The Stadium Course redo includes a driveable par 4 and a new lake.
There have been three major changes and dozens of subtle alterations to the design of the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass since the 2016 Players Championship. After Jason Day received the trophy last May, the course was shut down and its greens and bunkers were rebuilt, re-opening in mid-November.
Most noticeable to viewers will be at the 12th hole, now a driveable par 4 after changes by architect Steve Wenzloff, who is literally an artist-in-residence: His PGA Tour Design Services office is on the property.
The previous 12th was basically a duplicate of the short dogleg-left par-4 10th, but with a high knob in the left rough that, 30 years ago, obscured the view of the green for second shots. The knob became irrelevant once technology made it possible for even short hitters to easily drive beyond its reach. The knob is gone, replaced by a long strip bunker, the green has been moved forward a bit, and the 12th will now play 260 to 295 metres. (It maxes out at 327.)
Wenzloff, who says he consulted several times on the redesign with original architect Pete Dye, 91, says there are two keys that could make the 12th one of the most exciting holes during the championship. The first is a lagoon left of the green, positioned seven metres off the putting surface and about six feet below it, with a closely mowed slope between. Wenzloff hopes it will play like the lake bank in front of the 15th green at Augusta National. “The more we can emphasise the journey of the ball once it hits the ground, the more we’ll draw the viewer into the excitement level,” he says.
The other element was to make the tee shot look so compelling, and the alternatives so unappealing, that every tour player will feel he has to go for the green. So the fairway, which runs to the right towards trees and pinestraw before swinging to the left just in front of the green, is canted to the right so balls might bounce into the trees. A “safe” tee shot rolling straight through the fairway will end up in a low pocket, with a ridge to the left – a salute to Dye’s original knob – from which only the flag, but not the green surface, can be seen for a wedge second shot. Last, Wenzloff angled the water hazard so that someone pulling a tee shot into the water might still be able to drop within 30 metres or so of the green. “That’s part of a player’s thought process,” he says. “If a player’s ball last crosses the hazard a hundred yards back, he won’t go for it. We want them to stand on the 12th tee and think, I have to go for it.”
Dye gave his blessing to the changes on 12, although for years he declined to build driveable par 4s because he considered them overly long par 3s. Deane Beman, the commissioner who conceived the US PGA Tour’s TPC network in the 1970s and convinced Dye to turn a swamp into its flagship course, told reporters recently that, though he likes the revamped course, he doesn’t like the new 12th. “It slows down play,” he said, “and play is [already] too slow.”
The most noticeable change on the front nine is the disappearance of the ugly, shaggy spectator mound that was hardly used between the sixth and seventh holes, two par 4s running in opposite directions. Needing plenty of dirt for projects elsewhere, Wenzloff directed workers to dig up the gigantic landform, carving deep enough to turn the area into a lake. (The workers discovered several pockets of decayed tree trunks during the dig; the spectator mound had been used by Dye to bury vegetation when fairways were first cut through a forest.)
“We now have two beautiful golf holes linked by a lovely body of water,” Wenzloff says. “The scale of the space has changed immensely. The seventh tee has been moved back and re-aligned. Before, that 27-yard-wide fairway was 50 percent of what you could see off the tee, so it was easier to focus on the tee shot. Now it’s maybe 10 percent of the view. It looks very narrow. Players could be distracted by the panoramic lake.”
Another big change was the replacement of MiniVerde ultradwarf Bermuda grass on the greens. The grass had been installed in 2006, but tour officials believed the turf was no longer providing a premium putting experience. Indeed, some of TPC’s greens were closed during early practice rounds last year. The greens are now TifEagle, a third-generation hybrid Bermuda said to withstand northern Florida’s winters better than MiniVerde. (Should the Players be moved back to March, the course, including its greens, would almost certainly be over-seeded with a cool-season turf.)