Ground design

Nine things to know: TPC Sawgrass

5. FAIR AND BALANCED

THE PLAYERS Stadium Course was not designed just for fans, however. Beman, a four-time PGA TOUR winner, also wanted it to be a fair test that didn’t favor any particular style of play.

This desire is seen from the start of the round. Beman didn’t want a player’s start time to give him an advantage, so he made sure that each side of TPC Sawgrass had a fair start.

The first and 10th holes are relatively similar par 4s. The first hole measures 423 yards. The tenth is one meter longer. The first hole favors a fade off the tee and a draw into the green. The 10th hole curves right to left before bending left to right.

The second hole on each side is an accessible par 5. Both holes require a draw from the tee and a shot left to right into the green.

Numbers 1 and 10 go in opposite directions, with the second and 11th holes returning towards the clubhouse. This ensures that the wind does not disadvantage players starting on the half course.

6. THE SPICE OF LIFE

TPC Sawgrass also requires players to hit a variety of shots. The holes bend in both directions so that a trajectory is not favored by the tee.

“Almost all par 4s are S-shaped,” said famed architect Tom Doak, who interned at Dye. “Pete was big on the balance, so he was big on getting both the fade and the draw in play.”

The four par 3s also offer a myriad of challenges. 17 is a short hole with a high degree of risk. Numbers 3 and 13 are two holes of moderate length – measuring 177 and 181 yards respectively – that require precise mid-iron shots. And the eighth hole is a 237-yard brute that asks players to hit a long iron, or more, into a wide but receptive green.

The par-5 16th, which measures 523 yards, is easily accessible for the majority of the field, but they must be prepared to take a risk to hit the green in half. Numbers 2 and 11 are medium-length par-5s that still offer eagle chances, while the ninth hole is much more difficult. Many players will play the hole in three shots.

TPC Sawgrass’ par-4 length ranges from the 302-yard 12th to the 481-yard 14th. There are three par 4s of less than 400 meters and three of 470 meters or more.

“(The course) doesn’t really suit any style of play,” said 2019 champion Rory McIlroy, “but everyone feels like it’s a challenge.”

There is also a fine line between success and failure at TPC Sawgrass. This explains why no one has been able to have consistent success in THE PLAYERS.

“The mark of a good golf course is when one player can go for 63 while six others struggle for 78,” Dye said.

7. THE WAIT IS WORTH IT

The democratic nature of the Stadium Course is evident in the fact that only five players have won multiple times at TPC Sawgrass: Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Steve Elkington and Hal Sutton. It’s an impressive group.

All five are great champions. Couples and love are in the World Golf Hall of Fame, while Woods is a sure-fire 2021 inductee.

However, the two-time TPC Sawgrass winners had to wait an average of 11.6 years between wins. This is further proof that the course does not favor any type of player.

Elkington is the only player who hasn’t had to wait more than a decade between Stadium Course victories. He won THE PLAYERS in 1991 and 1997. Love won in 1992 and 2003. Couples (1984, ’96) and Woods (2001, ’13) both waited 12 years between wins, while the two PLAYERS wins from Sutton were 17 years apart.

No one has won more than twice on THE PLAYERS stadium course.

8. ON

In 2019, THE PLAYERS Championship returned in March after a 12-year stint in May. There is a greater variety of points when the tournament is played at an earlier date.

The winning score was double digits under par in 11 of the 12 years THE PLAYERS was played in May. The winner has shot between 11 and 15 under in eight of those years.

In March, the winning score ranged from 3 cents to 24 cents. David Duval shot 3 under to win the 1999 PLAYERS, while Greg Norman set the tournament record in 1994.

The scores are more random in March because the weather is capricious. The course is also oversown for March. This means the rough is lusher, but the course can play softer. Northeast Florida can have cold, dry conditions in March, but it can also get a lot of rain.

The wind is more unpredictable in March. The last two holes are often played downwind in May, but the wind often blows in the opposite direction in March.

“I think that’s how it was designed to be played. And whether it’s firm or soft, it plays much better with that kind of overseed ryegrass and curved greens,” said Adam Scott, who won the 2004 PLAYERS in March.

9. REVOLUTIONARY DESIGN

TPC Sawgrass was a revolutionary golf course when it opened. It was the rare championship course open to the public, and players were unaccustomed to a course so visually intimidating and so penalizing for misplayed shots.

That’s why players revolted at the 1982 PLAYERS Championship, the first to be played at TPC Sawgrass. Dye’s intentions weren’t to drive players crazy. He wanted to give them a course that allowed them to show off their skills.

“We tried to create a golf course to bring out all of their shots, all of their big shots, that the pros are capable of hitting,” Dye said.

The players, however, thought the course was too hard. Ben Crenshaw called it “Star Wars golf, designed by Darth Vader”. After missing the cut, Jack Nicklaus said, “I’ve never been very good at stopping a 5 iron on the bonnet of a car.”

Peter Jacobsen, who now calls the tournament for NBC alongside Roger Maltbie, finished 27th in the first PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass.

“I said Pete, ‘When I’m done playing and I retire from the TOUR, I’m going to get into golf course design because I know I’ll have a thriving business rebuilding each of your backgrounds,'” Jacobsen said with a laugh. “He got the biggest kick out of it. He asked, “You don’t like the course?” I said, ‘Let’s put it this way. It’s just different. He said, “Well, that’s what I want to do.”

“I really respect Pete Dye because he doesn’t take criticism personally. He really wants to play with your mind. He really likes to mentally pressure you and test your patience.

TOUR players are creatures of habit, however, and the Stadium Course may have been too revolutionary, Dye later admitted.

“In hindsight, I realized that the radical course (stadium) design was too new for TOUR professionals,” Dye wrote in his autobiography. “They had never seen anything like it.”

The design of Now Dye is one of the most iconic courses on the TOUR.