This weekend during The Players Championship, at the celebrated 17th hole's island green at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., we will watch the...
This weekend during The Players Championship, at the celebrated 17th hole’s island green at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., we will watch the world’s best golfers plunk ball after ball into the water like a bunch of weekend duffers.
Now I don’t wish ill will on any golfer — well, maybe that one sandbagger in my weekly league — but there’s something about watching players with perfect swings and the utmost talent intimidated by an expanse of water, just like the rest of us. As the television commercials say, “These guys are good.”
Yet give them roughly 135 yards over water at No. 17 in the event that starts Thursday, and they will fidget like your brother-in-law squirming as he tries to clear a 30-yard pond to win a $5 Nassau.
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Like us, they know the yardage and have practiced the shot successfully dozens of times. Like us, their focus strays. They see the water. They see disaster.
“What’s amazing is that if that green were surrounded by sand instead of water, those guys would never miss the green,” famed coach Butch Harmon said of the 17th hole. “They’re such good sand players, it wouldn’t faze them a bit. But it isn’t sand. So all week at The Players Championship, everyone avoids the subject. Those guys don’t even want to talk about it.”
And that is one of the reasons why we watch. Everyday golfers have to play over water all the time, and we dread it, too. Since the golf designer Pete Dye, and his wife, Alice Day, created the 17th hole at Sawgrass in the early 1980s, replicas or peninsula facsimiles — the Sawgrass 17th is actually attached to land by a thin walkway — have sprung up all over the country. So blame Pete and Alice for all the angst and lost balls.
Actually, the advent of better club and ball technology is mostly to blame. Once, island greens were as rare as 320-yard drives. Before 1980, there might have been no more than a handful of truly island greens in America. Why?
Because they were considered too hard.
Now you tell us this.
Like many things in golf, island greens summon a mild dispute. It is not entirely clear what constitutes an island green. Throughout the last century, it was not unusual for designers to carve small moats around greens or to redirect a creek into a trough built to envelop a green.
These greens were now technically on islands but maybe not in the sense most golfers equate with an island green.
“To be what most consider an island green, it should be in a lake or pond or other large body of water,” said golf architect Mike Hurdzan, a noted golf-course historian and author of six books on golf architecture.
“And those kind of greens weren’t common at all for many decades.”
Hurdzan said true island greens were not a feature borrowed from the centuries of European golf design. He said the ninth hole on the golf course at Florida’s Ponte Vedra Inn and Club was generally recognized as the first island green, although there might have been others.
An indisputable island green surfaced in 1963 at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, Va.
“The 16th hole at the Golden Horseshoe, set in a pond, deserves the credit for introducing the island-green concept to designers of the next era,” Hurdzan said.