Here's how not to play TPC Sawgrass
Reason for a TPC Sawgrass review
We were guests of the PGA Tour and at the course, which serves as their headquarters, to preview The Players Championship.
Where is TPC Sawgrass?
The 36-hole complex is found in North Florida and is about 40 minutes drive from Jacksonville. It’s at the heart of the luxurious Ponte Vedra Beach, which is right on the Atlantic coast.
What to expect
You can tackle Pete Dye’s course at all sort of lengths. Mindful of the fact I’m not the longest hitter, I chose a blended course of white and blue tees.
There is a symmetry to the Stadium Course that’s quite pleasing to my ordered mind. The 1st and 10th, for example, are mirror images of each other. It’s a theme that largely carries on through both nines.
What you’ve got to learn early on, and which I largely didn’t, is that trying to blast it around is not necessarily the best way to conquer this course.
Speaking of trees, me and this one at the 7th have a problem with each other… pic.twitter.com/otUWgOfEzH
— Steve Carroll (@SteveCarrollNCG) February 10, 2019
With many of the greens being tiny – the 17th, at 78-feet, is the largest on the course – you simply have to find the right place on the fairway in order to get the best line of attack.
And getting onto some of those fairways proves trickier the further you go on.
Like many classic designers, Dye eases you into this round. The first is one of the easier holes on the course but, by the time you arrive at the 6th, it’s almost claustrophobic.
The tree that pokes out on the right side of the 7th fairway is ruinous to someone with a draw. A huge bunker and water makes the left side a no go area. These kind of questions are continually posed throughout the road.
The 13th is a very under-rated par 3 and, while everyone harks about the finish from the 16th, it’s actually a very strong back nine overall.
Dye was subject to enormous criticism when the professionals first set foot on the property in 1981.
What we’ve got now, though, is an entertaining and thought-provoking layout that keeps the interest high right until the very last shot.
If you can avoid the temptation to look ahead to that back three, and take in what’s in front of you, you’ll be in for quite a ride.
You’re expecting me to say 17, aren’t you? You’d be wrong. Yes, it’s a fabulous experience to take on the famous ‘island green’. You want to play it over and over.
But I don’t think it’s the best hole on the course. The second shot at 16 is quite a sight, with the water tight in from the right, and the drive at 18 is a memorable experience as well.
The 10th, though, is a quite phenomenal hole. With some lovely trees framing both sides of the fairway, it’s a relatively tight landing zone.
That rather suited my draw and, if you can avoid the bunker on the left, you’ve got about 120 into a green that’s surrounded by another tight trap.
It’s fairly simple for the top players. Rafa Cabrera Bello drove it 313 yards here at The Players last year. But it’s a beautifully designed par 4 and one that gets lost amid all the hype that comes later on.
My best bit
I probably could have walked back to the clubhouse after the first. After finding the pine straw on the left, I hit a nice wedge to about 18 feet and then drained the putt.
Drained is a slight misnomer, as if it hadn’t hit the back of the cup it would probably have gone off the green. But I have birdied the first hole at the Stadium Course – the scorecard says so – and no one can take that away from me.
I actually one-putted the first three greens and had some ideas of taking my handicap to the cleaners, but those foolish notions were soon put in their place.
What to look out for at TPC Sawgrass
Wildlife is abundant here. If you want to see some oddly shaped herons, and maybe even the odd alligator, then keep your eyes peeled.
But I got a glimpse of something I’ve never seen in 41 years of wandering on this planet and it was absolutely thrilling – a golden eagle.
It was quite an experience to see this magnificent creature in full flight as it darted across the lake on the 6th.
When I go back to TPC Sawgrass
I’ll take more club on 17. Even with the Florida heat, the wind swirls around that hole. Striking it over such an expanse of water really seems to have an effect on distance control.
I hit some very well-struck shots there only to be perplexed as they swan dived short of the putting surface.
I’ll also make sure to spend a lot more time in the clubhouse.
There are so many treasures in the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse but these are some of my favourites. The first is Pete Dye’s original sketch of the back 9, followed by his letter outlining his costings for the project and a design of the famous 17th green. pic.twitter.com/Zj1uRu4rkk
— Steve Carroll (@SteveCarrollNCG) February 11, 2019
As well as being a veritable museum of The Players history – they’ve even got Pete Dye’s first sketch of how the back 9 might look – it’s a very relaxed and a comfortable way to enjoy a pint after the round.