Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass to close after Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. - Pete Dye is coming back to the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, but this time it won't be to soften up the home of the Players Championship.

TPC Stadium course
The TPC Stadium course will close temporarily after the 2006 Players Championship.
TPC Stadium courseIsland green at No. 17
If you go

The Stadium course, home to the annual tournament sometimes referred to as the "fifth major," will close April 2 for about six months as officials work to improve drainage on the course. The facility's other course, the Valley, will stay open.

The PGA Tour, owners and operators of the TPC, are also building a new clubhouse, doubling the size of the current one, which is 40,000 square feet, and constructing it so it will face the 18th green. Construction will take about a year. They are also raising the level of the parking lot - no more climbs up the twisting flights of stairs to get to the clubhouse.

"The players are going to love it," Assistant Professional J.P. Guarnier said. "The locker room is going to be bigger, all the rooms are going to be bigger."

Course officials have already started work on the drainage project. They replaced the turf and added more than a foot of sand on Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9. On a recent cold, wet, windy day in December, it was obvious the new drainage system is working: The fairways were firm and relatively dry even during a steady drizzle.

As for the course itself, nothing much will change. Some bunkers will be tweaked, but nothing substantial will be altered. It will be the same course that initially caused touring pros to cry for Dye's scalp until the tour convinced Dye to make it a bit more accommodating.

For the average player willing to pay the hefty greens fees to play where the best of the pros tee it up, it's still less than accommodating. Even from the middle and forward tees, the Stadium course can be unforgiving.

It's typical Dye in that good shots can sometimes be penalized; the course is full of unseen hazards. Dye is always looking to get you in some kind of trouble, and playing one of his more difficult designs can be demoralizing, even while you're appreciating the architecture.

Dye is a dominant architect, in that he forces you to go where he wants you to go. Unlike many other well-known architects, Dye leads you around by the nose. The Stadium course is no different; it's target golf, and even when you hit to where Dye leads you, he may have some tricks waiting. The best he can do is have you marveling at his sleight of hand, the worst he can do is destroy your confidence.

The Stadium isn't one of those monster courses as far as length - it's 6,954 yards from the TPC tees. It's all the water, the swales and those tricky knolls and knobs that cause good shots to morph into bad shots. Even the pros sometimes curse Dye.

It's a grand design, but not for everyone.

"I love the course, but strangely I like the Valley course more," said Mike Aswad of Charlotte, N.C. "I don't think (the Stadium course) is worth the $100 premium."

Duncan MacNichol agreed, saying, "But, I love the last five holes of the Stadium."

The Verdict

Green fees at the Stadium course range from $150 to nearly $300. The Valley course green fees range from $105 to $155. Still, most golfers want to try the Stadium course at least once, and in truth, it is worth it to pay that much once to see what all the fuss is about.

Stay and Play

The Hilton Garden Inn is a good, centrally located place in Jacksonville, the largest city, land-wise in the country. It's right off Butler Blvd., which will whisk you to the beaches or downtown. It has a business center, free in-room high-speed Internet access, whirlpool and a fitness center. The rooms have microwaves and small refrigerators.

Dining Out

The Hilton has the Great American Grill restaurant, which serves breakfast, and there are a bunch of restaurants within walking distance, like Seven Bridges Brewery, which provides room service to the hotel - make a point to try the flame-grilled meat loaf.

Also: Don Pablo's Mexican Restaurant, Tony Roma's ribs, Jacksonville Ale House, Jason's Deli, Copeland's and the Gallery Bistro.

Fast Fact

Golf ball diver Norm Spahn said he once pulled 15,000 golf balls from the lake at the famed 17th island green. His average is 5,000.

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