The Players Championship, which has been held at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida since 1982, has always been billed by the PGA Tour as the tournament with the strongest field and the largest purse. While the later might still be true, this year the Lords of Augusta National upped the Masters purse to $10,000,000, with a $1.8 million winners share, to match the Players. Jordan Spieth was the prime beneficiary of this bidding war when he cashed the winner’s check.
When play begins at TPC Sawgrass on May 7, most of the world’s best players will tee it up on Pete Dye’s challenging layout. In addition to the hefty payout, the winner will receive a 5-year exemption to the PGA Tour, 3-year exemptions to the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British Open, and 600 FedEx Cup points (typical tournaments confer only 500 points).
TPC Sawgrass was the culmination of the concerted efforts of former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who envisioned a unique player-owned course that would enhance spectators’ experiences and be playable by the public. After purchasing 415 acres of wooded wetlands and swamp for $1, Beman brought Dye on board to carve a course out of the challenging tract.
Dye’s concept was to achieve a balanced design that would not favor any one style of golf. Accordingly, the course has holes of various lengths, and a combination of right and left doglegs. No two consecutive holes run in the same direction so as neutralize the wind factor.
In order to create a stadium course, Dye’s engineers had to excavate large amounts of soil and sand to build the 30-foot high mounds that border a number of the holes. The famous par-3 17th hole was an accidental result of this project. Dye originally envisioned a small pond in front of the green, but when a large amount of valuable sand was found in the area they proceeded to excavate to the point that water surrounded the site of the green. Dye’s wife, Alice, suggested the island green concept (to the dismay of thousands of golfers who have hit balls into the water over the years.)
The 17th hole, which is listed at 137 yards but can play much shorter, has produced drama at the Players. Last year, Martin Kaymer went on to win after his tee shot on 17 appeared headed for the water but held up on the fringe. In 2013, Sergio Garcia was tied for the lead with Tiger Woods until he hit two balls into the water at the 17th. Bob Tway has the distinction of recording the highest score on the 17th during the Players — a 12 in 2005 after dunking four balls.
Only 28 balls found the water on the 17th during last year’s tournament, much less than the record 93 in 2007. Obviously, the recreational golfers who play Sawgrass don’t fare as well. It is estimated that 140,000 balls find the drink every year. But, if you have the chance to play Sawgrass, losing a sleeve of Titleist Pro Vs is probably a small price to pay.