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
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.