05/10/2016

It may not be the best or the hardest golf course (though you could lose a dozen balls with ease), but it’s certainly one of the most controversial and talked about courses in America.  The iconic 17th hole has sparked hundreds of imitators across the globe.

The TPC at Sawgrass will again take center stage this week when it hosts the unofficial “fifth major,” The Players Championship. From rough beginnings to the home of the PGA Tour, Sawgrass has come a long way since the early 80s. 

Back then, it was just 400-plus acres of Florida swampland, until former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman had a vision for it.  He wanted a permanent home for the tour’s Players Championship tournament and it had to have a stadium-like feel to improve the overall fan experience. 

Working with renowned course architect Pete Dye, they went about creating a course that was certainly unique.  Featuring deep pot bunkers, grass bunkers, waste area, railroad ties, huge mounds, palm trees and water in play on the majority of holes, TPC Sawgrass was truly unlike any other course that came before it.

This majestic course wasn’t meant to favor any certain type of player when it first hosted the Players Championship in 1982, and it was not well-received by the players to say the least.  Jack Nicklaus said he’s “never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car,” while Ben Crenshaw called it “Star Wars golf” and compared Dye to Darth Vader.  J.C. Snead pulled no punches and proclaimed the course “90 percent horse manure and 10 percent luck.”  Even the winner that year, Jerry Pate, tossed Beman and Dye into the lake off the 18th green before jumping in himself.

A rough start.  But as I said, the course has come a long way since then.  It hosted the U.S. Amateur in 1994 (won by a skinny 18-year named Tiger Woods while wearing a shirt two sizes too big) and now consistently ranks among the top-100 courses in the nation.  The winners list at The Players Championship is impressive too.  Tiger, Phil, Davis, Shark to name a few.

And what about that 17th hole?  You may be surprised to know it wasn’t supposed to be an island green at all.  The original design called for a modest par-3 only partially surrounded by water (talked about in the video below). Dye’s wife Alice suggested the island green concept and though he wasn’t thrilled about it, he went along with the design. 

The rest is golf history. 

Often copied, but never bettered, the island green is a mini-tournament in itself.  Even though it’s usually no more than a 9-iron for any pro, it might be the most nerve-racking shot in all of golf.

The success and popularity of TPC Sawgrass paved the way for over 30 private and public courses under the TPC chain operated by the PGA Tour.  Many of them currently host PGA and Champions Tour events.

[bctt tweet=”Ben Crenshaw called it “Star Wars golf””” username=””]

Love it, hate it, put it on your bucket list to play.  The TPC at Sawgrass has been a true game-changer in so many ways for the PGA Tour and the game of golf.  It will probably never host a U.S. Open or a PGA Championship, but it would be an ideal venue for a Ryder Cup.  Can you imagine the final singles group coming to the 17th with the match all square and the Cup on the line? 

That would be sure to make Beman and Dye smile.  Maybe even Snead too.