The Players Championship gets underway May 11-14 on the newly renovated Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass where Jason Day will defend his title. Golf’s unofficial “fifth major” typically has the best field of any tournament played during the year, including the top 50 players in the world rankings, and one of the largest purses in golf at $10.5 million. With a great field and a huge prize purse, what more will it take to make The Players a major championship? It could be the golf course itself.
Originally billed as the Tournament Players Championship, The Players was the brainchild of former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman. First played in 1974, it found its permanent home on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida in 1982. Designed by Pete and Alice Dye, media coverage from the first event played on the new TPC layout was not so much about the winner Jerry Pate, as it was about the complaints the players had about the new course. Asked if it suited his game, Jack Nicklaus replied, “No, I’ve never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car.” Ben Crenshaw called it, “Star Wars golf, designed by Darth Vader.”
Pete Dye tweaked the Stadium Course prior to the 1983 event, making the greens less severe and replacing several bunkers, making it more playable. It became a “darn good golf course,” according to Crenshaw. As the permanent home of The Players, the course has undergone two other major renovations, the most recent of which was just completed. But the most famous hole on the course which remains untouched, simply known as the “Island Green” actually came into being by accident. The original design for the 17th was to be a simple par-3 with the green only partially surrounded by a lake. But because the area surrounding the green was so sandy, on a construction site otherwise considered Florida swampland, most of that sand had been dug up for use elsewhere on the golf course leaving a large crater around the proposed green. It was actually Alice Dye, an accomplished golfer in her own right, who suggested the Island Green concept, in the process creating one of the most nerve-racking and recognizable holes in golf.
Golf Channel devotes eleven cameras to the 17th hole during The Players. It only measures 132 yards from tee to green, a pitching wedge for most tour players, but apart from a small pathway to the putting surface, there is nowhere to land the ball but on the green, in the small bunker in front, or in the water. And because the hole is located amongst a lot of trees, the wind swirls in this area making every shot a tough one. In 2007, 50 balls landed in the water at the 17th in just one round of The Players and more than 100,000 balls are retrieved from the surrounding water every year.
While no hole on the Stadium Course gets more coverage that the 17th, rest assured that this is a great championship golf course. As the home of The Players and headquarters for the PGA Tour, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has not seen its last renovation, and like Augusta National, it’s the golf course that makes The Players a great championship. Let’s just call it the “fifth major” and leave it at that.