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Course Rater Confidential: Is the 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course great or gimmicky?

March 15, 2019


GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this new GOLF.com series, we’ll be granting them anonymity and turning to them for their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how GOLF’s panelists assess courses. In this edition, we’ve asked our experts to assess the famed island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, the Stadium course’s ranking on GOLF’s Top 100 You Can Play list, and Pete Dye’s best design.

Meet our panel:

Panelist 1: Panelist since 2007; has played 90 of the current Top 100 World

Panelist 2: Panelist since 2007; has played 75 of the Top 100 U.S. and 50 of the Top 100 World

Panelist 3: Panelist since 2018; has played 52 of the Top 100 World

Panelist: 4 Panelist since 2003; has played 66 of the Top 100 World

Panelist 5: Panelist since 2007; has played 82 of the Top 100 World

Panelist 6: Panelist since 2011; has played 94 of the Top 100 World

There is no more iconic hole at TPC Sawgrass than the
There is no more iconic hole at TPC Sawgrass than the "Island Green" 17th hole.

1. The 2019 Players Championship is underway at TPC Sawgrass, home to one of the most famous par-3s in the game. The island-green 17th has inspired no shortage of opinions over the years. What’s yours? Good hole? Great? Gimmick?

Panelist 1: It is an exciting hole for the fans and a difference maker for the pros. Fans expect the pros to hit any green with a wedge in their hands. Yet pressure and wind can conspire to change the leader board. Steely nerves carry the day. Great hole for the fans.

Panelist 2: Holes that makes players think and test them psychologically get major points right off the bat. The fact that the golfer thinks about this hole when they show up at the bag drop is even more evidence that the island 17th is worthy of praise and respect. Hitting a huge green with a 9-iron or wedge doesn’t normally illicit so much interest (or fear). The fact that 17 is instantly recognizable by virtually every golfer and golf fan is testament that it is a great golf hole.

Panelist 3: It’s a great TV par 3 and the pinnacle of the experience for amateurs coming to play the Stadium course. On the Sunday of the Players the pros in contention may find it tricky with a swirling wind but with only a wedge in their hands it’s a poor shot to miss the green.

Panelist 4:  The 8th hole at the Ocean Course at Landfall (Wilmington, N.C.) is a short-par 4 with island green. It is a fun hole as invariably island greens are….when the approach shot is short. I am not sure I could ever call an island green a great hole, but they are fun to play and generally very compelling to the eye.

Panelist 5: Great hole. Ultimate penalty for anything less than a perfectly struck shot and when it comes so late in the round you spend all round thinking about it

Panelist 6: It is a great hole since success or failure on this hole often determines the outcome of a significant tournament. I say this with some reservation since “binary results” are not normally part of my definition of a great golf hole. No alternative route here! Only a short iron for many amateurs, but everyone gets a big smile when they hit this green. Was a top highlight for me of an entire golfing trip.

2. Anything you would do to improve the 17th?

Panelist 1: No. Alice Dye had the best idea. Change the surrounding sand to water.

Panelist 2:  Nothing with the green… there are interesting options that could be considered relative to new teeing ground distances or angles.

Panelist 3: No. It’s arguably the most famous par 3 in golf after maybe the 7th at Pebble Beach. Hard to improve on that kind of notoriety.

Panelist 4: The 17th is the essence of American golf, whereas Scotland is defined by links golf. Adding water to the golf course was heavily an American invention and this is the epitome of that. To make a suggestion for improvement seems akin to “improving” the Road Hole

Panelist 5: Nothing needed. Scary as anything, especially when you have a good round going and one which can disappear in the blink of an eye. Oh, and by the way if you do hit in the water and go to the drop zone that also is a tough shot!

Panelist 6: Nothing to change here — it is a special challenge. A wedge to a green becomes high drama on a Sunday PGA Tour event? Not many holes can boast that. Hands off!

3. TPC Sawgrass stands at number 7 on GOLF Magazine’s current list of Top 100 Courses You Can Play, between Bandon Dunes (8) and the Ocean Course at Kiawah. How do you feel about that ranking? Too high? Too low? Just right?

Panelist 1: The ranking seems a little high but maybe there is an explanation. Bandon Dunes and the Ocean Course are better overall golf experiences yet Sawgrass is familiar to so many due to the TV coverage each year. There are so many memories of exciting victories including Rickie Fowler’s recent win. Perhaps the TV coverage promotes interest in playing the course even though it is not, in my view, as good an overall golf experience.

Panelist 2: Just right. TPC Sawgrass is perhaps the world’s greatest example of ultra-modern design — a complete 18 holes of playable contemporary art worthy of the Guggenheim. Art is polarizing, and this course is a perfect case in point. Fans of only minimalist/naturalist course design may dislike it because it is indeed 100 percent contrived, and I can appreciate that. Personally, I find the course endlessly intriguing and special, strategic, memorable and exciting to the eye, and most importantly, fun to play. From an angles standpoint, it is just brilliant. Holes 9, 11 and 16 are singularly unique top-class par-5 designs that each belong among the top, say, 50 three-shotters (three for most amateurs, anyway) in the world — and they’re all on the same course.

Panelist 3: This may be a little high. TV exposure over the years really gives it an advantage over the other venues on this list. Tour ownership allows for huge maintenance budgets and strong year-round advertising campaigns. Pure golf experience is better at both Bandon & Kiawah.

Panelist 4: On balance, it’s about right. Overall, TPC Sawgrass has become a fine example of modern architecture, for me, and more enjoyable than the Ocean Course at Kiawah, which is excessively penal.

Panelist 5: Seems a touch high. When you have an annual tournament that is televised, people get to know the drama of the event and this can sometimes inflate the deserved ranking of the course. I personally prefer the Bandon experience.

Panelist 6:  TPC Sawgrass is perfectly crafted and a great achievement; it does not need an ocean to make it special. The rankings make sense. Add in the ocean at the other two courses and now you add to the “golf experience.” Bandon is my first choice on this three-course mini-list as a “golfing experience,” but not necessaryly the “best course” from an architectural viewpoint.

4. TPC Sawgrass is a Pete Dye design. Which of Dye’s designs, public or private, do you think represents his best work?

Panelist 1: The Ocean Course at Kiawah is a fine, natural golfing experience. The design uses the natural contours and existing water to effect.  Sight lines from the tees will perplex but that is fine with Pete Dye. Throw in a customary two-or-more-club wind and the challenge multiplies. You want to play it again and again to try to recover the strokes lost due to its Dyeabolical nature. I think The Ocean Course at Kiawah is his finest work.

Panelist 2: TPC Sawgrass is the ultimate expression of Pete and Alice Dye’s art, vision and imagination, in my opinion.

Panelist 3: Harbour Town is a great shotmakers’ course and can’t simply be overpowered by so many of today’s professionals, top amateurs. With small and fairly gentle greens there is a great chance for better players to score well with fine iron play.

The 17th hole at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course.
The 17th hole at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course.

Panelist 3: Harbour Town is a great shotmakers’ course and can’t simply be overpowered by so many of today’s professionals, top amateurs. With small and fairly gentle greens there is a great chance for better players to score well with fine iron play.

Panelist 4: The Honors Course in Tennessee.

Panelist 5: The Ocean Course at Kiawah. Builds from the 1st hole with drama and culminates in a tough finish.

Panelist 6: I like Harbour Town for its exceptional green complexes, which shift the challenge away from long game off the tee to iron and short game. But Harbour Town gets a lot of play and conditioning issues sometimes detract from the experience, but not the greatness. I know a lot of people will shoot me, but I do appreciate Dye’s efforts at PGA Stadium which created a monster out of flat uninteresting desert many years ago. That took imagination and creativity! The Golf Club (New Albany – favorite) is the reverse and just works with the land itself for a great result as well. Love ’em all.