The Island Green.
The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass transcends golf. It’s the only hole in the world that casual sports fans can instantly see in their mind’s eye. In a game where controlling your misses is the key to victory, on this hole there is nowhere to miss.
Hit long … dead.
Hit short … dead.
Hit left … dead.
Hit right … well, you get the idea.
Without the water, the 137-yard par three would be the easiest hole on the PGA Tour. At that yardage, tour players are hitting sand wedges into the green. But the signature hole at this week’s Players Championship tests the player’s most fragile equipment: His mind. Add some wind and some Sunday afternoon pressure and this short par three tortures the souls of the world’s best golfers.
“I think I’ve hit in water more than I’ve hit it on that green, so I’m not doing very good, but I’m getting used to that drop area though,” Bubba Watson said at last year’s Players Championship.
“It tricks you into thinking it’s a real difficult hole when it’s just a short iron. But we’re human, so we think about the bad stuff.”
What many people don’t know is that the most iconic hole in American golf almost never came to be. In 1980, when architect Pete Dye was given the difficult task of turning 415 acres of Florida swampland into the showpiece for the PGA Tour, he didn’t plan the 17th green to be an island.
As work began on the course, Dye, working closely with wife Alice, discovered that the soil surrounding the 17th green was ideal for filling holes and creating mounds all over the golf course. Little by little, the earth around the green was taken away for use on other parts of the course. Eventually, all the soil was gone and the green sat elevated above a dirt basin. Water began to surround the green and, one day while visiting the site, Alice Dye came up with the concept of an island green.
The rest is history.
The creation of the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course was based on several concepts.
The Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., facility was to be the permanent home of the Players Championship and would be owned by the players.
Also, the course was to be built with spectators in mind and was to be the “first true stadium course” designed to improve the overall fan experience with large mounds around greens for grandstand-style seating and holes positioned close together for easy accessibility.
Canadian golf fans know that this isn’t quite true because Jack Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey as a stadium course in 1976.
Last, unlike most top courses, which are private, TPC Sawgrass was to be open to all golfers. This means every year, thousands of recreational players are able to have their own gut-check moment at the Island Green.
In the end, Pete Dye turned the swampland into a masterpiece that routinely ranks in Golf Digest’s top 50 American courses.
Rory McIlroy pointed out Tuesday during his press conference that Sawgrass is one of the rare stops on tour where the course becomes the story. “The main three are probably Masters, here and St. Andrews whenever the Open goes there,” McIlroy said.
For the Players Championship, McIlroy — who has reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking — has taken out his 5-wood and inserted a 2-iron into the mix.
“The main reason why I’ve put the 2âiron in the bag this week is because, even for me, hitting 3âwoods on some of these holes, it still goes a little too far even though you’re hitting across fairways,” he said.“If you’re hitting your second shots from the fairway here, it makes it a lot easier.”
Since this tournament is the flagship event for the PGA Tour and often referred to as the fifth major, it’s no surprise that Sawgrass is in perfect condition.
“I think they closed it for, like, the last three weeks, didn’t let anyone play it,” McIlroy said. “So the greens and fairways and everything, it’s — I mean, I’ve only been here twice, but it’s the best that I’ve ever seen it.”
Luke Donald, the man McIlroy is playing tag with for the golf’s top spot, also weighed in on the course conditions via Twitter: “TPC Sawgrass is pure as ... greens are like carpets.”
This week’s winner not only takes home $1.7 million — the largest prize on the PGA Tour — he also earns a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a three-year invitation to the Masters Tournament, three-year exemptions for the British Open and the U.S. Open, plus an exemption to the PGA Championship for this year.
Without question, fans will be glued to the drama at the par-three 17th hole, but that doesn’t mean the signature hole is without controversy.
Some players feel that if the wind is blowing, then the famous hole becomes too much of a crapshoot to deserve a place in the finishing stretch of such an important tournament.
Tiger Woods brought this point up when he was asked about the hole during a press conference in 2007 and reiterated it Tuesday.
“I just think it’s a wonderful hole, but I don’t agree with it being the 17th or 71st hole of a championship because I just think that it is a little gimmicky in that sense,” Woods said in 2007. “I think it’s a great 8th hole or another part of the golf course.”
David Toms agrees with Tiger in the current issue of Golf magazine. Then again, Toms did happen to lose to K.J. Choi in playoff at the Island Green last year.
Jack Nicklaus was asked his thoughts in 2007 after Woods made it known that he didn’t like it as the 17th hole.
“Well, where would he like to have it?” Nicklaus asked.
“Frankly, I think it’s a terrific hole,” Nicklaus said. “It is in a position where it creates the controversy. That’s the whole idea of it. That’s what it’s for.”
Even though the golf great admires the hole exactly how and where it is, Nicklaus also acknowledged that the 17th hole can be a bit much to handle.
“You just wonder whether a tournament should be determined by that much of a thing at that point in time,” he added.
So, the argument is that the most famous hole on the PGA Tour might not be quite fair.
Since when was golf supposed to be fair?