One of the best golfing experiences I have ever had didn’t involve hitting a single ball – it was a short trip to TPC Sawgrass to take a look at the storied course.
If you are ever in Point Vedra Beach, Fla., Sawgrass is a must, and with the PGA TOUR’s best playing there this week, I thought I would share a few details of my pilgrimage.
I have seen a multitude of American courses, and the attitudes of the individuals range. The Texas goat ranches I grew up playing always had the friendliest starters and staff. Now, it seems like the higher the green fee, the snootier the employees become. Not so at TPC. I was a little apprehensive as I approached the guardhouse for the gated community that surrounds the course. As I drove to the gate, the guard came out.
“May I go in to take a look at the course?” I asked.
“Sure,” he smiled. “Just go up the road and take a left by the PGA Tour Headquarters. Enjoy yourself.” Then, he opened the gate. (It costs $5 just to get into the neighborhood where Harbour Town is located, in Hilton Head.)
As my wife and I approached the $64 million clubhouse, we were amazed at its sheer size and beauty. Four or five cars were parked in the reserved spots designated for Tour players. I saw a couple of card holders walking around as we nervously walked up to the double doors.
“Are we even supposed to be here?” she whispered as the smell of fragrant flowers filled the Florida air.
I pulled open the massive doors…
Volunteers waved hello and welcomed us like we were members. We were invited to wander the facilities as we pleased. I wanted to peruse the pro shop since you can never have too much golf stuff. I bought a couple of items, and when staff saw my name on my credit card, I was referred to as “Mr. Arrington” from that point forward. This is much nicer than what they call me at my local club, which coincidentally also begins with an “A” but is much more anatomical.
As we exited the shop and headed back to the lobby where the Tara-esque staircases led to the upper floor and original paintings of TPC winners don the walls, a friendly older man approached and asked if we would like a complementary tour of the course. He then led us to a golf cart and began to tell us the history of the course, clubhouse, green fees ($495-ish) etc., and then said, “Let’s go see the track.”
He drove us around, took pictures of us, told us about iconic TPC moments and then chauffeured us to No. 17, where we watched a foursome put three in the water. The fourth guy had a kick-in birdie. Everyone applauded. The history of that hole is pretty cool, and to see it in person is something surreal. I will say this though… not that intimidating. But then again, I haven’t ever played with seven figures on the line and thousands standing around me saying, “C’mon dude. It’s only 140 yards.”
As the THE PLAYERS Championship kicks off Thursday, and Rickie tries to repeat, I’ll be watching with a little more perspective and appreciation of the course now that I have a little more familiarity. And as the tournament closes on Sunday, while sitting on the couch, I will say to my wife, “Hey, there is that tee box we stood on. There’s the big clock. Remember, how pretty you said it was? Remember how much you enjoyed the tour? Remember, you said I could play the next time we were in the Jacksonville area?” I won’t remind her of the green fee, though.