TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course): One of Florida’s Best
Every golfer dreams of playing TPC Sawgrass.
Each May (soon to be March) we watch The Players, we see the drama, and we marvel at the best golfers in the world.
And don’t get me started on how many times I’ve teed it up already in various Tiger Woods video games.
When it comes to public golf resorts in the US, there are only a handful that I think truly fall into the category of “bucket list” territory.
- Pebble Beach
- Whistling Straits
- Bandon Dunes
- Pinehurst #2
- TPC Sawgrass.
Obviously there are dozens of other fantastic public golf courses out there – but for me, these 5 fall to the top of the list.
So when I woke up last week knowing I was about to head out and play the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass? I was downright, giddy.
So what’s the experience like playing TPC? Is it truly all it’s cracked up to be? Is it as hard as people say it is?
Read on, and I’ll give you the full lowdown on what to expect.
Details About TPC Sawgrass
- Designer: Pete Dye
- Built in: 1980
- Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
- Greens fees: Varies depending on time of year. $385-413 in January
- Website: https://tpc.com/sawgrass/
- Golf Digest Top 100 Public: #12
- Golf Digest Top 100: #51
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Public: #7
- Golf Magazine Top 100: #29
First Impressions of The Players Stadium at TPC Sawgrass
For those of you who have been to the Masters, driving to Sawgrass had a little bit of an Augusta vibe in the sense that the main road was full of chain restaurants and strip malls. Then you pull into a neighborhood and wind your way through houses to TPC Sawgrass, and their massive clubhouse that’s even bigger in person.
There aren’t many clubhouses in golf that have a more imposing presence.
The first surprise we experienced was the fact that while we were driving in, everything was….brown?
While Sawgrass was in immaculate shape in January of 2018, because of the freakishly cold winter the Bermuda grass has gone dormant for the first time in decades (if ever).
We had multiple employees comment on how lucky we are to see it in this condition.
While their typical lush green fairways would have made for better photos, it was cool to see all the same.
One of the cool things about being in Florida around the PGA show is the fact that so many golf industry people are in town.
I teed it up with golf photographer extraordinaire Patrick Koenig (@pjkoenig) and we met multiple “internet friends” randomly on the practice tee and even in the middle of one of the fairways.
TPC Sawgrass: The Course
After a brief warm up, we headed out to the opening hole, which does a very good job of letting you know exactly what you’re in for in your round:
Lots of sand, water that isn’t in play as much as I expected it to be, trees that were in play more than I expected it to be – and blazing fast greens.
I thought the first hole was an excellent opener. While it’s not the “gentle handshake” I usually like, it wasn’t as difficult as many of the holes on the course, and it gave you options off the tee. Do you blast away with driver to take the lake out of play? Or do you finesse a 3 wood up the left side to avoid losing it in the trees?
The par 5, second hole is gives you an option to make a decision on how the day is going to go: are you going to play aggressive and go for the eagle or birdie early?
Or are you going to play smart, layup and try and make a 4 with the one putt?
You learn quickly that Pete Dye’s signature bunkering is prevalent just about everywhere on the course.
While on many cases it can be overdone, I thought the bunkering at TPC Sawgrass was excellent and very effective given the nature of the course.
What do I mean by that?
Earlier I mentioned the water didn’t come into play as much as expected.
While you have obvious cases of “do or die” like on the island green 17th:
the entire left hand side of 18:
or the approach carry on 4:
In many cases, you have to miss pretty significantly to go in the water. In most cases, you have a generous amount of bunkering to stop the ball from going in the drink.
You can see a great example of this on the tee shot at #6. There’s water way left, but you have a large bunker to save you before you go in.
If you hit it that far left? You deserve the punishment. But if you just hit it “sorta bad” – then you get a “sorta bad” result on the beach.
You see this theme repeatedly on the course, and personally I was really impressed by it.
There weren’t really any times where I found myself bored on the course. Across the board, the holes had consistency in the sense that it was obviously work from Pete Dye, and there was an abundance of sand and water – but there was enough unique to each hole that it keeps you on your toes and engaged in the round.
The greens weren’t the most undulating I’ve ever played, but at times it felt like they were.
I’ve played fast greens, but these were next level.
When you got them downhill, down grain, it’s like your ball was strapped to a turbo booster as soon as it came off your putter face. The balls just kept rolling, and rolling, and rolling…
It took some adjusting to get used to, and you quickly stopped thinking about holing putts.
It became a quest for survival, and if you were able to get the distance right and leave it within 4 feet? It felt like a win.
For the entirety of the front 9, I was playing for bogey golf. Save for the odd par on 2 and double on 6, it was all bogeys for a 45 – my 5th in a row on the trip.
On the back, it was possible to finally get a sense of the speed and close putts and good scores became much more prevalent.
Personal Favorite Holes at TPC Sawgrass
It’s hard to argue that TPC Sawgrass has one of the best finishing stretches in professional golf. The risk/reward par 5 16th, was every bit as good as I expected it to be.
#17 requires an exacting tee shot, but honestly it wasn’t quite as daunting from the blues as it is from the tips (which were blocked off with pro nets even months in advance of the tournament.)
Of course that didn’t stop me from almost leaving it in the drink. My gap wedge caught the edge of the island by only about 2 feet.
Finally, 18 is one of the scariest tee shots in the the world. Left? Totally dead. Right? In the trees.
A long straight drive is required if you want any chance at your par.
I love short par 5s, and #11 is the best chance on the day for an average person to make their birdie.
I also thought 9 had one of the best green complexes on the course. The unique mounding kind of reminded me of #9 at Myopia Hunt. Obviously two very different holes and courses, but elements felt oddly familiar.
Despite his easy par, Patrick still sent himself to time out in the tiny pot bunker at the front of the green:
A Few More Photos of TPC Sawgrass:
Final Thoughts on TPC Sawgrass
In the end, I actually liked TPC Sawgrass more than I expected to. It’s one of the best target golf courses in the world, and to play a tour level, championship course that isn’t all about length was nice to see.
The rate when we played was $413. I don’t care who you are, that is a lot of money for a round of golf.
Is it worth it?
Well, “worth it” is a relative term.
I barely hit the green on 17. I lagged a long putt, and made a knee knocking 5 footer for par.
On 18 I smoked a 275 yard drive, dropped an 8 iron to 6 feet and barely missed by birdie putt for a tap in par.
I lipped out an eagle putt and tapped in for birdie on the short par 5 11th.
Those memories alone?
That I undoubtedly will share dozens of times over the coming years?
Totally worth $413.
Sot it honestly depends on how much you like golf, how many times you’ve watched The Players, and frankly what things you truly value in life.
For me, I place a premium on experiences. And playing the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass was one of the coolest golf experiences I’ve had to date.
Staying at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort
One of the best parts of the experience was staying at the Sawgrass Marriott which is located just across the water from the 13th hole of the course.
The hotel is about as convenient as it gets to the Club, and frankly was even better than I’d expected.
While we were only there for one night, I was surprised by just how much was going on there. The lobby bar (where I actually wrote the majority of this post) has a nice buzz of people to it, and the full service Starbucks in the hotel was a welcome surprise (even if it was the most expensive Starbucks I’ve ever been in).
The resort would be even better in the summer, as there were a ton of outdoor activities and seating areas, and best of all, their own mini island green sitting out in their lake. You can buy raffle tickets for a chance to hit a hole in one and win some sweet prizes.
Dinner at Alice & Pete’s Pub was very good, and a perfect spot to play some games and grab beers with your buddies. My sliders weren’t bad, but Patrick’s Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese was some of the best mac and cheese I’ve ever tasted – highly recommended.
In the end, while it certainly isn’t the most affordable option out there, if you want the full Sawgrass experience, staying at the resort is highly recommended and was a welcome treat.