Saturday, May 13, 2017

Course Review: TPC Sawgrass (Sh*t Sandwich)

Regular readers of the Fantasy Golf Report know that I do not hold TPC Sawgrass in the highest regard. Until 2013, this opinion was based primarily on the theory that, if Tiger Woods has played twenty plus professional golf tournaments on your course and only won one of them, then your course sucks. This theory was further supported by the fact that during one nine year stretch, the course yielded the following journeymen winners: Craig Perks, Stephen Ames, Tim Clark and a nearly fifty year old Fred Funk.* Then, in 2013, Tiger cut a leg out from under my case by winning a second Players so I needed a new justification for my scorn.

Cut to a few weeks ago when I found myself on spring break in northeast Florida about twenty minutes from the course. That alone wouldn't have been enough to get me out there (because I left my days of walking onto golf courses as a single in my past next to my tolerance for strangers) but I also happened to be there at the same time as another member of my regular golfing posse so this presented an opportunity for me to actually play the course and judge it on its merits (there's a novel idea dickhead).

"That's not real is it?"
Before getting into the details, allow me to offer a general preview by paraphrasing a great movie line here. "The FGR's review for TPC Sawgrass was merely a two word review which simply read shit sandwich.'" I found the entire experience to be awkward and unrewarding much like my rap with the ladies in high school (and beyond). 

Let's start with a couple items of full disclosure before we commence taking issue: 

(1) It was unseasonably cold and pretty windy so the conditions were tough for scoring. We considered bagging it due to the weather but we had it on good information that the course was in phenomenal shape so we decided to take advantage of it. (Apparently this is not a given at Sawgrass which seems crazy in light of the price which I will not disclose here because the FGW reads this but think brand new Callaway Epic driver with an upgraded shaft); and 

(2) I did not have my "A" game. I'm a 5 handicap (at least I was at the time) but I'd say I brought a 9-10 to the course that day. It wasn't for lack of preparation as I had a couple beers before I teed off and I was packing a mini of Fireball in each back pocket.** (The Fireball was a departure from the traditional vodka/Gatorade approach but seemed appropriate in light of the weather). All of the ingredients for a good swing had therefore been added to the pot but the stew ended-up tasting like shit. Maybe I accidentally used cinnamon instead of pepper or the onions were rotten. This suspect analogy might work better if I had ever actually made a fucking a stew.

"It's right here dumbass.
God are you blind?"
Also, we hired a caddie to enhance the experience and he kind of sucked. On a course designed to confuse you off the tee, his approach was to hand us drivers and run down the fairway after telling us to "keep it to the right" when there was water to the left and "keep it to the left" when there was water on the right. I'm no marine biologist but I do know what water looks like and that golf balls sink in it. I've been accused more than once of having unreasonable expectations of caddies but all I ask is that they see the hole the same way I see it and envision the shot I want to hit with no prior knowledge of my game. Is that too much to ask?

The result was that I'd find myself on tee boxes staring at water on one side that I obviously wanted to avoid but not knowing where to aim so I could accomplish that and still hit the fairway. And this is where the critique of the golf course starts. I'm all for the occasional blind tee shot, partially concealed landing area or hard to gauge carry over a bunker but not on every damn hole. It's like they found the most gimmicky hole on a dozen different courses and imported them to go with about five or six holes that are actually worth a shit.

We played it from the longest tees available which put us one box and 575 yards short of the tournament tees (7,245 to 6,670). This was just about the right length to give me the same distance on shots in that the pros usually hit. For example, I hit a solid drive on the par five 16th leaving me about 215 to the middle of the green which has a tree guarding the front left, a bunker front right and water covering everything else except left of the green. I have a newfound respect for the pros who attack it. I committed to going for it and then, as I addressed the ball, our caddie sauntered by and said "keep it left" and that's all this mental midget needed to blow it way left into a brutal lie. Four shots later I tapped in for a "fuck you" bogie.

The hole that really summed the round up for me was No. 6 which was our 15th because we played the back nine first. It's only 360 yards and I hit a solid drive down the left-hand side but was sure I had pulled it into the rough. Turns-out, however, that the fairway dips to the left and I had caught it so I was left with a wedge from a perfect lie to a front left pin. I proceeded to hit probably my best shot of the day right at it but, when I arrived expecting to find a birdie putt, I instead discovered that my ball had rolled down into a grassy hollow to the left of the green. I then asked the caddie where I had to flop it to have it release down to the hole. He showed me. I hit it right there and the ball stopped fifteen feet short. I then ignored his read and made the putt. That may have been the last time we spoke.

So to sum it up, what you can expect from TPC Sawgrass is a confusing and at times unfair golf course that rewards good shots but also penalizes them. Apparently this is standard with Pete Dye designs. I've now played three of them and won't be taking any detours to play more. The price is absurd considering that the service is about what you'd find at any other public course that markets itself as a cut above a muni. With all that being said, however, I'd recommend playing it once. If for no other reason than to play 16-18 and feel how claustrophobic it is and imagine what it must be like when it's jammed with spectators.

Suffocating!!!
Speaking of which, I bet you think this review was bitter because I dumped it in the water on No. 17. Well you'd be wrong because I hit the green with a pretty sweet punch draw 8-iron into the wind. The pin was in the front left position and I had hit it to the middle so I was left with a downhill curling thirty-five foot putt which I cozied-up to a foot for the par. So eat it. 

Footnote

* As I write this on Saturday afternoon, the leaderboard is taking on a very Perks/Ames/Clark/Funky feel. Let's just pray that this doesn't devolve into a late Sunday duel between Kyle Stanley, Patrick Cantlay and Si Woo Kim. As much as I love ripping this event for its self-aggrandizement, it's second rate announcing crew (Jimmy Roberts?) and its clown's mouth course, I still want to see the best players in the mix at the end. I'm a hater but not THAT much of a hater.     

** I always come prepared when playing a new golf course because you never know what the arrangements are going to be when you get there, especially at a private club. Thus the inspiration for my account of playing Medalist (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Vodka) and the fact that I got so banged-up on the ride to Pine Valley that I barely remember shooting something like 78. I wrote about that too (The Promised Land - Part 3).