PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Summer is actually a good time of year to visit the TPC Sawgrass. It isn't peak season, and the Players Stadium Course is in good shape, especially since it hasn't been overseeded in recent years and there are no transition problems. (The course will be overseeded again in 2018 when the Players Championship returns to a March date.)
It's also a good value, relatively speaking. Instead of nearly $500 like it costs during peak season , the green fee is about $250 this time of year. If you don't mind a little heat and humidity, this is a good time to take in this bucket-list Pete and Alice dye classic.
But playing the Stadium Course was just one of the fun things I did during my quick trip to the Jacksonville area recently. It included my fifth time playing the Stadium Course. I also spent a couple of nights at the ever-improving Sawgrass Marriott and perhaps most importantly, go through the paces of the new PGA Tour Performance Center at TPC Sawgrass, which is headed up by one of the top instructors in the world, Todd Anderson. I also visited the World Golf Hall of Fame down the road in St. Augustine and took in a few terrific meals. Aside from a few drops of rain, it was a perfect three days.
The Players Stadium: A course in constant evolution
Over the years, the Stadium Course has been tweaked here and there, renovated and even toughened up on occasion. For 2017, three holes were modified, and the greens were switched out from mini-verde, which never lived up to its promise for whatever reason, to the time-tested Tif-Eagle, which has thrived in this part of the country.
The verdict on the Tif-Eagle is certainly excellent. The greens rolled true, and were probably in the best shape of any of the five times I've played the golf course.
As for the hole changes, they are mostly positive, though not entirely complete, I'm told.
On the par-4 sixth and seventh holes, dirt was moved and a lake was formed in between the holes. It really didn't change the way you play the holes, but it has a cleaner look now.
The big design change was of course the 12th, a par-4 now shortened to entice players to try to drive the green. The trouble is that risk isn't worth the reward. Only a perfect shot will hold, and even good shots can still find difficult places around the green. Miss it a little left or wide and bogey or worse comes into play if you're going for it off the tee, making the risk of going for it not worth it. With that said, most players during the 2017 Players chose the easy layup route, then played the odds that they could hit a sand wedge close and make birdie, which half of them did, it seemed. That wasn't the intent of the hole.
For me, playing the blue tees at 300 yards, there was never any doubt what I would do. With water left and trouble right of the green and the fact I can’t reach it anyway meant a sure layup. I made par on what is now just an easy par 4.
Video: Ginella on more changes coming to the 12th hole at Sawgrass
So now there's talk that this hole will be renovated before next year's player – less risk on going for it with a little tougher shot off the tee if you lay up. The idea is that more players will choose to go for the green for a more exciting tournament.
No changes are needed to the 17th, of course. I've hit the 17th island green all five times I've played it. No birdie this time around, but I'm always happy to make par there.
Whenever I travel to a golf resort, I'm never sure if getting some golf instruction is going to be a blessing or a curse. This was certainly the former.
You can spend thousands of dollars on new clubs or you can spend that money on the very best in golf instruction, fitting, and fitness. At the new and improved PGA Tour Performance Center, no aspect of your game is ignored, which is why they call the latest initiative there Performance Perfection.
Anderson, the 2010 PGA of America Teacher of the Year and former director of the Sea Island Golf Performance Center, heads up a team of experienced golf instructors, fitness and fitting experts to deliver the PGA Tour Experience, just like the tour pros who live in the area. And it occurs at one of the most state-of-the-art teaching centers in the world.
The Performance Center is in fact brand new, with a second story added as well as new hitting bays, equipment and tee area. To assist the teaching staff and make the experience as intimate as possible, the Center now houses two large teaching rooms that make use of the most advanced golf technology available for game improvement. Students also have access to state-of-the-art mental coaching and fitness training. In total, the additions to the Performance Center increased the square footage of the facility from 4,050 square feet to 7,680 square feet. The technology includes BODITRAK, GCQuad Foresight Sports, K-Vest 3D, Quintic Ball Roll, SAM PuttLab, Swing Catalyst, TrackMan4’s Dual Radar Technology and V1 Pro HD. That's a mouthful, but these guys know what they're doing.
Our session began with our bags placed on the lesson tee, complete with personalized name plates. We went from station to station. For me, it started with short-game lesson on chipping and pitching with Jordan Dempsey, a former college All American and tour player. (You can never get enough short game help).
That was followed by a quick lesson with Anderson, who made some adjustments on my backswing to make me more efficient through the ball. My lesson was also recorded and saved on the V1 website for review. This is most helpful after you leave and forgot most of what you learned.
A driver fitting with Josh Gumlia, one of the most experienced fitters in the country, and a putter fitting with instructor Andrew Lanahan soon followed. Both were fruitful. Though I like my current driver and putter, the fittings showed that I could get another 12 yards off the tee with a better head and shaft combination (softer butt end) and a more consistent roll with a different putter setup.
Finally, I went through some stretching with fitness expert Alex Bennett. He found some deficiencies (no surprise there) in my flexibility. Armed with that knowledge, I’m committed to a new stretching routine. It should make golf a little easier.
The rest of the story
Our experience at the Performance Center also included a "tour healthy lunch." Yes, we're talking salads, vegetables, fruits and lean proteins. The hydroponically-grown produce comes from nearby farm near Atlantic Beach Urban Farms. The lettuce and baby kale still had roots on them when they were cut for our salads.
Of course that wasn't the only good meal during our stay. At the Marriott Sawgrass' Cabana Beach Club right on Ponte Vedra Beach, for example, we had what seemed like a 10-course meal at 619 Ocean View. With stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean,
The new Coastal Italian menu features coastal Mediterranean dishes as well as authentic Sicilian fare, which Executive Chef Joe Natoli drew from his Southern Italian grandmother's seaside Cucina from the volcanic island of Salina. And there were also a couple of great meals at the 77,000 square-foot TPC Sawgrass. It's hard to go wrong at any of the restaurants at either the resort or TPC Sawgrass.
And finally, before checking into the Sawgrass Marriott, I had the opportunity to tour the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine and World Golf Village.
I had been there before, so I was looking for the new exhibits, which are definitely worth seeing, like the section dedicated to African Americans in golf, the room highlights women in golf or the sections dedicated to The Players Championship and the Olympics.
If you play golf or appreciate the game, I highly recommend checking out the World Golf Hall of Fame. I could spend hours in front the lockers of the Hall of Fame's 150 members, checking out what they or their families decided to put in there. One of the most interesting? Betsy King. Highly religious, the only thing in her locker is a family's King James Bible.