It’s an awkward hole," says Alice Dye. "It doesn’t fit the course. He OK’d it, but it’s not a Pete Dye design."
Coming off a year in which the PGA Tour made wholesale changes to the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass prior to The Players Championship, it was the conversion of the 12th hole from what most considered a generic par 4 to what is now a drivable par 4 that received most of the attention.
As players practiced on it, played it, laid up or went for it, there seemed to be more coverage, graphics and analysis of what was taking place at the 12th than there was the famed finishing stretch of the 2017 Players.
In the end, with a scoring average of 3.83, the new 12th was the 15th hardest hole of the tournament. There were a total of 440 tee shots with 131 of those going for the green. Of those going for the green, 25 were successful and 27 ended up wet. There were two eagles, 127 birdies, 259 pars, 49 bogeys and three double bogeys.
But statistics, in this case, is only a fraction of the story. Upon further review, if that’s even possible, the question remains: Will it stay the same?
"It’s easy to be a critic," says Tom Weiskopf, who watched the weekend of The Players on TV. "But I don’t think it turned out the way they hoped it would."
Weiskopf has built 79 drivable par 4s in his career. There is at least one on all 74 of his course designs, and five of his courses have drivable par 4s on both the front and back nines. And of those 79 drivable par 4s, even he admits he has only been successful 25-percent of the time.
"It’s extremely difficult to pull off, and I build them all the time," says Weiskopf. "You have to have the right terrain, there has to be challenge off the tee and from the fairway, and having water as a main defense of par doesn’t help."
If a player is choosing to lay up off the tee, Weiskopf likes to look at the hole as two par 3s. Even with an iron in their hands, he likes to challenge the player off the tee, forcing them to hit a designated target, usually a well-bunkered section of the fairway. And then from there, the player is left with another par-3 scenario, in which they have another short shot to a sizable but testy green complex.
"The best drivable par 4s play slightly downhill, they have big and undulating greens and there tends to be a lot of room around the green that really tests a short game,” says Weiskopf. "My best drivable par 4s typically have the biggest and most undulating greens on the course, which allows for multiple pin placements and tough putts, so that there’s still a challenge even if the player drives the green. And if possible, I like to put a drivable hole within the final four holes, which is why I think they should’ve converted the 15th hole at Sawgrass, and not the 12th. Can you imagine? Talk about a finish!"
The 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale is one of Weiskopf’s most famous and popular drivable par 4s, and although there is water left and long of that green, he says it only really comes into play if a player hits a really bad shot.
His inspiration for designing and building drivable par 4s came from his rounds at the Old Course at St. Andrews, which is where almost every great architect has gone and garnered infinite knowledge on the subtleties of good design. Early in their careers, the Dyes also made an educational trip to St. Andrews and some of the best courses in the UK.
"Pete has never believed in drivable par 4s," says Alice. "If a player is supposed to reach the green from the tee and you’re always allowed two putts, well, that’s a par 3."
Alice, who watched the tournament with Pete all week, on a course that is one of the most iconic of the Dye’s 100-course portfolio, was not impressed with the new 12th.
"Even for the players who laid up, they were left with an awkward shot to a target that was angled across their body, the pins were hidden and weren’t accessible and the green sloped away from them, towards the water. The players who laid up weren’t able to be on the offensive. Either TV didn’t do a good job of presenting it or the hole didn’t create the excitement or the drama they were hoping for."
Other architects offered analysis.
"The left side of the green slope is too steep and the risk is too much," says Bobby Weed, who is like a third son to the Dyes and made changes to the Stadium Course from 1983 until 1996. "Pete nor I had anything to do with it. It’s just my observation from playing it twice, but I’ll also say it’s easy enough to soften that slope. Hell, it’s just dirt."
As for Steve Wenzloff, another disciple of the Dyes and currently the PGA Tour’s resident architect, he’s not so sure the new 12th wasn’t a success and doesn’t necessarily think it needs more changes.
Wenzloff says he stood behind the green all week of tournament play. "The tee shot and the option to go for the green put another thought into the mind’s of the players," says Wenzloff. "And every day, guys went for it."
Wenzloff points out that because of the new turf and the lack of rain in Florida this spring, the course, and specifically the 12th hole, played as hard and fast as the hole will ever play. Which is a valid point. He said that as he watched, his focus was on what the ball did when it first hit the ground. "Almost all the shots that went into the water were bad shots."
Wenzloff also addressed the severity of the slope on the left side of the green, which, most agree, was too steep. But again, not Wenzloff. "That slope is a defense mechanism. That’s why it was there."
Having used the 10th at Riviera, the 15th at TPC River Highlands and 17th at TPC Scottsdale as inspiration for the design of the new 12th, Wenzloff says the Tour is still analyzing the data and will do a deeper dive into tee shots, approach shots, the slope of the green, the length of the grass around the green and success rates.
"Everything is on the table, and if we, as a group, do decide to make more changes, it won’t get past the summer."
Weiskopf doesn’t see the 10th at Riviera as a drivable par 4. "No one ever drives it," he says.
And he believes some of the best drivable par 4s have become drivable over time only because of advancements in technology. "Having water so close to that 12th green, which is actually a small target, took driver out of the hands of a lot of players. And when you’re building a drivable par 4, what you don’t want to do is take driver out of play."
That being said, Weiskopf sees the potential for a silver lining.
"The nice thing about Sawgrass is that they’ve changed it so much, they can just change it again. That hole could and should and will be a classic drivable par 4. They shouldn’t stop until they get it right."
For now, just don’t go left.