Punch Shots: Is the Stadium at TPC Sawgrass the best course in Florida?

By Brandon TuckerMay 6, 2013, 2:24 pm

It's certainly the most famous, but is Pete Dye's THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass the best public course in all of Florida? Mike Bailey and Brandon Tucker debate.

Mike Bailey: Stadium is the best public experience

There are plenty of good-to-great golf courses in the Sunshine State and the best of the lot for public golfers is THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass.

Simply put, Pete and Alice Dye's 1981 creation is Florida golf through and through. It's a modern masterpiece, honed over the years with renovations and minor tweaks. The famous island green 17th was a stroke of genius by Alice, who suggested her husband simply fill with water the excavated hole left after using the dirt to create the mounds throughout the golf course. Since then, it's become one of the most copied par 3 concepts in the world, but the 17th is just a small part of what makes the Stadium Course a modern classic and a terrific experience for any avid golfer.

First off, it's the PGA Tour players' club, which means everybody gets the PGA Tour experience. You can take a caddie (highly recommended), use the club's exceptional practice facilities (including the PGA Tour Academy) and perhaps best of all, tour the clubhouse.

The 77,000-square foot Mediterranean-style clubhouse, by the way, is something to behold. Only four years old, it was built to replace the original building, and it's a virtual museum to the PGA Tour and The Players Championship. Inside there are countless artifacts, artwork and memorabilia, not only from the tournament, but from Ryder Cups and other momentus occasions in golf.

But back to the course: It's known for the 17th, but really there are great holes throughout. It's the site of the so-called fifth major, and like Augusta, the only other one to be played on the same course, so we know all the holes. It's never boring and always memorable, right down to the 18th, one of the toughest finishing holes on the tour. And afterwards, you can sit out on the clubhouse's massive deck, enjoy a cold beverage, and see how everyone else fares as they bring it home.

Brandon Tucker: Pine Barrens at World Woods

World Woods

Make no mistake, a round on the Stadium is special. During mine a couple years ago, Pete Dye was on the course surveying potential improvements and watched me hack it all over his masterpiece. I'm going to remember my folly of a tee shot on the 17th -- which struck the top of the bulkhead and carried over the water safely onto the grassy knoll behind the green -- for a long time. 

And the clubhouse, of course, is absolutely one of golf's most opulent. 

But the course itself is tough. You certainly come to respect PGA Tour pros a great deal once you've played 18 holes here, even as your own swing crumbles by the time you arrive at the 17th tee. These days, armed with a golf bag full of demons, I'm more of a sucker for courses with a better blend of scenery and amateur playability. 

So what's my favorite course of the 30-plus I've played in Florida? I'm a Grade-A sucker for Tom Fazio designs and one of the most accessible and affordable courses in existence is Pine Barrens at World Woods just north of Tampa. The rolling, sandy setting full of waste bunkers makes every shot interesting. Fairways, in typical Fazio fashion, are generally wide. The greens, while often guarded with nasty sand traps, are larger and easier to hit than your average Dye course.

Like Sawgrass, World Woods has two stellar 18-hole courses, as well as one of the more complete practice facilities, complete with practice holes, a short course, a circular driving range and a mammoth practice green. Unlike Sawgrass, the humble, one-story clubhouse hides in the trees and green fees are never north of $100 (right now, tee times aplenty under $50 are available), despite the fact it checks in on Top 100 lists. Given its proximity to Tampa, it might be the best value in the Top 100. 

My World Woods pick comes with an asterisk: Streamsong Resort is now on the Florida bucket list map. And once facilities are complete and the course has matured a bit, the experience should rival Sawgrass as the go-to golf resort in Florida.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.