Sawgrass, the scene of this week's Tournament Players Championship at St Augustine in Florida, has a setting that is truly spectacular.
Sited close by the long sandy Atlantic coastline the setting is mired only by the phenomenal efforts made by Pete Dye to build a golf course.
But one should not hold Pete solely responsible. Dean Beaman, the then USPGA director who commissioned the course construction, had a proud hand in the thing.
Indeed, after three visits I find it increasingly hard to believe that the place was designed by anything other than a committee made up of fifth columnists intent upon destroying golf.
If one wants to see where tournament golf will be in ten years time, and the extent to which it will be divorced from reality, one needs only to look upon Sawgrass.
This is a course built for spectators and especially for those of the lowest common denominator.
If evidence is still required to prove that the majority of American tournament spectators are there to witness the mishap rather than applaud good golf, then Sawgrass and the TPC is the best source.
Sawgrass almost reduces the game to an aquatic sport.
It moves the game on from where water constituted a hazard to the point where the game is played about the hazard of water.
Although not quite in the Great Lakes class, the amount of water at Sawgrass comes close to being an inland waterway.
Few holes fail to include water in their make-up and the amount of interest generated by each hole is directly proportional to the amount of water that makes it up and the likelihood of a ball entering it.
The 17th hole, a short par three of some 180 yards at its length limit, is at the extreme end of the water spectrum with only the tee and green constituting terra firma, the rest is water.
Of course it is all spectacle on the same level as a Walt Disney movie or a Bob Hope matinee.
On the flat piece of raised beach land, the design was executed by digging a big hole in order to obtain a nice sandy soil to build features that, to some extent, make the place resemble a golf course.
Filling the hole that was left with water that could be circulated for irrigation purposes was not only expedient but also economical.
The hole and what he did with it established Pete Dye in the forefront of golf course architecture and extended crazy golf into a long game.
It also turned golf into a purely spectator sport where the appetites of the Roman amphitheatre could be sated and the howling of the mob could be choreographed.
Not surprising then that the Sawgrass TV ratings almost surpass everything else in America.
Fred Klauk, the course superintendent, delights in relating the statistics of the 17th hole with even greater relish than Ewan Murray's monotonous monotone on the Sky sports channel.
Fred will tell you that even although the carry over water to the front of the green is only some 120 yards, some 20 to 40 players in the TPC miss the green that is some forty yards wide and some sixty deep.
This year he is having to re-write his piece for 33 missed it on the first day and 29 on the second, although it has to be said that they were playing in something of a wind which, were it anywhere else would be called a breeze.
Regular punters on the course often hit up to a dozen balls off the tee before getting one on the green.
This sort of thing used to be called water on the brain. The record for the hole is held by Angelo Spagnolo who is reputed to have hit 27 balls before giving up and putting his ball round the rim of the lake and across the bridge to the green.
He eventually took 66 on the hole that seriously contributed to his 257 strokes total for his round.
Some 45,000 rounds a year are played over this course and some 150,000 balls are retrieved from the water four times a year by a team of divers.
These balls earn the course over $10K in resale but this is apparently of secondary consideration for were the balls not removed the lake would fill up with them and be 'environmentally offensive'.
The baseness of Sawgrass seems to bring out the best and the worst in people and players alike.
Paulson and Perks cannot be said to have hitherto distinguished themselves yet they have played the best golf of their lives this week at Sawgrass.
Mickelson, on the other hand, has revealed a showman aspect of his personality that suggests an ancestry of either Barnum or Bailley, or an idiot aspect that reflect a genetic load from Bedlam.
There are no other rational explanations for his daft play this week.
Craig Perks would appear to come off good yeomen sensible stock.
Although he tried to make it look difficult holing every chip and every long putt in the last four holes of the last round, his solid journeyman play merited the $1M prize and one has the feeling that all that money is going to a worthy home.
All said about Sawgrass, the place has never produced a dull championship.
The fact that Faldo looked to be in resurrection mode for a while was fascinating.
After Bay Hill last week there was some anticipation of Woods walking on the water at Sawgrass.
The word on the street is that he is saving his miracles for the National in two weeks.
But now that Big Craig Perks has learned to win and looks as if he is capable of mixing it with the best I will be down at the bookies tomorrow to see if I can arrange something.
|| 25 - MARCH 2002