Friday, September 23, 2011

TPC Sawgrass

Last weekend I had the opportunity to vacation at TPC Sawgrass, playing three days of golf with my dad. I say that like I won a contest, but in reality we've been discussing the trip for three years and finally just decided to spend a lot of money for the experience before his golf skills start diminishing. He has actually played the Stadium Course twice before, albeit it was 25 years ago when it was much harder than it is now (designer Pete Dye was forced to eventually change much of the course due to complaints from the PGA).

There are actually two courses at Sawgrass. Obviously, the famous one is the Stadium Course, which you can watch PGA pros hack up at The Players tournament every year. The other is the Valley Course, also designed by Pete Dye but run by private members instead of tour players. The Valley Course hosts a Nationwide Tour event in October, so the rough was pretty high while we were there.

And how was the trip? Awesome.

The Stadium Course is by far the most beautiful course I've ever played. I'm not sure what marketing ploy has World Woods listed in the top 10 most beautiful courses in the world... but Sawgrass beats it. There is an insane amount of fairway bunkers and water, which create a stunning atmosphere but a nightmare for your golf score. It's definitely more of a "Florida feel" than the rolling hills of Brooksville. The entire facility is immaculate, and was even playable after the area got 8-10 inches of rain from a flash-flood on Friday.

#17 on Saturday morning after the flash-flood. I played it the next day and it was in near perfect condition.

It was also the first time I've ever had to use a caddy. The course assigns each group one "forecaddie," who does everything a normal caddy would except carry your clubs. They run off into the fairway, let you know it's clear to tee off, and then find your ball after you slice it into the trees. On the green he'll clean your ball, hold your clubs and even give you a read if you ask for it. It was a little uncomfortable having some dude always ask to hold my clubs (I'm used to just throwing them on the ground), but each guy we got was nice and made the experience fun.

Despite having the highest slope possible (155 from the tips), I didn't feel the Stadium Course was the hardest I've ever played. That honor belongs to the Jack Nicklaus Course (147 slope) at the Reunion Resort. If you played with us this year and witnessed Gorecki's 6+ hour round, you might agree with me. Sawgrass was manageable if you just played it safe and accepted the bogeys.

The fairways are really tight and are usually flanked by bunkers and/or water. A couple of tee shots require you to hit down a narrow gap of trees. For some reason though, my driver was going straight all weekend and I didn't have any problems.
Bottom line... I spent three days golfing for about the cost of a three day ski trip. Yes, it's expensive. But I'm very glad I can now cross that course off my "bucket list." And it was totally worth it.

Now I'll bore you with details of my rounds:

Day 1 - Stadium Course


I was quite nervous and it showed in the first three holes. The greens were very fast (not as fast as Riverstrand) and I found myself leaving a lot of uphill putts short. But they were the smoothest greens I've ever seen. The ball never awkwardly hopped when you hit it. After a great par on #4, I started to miss-hit a lot of my approach shots. At least I got par on the two easy holes on the back nine... but the par 5's killed me. I didn't really think about #17 until I was busy recording an 8 on #16. The island green is right in your face so you're just looking at it the whole time before you even finish the previous hole. My dad had the tee box and quickly pushed two shots into the water right of the green. I hit a 9-iron (everyone out there plays #17 from the tips) which I knew at the time wasn't enough club. I swore it was going short, but somehow landed in the rough short of the tiny bunker in front of the green... only clearing the water by a few inches. The caddy said in 5 years of working out there, he's never seen anyone hit a ball to where mine landed.

I had just enough inches...
I finished the round with a 97, two strokes off my personal goal. I was very happy to have broken 100 on my first try though. But there were three amazing stats about my round:
  1. I hit 12 of 14 fairways. I wasn't hitting them long off the tee, but they were going straight. It's a shame I only hit three greens in regulation, which speaks volumes of my iron play.
  2. I had only one three putt.
  3. I played the entire round on one ball. In fact, I took only one penalty stroke for an unplayable lie.

Day 2 - Valley Course

The Valley Course was also very nice, and reminded me a lot of Southern Hills. Since it's not as famous, I'll just list some fun facts:
  • Again, I played the entire round on one ball... but this time had no penalty strokes. I did have to take my shoes off and hit a shot standing in a lake once.
  • I had 7 pars and one birdie. But 5 doubles and one triple helped me inflate my score to an 88.
  • Like the first day, I only had one three putt.
  • We played this round the day after the flash-flood. Most of the bunkers were filled with water, but the rest of the course was surprisingly dry thanks to the drainage pumps running under the fairways and greens.
  • I was -1 on the par 3's, hitting every one in regulation. As Justin knows... I usually suck at par 3's.

Day 3 - Stadium Course


Back on the TPC! Redemption round! And I was in position to beat my dad for a third day in a row, which would earn me $50! So... I opened the round riding on the bogey train. But after a triple-bogey on #5 (where I hit 4 shots into bunkers), I relaxed and started to play some good golf. Six pars in a row followed, including an awesome par-save on #9 which is a bastard of a hole. I finally got a birdie on the par-3 15th and the thought of a sub-80 round crept into my mind. Unfortunately, #16 lurked on the horizon. Sitting nicely in the fairway 140 yards out, I skulled an 8 iron through the green and into the water. It was the first ball I lost all weekend.

I hate you, #16.

After the double-bogey on #16, I watched my dad put two more shots in the water on #17 before getting his third on. I took an extra club into the wind (it was about 15 mph in our face), and got an 8-iron to the back about 15 feet from the hole. Of course I left the birdie putt about a foot short, as the downhill slope to the water scared the shit out of me.

One problem with the 17th island hole, is that when it's over you don't really focus on the daunting 18th finishing hole. I found the fairway but chunked the next two shots, ending with a double-bogey and an 84. For the third round in a row, I only had one three-putt.

So that was my trip. Basically, I'm now ready to retire and just start golfing every day.