The PLAYERS Championship: Exploring TPC Sawgrass’ hardest 4 holes

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponta Vedra Beach, Florida, is most famous for two things: The PLAYERS Championship and its par-3 17th hole.

One could argue that this 137-yard par-3 is one of the most famous short holes in the world, perhaps second only to the 12th hole at Augusta National.

But every golf fan knows about the 17th, and how water completely surrounds this island green.

As such, instead of exploring the nuances of the 17th hole, and a few others that give TPC Sawgrass its character, we at Playing Through decided to go in a different direction.

We are going to analyze the four most challenging holes from the 2023 Players Championship won by Scottie Scheffler. Whoever plays the best on this stretch of holes will likely have a good chance at victory come Sunday afternoon.

Hole 5 – Par 4, 471 Yards

TPC Sawgrass, The Players Championship

An overhead view of TPC Sawgrass, with the 5th hole appearing on the left side of the photo.
Getty Images

Trouble looms all the way down the right-hand side of this beastly par-4.

A dogleg right, the fairway twists and turns like a snake, although it does feature a relatively generous landing area.

A lengthy sand trap and water lurk along the right while two other bunkers sit to the left of the fairway. Any pushed tee shot will find the trap, or if it goes even further right, it will find the penalty area. A 320-yard carry is required to clear this trouble.

Ask Keith Mitchell, who does not have the distance to make this carry, and frustratingly found the water on the 5th a season ago.

Yet, players should favor the right half of the fairway, as it provides a better angle.

The field will use long-to-mid irons for their second shots into a tricky green complex, which is well protected by waster bunkers, mounds, and palm trees.

The green primarily slopes from back to front, but it features a couple of run-offs, like on the back right.

Another run-off slopes towards the deep bunker that sits long and left and must be avoided.

Overall, in 2023, the 5th hole yielded 50 birdies while producing 96 bogies and 17 double bogies or worse. Whoever walks away with a four on this hole will leave satisfied.

Hole 8 – Par 3, 237 Yards

TPC Sawgrass, PGA Tour

An aerial view of the 8th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
Photo by Chris Condon/PGA Tour

By far the most challenging par-3 at TPC Sawgrass, the 8th hole requires some players to hit a long iron while others will hit a fairway wood into a severely sloping, narrow green.

The length itself is a challenge, but so too are the nine bunkers scattered around the putting surface.

Two kidney-shaped traps sit at the front of the green, one left and one right. The green then slopes off of these two bunkers, funneling towards the middle of the green. Sometimes, players who hit their tee shots in that vicinity will see a lucky bounce, as their tee shots will carom off the slope and trickle towards the hole.

But most often, it will ricochet into the trap, leading to a tough up-and-down.

Alas, the 8th hole gave up only 35 birdies a year ago, the least amount of any hole at TPC Sawgrass. It produced 111 bogies and 10 doubles or worse, playing to an overall average score of 3.220.

Hole 14 – Par 4, 481 Yards

TPC Sawgrass, PGA Tour

An overhead view of the 14th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
Photo by Chris Condon/PGA Tour

Players must find the fairway off the tee if they expect to walk away with at least a par on 14.

Gnarly rough and extensive mounds sit to the right of the fairway, while a long skinny sand trap runs down the entire length of the hole to the left. Water sits beyond the bunker and will absorb any tee shot pulled severely.

With that in mind, the landing area itself is fairly generous.

Still, should players find the fairway off the tee, their second shot does not get any easier.

That same sand trap extends all the way to the green, snatching any pulled approach. A tough up-and-in awaits for anyone who finds it.

Five other pot bunkers and sand traps are scattered around this complex putting surface, which mostly slopes from right-to-left towards the Atlantic Ocean. It does feature numerous undulations and slopes, including one on the front right-half of the green. Any shot short will funnel down into a collection area, which is also a tricky spot to make par from.

Last year, the 14th ranked as the second hardest hole at TPC Sawgrass, giving up only 38 birdies. Meanwhile, 106 bogies were made, and that does not include the 19 double bogies or worse.

Hole 18 – Par 4, 462 Yards

TPC Sawgrass, The Players Championship

The 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
Photo by Jennifer Perez/PGA Tour

You cannot go left on the par-4 18th.

For that reason, the finishing hole at TPC Sawgrass was the most challenging of them all in 2023, and it likely will hold this distinction again in 2024.

It played 0.341 strokes above par and saw more bogies (117) than any other hole. Thirty-two double bogies or worse were also recorded, mostly due to the large lake that this dogleg left wraps around.

The ideal shot shape off the tee is a draw, but players cannot over hook it for obvious reasons. But if a draw is not executed, and the tee shot misses right, trees, thick rough, spectator mounds, and a poor angle awaits.

Those trees sit 281 yards off the tee, and plenty of players have held real estate there over the years. Anyone who finds themselves there will face a difficult situation, often resulting in a bogey or worse.

Like the tee shot, the approach calls for accuracy too. You cannot go left, as the lake extends all the way to the putting surface.

A bunker also sits long and left of the green, which is an absolute no-go.

But bailing out right is not an option either.

From roughly 60 yards from the center of the green, mounds and a waste bunker sit short and right. Any player who pushes their tee shot into the trees will then have to deal with these ‘gumdrop’ shaped ridges in their view.

They only lead to awkward lies and frustration.

So, too, does this two-tiered green that primarily slopes from back-to-front. In doing so, the green also gently declines towards the water.

The 18th may be difficult, but it is a brilliant finishing hole.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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