Sawgrass Marriott Resort's Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass: Valley Course

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

Tournament Players Club at SawgrassPONTE VEDRA, FL -- Robin, Al Gore, KG, the Valley Course. It’s tough being the sidekick.

Wherever he goes, Batman always receives top billing. No matter how healthy the economy or how normal his private life, Al Gore could never shake the shadow of Bill Clinton. And who out there really wants to argue that Kyle G is the heart and soul of Tenacious D, even though he’s the sound melody underneath Jack Black’s profound wailing.

It’s the same at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass where the Valley Course will always play second fiddle to the Stadium Course.

“Simply put, you’ve got to have a tournament,” says Director of Golf David Kraus, explaining why the club’s “other” course is so often overlooked.

“That’s the way we are. We see something on television and we want to do it. I’ve got people calling me asking if they can just play the back nine (at the Stadium Course), and if not, could they just play number 17.”

The Valley Course was built in 1987, seven years after the famed Stadium Course was grabbing headlines and turning heads. Both courses were designed by Pete Dye (along with Bobby Weed), but when it comes to star power, the Valley Course never had a chance. In the world of golf, one course was destined to be famous and infamous, the other wasn’t.

Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass Part of its handicap is that by the time the Valley Course was completed, the Stadium Course had already captured the imagination of the golf world. No single golf course had ever influenced design so completely as the Stadium Course did throughout the 1980’s. Nearly every other architect copied its features at some point or another (including Dye), often taking them beyond the scope of the original. Nothing on a golf course seemed impossible anymore.

Though the Valley Course is in some ways more technically extreme than its sibling, by 1987 no one noticed.

Incredible amounts of earth were moved in its construction, much of it to create the high banks that rise above the lower fairways that in places make the “stadium” mounding of the older course look small. The Valley Course takes its name from this contrast between high and low points parallel to the line of play. The holes generally seem less exotic since they’re frequently bordered by homes as the routing wraps around the outside of the core Stadium Course. That’s not to say, however, it isn’t an outstanding golf course.

“Tee to green the Valley is a better course (than the Stadium),” insists Kraus. “I’ve played the Stadium Course enough and it just wears you out. The Valley Course is more fun. You get done with that and you want to play again. You’re ready for another nine.”

The Valley Course may be more enjoyable for those who want to shoot a good score, but it’s far from an easy track. It just seems so compared to its sibling. Water threatens shots on 12 holes, and though there aren’t quite as many carries as on the Stadium, water appears immediately right of at least five holes (including the first two), an amateur’s nightmare.

Yet even though there are just as many trouble spots, the Valley Course doesn’t bring with it the mental baggage as does the neighboring course. Few players have ever witnessed the pros fade drives into the lake on the 14th, 15th, or 18th at the Valley, so they’re able to play these shots relatively free of negative imagery.

“Everybody wants to come and play the Stadium Course once, but they usually like the Valley Course more,” Kraus explains. “They enjoy it better because it’s more forgiving. The fairways are larger and the greens are larger, and even though there are hazards out there, there’s enough room to hit the ball where you want to and have it be a good shot. Good shots aren’t penalized like they sometimes are on the other course.” The Valley Course also possesses a design balance to rival that of the Stadium. The holes manage to play to staggered pars and distances, including two good short par fours fronted by large mounds on the incoming nine (12 and 16), both adjacent to stout par fours. Two of the par fives are reachable for the long hitter, two probably aren’t.

The foot is on the gas from the beginning with two holes, a 413-yard par four and a 227-yard one-shotter, showing water immediately and unflinchingly to the right. Three is a unique par four, this time with water all left, a steep bank on the right and an exaggerated elevated green. Four curls for 406 yards around the water hazard on the left with exaggerated undulation in both the fairways and green.

The middle holes, with the exception of the 429-yard dogleg left 9th (yes, with water all the way to the green on the inside), are less intense, particularly with par fives at seven, eight, and ten.

The wonderful final quartet of holes is feast or famine, starting with the Valley’s most serious hole, number 15. This leviathan par four measures 462-yards with a sharp-edged lake on the right from tee to green. Sixteen and seventeen are tantalizing at 323 and 500 yards, and eighteen is a busy 429 yards with the green bordered closely by water short and to the right.

If not for its connection to the Stadium Course, the Valley would be considered a wild ride and one of the better layouts on the First Coast. Expect the conditions to be better than the Stadium as well because, as Kraus puts it, “There’s only 10 groups on it today and there are over 200 on the Stadium Course. That’s pretty normal.”

Who’s It For?

The Valley Course is for those who want either a good warm-up for the Stadium Course or to sort of decompress from a Stadium Course licking. Even though it can bite as much as any golf course in the vicinity, it somehow is believed to be forgiving next to the Stadium.

Vitals

Opened: 1987
Architect: Pete Dye/Bobby Weed
Par: 36-36-72
Yardage: 6,684; 6,524; 6,092; 5,126
Rating/Slope (TPC tees): 72.8/130

Rates

$110 (June 10-September 5); $135 (May 20-June 9, September 6-January 31); $170 (February-May 19). Rates include cart and players must be guests of Sawgrass Marriott Resort.

Scorecard

Conditions: 4
Scenery: 3
Layout: 3.5
Par 3’s: 3
Par 4’s: 4
Par 5’s: 2.5
Service: 4
Practice Facilities: 4.5
Club House/Pro Shop: 4
Pace of Play: 3.5
Value: 3
Overall Rating: 3.5

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.


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