I wrote this story over the course of a week. As the word count blew past 2,500, I realized that I was like a tween girl talking about her favorite vampire movie: I’d left nothing out. I’m allowing myself this rare verbose indulgence because the trip was really that good. If you’re short on time and demand the cliff notes, here you go:
Should You Go? Yes!
“This is the true story…”
Sometimes, a course review just isn’t enough. When it comes to #BBBatTPC (Birdies, Burgers, and Brews at TPC), a course review by itself isn’t even close.
For those that want to know whether the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course is worth the triple-digit green fee, the review is HERE, but if you want the real story of what happens when eight golf writers show up at one of the world’s most famous courses for a weekend-long extravaganza hosted by the best PR team in the business, you’re already in the right place.
Lift Off & Arrival
As so many trips do, mine started with airline difficulties. My 4PM departure turned into 7PM then 10PM, but, with spirits kept high, I finally arrived at the Jacksonville airport around 1:30AM. My clubs came off the luggage carousel quickly, but my heart stopped when I unzipped the bag: my Club Glove Stiff Arm had been broken! A more thorough investigation showed no damage to the clubs (thank you, Club Glove), so I loaded them into the waiting car and headed for the Sawgrass Marriott.
I arrived at the Sawgrass Marriott around 2:30 AM and started smiling a smile that lasted all weekend. The two-story lobby looks out onto an illuminated waterfall and pond that was beautiful in the dark. A very friendly hotel employee got me quickly checked in, and I was off to my spacious room. Though I expected to crash, the excitement of reading the itinerary kept me up for another 90 minutes. With my clubs meticulously organized and clothes scripted, I finally succumbed to sleep.
Up and at ‘em
I woke up at 7:30, well in advance of my alarm, and made my way down to the lobby. Our designated meeting place was Alice & Pete’s Pub on the ground level of the Sawgrass Marriott. I went outside to take stock of the miniature 17th green behind Alice & Pete’s and to chat up the gentlemen who shuttle guests from the hotel to TPC Sawgrass.
After a very nice conversation, 9 o’clock rolled around, and I was greeted by the crew from the Zimmerman Agency and the seven golf writers who had arrived the previous day. As I caught up with old friends and met new ones, everyone took a shot at the floating green. After some near misses and a couple near whiffs, we were shuttled over to TPC Sawgrass.
As we drove towards the TPC Sawgrass, the first thing we saw was the colossal clubhouse which, at 77,000 square feet, looks more like a basketball arena than a clubhouse. This was a tone setter: everything on this day was going to be turned up to 11.
The weather did not provide the expected frost delay, so warm ups were limited to about 10 swings and breakfast was boxed and taken on the course. My stomach knotted a little, I hate playing in a hurry, but when we hit the first tee everything settled down.
“Next on the tee…”
The first person to greet us on the tee was Bill Hughes, PGA Master Professional and General Manager of TPC Sawgrass. He gave each of us a card, shook our hands, and insisted that we tell him if we needed anything. Next, we met our caddy, John, who would become the most valuable person in the group. Finally, our foursome, myself, the infamous Spyzinger, Adam from 3 Guys Golf, and travel blogger DJ, had its picture taken, and it was time to tee off.
The first tee shot should have been pressure-packed – surrounded by strangers who might write stories about my bad shots, playing on a bucket list course with a gallery of PR folk – but Shane Bacon did us all a great favor by topping his ball about 50 yards. Full disclosure: Shane was far and away the best player there, and he’s a good guy to boot. Nonetheless, I was happy he duffed it. For the record, I did not.
18 Fantastic Holes of Golf
As a golfer, I truly believe that everyone would like to know about every shot that I’ve ever hit. As someone who knows golfers, I realize that golfers think they are more fascinating than they really are. I’m going to split the difference here and give you a combination of funny stories, great characters, and, yes, some bragging about my golf game.
After starting with a pair of 5’s (bogey, par), I found Simon Muldoon, the TPC Sawgrass’s Assistant Food & Beverage Director, waiting for my group on the 3rd tee with a Bloody Mary bar. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Simon would turn out to be one of the most memorable characters from this trip. After watching my three playing partners fail to make the green at the short par 3, I made one of my better swings of the day, landed the ball about ten feet from the flag, then watched the slope of the green spit my ball down a hill into a chipping area. Damn you, Pete Dye! Make it a double, Simon.
The fourth hole requires a carry over water on both the tee shot and the approach. My tee shot wound up in the left rough where I had a blind shot into the green. I made great contact on the approach, but felt immediately that it wasn’t enough club, a thought confirmed by the unmistakable sound of golf ball impacting railroad tie. In this case, however, it was a “Thank you, Mr. Dye,” because my ball had ricocheted back 60 yards and was still dry. A classy pitch helped me save par.
Fast forwarding to #8, I started feeling the effects of Simon’s Bloody Mary: I ignored the wind and airmailed the green. The sand was pristine and allowed for an easy up and down from the bunker. It also gave our gallery of ZGirls a chance to get in on the action, trying to put John out of a job.
Yes, that structure in the picture above, the one that’s bigger than the clubhouse at your home course, that’s the halfway house at TPC Sawgrass. They don’t do small. We stopped long enough to be offered shots of Fireball. Yeah, ok, twist my arm.
After playing #10, the mirror image of #1, we arrived at the first contest hole: long drive challenge at #11. Our group acquitted itself brilliantly, putting all our tee shots within spitting distance of the winner. I hit the longest drive, but apparently there’s a rule about “hitting the fairway.” Whatever. I think they made that up so I wouldn’t win all the awards, since I ran away with the “Fist Pumps Like Tiger” Award for that effort you see above. Congrats to Spyzinger for the long drive win.
The first foursome, clearly salty that we had all blown our drives past them on #11, got us back on #12. DJ, before hitting his approach, asked John, “Where is that flag supposed to be?” John responded, “Back left,” to which DJ replied, “That’s not back left.” The jokesters in front of us had removed the flag and jammed it into the fringe on the opposite corner of the green. Sadly, this discovery was made after I had hit my approach. Bogey.
A quick tip of the hat to John for his work on #13. This par 3 features one of the most severely contoured greens I’ve ever seen. I missed the green and had to deal with every bit of that slope on my chip. I thought I was playing enough break, but John moved me another 5 feet to the right. He knows his course. His read made my up-and-down look world class.
Finally we reached the closing stretch, #16-18. #16 is a short par 5 with lots of water to the right of the green. I hit a solid drive and had about 230 into the green. I didn’t love the angle for the second shot, so I stood at my ball with a 7 iron while the other guys in my group hit their second shots. As I started to get into my shot, John walked up and said, “That doesn’t look like a club that will get there.” I paused and said, “You’re right, my 230 club has a tendency to go right, so I’m just going to lay this up.” “Ok, cool, because you play here all the time…” was John’s response. I laughed, called John something unprintable, and got my 230 club. “I’m sorry, I just like to see eagle putts,” were John’s final words as I sent my ball flying towards the green. I overcompensated and hit it left, but John was right: I didn’t go to TPC Sawgrass to lay up. For the record, I still made par.
If it were anywhere else on the course, or anywhere else in the world, #16 really wouldn’t be a super tough hole. Its secret weapon is being located next to #17. It is flat out impossible to not sneak a peek at one of golf’s most famous par 3’s as you walk approach #16 green.
I have more to say about #17, but for now I’ll leave it at this: Sunday pin position. 135 yards. Pitching wedge. 5 feet.
The closing hole at TPC Sawgrass gets overshadowed by #17, but it’s a beast in its own right. It’s the second-longest par 4 on the course, and water lurks down the entire left side. Oh, and there are trees at the corner of the dogleg. I made my final scrappy bogey of the day and walked off the course grinning from ear to ear.
A Word About #17
Is there any course in the entire world where your feelings about your round will be dictated by one hole? Yes. One. TPC Sawgrass.
Tell someone you played Sawgrass, and no one will ask what you shot, but they will ask, “What’d you do on #17.” That is why it’s the toughest hole on the course. It’s not the water, it’s the expectations. And I don’t care how mentally tough you think you are, I don’t care what kind of Zen focus you have, that is going to screw with you. I think it’s the closest an amateur (particularly one who doesn’t compete) will ever get to feeling Sunday PGA Tour pressure on the course. And it’s utterly great.
Burgers and Beers
After our round, we were escorted to the Member’s Locker Room where we had our names on the lockers. Want to see a bunch of grown men behave like giddy children? Put their names on lockers next to PGA Tour players.
From there, we moved on to Pub 17 for the Burgers and Brews portion of the event. Simon had chosen some local beers for us to try, and we stuffed our faces at a make your own burger bar. While we ate, the scores were totaled and some of the contest winners were announced. Huge congrats to my cart partner DJ for winning low net and Ken from Bunker’s Paradise for winning closest to the pin.
After a couple hours at the Sawgrass Marriott to clean up and relax, we were back at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse for the awards ceremony. In addition to the awards I’ve already mentioned, the ZGirls honored the most tenacious tweeter and Instagrammer, as well as the person with “Poulter Pants.” There was also a dubious “Scuba Savvy” award for drowning the most balls on #17. I will leave the winner of that award nameless.
As we stood on the massive second-story veranda, Simon started to unveil his mixological genius. He presented each of us the 17th hole in a martini glass: blue/green liquid, a white foam “green,” and dozens of ginger-flavored balls at the bottom of the glass to represent the 125,000 balls fished from #17 every year. On any other weekend, the drink would have been a show stopper, but Simon was just warming up.
Dinner in the Champion’s Game Room
After sunset, we moved to the Champion’s Game Room for dinner. According to everyone at TPC, this was an unprecedented big deal: no one is ever allowed into the Champion’s Game Room except, uh, champions. And we were going to eat dinner on the table where Tiger and Phil play ping pong. Pretty damn cool.
Once we had taken in our surroundings, Simon began explaining the food and drink pairings for our four course dinner. Everything that we consumed was amazing and was made more so by Simon’s descriptions. You’ll be pleased to know that all of the food in these pictures is available to anyone who dines at TPC Sawgrass. If you go to play TPC Sawgrass and don’t eat at least one dinner in the clubhouse, you are making a huge mistake. If you don’t request that Simon explain your meal to you, that’s another huge mistake.
As for the conversation, what do eight golf writers talk about at dinner? Everything but golf. The conversation moved rapidly and unpredictably. One moment, Mike (#MiketheMaleModel) was making an impassioned defense of the legacy of Nas, the next, Shane Bacon was taking a poll about whether or not it would have been better to grow up in the seventies. There were even requests by grown men for Simon to read bedtime stories (I should explain that: Simon is the owner of one of the all-time best accents. You would be wise to keep your wives and girlfriends away from him).
Our bellies thoroughly stuffed, we watched as the ping pong table was uncovered and we were invited to play. There were some skilled players in our group, so I stuck to spectating and 12 ounce curls.
Wrapping Up the Night
When it was finally time to leave the Champion’s Game Room, the group simply moved the party to Alice & Pete’s Pub at the Sawgrass Marriott. Alice & Pete’s is one of the most fun hotel bars I’ve ever been to, in no small part because of the shuffleboard table. The rivalries that started on that table Friday night were renewed as the drinks flowed freely, our voices grew louder, and the stories became more outrageous.
But sadly, as all parties must, our festivities did end around 2AM, thus concluding my 24 perfect hours at TPC Sawgrass. I left with loads of happy memories and twelve great new friends whom I can’t wait to see again. I leave you with one suggestion: get yourself and your friends to TPC Sawgrass as soon as possible.