The Island Green - By the Numbers


There are few holes in golf that inspire as much unbridled fear as the Par 3, 17th Hole at the Tournament Players Club at the Sawgrass Stadium Course, site of The Players Championship.
It is like having a 3 oclock appointment for a root canal. Youre thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later youve got to get to it. That is the way veteran Mark Calcavecchia expressed his endearment for the experience of playing the 17th come tournament time.
One would think that a par-3 hole measuring only 132 yards (it is exactly 121 yards from the middle of the Championship Tee Box to the front of the green), would be a piece of cake for the best golfers on the planet. Right? Well, as they say, not exactly. Take for example the description of the hole provided by the TPCs own website:
In its brief history, the island hole has become one of the most renowned of its kind in the world. The signature hole is a short par 3 with a wide green that narrows to the right side. The right side of the green is protected by a small bunker, which sometimes will be a relief to players who come up short of the green. Club selection on this hole is critically important; with the tricky winds of spring, The Players Championship can easily be won or lost here. (Source:
A bunker as a place of relief? Tricky winds? The Players Championship can easily be won or lost here? Wow! Not exactly warm and fuzzy, huh? And all of this is coming from their own website. Imagine what the guys who post a double bogey (or worse) must think about this little slice of mental torture?
When you play (17) on Tuesday and Wednesday, it's a pretty easy hole, a little flip 9-iron, no big deal. You get out there in the tournament, all of a sudden there's a pin location that's tucked in the corner or over a slope, and the green seems to shrink up a little bit. You know you've got to step up there and be committed. The hardest thing about that hole is that you need to be committed on the shot and you know you can't really hit a poor shot and get away with it, said Tiger Woods who has known both the despair of a wet tee ball and the glory of making perhaps the most spectacular putt on the 17th green. The 60-foot-snake-putt dubbed Better than most, by NBCs Gary Koch came during the third round in 2001, the only year that Tiger won the tournament.
Pete Dye downplays the ingenious design of his little par-3 gem as if we did not already suspect that he must have spent years wringing his hands and planning this hole as a lasting legacy to his ability to make even the best golfers in the world take a few more waggles. I don't think any of us really thought of the 17th hole. It just kind of arrived. We just kept digging. Actually, I think my wife Alice came out one day, looked at the area and said lets just make it an island green.
Now, before we get too teary eyed for the lament of the Tour players, remember that they make up a tiny fraction of the almost 45,000 rounds the Stadium Course hosts each year. Meaning that 99.99% of all of the golf balls sacrificed at the 17th hole are donated by the likes of you and me.
I rode up behind the tee one day and watched a man pull out a dozen new Titleists and promptly hit every one of them in the water. He didnt give it a second thought, confessed Fred Klauk, course superintendent at the TPC at Sawgrass.
In honor of one of golfs most distinctive and fun to watch holes, here is a peek at the 17th Hole, by the numbers (special thanks to Chris Reimer, Ward Clayton and Helen Ross of the PGA Tour for digging up these figures):
1: The number of holes-in-one for par made in 20 years of The Players Championship. Fred Couples hit his first shot in the water in the first round of the 1999 tournament, then re-teed and flew a 9-iron into the hole for a par.
4: Depth, in feet, of water around the island green.
6: The number of holes-in-one made in the events history. They include: Brad Fabel, 1986, first round; Brian Claar, 1991, third round; Fred Couples, 1997, fourth round; Joey Sindelar, 1999, first round; Paul Azinger, 2000, third round; and Miguel Angel Jimenez, 2002, first round.
12: The score posted by Bob Tway in the third round in 2005, with winds blowing 25-30 mph. Tways tee shot flew the green, as did his second shot. His third and fourth shots hit on the front of the green and spun back in the water. His fifth attempt found the green, he three-putted and totaled a 12. He went from four strokes out of the lead at 7-under par to 13 behind. Robert Gamez held the record previously, an 11 (four balls in the water) in the third round back in 1990.
75: Yardage to the center of the green from the drop area.
75: Square footage of the front bunker, the smallest of 50 bunkers on the course.
115: The length, in feet, of the walkway onto the green. The path, which is 13 feet wide, has a 2 1/2-foot wide walking area that has been converted from dirt to wood to its current concrete surface over the years.
121: Yardage from the middle of the championship tee to the front of green.
146: Yardage from the middle of the championship tee to the back of green.
1,200: Number of boards, each 6 inches by 10 feet, around the green that creates the bulkhead.
4,000: Square footage of the green. The course average is 4,500 square feet.
50,000: Amount of dirt, in cubic yards, that was removed to create the island green during construction of the course in the early 1980s.
150,000: Number of balls hit in the water during the course of a year, an average of more than three balls per player based on the average of 45,000 rounds played per year on the Stadium Course. Superintendent Fred Klauk says that number is skewed because some players hit as many as a dozen balls into the water.
Copyright 2006 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a reporter for The Golf Channel, equipment expert, twenty-year veteran of the golf industry and speaker. In addition, he is a New York Times and USAToday bestselling coauthor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and author of Fairways of Life, Wisdom and Inspiration from the Greatest Game. Fairways of Life uses golf as a metaphor for life and features a Foreword by Arnold Palmer. To sign up for Adams Golf Wisdom email quotes or for more information, go to