Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach: The original Players golf course still has plenty of mojo

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Before there was the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, there was Sawgrass Country Club. This 1973 Ed Seay design played host to The Players Championship from 1977 to 1981.

Sawgrass Country Club - East golf course - No. 9
The No. 1 handicap hole on the East Course at Sawgrass Country Club is the 451-yard ninth.
Sawgrass Country Club - East golf course - No. 9Sawgrass Country Club - West golf course - No. 6Sawgrass Country Club - West golf course - No. 9
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And if you're thinking that this was just a stop-gap before the PGA Tour built its own course, think again. Sawgrass Country Club is a legitimate championship venue, still capable of testing the best players in the world, especially if the wind is blowing.

In fact, the winning scores in 1977 (Mark Hayes) and 1978 (Jack Nicklaus) were both over par. That should come as no surprise, given that 24 of the golf course's 27 holes have water, and with the course being right next to the ocean, wind is almost always a factor. Jim Furyk and a couple of other tour players are members here.

Sawgrass Country Club is a members-owned private club, but if you're staying at the nearby Sawgrass Marriott -- which has agreements with eight different courses in the area, including the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass -- you can get on. And it would be well worth it to play this little bit of history.

First off, the course is in outstanding condition all year. Sawgrass Country Club's Tif-Eagle greens are as smooth and quick as any in the area. They are also somewhat difficult.

Subtle undulations make them hard to read, although there are some greens, such as the ninth on both Sawgrass Country Club's West Course and East Course, that have a lot of slope leading balls right into the water if you're not careful.

More than anything, though, this is a shotmaker's course.

"It's really about positioning," said longtime member and single digit handicap player Paula Fairley. "Sometimes you don't want to be in the middle of the fairway, so you can set up a good angle to the green."

Although there are 27 holes, the East-West combination, which hosted The Players, is the course to play if you can't stay for the whole experience. At 7,100 yards, it certainly has enough length, especially when you consider all the water and wind.

The course gets difficult almost right away. The second is a sharp dogleg right (with homes down the right side of the fairway) with bunkers at the end of the fairway.

Hit driver straight, and you risk finding one of those bunkers or deep Bermuda rough. Hit a cut into a predominant left-to-right wind, and out of bounds comes into play. The approach shot isn't much easier to a pronounced sloping green.

After that, the course doesn't let up, but it is a little more interesting. Many of the tee shots require carries over water, followed by carries over water to the green. None is a better example than the ninth on the East Course, a 451-yard monster that has a semi-island green with sand and grass bunkers. The green has a lot of slope in it, and local knowledge goes a long way.

The par 3s are also very challenging. The 204-yard sixth on the West is a perfect example. Often playing into the wind, the hole wraps around a lake.

If you overcook a hook (for right handers), you're wet. If you don't hit it solid, you're wet. If you take too much club and hit into the back bunker, you might get wet on the next shot. Simply put, the hole requires a great golf shot.

Sawgrass also has excellent practice facilities, pro shop and dining area. The burgers cooked on an outside grill are particularly tasty after a difficult round.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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