A closer look at Sawgrass 17th hole

16 May 2014

Treasure Island – A closer look at the famous 17th Hole at the 2014 Player’s Championship

When the Martin Kaymer approached the 17th hole at Sawgrass on Sunday within two holes of The Player’s Championship glory, one of world golf’s unique challenges loomed large on the horizon – or should that be loomed small?

At this stage of any tournament the pulse quickens and the holes look that bit smaller. A rain-delay had done nothing to help. And then he had to face ‘the island green’.

It’s perhaps the most iconic, instantly recognisable hole in golf and while it transpires it is not actually that difficult, there is the sure and certain knowledge that if you get it wrong it will cost you big time. The hole is just 137-yards in length but the island green requires a shot of near perfection to safely navigate the water carry and keep the ball on the putting surface. A challenge that increases in difficulty on Sunday afternoon, at what is now recognised as the fifth major.

Unsurprisingly the lake usually swallows up thousand upon thousands of balls every year. In the 2007 event 50 were lost in one round of TPC alone and Australian Adam Scott was one of its victims during his first round this year. For Kaymer it came so close to wrecking his Player’s Championship dream as his shot cleared the water easily but spun back and looked as though it might end up in a watery grave. Thankfully for Kaymer it held up and he produced a ridiculous 30-foot downhill sliding putt to claim what turned out to be a tournament winning par. But it was a chilling reminder for any golfer that you can rescue bad positions much easier from dry land.

The design of the hole was a happy accident. The original concept was of a pond near the green, but as the land around the hole was rich in valuable sand and as more and more of it was excavated around the hole the pond evolved into a lake. Course designer Peter Dye credits wife Alice with the inspiration behind it.

For all of its fearsome design, Justin Ray crunched the figures for his ESPN blog and worked out that for all its scary-looking, knee-trembling features the 17th isn’t actually a difficult hole. Indeed it’s generally one of the easiest on the course and amongst the easiest par-3s on the PGA tour.

All of which may be true but while it might be said then that the 17th’s bark is worse than its bite the reality is that when it does bite it can be fatal. Because if it does go wrong there, it generally goes very wrong as Bob Tway proved when he carded a 12 in 2005. And that is why it will always retain its mystique and glamour as one of the world’s great golf holes. As Charl Schwartzel summed up, “Any other day, it wouldn’t be too difficult because of the short iron, but there’s such a big hype about it, and you get so many people sitting around it that I think that starts becoming the big, big factor around there.”

Just for a second that factor looked determined to trip up Kaymer, but having cleared the water it would have been a cruel stroke of fortune if he’d ended up with the 17th’s ultimate punishment.

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