The newest green at TPC Sawgrass? A year ago it was a lake

the new practice green at tpc sawgrass and superintendent Jeff Plotts

Anthony Naylor (left), Michael Bamberger

courtesy of jeff plotts

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The guys who started on 10, half the field on Thursday and the other half on Friday, were having the time of their lives as they waited to play their first shots of the day. They were on one of the best greens on the property, at least in terms of the health and quality of the turf, plus its pleasing shape. The new practice green, just down a wee hill from the 10th tee. A year ago, it was a lake.

“You could call it a lake,” Jeff Plotts was saying late Thursday afternoon. Plotts, native son of Stone Mountain, Ga., is in charge of anything that grows at TPC Sawgrass, and a staff of about 100 people who turn his vision into a reality. “A lake, a swamp, something like that,” Plotts said. “It could get smelly, certain times of year. Only ‘bout four, five feet deep at its deepest.”

But that was then. That lake — so 2023! This is now: 72 players and 72 caddies, walking across this gorgeous green covered by pale TifEagle Bermuda grass on their way from the 9th green to the 10th tee, 72 players, getting in some last-minute putting as they cooled their jets to begin their rounds.

Before the little swamp was filled with a 100 or far more bulldozer loads of dirt from mounds that Plotts and his people never liked, there was a tiny (about 2,000 square feet) practice putting green behind the 10th tee. You’d see three players and three caddies and it was “cramped,” in Plotts’ estimation. One golfer would often be in another’s way. Errant practice putts would hit the heel of some unsuspecting player’s shoe and bounce off it like a dead pinball flipper. Is that any way to prepare for one of golf’s biggest tournaments? Survey says no. Jeff Plotts says no.

The new green is about 6,000 square feet. It was designed, with some committee oversight, by the PGA Tour’s in-house course architect, Steve Wenzloff. It’s a classic, a beauty, with five holes, good movement in some places, while semi-flat in others. It’s gorgeous in its simplicity.

Rhetorical question: Would it be asking too much for modern architects to build greens along these lines? Where is it written that good greens should look like a bunny slope at a New England ski resort? I mean yes, sure, such greens are cool and fun, or they can be, but not when green speeds get north of 12.

“We have a lot of players who live near here, Korn Ferry players who come here to practice,” Plotts said. By title, he’s the director of golf course maintenance at TPC Sawgrass. His accent is pure country. His degree is from the University of Georgia. “In time, I think you’re going to find that this is where a lot of guys will want to come and practice, because it’s quiet and sort of secluded.” A good place to get your putting reps in.

Plotts admires how, at Augusta National, club chairmen are forever making “improvements” (club jargon) to the course and club, in the 51 weeks a year when the Masters is not being played. But when players and fans and others return for the tournament, nothing new is screaming at you. That’s an inspiration for Plotts at TPC Sawgrass, aka the Stadium Course.

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Fanny Sunesson, Nick Faldo’s former caddie who now does some work some as a European TV golf analyst, paid Plotts the ultimate compliment the other day, talking about some of the discreet changes Plotts and his team made to the course: Some things are different this year; the course more pleasing to the eye and it plays better — but what exactly is different, I can’t quite say.

You made the man’s day, Ms. Sunesson!

During his Wednesday practice round, Cam Davis of Australia was making the walk from 9 tee to 10 tee and he was absolutely certain that he was walking across a practice green that had been a lake. Right? He wasn’t certain. Music!

Plotts is a serious student of the course’s architect, Pete Dye. There’s not a tree or a plant on the course he cannot identify from a distance. Ditto for the birds above the course, the animals on it, the fish in its murky ponds, dyed black to look deeper and more menacing than they might otherwise appear. (“That what part of Pete’s genius,” Plotts said. That is, have things look one way and play another.) Sometimes, sky and sea and earth get all mixed up. He described an osprey and an eagle flying over the first fairway not long ago, in a dogfight over a tilapia. One of the birds dropped the fish on the fairway. A course worker walked over to it.

“It’s alive, boss,” the man said.

“Throw it in the lake!” Plotts said.

Throw it in the lake while you can. Lakes come and lakes go. The players and the caddies now walk from 9 to 10 and never set foot on a cart path. Plotts watched the threesome of Wyndham Clark, Brian Harman and Collin Morikawa stroll on by, over the new best green at TPC Sawgrass. The boss of all moss was pleased.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at

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