The East-West course
- 1970 - Ed Seay is selected as the golf course architect
- 1972 - Construction starts on golf course
- 1974 - Golf course has a “pre-opening” for potential property buyers on August 17-24, with official opening a week later.
- 1975 - PGA Tour announces move to Jacksonville area and awards Tournament Players Championship to Sawgrass CC.
- 1977-81 TPC is played at Sawgrass CC.
- 1991 - East nine is renovated, including redesign of No. 9 green
- 1995 - Total renovation of practice range
- 2001 - Green and white tee renovations completed
- 2013 - Renovation of West nine
The golf course of today was once a swampy jungle.“The centerline of 12 of the 18 holes was underwater,” said Erik Larsen, an associate of the designer the late Ed Seay. “You could hardly walk around.”
Indeed, photos from Seay’s files show how dense it was — after all, the property was virtually untouched. The undergrowth was thick, palm trees were dense and walking through all this was not a good idea without snake boots.
“I wanted a true championship course,” said developer Jimmy Stockton, “one that could host a U.S. Open or a U.S. Amateur. I looked for a top architect and approached Pee Dye, but he was too busy with Amelia island Plantation.
“Then I got a call from Ed Seay. He was in Augusta, working for Ellis Maples, and his wife was from here. I knew Ed a little. We were both Phi Delts at Florida but I was 4-5 years ahead of him.
“I invited him down and we hit it off. This was his first course on his own, it was everything I dreamed for.”
Words don’t do justice to what the place looked like in 1970. There are some images of it on the excellent CD called “Designing History” that was distributed at the 2011 Ed Seay Member-Guest. That CD is on this website. “They had to move a tremendous amount of earth,” said another Seay associate, Harrison Minchew. “It was remarkable. There were few great courses in Florida at the time and Ed came right out of the box and created something special.”
The original East-West layout has been tweaked over the years — most notably the unfortunate work prior to the 1977 Tournament Players Championship — but a person who played it then would very much recognize it now. The routing is identical, the start and finish is the same — No. 1 East to No. 9 West — and it takes a trained eye to see differences on most holes. “It has stood the test of time,” says Senior Tour player Leonard Thompson.
It took over a year to just get the course started as the heavy clearing equipment had to battle the swampy ground. (This was a precursor to the TPC Stadium, where the move from Sawgrass was delayed a year because the construction company’s vehicles kept getting stuck.) Had you played the course on its Opening Day, you would have come away with the realization that things would get much harder when nature took its course. For instance, the stand of trees to the right of the No. 2 fairway (East No. 2) was much lower and much less dense. If your drive didn’t reach the corner, a lofted club would get you over. If you sliced into the woods, you could get lucky and be able to advance the ball toward the green. No. 4 (East No. 4) was a little shorter and the green was much larger. The danger of the swamp on the left today will be on every player’s mind. Then, there was no bulkhead and missing the green left might leave the player a chance at recovery.
In some areas, however, the course is easier. For instance, a finger of the lake came well into the 18th fairway (West No. 9) and could be difficult to avoid — it’s now gone, producing a more playable hole. Ed Seay’s future depended on the course, too.“Arnold Palmer came up to play it,” said Jimmy Stockton, “and he was impressed. He got to know Ed and they eventually went into business together.” Yes, Palmer Course Design was once based in Ponte Vedra Beach. The building now houses the real estate company just across from the Lodge on Ponte Vedra Boulevard.
The Sawgrass golf course became famous in a way that titillated the world. The greatest golfers proved that they, like the rest of us, were mere mortals. It was the five-year run of the PGA Tour's signature tournament that made "Sawgrass" what is now an internationally-known brand. It was played on a course that could be so difficult that the bizarre became the usual. What the course is today is radically different than what the PGA tour players found in 1977 when the Tournament Players Championship was moved here.
But there is something that's the same and every Sawgrass member will attest to this: the winds blow in March. When those winds blow, so do golf balls ... mostly off-line. Back then. the Sawgrass course was only three years old and still raw with scruffy waste areas, wildly sloping greens and spots for pin positions that only the very brave (or very dumb) dared approach.
Tour Commissioner Deane Beaman hired a player, Gardner Dickinson, to make some changes and that made it harder -- for instance, he moved the tee back on the No. 1 West hole. That was fine on a calm day. But when the wind came out of the west, some players couldn't hit over the water. The back tee on 8 East was across the road, requiring traffic closure when players hit.
When the wind blew hard, the course won. When the winds laid down, the scores were comparable with any other major championship.But, who remembers the calm days? If those same people could play here today, the comments surely would be very different. And the comments? One year, it was so windy that Raymond Floyd called the course, "damn near unplayable".
Another year, Sports Illustrated's Dan Jenkins wrote that it was a "swampy, scrubby, windy, chilly, narrow pain in the three-wood" and where "a man is lucky to make pars". Golfer John Schlee said, "If this was an airport it would be closed". In one round, the field averaged 79.5 strokes in the third round, prompting a locker room scene that many recall. The players took over barber Paul Mahia's chair and, as each player came off the course, he had to sit in the chair and be grilled by the others. The horror stories were, indeed, horrible, and it made Sawgrass an internationally - famous name.
The blustery days got all the publicity. Lost in all that was the fact that there were more days when the wind didn't produce chaos, and the comments of players that it was a solid course, one worthy of a big championship. All good things come to an end, of course, but it was a year later than expected as the new Stadium course across A1A was not ready for the 1981 evert, so Sawgrass got one more chance. The winds were quiet but rains came and the tournament's last day was a Monday due to a Sunday rainout. But it left a legacy, the fame of Sawgrass.
- 1975: PGA headquarters move from D.C. to Jacksonville and plans are announced to move the Tournament Players Championship to Sawgrass.
- 1976: SCC golf course is renovated with direction from Gardner Dickinson
- 1977: Mark Hayes wins first TPC at SCC with 289
- 1978: Jack Nicklaus wins TPC with final round of 75
- 1979: Lanny Wadkins wins with a 283
- 1980: Lee Travino wins over Ben Crenshaw and Seve Ballesteros.
- 1981: Ray Floyd wins in a playoff over Barry Jaeckel