TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course
I awoke early to make the five-hour drive from Atlanta to Ponte Vedra Beach to play the final course of the Florida swing portion of my one year Quest to play the Golf Digest 2017-18 Top 100 Golf Courses in the US. I’d played Calusa Pines and Seminole. Only TPC Sawgrass remained. Even before I set a goal of playing the top 100 courses, The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was on my bucket list of golf courses to play. It did not disappoint. I had a fun day on the course. The staff also discounted my greens fees because of my Quest. That was quite kind of them.
I was paired with another single, Bill from Tennessee and a twosome, Brian and Tom who were locals. We were also joined by my caddie, Jim and Bill’s caddie, Darryl. Jim is from Connecticut. He caddies in Florida during the winter months.
Standing on the first tee in person was quite different that standing on the first tee at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course as I had done many years earlier on EA Sports Tiger Wood Golf. It was very unlikely that I would drive the green as I had done then. I chose to play from the blended tees which are a combination of the blue and white tees. The course measures just under 6400 yards from the blended tees with a 73.3 rating and a 149 slope. This made it one of the most difficult courses that I’d played on my Quest.
The first hole is a 394 yard par four. The first 280 yards of the fairway are aligned with the tee box. The last 90 yards are offset to the right. There is water along the right side of the fairway followed by a long fairway bunker. The left side of the fairway is lined with trees. There is massive bunker on the left beyond the fairway as it makes a shift to the right. That bunker continues along the left side of the green. I hit a nice smooth drive down the middle of the fairway to 140 yards from a back middle pin position.
After hitting a beautiful drive, I topped my ball into the massive bunker on the left and along the left side of the green. I carry my sand shot all the way to the pin on the back right side of the green. The ball rolled off the back of the green.
I putted from off the green. The grass slowed the ball much more than I expected leaving an 18 foot putt for a bogey. I missed the putt by a foot to the right and opened the round with a double bogey.
The second hole on the Stadium Course is a 507 yard par five. The fairway like on the first hole is aligned with the tee boxes, but this time shifts to the left rather that to the right. There is a long bunker and a small pond to the right just after the shift. There are trees tight off both sides of the fairway. After hitting a perfect drive on the first hole, I sliced my drive into the trees on the right on this hole.
Fortunately for me there was an opening in the trees and a fairway that shifted from left to right. I told Jim that I was going to hit my driver off the pine straw, through the trees, under the branches and fade it along the left side of the fairway. Much to his astonishment and mine, that is exactly what I did. The ball came to rest along the left side of the fairway, 125 yards from the pin on the back right of the green.
My approach shot was also good. I hit a gap wedge to the middle of the green. It was one of those rare occasions where I compressed the ball. The ball landed in the middle of the green and spun back, leaving a 45 foot putt.
I hit a good putt, but the ball broke a foot more than we’d read. I tapped in for an easy out of the woods par.
The 160 yard par three third hole plays over water and a very large bunker that guards the front of the green. There is also a bunker along the back left of the green. The green slopes from back to front and slightly to the right. My tee shot landed on the right side of the green and rolled off the green and into the first cut of rough.
I used a Texas wedge to get the ball to within 15 feet of the hole. I missed my line on the putt and missed the hole by a foot to the right. I tapped in for a bogey.
The fourth hole is a short par four with sand and water along the right side of the fairway and a very open left side of the fairway. The left side of the fairway does have moguls that help push ball in to the left to right sloped fairway. The creek along the right side of the fairway turns to the left to separate the fairway from the front of the green. It then wraps around the left side of the green. The hole measures 359 yards. I pushed my 3 wood tee shot so far right that it landed to the right of the sand and the creek.
You would think that I’d count my blessings that the ball didn’t go swimming and would take my medicine by just hitting the ball back to the middle of the fairway. This was a day when I felt confident in my ability to craft and execute shots. Just Iike I saw the driver out of the woods shot on the second hole, I saw a shot on this hole. It was a shot that could get me to the green without the risk of going in the water in front of the green or along the left side of the green.
I was 185 yards from the front left pin. The shot I saw was a high draw over the pine trees to the right of the green. I was certain that I could clear the trees with my 5 hybrid and land the ball on the green. Just like the shot on the second hole, the shot unfolded just as I had imagined it. The ball landed in the fringe on the right side of the green and rolled by the flag to 30 feet to the left.
Jim was impressed. I had called and executed two perfect shots on two different holes. I reminded him why I needed to hit those shots. It was the unimpressive shots preceding the impressive ones.
My high draw over the trees left me with a 30 foot down hill putt for birdie. It was a very fast left to right breaking putt. Now explain to me how I could hit a very small target from 185 yards way, but not get the ball to drop into a hole that’s only 30 feet away. I missed the birdie putt on the high side of the hole. The ball rolled two feet past. I made the comeback putt for a par.
The 422 yards par four fifth hole is the longest par four and the third most difficult hole on the course. It has a narrow fairway that curves left to right then back to the left before straightening to head to the green. As if the shear length of the hole isn’t enough to give you fits, there is sand to the right, water beyond the sand, and more sand and water on the left at about 160 yards from the middle of the green. The last 80 yards of the fairway is more like a walking path than a fairway.
I hit a good solid drive but, on a line, farther to the right than I intended. The ball landed in the long fairway bunker between the water on the right and the right edge of the fairway. This left 195 yards to a middle right pin.
I pulled my sand shot to the left. It landed short of the green to the right in the rough just left of a cluster of tree with low hanging branches. I pitched under the branches to 30 feet below the hole.
Jim and I disagreed on the line for the putt. He thought it was a straight putt. I saw one ball to the left of the hole. I went with Jim’s read and hit the putt at the center of the cup. We were both wrong the ball broke two balls and slide by the right edge of the hole to 18 inches past. I made a bogey on the hole.
The sixth hole is a short par four and is supposed to be an easy hole. The hole measures 360 yards from the blue tees. There is water a few yards in front of the tee box, follow by sand that crosses in front of the start of the fairway and then runs along its left side. The fairway is straight and wide. There are trees tight along the right side of the fairway. The fairway ends about 50 yards from the front of the green. I topped my drive. The ball skipped across the water and rolled into the bunker.
I hit too far behind the ball and got too much sand on my second shot. The ball remained in the bunker. I hit by third shot from the bunker to the trees off the right side of the fairway, short of the green.
I pitched onto the green and two putted for my second double bogey of the round.
As we stood on the tee box of the 382 yard par four seventh hole, I realized that this course had a lot of water in play. I then reminded myself that I was in Florida. Of the three top 100 courses in Florida, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has by far the most water. The water on the seventh hole starts just to the left of the tee box and continues to the left of the fairway. There is a very long bunker sandwiched in between the water and the left edge of the fairway. The water continues past the green. There is a broad swath of land between the water and the green.
The right side of the fairway is not without danger. There are trees, three small bunkers, more water and more sand. This is a fairway or bust hole. For me it was a drive straight down the middle with my three wood. Jim advised that even though it was a long par four, I should hit the three wood to stay short of the bunkers.
I topped my second shot into the bunker along the right side of the fairway. I hit my sand shot to just short of the front of the green.
The putt looked like it had a slight left to right break. It ended up being a straight putt. I missed the hole along the left side and tapped in for another bogey.
The eighth hole is a difficult par three. It is rated as the seventh hardest hole on the course. The green is what makes it a difficult hole. It is surrounded by nine bunkers and has a turtle back shaped surface. The hole measures 168 yards from the blended tees. But the tees were moved up a little on this hole and even with a back left pin position the hole was playing 160 yards down wind. I was still going to play the number, but Jim convinced me that I should play a 150 yard shot. I put my seven iron away and accepted the 8 iron he was holding. It was as a good thing that I did. I hit a draw on a line just to the right of the flag. The ball land just left of the flag, leaving a 10 foot putt for a birdie.
I hit the birdie putt on the line I wanted. The putt looked good coming off the putter face, but the ball didn’t break nearly as much as expected.
Make a mental note of this. Nothing you do with your body long after the ball has left the putter face, will affect the path of the ball. Not even a little body english. I missed the putt and settled for a par.
The front nine ends with a treacherous par five. The ninth hole measures 522 yards from the blended tees. The fairway is bisected by water into two sections. The first section has water to the right with a long bunker between it and the fairway. This water turns to the right and diagonally bisects the fairway at about 300 yards short of the middle of the green on the right and at 200 yards from the green on the left. The second part of the fairway is fairly open but does have a couple of trees on a hill that slope toward the fairway. There are trees along the left sides of both sections of the fairway. With the water bisecting the fairway, I chose to hit a three wood along the left side of the fairway.
The ball didn’t fly nearly as far as I expected. I still had slightly over 300 yards into the wind to the green. I hit a three wood. The ball came off the clubface to the right. Fortunately, the ball got past the trees and landed in the right rough 125 yards from the pin.
I hit a 9 iron for my approach shot. The ball did not fade as I had intended it to do. It stayed right and landed to the right of one of the five bunkers guarding the green.
I pitched over the bunkers to 30 feet from the hole and made the putt for a par to close the front nine with a 43. I’d let the first and sixth holes get away from me. Over half of my over par strokes were on just those two holes. I also missed a couple of makeable birdies. As we walked towards the 10th hole, I thought about what could have been with a little better putting.
I was doomed from the start on the 366 yard par four tenth hole. The fairway has a long bunker off its left edge. A second J shaped bunker cuts across the fairway at 100 yards from the green then turns up the right side of the fairway all the way to the right side of the green. There are trees alone the right side of the hole. I hit a solid three wood off the tee, but on the wrong line. The ball landed in the bunker on the left leaving 165 yards to the pin.
I hit the ball from the bunker on the left to the bunker on the right with my second shot. My third shot landed over the green and into the to the bushes to the left of the green. I was able to find the ball and chip it on the green. I two putted for a double bogey.
I followed the double bogey on the tenth hole up with a double bogey on the 470 yards par five 11th hole when I popped my drive up to the left. The ball landed in the fairway, but I was left with a very long second shot. The hole has a long bunker running across in front of the tee boxes and ahead of the start of the fairway. The first part of the fairway curves around a large sand trap with islands of grass in it. The fairway is interrupted by water about 100 yards from the middle of the green. It then picks up again on the other side of the water, albeit shifted to the left. There is sand along the right side all the way to the green.
In the middle of my swing on my second shot, a quick rain shower started. Unlike Tiger Woods, I can’t stop the club mid-swing. I hit the shot to 135 yards from the green but hit it too far to the right. There was a tree blocking my approach shot.
I tried to hit a knock down fade with my seven iron, but the ball stayed left.
I caught my chip a little thin. The ball rolled across the green into the bunker. I wasn’t able to get up and down from the bunker to save bogey.
My fortunes begin to pick up on the short par four 12th hole. The hole measures 330 yards. There is a short carry over water to a fairway with sand on the left and trees on the right. I hit a three hybrid to the middle of the fairway.
My tee shot left me with 130 yards to a just past middle left pin on a green that was shifted to the left of the fairway. I played a draw. The ball stayed on a straight line and landed 18 feet to the right of the flag.
My birdie putt held its line but stop six inches short of the cup. I tapped to start a string of pars.
As I stood on the tee box of the 165 yard par three thirteenth hole staring at a back left pin like the one on the par three eighth hole, I visualized the same shot, just with a longer club.
The 13th has water along the left side, but a long carry can be avoided with a draw that starts over a small corner of water, then carries a long bunker before curving from along the right side of the green toward the left side of the green. That’s the path I chose to take. The ball landed to the left of the flag and rolled to the left edge of the green.
My birdie putt on the 13th hole was 6 feet shorter than my 18 foot birdie putt on the 12th hole. The read was also a little trickier. Unlike the 10 foot putt that I missed for a birdie on the eighth hole, it didn’t need any body English to stay on line. It just needed a little more “oomph.” The ball needed a few more revolutions to reach the cup.
I tapped in for my second tap in par in a row.
The 377 yard par four fourteenth hole has sand and water all along the left side and very little room between the right edge of the fairway and the trees and the cart path. The generous fairway makes a jog from left to right with a narrow strip before turning toward the green at 130 yards out. The last 100 yards of fairway is much narrower than the green. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway leaving 144 yards to the pin.
The rain started again, and the wind picked up a little. By hitting my ball to the left side of the fairway, I was blocked out by a tree from the front left position of the flag. I decided to play a longer club and draw the ball around the tree. The ball landed pin high 10 feet to the right of the hole.
On a day when I was controlling the distance and shape of my iron shots with ease, I could control neither with my flat stick. The ball broke more than expected on my birdie putt and I made my third tap in par in a row.
The 370 yard par four fifteenth hole has the type of layout that gives me fits with my left to right ball flight on my drives. On the fifteenth hole at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass it was made even worse by the narrow alley formed by the trees on the left and right sides just in front of the tee box. There was also water in front of the tee box, but it is easily dispensed of with any shot over 120 yards.
The bunker along the right side of the fairway is more of an issue than the water. And so is the bunker the cuts across the fairway from right to left at about 130 yards from the green and then continues along the left side of the fairway all the way to the green. Even though the hole measured 370 yards and was playing into the wind, I decided to leave my driver in the bag. I felt confident that I could hit my three wood through the alley and to the left side of the fairway.
My confidence had not been misplaced the ball landed in the left fairway, 180 yards from the middle of the green. I had 168 yards to the front right pin position on a green with two bunkers to the right.
With the wind blowing directly into us, I asked Jim whether he thought I should hit my 190 yard club or my 180 yard club. He said I should hit the club I felt most comfortable hitting a fade with. I asked him for my five iron and hit to fade to five feet right of the pin.
Unfortunately, I again display my ineptness with the flat stick. One of the other guys in our foursome had hit a shot out of the bunker to near my ball. Our putts had similar lines. He was farther way and went first. Even after watching his putt, I couldn’t convert. My fourth consecutive tap in par ensued.
The finishing three holes on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass are three of the most well-known holes in golf. They start with the 486 yard par five sixteenth hole. The hole starts with a water carry to a fairway that is very undulated and bends right to left. There is a bunker just off the right just as the fairway begins and water farther up on the right at about 170 yards from the front of the green. There are trees all along the left side of the hole.
After hitting my three wood on the fifteenth hole, Jim told me that it was time to unleash the big dawg and set myself up to go for the green in two. I hit a 240 yard drive down the right side of the fairway.
My drive left me with 250 yards to the middle of the green. With water running along the right side of the fairway and a small bunker off the right front of the green, I decided to not take the risk. I was working on a strong back nine. While with my lack of putting prowess I probably needed two putts to make a birdie, it was best to play the odds. I decided to hit my pitching wedge and lay up to my gap wedge distance.
My pitching wedge went just 120 yards rather than 130 yards. That wasn’t even the worst of the news. The worst of the news was that a 120 yard shot left me in a patch of rough that cut into the right side of the fairway.
After hitting my pitching wedge just 120 yards, I was still left with 130 yards to the pin. I hit my pitching wedge again for my approach shot. Again, the ball flew just 120 yards to just off the front of the green.
My putt from just off the green wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be. I left the ball ten feet from the cup. As you probably figured out, my putting ineptness remained. I missed my par putt. Tap in bogeys are not nearly as appreciated as tap in pars.
The next of the three finishing holes is the famous 17th hole with the island green. And guess how many yards it was playing today. You got it, 120 yards. What to do? Do I trust my gap wedge to fly the 120 yards I normally get from it or do I hit my pitching wedge which had only traveled 120 yards on two shots on the previous hole? Jim was standing there holding my pitching wedge.
I took the pitching wedge from him and hit it 130 yards to the slope 10 yards past the flag. What a time for my 130 yard club to go 130 yards. I was now facing a fast downhill 20 foot putt with very little room between the hole and the water.
Before we left the tee box, I asked Jim to hand me the club I wanted to hit but was too afraid to do so. He said, “you mean the one I would not have let you hit?” He handed me the gap wedge. For grins I hit a second shot to front pin position on the island green. The ball hit onto the green and almost went into the hole. And yes, I know that I might not have been able to hit that shot under the pressure of it being my real shot.
We walked to the green and talked about several "what if's" that didn’t matter. What mattered now was that fast-downhill putt that I was facing for my next shot.
Jim and I studied the putt for a long time. It was about as much time as I’d ever spent on a putt.
I got the speed right on the putt, but it broke more than expected. I tapped in for my par.
Standing on the tee box of the 18th hole with all that water along the left side of a narrow fairway that bends right to left around the water is intimidating to say the least. The last of the three famous finishing holes measures 426 yards from the blended tees and doesn’t have a single fairway bunker. The few trees on the right are safer than the water on the left, but they do get your attention. I popped my drive up to the right. The ball traveled farther along the vertical plane than it did along the horizontal plane, just 150 yards.
With 280 yards to the hole, I laid up with my three hybrid to 75 yards. I was expecting to leave 80 yards to the pin. I hit my lob wedge to the front of the green. It backed up to just off the green.
My putting woes didn’t end. I missed my par putt and ended my round with a bogey for a 42 on the back nine and a total score of 85. I had my opportunities to go low, but just couldn’t control the putter. It was still a very fun round. The biggest accomplishment was that with all that water on this course, I finished the round with the same ball that I started with. Except for skipping the ball across the water on the sixth hole, the only water my ball touched was that which fell from the sky.
I bid farewell to TPC Sawgrass and pointed the car in the direction of South Carolina. Next up is Yeaman's Hall.