News & Opinion

Drivable par 4 gives TPC Sawgrass new ‘flavor’

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship, has had more cosmetic surgery than Michael Jackson ever endured. When told of the latest changes to the course, Tom Kite cracked, "It would have been news if they hadn't changed anything this year."

The Stadium Course closed last May after Jason Day's impressive Players victory for its latest nip and tuck, which included re-grassed greens, a lake added between the sixth and seventh holes and a revamped No. 12 into a drivable par 4.

The 12th has been shortened some 50-plus yards and is listed on the scorecard at 302 yards, but it might measure as little as 285 this week, meaning a bunt 3-wood or 5-wood for the likes of Dustin Johnson. In the re-do, the Tour eliminated the grassy mound to the left, replacing it with a long fairway bunker, and a pond to the left of the green. For those opting to bail out, two pot bunkers guard the right side.

When told of the change to a drivable par 4, Tom Weiskopf smiled and said, "It's the flavor of the month. It really is, or the flavor of the times."

Weiskopf often is credited as the modern-era architect who brought the drivable par 4 back into vogue. He says The Old Course at St. Andrews was the source of his inspiration, noting that there are four drivable par 4s: Nos. 9, 10, 12 and 18, but never on the same day, depending on the wind.

"All I did was copy an idea from the past," he said. "When I played there, I thought if I ever get the chance to design a golf course, I'd make sure I designed a drivable situation."

Since building the 17th hole as a drivable par 4 at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course in 1986, Weiskopf has included them on all 74 courses that he has done, and five of them have one on each nine. 

Weiskopf is spot-on when he calls the drivable par-4 the flavor of the month. It has become not just accepted, but expected. USGA executive director Mike Davis even has moved up tees on par 4s such as at Torrey Pines to tempt players to go for it at recent U.S. Opens. (Last year's U.S. Open venue, Oakmont, had an authentic drivable par-4, No. 17.) With TPC Sawgrass joining the club, it's official: the drivable par 4 has jumped the shark. At least, that's what the kids would say these days.

Here's the problem with the drivable-par-4 revolution, Weiskopf said: "They are hard to build. I always looked at it as two par 3s in the length of what you're playing. You have to challenge the layup as much as the tee shot. That's the hard balance. I think only maybe a third of the time they came out proper, with good strategy."

In other words, a lot of drivable par 4s defeat their very purpose.

"You have to dangle that lure just enough," said Ben Crenshaw, who noted that he likes to design a drivable par 4 on each nine, if possible. 

So, will No. 12 at TPC Sawgrass be an improvement? Is the shorter distance inviting enough, or will the water hugging the left side of the green discourage players from being aggressive? Weiskopf and Crenshaw questioned the need for water, especially placing it so close to the green. (It wasn't as if the course needed another water hazard.) 

Will the layup be challenging enough to make the risk/reward pendulum swing in favor of going for the green?

With a larger and more receptive green complex, as it should be at a drivable par 4, there could be more birdies made by laying up than were made at the old hole.

Count former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who gave architect Pete Dye his marching orders on the original design that opened in 1980, among those who approve of the risk-reward 12th.

"I wish we'd built it this way in the first place," he said.

Weiskopf slapped his leg and chuckled when informed of Beman's response and termed it revisionist history.

"That's the pot calling the kettle black," he said. "When I was designing TPC Scottsdale, Beman was adamant. The only time we got into a verbal confrontation was over 17. I said, 'I don't care what you say. I'm going to be right.' He didn't think the players would like the hole at all. He was totally against it being a drivable par 4."

Weiskopf's nitpick with the TPC's new drivable par 4 was its positioning in the round. It's too soon, he said. It also should be noted that a drivable par 4 tends to drag pace of play (especially after a reachable par 5 at No. 11).

"It's too bad it's not 15,” Weiskopf said. “If it was up to me, it would have been a terrific drivable in the position of the tournament. Let's redesign the 15th.”

Wait another year, Tom, and they just might do that.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak