TPC at Sawgrass

TPC at SawgrassNext to Amen Corner and the 18th at Pebble Beach, the closing trio of holes at the Stadium Course at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra might be the most recognizable piece of golf real estate in America. And after the 2006 PLAYER Championship in March, it should become even more fan- and player-friendly, following a $25-million renovation that is expected to be completed by early 2007.More fan-friendly with the terracing and re-configuration of the mounds and grandstands around the three finishing holes that created the phrase “stadium golf”.

For example, the hill overlooking the lake on the famed par-3 17th will actually be lowered, the more subtle slope allowing for even more fans to see the renowned island hole. Also, new video screens will replace the mechanical leaderboards, more closely merging the knowledge we who stay at home and watch on TV get with the flavor of truly being there. While the Stadium Course currently sells out at 35,000 fans daily on THE PLAYERS Championship week, officials think they’ll be able to sell 50,000 tickets daily and still have more room for everyone on the course.

The course will also be made more player-friendly for the pros, and us hackers who ante up to play Pete Dye’s classic. Built on marshland, the biggest knock against the Stadium Course since it first opened in 1980 has always been its drainage. Three of the last six PLAYERS Championships have had to finish on Mondays because of its easily waterlogged fairways, not the best advertisement for the so-called “Fifth Major”.

Scoring at THE PLAYERS Championship has always been overly dependant on the weather. According to the TOUR, the winning score in “wet” years averages 13-1/2 under par, while it is only minus 8-1/2 in “dry” years. The most dramatic example was Greg Norman’s 24-under-par score that won the soggy 1994 Players, followed by Lee Janzen’s 5-under total that won on a “fast” track the very next year.

The technological advances of the last quarter-century that will update the course include a new subterranean pumping system under every green, allowing 42,000 gallons of water an hour to be drained, drying each green within minutes. But that’s not all. The renovation also includes the removal of the top 6-inches of dirt from every fairway, to be replaced by an estimated 24,000 tons of high-grade, faster-draining sand. Then new Bermuda fairways will be planted atop the sand, allowing the undulating fairways to stay firmer and faster longer. Contrary to the current notion that courses must be continually lengthened to keep scores from becoming ridiculous, the TOUR thinks “firm-and-fast” is just as effective as “longer and longer”, meaning that when the Stadium course reopens in November of 2006, it will stay at 7,093 yards for the pros, just 236 yards longer than when it first held THE PLAYERS in 1982.

The project, which began as a Clubhouse expansion (with completion before the 2007 PLAYERS), enhancing of the Hospitality Village and tailoring of the entryways as a Walk of Fame has now become a complete overhaul that PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem says he hopes becomes a model for all tournaments to follow that “sets the bar in terms of fan experience, player experience and sponsor experience.” In the meantime, the TPC’s beautiful Valley Course will remain open for play.

Conquering the Island 17th will still be a roll of the dice, but the experience Golf Digest ranked as #8 on its “Top 10 Things Every American Should Do Before Dying”, just playing the Stadium Course, shouldn’t be a gamble any longer.

 

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