Golf

TPC Sawgrass: The 17th hole

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This week the PGA Tour descends on Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida for The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass.

Regarded as golf's 'fifth major' the Stadium course at Sawgrass has become one of the premier golf courses around the world and has played host to some of the most memorable moments in golfing history.

One hole from the challenging 18 has stood out from all the others during the 32-year history of the event at Sawgrass, the 132-yard, par 3 17th. The shortest hole on the course, the reason why this hole stands out is simple, it's an island green surrounded by water.

The story of the 17th is an accidental one, originally designed to be a longer par 3 with only water at one side of the green, construction of the hole was disrupted as it was found to be one of the bigger areas of sand in a landscape predominantly made up of swampland.

As construction continued it emerged the original design for the hole was no longer possible, a solution was found by Alice Dye, wife of course designer Pete Dye. Dye’s suggestion was to put back some of the sand that was dug out, build a wall and create the island green.

The hole has seen many famous moments, in 1998 a seagull famously picked up and dumped the ball of James Lowery into the water from off the green - the rules of golf allowed Lowery to place another ball where his first ball originally finished.

In 2007 the opening round saw a new record for the most balls in the water on a single day as 50 balls were hit into the water. The highest score recorded at 17 in tournament play is 12 by Bob Tway in 2005 although six holes in one have also occurred excluding Fred Couples' famous hole in three after hitting his first ball in the water in 1999.

So unsurprisingly this hole has a lot of history, but is it actually a fair golf hole? 

Any professional would have to say yes. At 132 yards it is one of the shortest on the PGA Tour and for the tour pros many are hitting a pitching wedge to a soft 9 iron, of course when the wind blows that does make it a lot more difficult and then the fairness of an island green does come into question. 

But the scoring average for the 17th over the last 10 years is 3.12 and the majority of bogeys come from 3 putts rather than hitting it in the water so you have to question why people are so critical of it.

The green is also quite big with a maximum length of 147 yards and again with the short irons and wedges that pros are hitting I think the size of the target also means the hole is fair.

What could be called into question is whether the hole actually holds back the tournament, The Players is often regarded as golf's fifth major and some do believe having the 17th means that the event can never reach that official status.

If the nine's were switched and the 17th became the 8th then the event probably would be a major as any disaster could be recovered but it is that lack of ability to recover from hitting, for example, two balls in the water and making a six or seven that adds to the controversy.

That is exactly what happened to Sean O'Hair in 2007, two behind with two to play, O'Hair hit two balls in the water taking seven and losing roughly $500,000 in the process.

Not only can this hole spoil the competition but it has also become some what of a fairground as well. The majority of fans flock to this one hole to enjoy watching the trials and tribulations and NBC who cover the event place 11 cameras on the hole including in the front pot bunker that provides the only means of safety for missing the green.

It has to be remembered that the 17th is a very unique hole, there are only a handful of other island green designs on the PGA Tour but none present quite the same challenge as the 17th at TPC Sawgrass.

The fact that fans flock in the hope to see the imperious tour pros fail and suffer like regular golfers and the fact the hole does garner a large amount of attention in the run-up to the event, maybe it is a bit of a fairground hole however I for one have no problem with that and I certainly believe it adds to the excitement of an already incredible golf tournament.

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