Before you ask ... I got a 6.
How’d I know what you were going to ask? Trust me, telepathy was not involved. The TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course has many stellar holes, but most golfers only care about your score on one of them.
“What’d you get on 17? What’d you get on the Island Green hole?”
That’s what inquiring minds want to know.
It’s simultaneously the most famous and infamous hole in golf, the one hole where nobody will believe you if you claim to not remember your score. I’ve tested that theory. I could always lie and claim my first two shots were mulligans and take 2 as my score. (Yes, I drained a 25-footer for my 6.)
But this is the one hole in all of golf you should record exactly what you shoot — no matter your handicap, no matter your score.
My friend Darin Bunch birdied it once upon a time and has the engraved bag tag to prove it. He got a 2, and that’s what I’d intended to do. But no, my club elected to splash the ball a couple feet short of the front wooden wall. My son found the green — both times he played it. He got a par when we were out taking pictures the first night when we only played that hole. And then he made it again during our official round, but three-putted when the caddie told him the putt would break left. It broke right. The caddie apologized — something I’ve never seen a caddie do — and my son graciously accepted the apology.
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is unquestionably Pete Dye’s pinnacle design if for no other reason than it serves as the annual host of The Players Championship. It’s honestly as coveted a round for professionals as it is for the “once in a lifetimers.” But it can also make Tour players look like amateurs and the rest of us look like... well, we probably can’t look any worse.
But just as all the focus of the Stadium Course tends to be on No. 17, all the focus at TPC Sawgrass tends to be on the Stadium Course. And that makes Pete Dye’s other masterpiece on property — Dye’s Valley Course (designed by Dye, Bobby Weed and player consultant Jerry Pate) — a candidate for “America’s best kept secret.” Or at least it would if writers didn’t keep pointing that out. Without question, Dye’s Valley is every bit as worthy of your time and money as its big bully brother.
As usual I played both courses with my teenage son. His back-to-back 8s on the Valley’s last two holes gave him a 92, marring an otherwise spectacular four-birdie round. Around sunset we cruised over to the Stadium’s 17th to take pictures. I sat and chatted up a super friendly ranger while my boy fired a couple dozen balls at the island. I still remember his adrenaline-fueled words as we drove back toward the Carcassonne-like clubhouse. “Dad, that was the coolest night ever.” Yeah, it was up there.
And it wasn’t over. The “stay” portion of one of golf’s most epic package deals is the Sawgrass Marriott. There are great Marriotts scattered across the country, but Florida has two of the very best in Orlando’s World Center and Ponte Vedra Beach’s Sawgrass. The indoor/outdoor flow, transitions and atmosphere are almost unparalleled in golf resorts, absolutely validating their many prestigious awards. The rooms are spectacular, the lounge is lively, the mini-golf and gardens, walkways and waterside patios are so serene and memorable — day and night. There’s a pool, a spa, a fitness center, shops and one of my favorite hangouts in America — Alice & Pete’s Pub. Talk about “vibe” and “atmosphere.” Sit outside by the water in large plush chairs. Watch TV, play pool or darts, eat some incredibly tasty wings and hit a bucket of balls at their replica island green in the pond outside. Chill out, relax and enjoy the high life just across the water from the high point of many a golfer’s life — the Stadium Course.
That’s how we did it. And that’s how you do it.
My son and I struggled on the Stadium Course the next morning — both broke 100 but only by chance. It was more than just nerves, more than the ghosts of galleries lining those famed fairways. It was arduous but awesome. Long but way too short. At one point I mentioned to our caddie, “I love it. It’s everything I hoped it would be. But seriously, Tough Mudder could host an event here without any modifications.”
His reply: “It’s really not that bad.”
Sure. OK. I think Sergio Garcia would’ve had my back on that one — in 2013 at least. The course is tight, unforgiving but also character-defining. I waited 18 years for the opportunity to play a course that kicked my you-know-what, and I loved every minute of it.
Except maybe for that walk from the 17th green to the 18th tee when my son said, “I should have gotten a par there dad. That really wasn’t my fault.”
“I know what you mean,” I said.
But I didn’t, actually. My 6 was entirely my fault.
And yet another reason why we both can’t wait for a return to TPC Sawgrass someday and a little island-green redemption.
* * *
Where It’s At: 110 Championship Way in Ponte Vedra Beach. 35.2 miles south of the Jacksonville airport and 152 miles northeast of Orlando airport.
Ideal Stay & Play: 1-2 nights. 36-54 holes. First of all, you have to play both courses. I consider Dye’s Valley a Top 3 Florida surprise. And if you have deep enough pockets, the Stadium Course is worth playing twice.
What It’s About: History. Legacies. Playground of the legends of the game. Augusta is the only other site that hosts a Major (caliber) championship every year. This is hallowed ground. There’s a hard-to-describe awesome vibe to both the clubhouse (which is a golf-history museum all its own) and hotel.
Family Focus: The Sawgrass Marriott offers swimming, mini-golf and a family-rich extension Beach Club.
Local Food & Drinks: Stay close for the atmosphere — Aqua Grill, The Lobby Bar, Alice & Pete’s Pub —and if you must leave, check out Barb and Wally’s Down South Barbeque.
Day GolfGetaway: Don’t even think about it — you’ve got everything you need right here.
Eric N. Hart is the Family Travel Editor for Golf News Net and contributing golf journalist for several regional and national publications — experiencing the diverse amenities of the world, often with his wife and four children in tow. He has stayed at 120-plus resorts and played more than 400 courses while exploring 48 states and 35 countries worldwide. This story is part of his ongoing “Family Fun — Florida Golf Resorts" series. Follow Eric @MobileGolfer on Instagram and @TheMobileGolfer on Twitter. And check out his podcast episodes of “Talking Golf Getaways with Mitch Laurance & Darin Bunch” for more great family golf-travel destinations and vacation ideas.