Contemplating the 17th Hole at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course, Home of THE PLAYERS Championship this March 10-15
It's only 137 yards.A smooth 9-iron.What could possibly go wrong?
Yet as I address my golf ball on the fabled 17th tee box at the iconic PLAYERS Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida, a jolt of adrenaline disrupts my nervous system as I contemplate one of the most challenging shots in all of golf-a short shot onto an island green surrounded by a golfer's worst nightmare: water.
I assess the wind and distance to the hole, take aim at the flag stick and swing away.As the ball leaves the clubface, a small white dot soars into the blue sky and heads towards the green.My heart soars.But then the wind picks up and ball begins to drift to the left.And drift some more.And then some more.As it begins its decent out of the sky, landing on terra firma looks more and more in doubt.
But the ball touches down on the perfect green grass for a moment and then, like a cruel joke of the Golf gods, it takes a hard bounce and ultimately joins the other 120,000 balls that land in the watery grave each year.I take my penalty stroke and head to the drop zone, finding some solace in knowing that many of the top pros in the world have shared my pain.
The "Fifth Major"
Even if you do not play golf, you can relish the drama of the 17th green at the Players Stadium Course in this year's THE PLAYERS Championship which returns to Sawgrass March 10-15th, just a few weeks before The Masters.The tournament, one of the most iconic on the schedule, is considered by many players to be on the level with golf's official four "major" tournaments.But for fans, this bucket-list experience has few parallels in sports.
And if you really want to experience this tournament in style, inquire about the THE PLAYERS Club, an invite-only, ultra-VIP, wow-factor experience that includes a private viewing space on #17 Tee and #18 Green with unlimited premium food and beverages hand-crafted by celebrated Tournament PLAYERS Club chefs and bartenders, access to unique keepsakes available only with Players Club access, a $500 VIP shopping experience at the TPC Sawgrass Pro Shop, weekly valet parking and more.
But even if you can't make it down for the tournament, the area around Sawgrass is a must as a sunshine luxury travel destination with rich layers of fascinating history.
Ponte Vedra wasn't always the scenic area of pristine beaches and perfectly manicured landscapes. Up until the early 1900's, an untamed marshy wilderness of snakes and alligators possessed the land-not exactly a surf and sun destination.It wasn't until the discovery of valuable minerals (especially ores essential for WWI efforts) that the area began to populate in the 1910's.The small village that emerged was named "Mineral City" which eventually became rebranded to the much more alluring Ponte Vedra.In 1928 the fabled Ponte Vedra Inn & Club first opened its doors and subsequently survived the Great Depression, WWII and a kaleidoscope of change over time.The 300-acre, 249 room campus boasts a 30,000 square-foot spa with over 100 beauty and pampering services, two 18-hole courses and over a dozen dining options.This property has been a holiday mecca for generations and serves as a perfect jumping off point for the area.
Head south on the coastal highway, A1A, and soon arrive in the oldest continually occupied city in the United States.Originally discovered in 1513 by fountain of youth-seeking Ponce de Leon, the city is now a bustling hotbed of tourism, with a charming downtown area anchored by Flagler College and other historic buildings.Enter the original coquina stone gates to the old city and amble down St. George Street, a pedestrian-only lane lined with historic homes, eateries and shops including the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the U.S.Nearby, guarding the harbor, the impressive Castillo de San Marcos fortress dates to 1672, with a very authentic "Pirates of the Caribbean" feel.Just outside of the city, Cap's on the Water plates gorgeous seafood and pours incredible cocktails while you watch the sun set over the Tolomato River.
Know if you Go
Fly into Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) which is reachable by non-stop flights from most major hubs.The drive to Ponte Vedra is about 40 minutes and to St. Augustine about 90.
Eat at Cap's on the Water, one of the all-time great
seafood dives situated on the Tolomato River down towards St. Augustine. Palm Valley Fish Camp offers a more
upscale seafood experience located much closer to Ponte Vedra set overlooking