CHANGES TO TPC SAW­GRASS

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Ron Whitten

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 Play­ers 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, re­open­ing in mid-Novem­ber.

Most no­tice­able to view­ers will be at the 12th hole, now a driv­able 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 293 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 eight me­tres off the putting sur­face and about two me­tres 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 pine straw 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 me­tres 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 driv­able par 4s be­cause he con­sid­ered them overly long par 3s. Deane Be­man, the com­mis­sioner who con­ceived the 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 re­aligned. Be­fore, that 25-me­tre-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 PGA 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.)

risk and re­ward: another view of the chal­lenges at the driv­able par-4 12th.

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