Despite the lore and the gore of the Players Championship, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is not the toughest layout played on the PGA Tour. It’s only ranked in the top 15 once in the last decade, and it often trails other theoretically less fearsome Florida Swing venues like PGA National, Bay Hill and even Innisbrook.
But those are just numbers. The Stadium Course’s true ferocity lies in a place that statistics do not always adequately measure. It is in that dry mouth or accelerated heart rate, the deep breaths that fail to find calm or the deeper sighs of soul-crushing despair. The Stadium Course is the worst kind of torture chamber, the one that exists in your mind.
What’s truly beautiful about the menacing Stadium Course is that as a public venue that sees about 50,000 rounds a year, average golfers pay (mightily, at $600 per, not including caddie) for the privilege to be embarrassed 18 separate times. Moreover, what the average tour pro feels and experiences so, too, does the average Joe.While the Stadium Course routinely plays over par for the Players Championship, it also brings out the worst in average golfers. That’s what the statistics say from the researchers at Arccos Golf, whose GPS sensors track every swing in a typical round. According to Arccos, the average score for players in the 5- to 15-handicap range is 89. That number is more than confirmed by those who’ve seen it in the flesh. Brandon Barfield is a 12-year veteran caddie at TPC Sawgrass and currently the assistant caddie master. He’s seen scores as high as 202 by a paying customer at the Stadium Course, and only once in over a thousand loops has a player shot even par.
“Most people who come out here, if they’re a 5- or 10-handicap, they’re going to score more like a 10- to 20-handicapper,” he said. “The course just plays 5-10 strokes harder. That might just be from their mentality coming out and knowing what they’re about to go through.
“That guy who shot 202 said he watched the Players on TV and he wanted to see exactly how hard it is. He found out exactly how this course can jump up and bite you all day long. My legs were hurting after that, but his arms had to hurt even worse.”
Of course the Arccos numbers for average golfers are predictably bad, although not as debilitating as 130-over-par. The group of 5- to 15-handicappers, somewhat better than the average golfer of course, score almost a full stroke over par or worse on 14 of the 18 holes. Arccos show the 5th, 7th, 14th and 18th holes all with an average score of around 1.2 strokes over par. Only on one driving hole do they hit the fairway more than half the time. On only one hole do they hit the green in regulation more than half the time, and we’re not entirely sure even that’s the case (more on that later). All that ineptitude doesn’t get any better the closer they get to the hole, either. The only time a chip or pitch shot from these Average Joes consistently gets inside 10 feet on a Stadium Course green is when it’s less than 10 yards from the hole, and even then it only happens about 61 percent of the time. Outside 10 yards, those pitches and chips get inside 10 feet only 30 percent of the time….
Finish article at GolfDigest.com.