Dave Nordholm is the hole captain at Sawgrass' 17th. He explains what makes it work and what you might not know about the infamous par 3
There are many elements that make the 17th at Sawgrass work so brilliantly but the one you won’t hear too much about are the volunteers; the men and women who give their time up for nothing and make sure that the most dramatic hole in the game goes ahead as it deserves to.
Dave Nordholm has worked on 17 for 15 years and, for the last couple of those, has been the hole captain, which means he will organise all of his fellow marshals throughout the week. So, year after year, he has the best seat in the house at the Players…
How many people work on the hole?
We probably have 100 marshals and 35 at one time. With all due respect it’s the most famous hole in the game and everybody wants to come and see the island green. I will see marshals year after year and see spectators who sit in the same spot, we almost have a relationship where we catch up and ask how their year has been.
Recently we had somebody who wanted to propose on a practice day, there was another lady whose husband had passed away so wanted to scatter some ashes in the water. It means a lot to people. The people that I work to make these things happen are incredible.
What is the best view?
On the side of the hill. From here you can see the tee, flight of the ball, and the green. Even with the Sunday pin placement you can see the cup.
The best thing about my job is the emotion you get from both the golfers and the patrons, you can really feel it. When the players are walking down to the tee, you can hear them talking and high-fiving. Everyone’s having a really good time.
Jordan Spieth came through in a practice round and he stayed and talked to all the kids and spent an extraordinary amount of time with the kids.
What do you get to see from your vantage point?
You can see the focus in the players’ eyes, some have that nervous look and some have that sheer determination. There is a tunnel vision and when you get on the tee box and you look at them talking to their caddie, you will get the sense if there is some uncertainty. For the most part you would get it right. The big miss is mostly short.
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Which golfers produce the biggest spark with the fans?
Phil Mickelson has always been wonderful. He has such a gallery behind him and there is a lot of respect for him. The same with Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy. I remember when Rory first played over here, he was virtually unknown and he was such a great kid. Of all the pro athletes I’ve ever met the golfers are incredible.
There have been so many different experiences; Sergio dropping two in the water, Fowler winning, Kaymer’s putt in 2014, the Will Wilcox hole-in-one – he was jumping around and was happy, happy, happy.
How tricky is the wind?
Well there is a flag on the green and the camera boom has a flag on it so you can see the difference in the wind and the changes in elevation, if you are going to put it way up there then look at the boom flag. There are pavilions around the hole which make it tricky and the wind changes. In the morning it comes out of the west and in the afternoon you get the sea breeze where it’s coming off the ocean so it completely changes.
Finally, tell us something about 17 we don’t know…
People don’t know the amount of work that goes into preparing it. In May they would change all the flowers to pink for the Mother’s Day Sunday. Everybody puts a lot of dedication into it, mulching flower beds, setting up the stage for a concert and then taking it right back down. You see the finished product but it’s hard to appreciate how much work goes into it.