Let's get one thing straight, insists Steve Carroll, the 17th at Sawgrass does not look like it does on TV when you're actually standing on that infamous tee
It remains the most luxurious clubhouse I’ve ever seen – 77,000 square feet of Mediterranean-style opulence.
I’ll never strike a ball from a grander practice ground. The turf was so sumptuous, I almost winced as every strike of my iron bruised the surface.
It will surely be the only place I will ever come face-to-face with a Golden Eagle.
But let’s cut to the chase. There is only one reason why I – or, indeed, you – would be at TPC Sawgrass. One reason why you’d ever be prepared to shell out as much as $840 for 18 holes.
And it’s not for the admittedly fine food in the restaurant. It’s to stare down a huge expanse of water and try and find one of the most famous greens in golf.
I’d like to tell you playing the Stadium Course is about all the magical moments in between. There were plenty. I birdied the 1st, canning a 30-footer that moved so quickly off the putter face it would have been on its way back to the locker room if it hadn’t slammed into the cup.
The wonderfully wooded 10th – with its perfect fairway and shimmering white bunkering – is as close to experiencing Augusta as I’ll ever get.
There are three other par-3s that would surely sit large in the Pete Dye design canon, such are their beauty, complexity, and the skill required to get off them in one piece.
It’s the other one, though, that was firing every one of my synapses. I tried to put it out of my mind. It’s just one hole, I kept telling myself.
Anticipation, though, is a feeling that can’t be denied. Every shot brought destiny ever closer, and made the hairs stand straighter on the back of the neck.
Then I saw it. A viridescent flash at first. Unconsciously, I was walking quicker now and those unmistakable sleepers started to emerge from the woodland.
There were still the dying embers of a par-5 to be negotiated – a wonderful hole in its own right with a green and a water hazard that can bring ruin to the distracted – but I wasn’t even looking holewards. My eyes were fixed firmly right. All I could see, all I could fathom, was liquid.
The water seemed to be everywhere – that famous alien-shaped putting surface looking like a tiny island amid an ocean. I’ll tell you this: it does not look like that on TV.
In the distance, though they looked like tiny specks, I could make out the group in front. I watched through my fingers.
The signs weren’t promising. They slashed iron after iron. I traced the flight of the ball and commiserated in the inevitable ripple that followed as another ball missed that island green disappeared into a pure blue grave.
But there was no club throwing. Barely the flick of a concerned brow. Tee it back up and we go again.
Now it was my turn. The walk to the 17th at Sawgrass didn’t just feel a rite of passage. It was a procession. The expectation of what was to come clouded and thrilled every step.
I reached the tee and the jangles only grew. I couldn’t see the back of the green, but I knew what was there. Out came the club, one swish, two, and then focus.
I still tell people it was one of the purest iron shots I’ve ever hit – middled like Ben Stokes hammering a sorry spinner out of the ground at Lord’s.
Does water do funny things to golf balls? At the apex of its flight it seemed to stall. There was the slightest quiver in the sky, and then gravity took over as a huge atmospheric hand grabbed my dreams and pulled them back down to dust.
Or, in this case, a hard block of wood as my plummeting sphere of urethane struck a sleeper and ricocheted back into the water.
No one comes here to play one shot. The sun was rapidly fading in the Florida sky but I would have emptied my bag in darkness if that’s what it took to successfully negotiate that peninsula.
It was 15 minutes of the most epic golf imaginable. Think of why you play the sport and you could encapsulate it in that journey of barely 137 yards.
When the putt went down – it had taken three attempts to find the surface – what I experienced was deflation. It was over. I wanted to turn right round and return, but another trio was already in place.
It’s a feeling you want to bury quickly because the 18th is not an anti-climax. It’s a firecracker of a hole from the tee shot that needs to hug yet more water to a quite ridiculously tiered green and a pin position that’s just as capable of wrecking the scorecard.
And yet, I was still mulling over what had just gone before – ruminating and remonstrating. Was it the right club? Couldn’t it have gone a yard further? When can I do that again?
So while I’d like to tell you the experience of playing TPC Sawgrass is about much more than the par-3 17th, I’d be lying. Would you believe me anyway?
To this day, when someone finds out I’ve played the fantastic Stadium course, they always ask the same question: “Did you hit THAT green?”
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
TPC Sawgrass 17th hole
Have you played the 17th at Sawgrass? How did you get on? Tweet me and let me know.