The purest test in golf
Construction of No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida Circa 1980. (Photo by PGA TOUR)
An aerial course overview as fans watch play on the 16th and 17th holes during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass on May 9, 2015. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass challenges the best golfers in the world year in and year out.
An elite field of golfers gather in Ponte Vedra Beach every May to do battle on a course designed and built to give the world’s best a challenge unlike any other.
When course architect Pete Dye first began to design the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in the 1980s his goal was to construct an equally balanced golf course that did not favor any one play style. He set out to build the purest test of skill for the world's best golfers.
Dye made sure throughout the Stadium’s extensive design plans that there was a variety of holes featuring long and short par-3s, par-4s and par-5s. Dye set out to construct a course in which players needed to pick and choose when to attack. It wasn’t meant to be a long-hitters course or a course designed for any one play style. He wanted tee shots where players couldn’t just take driver on every hole and hit it as far as they could.
The goal was set to strive for an equal amount of dogleg left and dogleg right holes. Dye even went as far to ensure that two consecutive holes didn’t face the same direction so that the way the wind is blowing would be more balanced from hole to hole.
The Stadium Course was built as a shrine to golf fans and as the home course for the players of the PGA TOUR. It’s very fitting that the course would challenge players in every facet of their game from beginning to end.
From the first hole -- a 423-yard par 4 with a narrow landing area -- to the last hole, a 462-yard par 4 that bends to the left and is lined with water up the entire left side, the Stadium Course demands distance just as much as it requires precision and finesse.
No other course requires shot precision at the same level of the Stadium. It rewards golfers who can hit both a draw (No. 2 tee shot) and a fade (No. 11 approach shot), and that jack of all trades skill set is highlighted by every hole on the course.
The eighth hole is a prime example of the Stadium’s demand for every shot in a player’s repertoire. The par 3 measures 237 yards and depending on the wind can play as long as 250 yards. The eighth hole requires players to hit a precise shot through a narrow opening to a narrow green. While the hole has the second-longest proximity to hole on approach shots (46 feet) since 2003, it is the easiest hole at TPC Sawgrass to putt from 5 to 10 feet (59.9 percent of putts made).
The purest test in golf should have an eclectic mixture challenges and scoring opportunities. The perfect one-two punch is the 16th and 17th holes at the Stadium.
The 16th hole is historically one of the easier holes on the course. It’s a short par 5 that measures 523 yards and hovers around a 4.6 stroke average during THE PLAYERS every May. The green is reachable in two from just about anywhere, as long as players hit it in the fairway. The test comes in the second shot. With water lining the right and two large trees hanging over the left side of the fairway about 50 yards from the green, It’s an approach shot that requires precision and badly punishes a mis-hit shot. But the opportunity is ripe for the taking if players can thread the needle and get it on the green in two.
If players elect to go for it and miss the green to the left, a bailout area sits to the left of the green, (a great spot to watch THE PLAYERS from) where balls tend to collect on tournament days. PGA TOUR player Billy Horschel says it’s a relatively easy up and down to any of the hole locations if a player misses the green to the left.
“It’s a hole where eagle and birdie can be easy, but you could easily make bogey or double or worse, too,” Horschel said.
ShotLink stats show that from 2003 to 2013, 72 percent of the field went for the 16th green in two shots and 26.2 percent of those players hit the green with their second shot. Players who went for the green over the 10-year span were 1,891 under par, while those who laid up were 56 under.
Players finish the 16th and easiest hole on the course, and then the island green of No. 17 awaits. The island green is arguably the purest test of a golfer’s skill -- some love it and some hate it. PGA TOUR player Justin Rose describes the mental challenge of the island green perfectly.
“To me, 17 is one of the easiest holes we play all year … on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, when you’ve got a scorecard in your hands, it ramps up,” Rose said.