The PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most iconic designs in the game. Perhaps no other golf course outside Augusta National receives as many eyeballs year in and year out. This breakthrough Pete Dye creation, with assistance from his wife, Alice, built out of the dense swamps in north Florida south of Jacksonville, has become one of the greatest venues in championship golf.
TPC was the brainchild of then-PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who had a vision for a new home for the PGA Tour as well as a stadium-style golf course to stage their prized PLAYERS Championship. Pete Dye was commissioned with the task, and in 1981 delivered a design that wasn't exactly loved by the pros. In 1983, prior to the second staging of the PLAYERS at TPC, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw were among the pros who signed a petition demanding changes to the course.
It hasn't softened at all since, but the Stadium has certainly changed over the years. For a period, the mounding on the outside of holes in certain areas were framed into grassy bleachers. That proved too difficult to maintain, so they were shaped back into more natural-looking mounds. One of the great benefits about hosting the PLAYERS on the same course every year is that each year, the tournament staff can make adjustments based on spectator tendencies.
There is a new wrinkle for the 2017 PLAYERS: The par-4 12th hole was redesigned to play as a potentially drivable par 4. Drivable par 4s aren't always commonplace on Dye tournament designs, but he signed off on the change and there should be more intrigue to this stretch of holes.
The finishing stretch here, beginning with the par-5 16th hole, is undoubtedly among the best in the game. Once players get about halfway down the 16th fairway, the trees on the right side stop and the pond that makes up the 17th hole amphitheater is in full view, and the tens of thousands of excited fans along with it.
The island green 17th hole has seen plenty of drama in its day. In 1998, a seagull picked up Steve Lowery's ball and flew away with it before dropping it in the water. Fred Couples' hole-out for a '3' in 1999 after hitting his tee shot into the water and re-teeing is also one of the golfers' most memorable moments. Tiger Woods' snaking putt, deemed "better than most" by Gary Koch in the TV tower, in the third round of the 2001 PLAYERS, which he would go on to win. Sergio Garcia found the water in the 2013 during a final-round duel with Woods, but Len Mattiace in 1998 made a gut-wrenching 8 to end his improbable chances of winning the championship.
Because the Stadium course was purpose-built to host the event, galleries can swell to nearly 40,000 per day, or about 170,000 for the week. That number is usually second to only TPC Scottsdale's Waste Management Phoenix Open.
In 2006, the clubhouse was bulldozed and entirely rebuilt within a year's time. The 77-000-square-foot structure was built to resemble the Ponce De Leon Hotel in downtown St. Augustine, built by Henry Flagler. Even if you can't afford the green fee to play the Stadium course, anyone is welcome to come tour the clubhouse. Volunteers are present at all times to provide tours of the memorabilia adoring its walls. You can also have a meal in 19, which overlooks the course. Chances are, you'll see familiar faces in the clubhouse or on the driving range. Not only is the headquarters of the PGA Tour just down the road, but several dozen Florida-based PGA Tour professionals live in or nearby and make TPC their home club.
Peak season green fees to play the Stadium course can swell to $549 in the peak season. Caddies are required if you want to walk, and forecaddies are offered if you take a cart. The Dye's Valley course was added in 1987 and is a championship test in its own right, hosting Web.com events among others. The easiest way to experience at TPC Sawgrass is with a Stay-and-play Florida golf package at the Sawgrass Marriott, which is next door and connected by a resort shuttle or walking path. More hotels can be found in historic St. Augustine, one of the more historic vacations you can take in the state. In addition to historic attractions like the Fountain of Youth and the old town, including the World Golf Village, home to two 18-hole courses and the World Golf Hall of Fame.