TPC Sawgrass, Network of Clubs turn 40
They’ve become a professional lifeblood for PGA TOUR pros
October 26, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Don your funny hats and torch the birthday cake.
TPC Sawgrass celebrated its 40th birthday Oct. 24. The birth of THE PLAYERS Stadium Course also marked the beginning of the TPC Network of Clubs, a group of courses around the country that have been home to tournaments, training grounds for touring pros and a place for your average player to walk in the footsteps of the world’s best.
TPC courses have hosted more than 400 professional tournaments, with the rent-free venues allowing for bigger purses and charitable donations. On non-tournament weeks, the TPCs allow recreational players to test their games where history has been made.
It’s those world-class players, though, who may have the most to celebrate. For them, the TPCs are a lot more than a bucket-list destination. They’re a lifeblood; a top-quality driving range, an impeccably groomed course (or two), a place to find a game or just a putting contest. For them, it’s hard to overstate the importance of former TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman’s totally revolutionary “Stadium Golf” invention those many moons ago.
“It’s home,” said 2014 FedExCup champion Billy Horschel, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and practices at TPC Sawgrass, where his coach, Todd Anderson, is Director of Instruction at the PGA TOUR Performance Center. “It’s been a great place to practice, to get better.”
About 77 professionals from the six PGA TOUR-owned-and-operated tours play out of TPC Sawgrass. A recent Thursday found Korn Ferry Tour players Ben Kohles, Brian Richey and Tyson Alexander working out under the tutelage of a trainer in the second-floor fitness room of the Performance Center, which was upgraded in 2017. They stretched, pulled, twisted.
Just outside the door to the exercise room, a junior golfer stroked putts in the putting studio with SAM Putt lab technology plus other gewgaws at the direction of the center’s dedicated putting instructor. Downstairs sat four indoor bays equipped with Trackman, ground-force plates and video capabilities; equipment-repair lab; lounge; and fitting studio with hundreds of shafts and multiple heads from various manufacturers to choose from.
Just outside, the perks include unlimited play at Dye’s Valley course, a separate and secluded back tee, two putting greens, and a short-game area. Although overseeding began last week on the Stadium Course, two practice greens have been spared and will be kept as fast as possible for upcoming TOUR stops, including the Masters Tournament next month.
“It really is a state-of-the-art facility,” said Fred Funk, who was asked at the Performance Center to name his highs and lows at TPC Sawgrass.
The high was easy: Funk was 48 when he won THE PLAYERS Championship in 2005.
The low, it turned out, was also easy. It was Saturday at the 2001 PLAYERS, a day made famous by NBC analyst Gary Koch’s “Better than most” call of Tiger Woods’ triple-breaking, 60-foot birdie putt at the island 17th, which led to Woods’ one-shot victory.
Learn more about the most iconic moments from THE PLAYERS Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.
“You always see the ‘Better than Most’ moment,” Funk said. “Well, I was playing right in front of Tiger, and I hit it 12 to 15 feet right of the hole and five-putted. I actually made a three-footer for my fifth putt for a 6. It knocked me right out of contention. I was so angry.”
It was, Funk recalled, the only five-putt of his career.
“I hit a lot better tee shot than Tiger and walk off with 6, he walks off with 2,” he said. “I had the ‘Worse than Most’ putt and he had the ‘Better than Most’ in back-to-back groups.”
Funk gave a rueful chuckle. Despite being up 20-14, he had just lost a chipping contest to his son Taylor, also a pro, on the practice green outside the Performance Center. The Funk family will be moving to Austin, Texas, soon, and they’ll miss TPC Sawgrass.
The TOUR’s headquarters and other TPC courses are a place to compete, yes, but also to trade ideas about the swing. That camaraderie is huge. Lanto Griffin, a Ponte Vedra Beach resident who will defend his Vivint Houston Open title soon, has spoken glowingly of the influence of Hall of Famer Vijay Singh, the de facto godfather of the TPC Sawgrass practice scene. Other players have sung the same refrain.
“I’ve been around Vijay for 12, 13 years now since I got out of college,” Horschel said. “He’s been a great sounding board. I’ve got a great relationship with the PGA TOUR because the headquarters are right there.
“Having access is massive,” he added, “but the bigger thing is how many good Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR players are out there practicing. You share ideas, have little chipping games, have matches on the course – it’s just been a great spot to improve as a player.”
Not that it’s the only spot. Joseph Bramlett moved to Las Vegas last year in part because of its two TPCs, including TPC Summerlin, which hosts the TOUR’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Justin Suh, Bramlett’s friend from their Northern California junior golf days, made the move with him, and one of Bramlett’s fellow Stanford golf alumni, Maverick McNealy, is now his Vegas roommate. Even amongst such frequent road warriors, it’s always easy to find a game.
“What’s not to like?” Bramlett said. “I mean, Summerlin’s a great fit just because it’s really quiet where we’re at. There’s no traffic, I’m six minutes from two TPC facilities, and both have really good ranges, good practice facilities, great access to the golf courses, there are 20-plus guys to compete with when we’re practicing. There’s a lot of good golf; I’m around a lot of really motivated people who are trying to do what I’m trying to do.”
TOUR-approved golf, TOUR-grade standards, TOUR-quality players – indeed, what’s not to like? Coast to coast and even overseas, suffice it to say the TPCs at 40 have never looked better.