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What to Expect on the Challenging Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass

Its rock-star-famous 17th hole is among the most recognizable in golf

TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida / Photo: Courtesy of Chris Condon/PGA Tour

If you miss the cut for the next Players Championship to be held at the TPC Sawgrass golf complex in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, you can still join more than 100,000 golfers who hit a tee shot into the water on the 17th hole of the renowned Stadium Course each year. Created in 1980 as the first course built with spectators in mind, it serves as home to this competition.

Pete Dye designed the Bermuda grass layout to intentionally not favor any particular style of golf—which certainly held true for me, as I often exhibit differing styles on every shot. Holes include long and short par threes, fours and fives, with doglegs curving both left and right. No two consecutive holes play in the same direction and swirling winds affect balls hit above the contoured mounds, ample bunkers and thick rough. The rock-star-famous 17th hole—137 yards to a tiny bunker-fronted green—is among the most recognizable in golf, although its creation was mostly accidental: Course construction had dug so much dirt out of the ground to build the spectator mounding that a lake essentially formed itself around the green site.

Hole 3 of the Stadium Course / Photo: Courtesy of TPC Sawgrass

The course, which carries the highest difficulty rating in golf from the back tees, was not loved by professionals upon completion, but their stance has since softened. Ben Crenshaw called it “Star Wars golf designed by Darth Vader.” When asked if it suited his game, Jack Nicklaus replied, “I’ve never been very good at stopping a five iron on the hood of a car.” Narrow fairways, waste bunkers, pot bunkers, obstructing palm trees and strobe-light-fast greens combine to deliver a potent cocktail of both pleasure and punishment. Don’t think about making long putts—just try to keep them inside the county line. Water appears on 17 of the holes; the good news is that sand or pine straw may grab shots before they splash.

Fees of $600 enhance the course’s street cred. You can book a tee time 12 months in advance if staying at the adjoining Marriott, or 14 days otherwise.

TPC Sawgrass also offers play on Dye’s Valley Course (designed with Bobby Weed and Jerry Pate). It delivers a calm warm-up before a round on Stadium or a sort of therapy session after the likely trauma of that round. Valley unfurls across similar terrain, although with far less drama as it winds among canals and housing and brings many other Florida venues to mind.

Clubhouse / Photo: Courtesy of ECVT/Neal Smith

After golf on either course, pursue comfort in the Mediterranean-style clubhouse. Sit back in an oversized leather chair while considering original golf art, or head for well-earned refreshment at Nineteen. You can also tour the building with an on-site storyteller—if your own story of the day isn’t already dramatic enough.