Steve Carroll took on the home of the Players Championship - and there is so much more to the Stadium course than just an island green par-3
It’s not too often you are invited to PGA Tour headquarters and asked to put together a TPC Sawgrass review. This is how we fared when we tackled the home of the Players Championship…
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First of all, 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 can you expect from the course?
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.
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 underrated 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.
What was your favourite hole?
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 a beautifully designed par-4 and one that gets lost amid all the hype that comes later on.
What was your 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 should we 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.
Will you do anything differently if you go back?
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.
As well as being a veritable museum of the Players history – they’ve even got Pete Dye’s first sketch of how the back nine might look – it’s a very relaxed and a comfortable way to enjoy a pint after the round.
I was also fortunate enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the clubhouse, so I made a short documentary video about it. I think you’ll agree it’s a fascinating place.
How would you like to be at next year’s Players Championship?
The NCG Top 100s Tour is back and bigger than ever – and the grand prize is a VIP trip to TPC Sawgrass for the 2022 Players Championship.