Recently, Ponte Vedra Beach’s TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course scored a lofty ranking in Golf Magazine’s biennial list of the Top 100 Courses in the United States.
Of course, a big part of its appeal is the island-green 17th hole, arguably the most famous hole in the game and one that represents golf at its harshest. With one swing – from 137 yards at the back tees -- will you find land or swim with the fishes?
But contrary to what some believe, the 17th was not the first of its kind.
When Pete and Alice Dye built the course in the late 1970s, Alice came up with the island green thanks to inspiration she found just up the road at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, which had its own island green at the ninth hole of its Ocean Course.
Herbert Strong designed the 1932 course and that ninth hole, which isn’t quite as penal as TPC Sawgrass’ version. Seven bunkers surround the island and there’s a chipping area also beside the green to catch shots that just miss the putting surface. There’s no such margin for error at Sawgrass, except for a pot bunker at the front-right side of the green.
Most PGA Tour players, not keen on being embarrassed, immediately panned the hole as a gimmick when first playing the course in the 1982 Players Championship. Thirty years later, the pros' level of affection is about the same, having to face such a pressure-packed shot late in their rounds.
Amateurs, however, eat the hole up and the island-green concept has spread to newer courses. Dye put a replica at his PGA West Stadium Course in California, a movable island green greets players at a course in Idaho and Tom Watson also built an island at his Hammock Beach Conservatory Course in Palm Coast.
That gives Northeast Florida three island greens in a 50-mile stretch of A1A, all starting some 80 years ago at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.