PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- If you're like countless other sadistic golfers you'll be tuning in this March to the broadcast of The PLAYERS Championship in hopes of seeing the professionals look like you dumping golf balls into the water at the contemptuous 17th hole at the Tournament Players Club.
While millions will watch on television, thousands more will actually make the pilgrimage to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, site of The PLAYERS Championship, to actually do the dumping personally.
That golf course, more specifically the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, is all that most golfers probably know about Ponte Vedra. Is that all there is?
The answer is a not by a long shot. In addition to being home of the PGA Tour, Ponte Vedra is a deluxe golf community with upscale resort courses on par with any in Florida. In fact few areas can match Ponte Vedra for its level of service and quality golf, and it does it effortlessly and without pretense. It's simply not Ponte Vedra's style to flaunt its excesses like the typical south Florida resort, but when it comes to remarkable golf and posh amenities this town takes a back seat to nothing.
Magnificent golf in Mineral City!
Doesn't quite have that ring, does it? Ponte Vedra Beach began its life as a mining town known as Mineral City but it was just a matter of time before the temperate weather and coastal setting influenced a name change.
Ponte Vedra Beach, as it was subsequently renamed, is more than just an apparition that appears each March when the PGA Tour gathers together the strongest field of the year at The PLAYERS Championship. It's a lovely community of 15,000 residents located 25 miles southeast of Jacksonville, snuggled up against nearly 15 miles of Atlantic Ocean beachfront.
Ponte Vedra Beach is also a rather affluent city. If you like to admire other peoples' magnificent oceanfront homes there's probably no more impressive drive in north Florida than Ponte Vedra Boulevard, a two-lane road separated from the Atlantic by a single file row of homes that would give Boca Raton a run for its money.
None of that probably matters if you aren't headed to the Ponte Vedra area to play golf. If that's the case then odds are the main attraction will be the
Marriott Sawgrass Resort, home of the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass Stadium Course. The original TPC club and stadium course, this layout is one of the most sought after golf experiences in the country. Thousands of visitors a year make their way to Ponte Vedra to test themselves against Pete Dye's revolutionary 1980 design, perhaps the most notorious layout on earth. Few golf courses polarize opinions as much as the Stadium Course does but one way or another it remains among the most visible and popular places in golf. The experience of playing the island green 17th hole is worth the expense alone -- parking a 9-iron on the putting surface on the first shot is priceless.
Six years after the Stadium Course opened, Dye and protoge Bobby Weed designed and built the TPC Sawgrass Valley Course on adjacent land. The Valley Course is an extension of the TPC architecture first developed at the Stadium Course, with often steep mounding to the sides of the fairways, challenging green complexes, and plenty of lateral water hazards.
Guests at the Marriott also have access to Sawgrass Country Club, a private club not far down Highway A1A from the hotel. Sawgrass was designed in 1973 by Ed Seay before he joined Arnold Palmer Course Design and the firm 's office is actually located not far from the eastern edge of the course.
Before the tournament moved up the street to the Stadium Course The PLAYERS Championship was held at Sawgrass Country Club from 1974 to 1980. The club has three nine-hole loops, East, West, and South, with the East/West combination the oldest and most difficult. When the wind is up Sawgrass Country Club is notorious for being a brutal test with its abundance of water and small, tricky greens.
Guests may also access tee times at several other private venues that decorate the Ponte Vedra landscape, all, incidentally, designed by Ed Seay (with and without Palmer Course Design). They include Oak Bridge Club (1970), Marsh Landing (1986), and The Plantation (1987).
The oldest course in Ponte Vedra is at The Ponte Vedra Inn, located on the west side of Ponte Vedra Boulevard. Herbert Strong, a British architect known primarily for his work in the north and northeast, built what would later be known as the Ocean Course in 1928. It was an engineering marvel for its time, built at the site of a defunct mineral mine. The layout utilized water-filled canals and the gusty winds coming in off the Atlantic Ocean, which at the time was visible only a few hundred yards away. It also sported what is believed to be the first island green (the par-3 ninth).
Eighteen more holes were later added (by Robert Trent Jones and Joe Lee, 16 years apart) and this became known as the Lagoon Course, a short, thrifty layout that typifies the casual "resort" label. In 1998 Bobby Weed renovated the Ocean Course, restoring much of the original architect's intent and look that had been lost over the decades. Now Ponte Vedra Inn and its two courses are not only sentimental reminders of the area's rich history, they're elegant and vital expressions of Atlantic coastal golf.
The choice of where to stay will depend foremost on where you intend to play. Only guests of the Marriott can play the TPC courses and Sawgrass Country Club, so from an access point of view the Marriott offers the most (and best) golf. The hotel, however, is more adequate than excellent (ever so slightly dated by premier resort standards), but due to its affiliation with the TPC and its sizable convention/meeting space it's always bustling.
The four-diamond rated Ponte Vedra Inn, conversely, is elegant and charming, as well as dynamic. Accommodations range from oceanfront condominiums to rooms in the old resort building across Ponte Vedra Boulevard. Best, the golf is literally just outside the lobby. There's also the affiliated The Lodge & Club just south of the Inn with luxuriant oceanfront rooms, dining, and a spa if the Inn isn't enough. Guests of both resorts have full access to the Ocean and Lagoon Courses.
The first stop should be The Augustine Grille just off the lobby at the Marriott, especially for those staying there. This upscale restaurant is one of the finest not only in Ponte Vedra but also in the greater Jacksonville area. The casual diner might check out LuLu's Waterfront Grille, a seafood restaurant overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway off of A1A.
There are numerous restaurants and bars a few miles up the coast from Ponte Vedra in Jacksonville Beach. First Street Grill has fresh seafood and an ocean view, Giovanni's offers some fine Italian fare, and Max's International is popular for its creative and, ahem, international cuisine. Late night activity might include dancing, loud music, and drinks at The Atlantic.
Ponte Vedra's golf is wonderful and unique, but it's not the only golf in the area. Approximately 25 minutes southwest of the town, just off I-95, is World Golf Village, home of the World Golf Hall of Fame and two splendid courses, the King and Bear, an Arnold Palmer/Jack Nicklaus collaboration, and Bobby Weed's Slammer and Squire Course.
World Golf Village is just one stop on a rich stretch of golf on the I-95 Corridor between south Jacksonville and Palm Coast.
March 3, 2003