Sawgrass. Just say the word and one image immediately springs to mind – the 17th hole island green. The penultimate hole on a course that snakes around countless lakes and intimidating bunkers has been the host of The Players Championship since 1982, two years after the course was built.
Pete Dye Magic
The layout was dreamed up by Pete Dye and it had, as always, input from his late wife Alice, who passed away last month aged 91. Indeed, it was Alice’s suggestion to surround the 17th green with water when Pete was struggling with what to do with the green complex having used up the sand around the green for other parts of the course.
Alice Dye created one of the greatest holes in golf
“Why don’t you just fill that big hole up with water?” asked Alice. The rest is history. The hole has become one of the most recognisable in the sport, alongside the 13th at Augusta National and the closing hole at the Old Course, St Andrews.
The hole, along with the course itself, has polarised opinion since day one but The Players Championship remains one of the highlights on the calendar because of the test it provides for all who compete.
Rory McIlroy stirred up controversy in 2011 by deciding to skip the event, citing that the course was ‘awkward’ after missing the cut in 2009 and 2010, yet he has since been an ever-present with three top tens.
The course’s ‘awkwardness’ lies in its uniqueness, with Dye creating challenging hazards off the tee in order to make the next shot more favourable. His work with angles and sight-lines from tee boxes are prominent on all Dye designs, but they come into focus more on this course because of the spotlight it has through hosting The Players – known as the men’s game’s ‘Fifth Major’.
Major practice for big names
This year’s Players marks the start of a run of huge events which follow month after month, with The Masters held in April, the US PGA Championship in May, June holding the US Open and The Open taking place in July. As curtain-raisers go, they don’t get much more daunting than The Players at Sawgrass.
17th Hole Quick Facts
- Two players have birdied the 17th during all four rounds of a single Players Championship – Paul Azinger in 1987 and Kyle Stanley in 2017.
At least 25 balls have found the water on the 17th during the tournament week since the PGA Tour started recording shots into the hole in 2003.
The lowest number of balls hit into the water at the 17th is 28 in 2014. The highest is 93 in 2007 when the wind picked up considerably.
The record number of balls into the water in one round at the 17th is 50, in the very gusty first round in 2007.
There have been 8 holes-in-one at the 17th, the last of which came from Sergio Garcia in 2017.
Fabel’s famous birds
American Brad Fabel was involved in two of the most memorable moments at the 17th. He was the first player to make an eagle with a hole-in-one back in 1986 and later, in 1998, his ball was famously picked up off the green by a seagul and dropped into the water as it tried to fly off with it. Fabel was assessed no penalty for the bird’s foul play.