As the first iteration of Dean Beman’s stadium course concept and the permanent home of The Players Championship, Pete Dye put together a course that would challenge the best players in the world and create iconic images in the minds of golf fans. The original design was impossibly difficult and somewhat controversial, but a bottomless well of tour money has allowed them to continuously tinker and improve the layout and get much more unanimous professional approval as a result. The reconstruction of the fairways and greens in the last decade plus the introduction of Sub-Air technology under the putting surfaces allow the tour to prepare this course as hard and fast as they desire.
Make no mistake about it, there is nothing timid about this course. Pete has a garage full of intimidation factors in his design repetoire and he dipped into that reserve generously in putting this together. Massive waste bunkers, huge mounding to mask landing areas, plumes of sage grass, and water galore amassed together make for a house of horrors to the average player. Truth is the intimidation is more psychological than real so the trick is to look beyond the surface veneer and focus on a playable line to each hole which he graciously provides. The combination of intelligent decision making and unwavering focus on a playable line can make for an enjoyable day.
Looking at the winners of The Players over 30 years you will see the unexpected names like Calvin Peete, Mark McCumber, Tom Kite, Lee Janzen, Justin Leonard, Fred Funk, and K. J. Choi. Look at runners up and you have Larry Mize, Mike Reid, Jeff Sluman, Glen Day, Jay Haas, and Scott Verplank.The common denominator is straight driving and competent putting on fast greens. Anything out of the fairway off the tee increases the challenge of hitting greens by a factor of 1.5 and the score goes up accordingly. This is target golf with serious penalty for missing your intended shot lines. The fast greens are very segmented and steeply sloped so regularly putting from outside the section that has the flag will have similar deleterious impact on your scoring.
As is recommended by the yardage book, pick a tee marker that is appropriate for you skill level. If your average drive is 235 or less play white, 235 to 250 play blended blue/white, over 250 play blue. Don’t consider the back tee unless you have your name embroidered on your golf bag. The key is to have the driving areas reasonably within your range so you can actually enjoy the challenging approaches into the greens.
The sequence of the golf challenge is carefully architected. Both sides start a bit easier with scoring opportunities early, but ratchet up considerably around the fourth hole. The last three holes on both the front and the back make keeping a score in tact a whole lot of work. The eighth hole is a brutal par 3 7/8ths and the ninth will eat your lunch six ways to Sunday. Better than the finish at any of regular tour stops, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen collectively present opportunity for glory or disaster in equal measure. This is target golf at it’s most extreme.
Personally I think the par 5 sixteenth is one of the coolest holes out there. For the long hitting pros going for the green in two is a must but there is a huge penalty for bailing out left to avoid the harrowing water that encroaches on the right. Any wind at all makes this huge green very elusive. Nothing more need be said about the iconic island green at 17, you have witnessed a boatload of heartache and misery in HD watching the broadcasts over the years. The eighteenth is as hard a par to make as you could ever imagine. Missing your approach into the grassy moguls right of the green can lead to a downright embarrassing sequence of recovery attempts.
In the last renovation they built a clubhouse that is worthy of being the home of the PGA Tour. You will find an endless offering of tour memorabilia to add to your study. The locker rooms, eating facilities, and practice areas are something to experience as well.
Playing the course that so adequately bevils the top 50 in the world each year is definitely a thrill. Just play it at a reasonable yardage and don’t beat yourself up if Pete and Alice have their way with your scorecard.
Ponte Verde, Florida
Architect: Pete Dye (1980)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 72 6661 73.9 146
White 72 6103 70.9 137