summers TPC Sawgrass is wall to wall Bermuda grass. The greens are a strain called Mini Verde, the fairways are Celebration Bermuda, and the rough is common Bermuda. This combination of Bermuda grasses and the sometimes cold days and nights mean that the golf course is not always the perfect green carpet like is seen during The PLAYERS Championship. Golfers looking for green grass all winter long may want to look to warmer locations like Doral, Innisbrook and Bay Hill. The latter two courses overseed their greens, fairways and rough which is why they are so green all winter long. That said, overseeded courses will go through a “transition” period in April-June where the cool season turf gives way to the Bermuda grasses and the courses will not be at their best. Because The PLAYERS is contested in May, TPC Sawgrass cannot overseed the golf course as the tournament would take place right in the middle of the course’s worst conditions. Anyway, enough about turfgrass and onto the golf course!

Below are a few highlights of the golf course along with some interesting facts along the way.

Hole 2 – Par 5 – 532/507 Yards
The tee shot on the second hole shows the difficulty of the Stadium course. A hard draw is the only shot that works here. If you can’t hit at least a little draw, you will probably not find the fairway. A PGA Tour professional was once asked about Dye golf courses and said “Have you seen Pete Dye play golf?? When he hits a draw he hits a 50 yard hook, when he hits a fade he hits a 30 yard hook.” This statement could not be truer than on the tee shot on the 2nd hole. The picture below is from the tee.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 4 – Par 4 – 384/359 Yards
The fourth is a short hole with a crazy green. Typical of Dye, and many of the great classical architects like Ross, the tee shot sets up for a fade while the approach favors a draw. The approach is all carry over a small lagoon to a green divided into three sections with the left being lower than the rest.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 6 – Par 4 – 393/360 Yards
I like the overall look of the 6th. The tee shot is framed by a forest of pines to the right and palms and a large fairway bunker down the left. Also, from the back tee, you need to keep the ball low in order to avoid a tree that really shouldn’t be there by the laws of nature. It’s actually being held in place by cables! From the back tee the tree makes it a tough shot. I played the Stadium with Billy Horschel a couple years ago and watched him hit 3-wood directly into it. Even the pros can be intimidated! The tree off the tee box isn’t my favorite feature on the course . . . it feels a little gimmicky to me.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
The approach needs to come in from the left because there is another stand of palm trees to the front right of the green . . . one of which you can see below is leaning a little to the left. I have personally seen golf balls swatted away and even eaten by this devilish tree.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 11-Par 5-558/519 Yards
This is one of the great risk/reward holes on the golf course. The tee shot is fairly simple. You need to favor the right side a little or you could get blocked out by trees on the left if you aren’t a long hitter. The second shot, or lay-up is where it can get a little dicey. Players electing to go for the green in two will face a shot that is all carry to a green surrounded by a bunker. Too much of a miss to the right and the ball will be wet. Golfers playing this as a three shot hole will have a couple of lay-up choices. There is the option of going left over the trees, water and large bunker which will leave a fairly good angle straight up the middle of the green. Players who go right and stay short of the water will be left with an awkward angle into the green for their third shot.

This is a good chance to make a comment about all of the Par 5s at TPC Sawgrass. I find that they are much more difficult to play as three shot holes than they are to play as two shot holes – provided that the player has the necessary length. Each layup shot is very demanding and awkward with trees, strange angles, water and bunkers to maneuver around or over. In my opinion, long hitters have a very distinct advantage on this golf course because they can take the awkwardness and trouble on the lay-up shots completely out of play. However, big numbers can be made if you don’t succeed at reaching the green in two.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 13-Par 3-181/156 Yards
Another Pete Dye Par 3 with water and lots of trouble. The green has three distinct levels, a front right, back right and left section. The left section is lower than the rest of the green and balls can funnel down to a hole location there if you hit the middle of the green with a little draw. The back right also falls away from the player and has seen a few aces during The PLAYERS.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 14-Par 4-481/436 Yards
A big hole with danger everywhere, sounds like a theme on the Stadium course. A lagoon runs down the left side of the fairway with only a small sliver of a bunker between the grass and water. The fairway is wide, but like the majority of holes here, one side is preferred over the other. Down the right leaves a good angle to the green with less of the bunker to cover with your approach. Down the left means you not only have to cover that greenside bunker, but you might need to hit a higher approach to clear trees down the left side of the hole.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 16-Par 5-523/486 Yards
This is the beginning of a very exciting and dangerous finish. The tee shot needs to move to the left to give yourself a chance to reach in two. Down the right most likely means another awkward lay-up. The landing zone for the lay-up is very wide, but you might be laying up with a short iron because there is a large oak 60 yards from the green down the left side. The green has some good movement in it with a collection area of sorts on the right side that balls tend to funnel into.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 17-Par 3-137/128 Yards
The shortest hole on the golf course is also one of the most famous (or infamous) in golf. The 17th at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most debated designs in modern golf. Just for those who aren’t aware, the hole became an “island green” because the majority of the quality fill on the 400+ acres of swamp was found in this location. The original intent was to have a small lake down the right of the green but when the time came to finish this hole, all that was left was a giant crater in the ground and no fill to use to build up the left side of the hole again. Like it or not, this hole plays a pivotal role in crowning a champion. Those in contention have made anywhere from 2 to 8. It’s a very exciting hole for spectators, but very nerve wracking for players. My suggestion . . . do not take a drink from your bottle of water (an old Tour superstition that is supposed to keep the player’s mind off of water), pull a brand new ball out of the sleeve, and swing with confidence. It is only a short iron and you don’t have millions of dollars riding on the outcome of your shot, so have fun with it.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
Hole 18-Par 4-462/426
The home hole at TPC Sawgrass is traditionally one of the most difficult holes on tour every year. Water down the left the entire way and rough and trees down the right. Not an easy hole for resort players, but it thoroughly tests a players game when a championship is on the line, which is ultimately what TPC Sawgrass was built for. The green has multiple levels to test your accuracy with a mid iron as well.
TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium
The Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass’ PLAYERS Stadium Course still strikes fear into the hearts of resort players on a daily basis, but has become much easier for Tour players. The course today is a far cry from its beginnings when Tom Watson lead a barrage of criticism after the first PLAYERS Championship in 1982 by stating “it’s a real joke, needs major changes before it can even be called fair.” Ben Crenshaw added that it was “Star Wars golf, designed by Darth Vader.” Even Jack Nicklaus threw in his two cents by saying he has “never been very good at stopping a five iron on the hood of a car.” That’s some pretty heavy hitters bashing the new gem of the PGA Tour. Since opening in the 1980s the greens have been softened and underbrush cleared around a majority of the course which has made it far more playable. Pictures can be found around the clubhouse showing how rough and raw the golf course originally was with thick palmetto bushes and sawgrass everywhere. Now the golf course features a more manicured look which makes it more user friendly for the other 51 weeks of the year.

  • CBusGolfers

    Great write-up Scott! I enjoyed reading the history of the course, turf, and players reactions to the place in its early days. Funny to think about Gentle Ben Crenshaw’s opinions on course design then and see how that has been illustrated in his and Bill Coore’s design business today.