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Sure, we all know about the 17th hole of the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. That island green soaks up much of the attention every year in the PGA Tour’s Players Championship.
As the No. 1 course in Florida on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access layouts, the Players Stadium is the epitome of golf in the Sunshine State. Built by Pete Dye – with plenty of inspiration from his wife, Alice Dye – on flat, swampy ground and opened in 1980, it is a perfect example of the challenges that often face course designers in golf-rich Florida and the creative ways in which architects attempt to address them.
Golfweek ranks courses by compiling the average ratings – on a points basis of 1 to 10 – of its more than 750 raters to create several industry-leading lists of courses. That includes the popular Best Courses You Can Play list for courses that allow non-member tee times. These generally are defined as layouts accessible to resort guests or regular daily-fee players.
The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is No. 1 on that list, and it can be a beast for amateurs in the 51 weeks a year the course does not host the Tour’s best. Water, long rough, plenty of length – there’s no shortage of challenges. But it’s the creativity of the shaping and the demands on shotmaking that set the layout apart from most courses in Florida.
That famed 17th green is a perfect example of the Dyes’ creative thinking to handle the challenges architects often face when building in Florida. Designers frequently dig ponds all around a course, both to handle drainage from frequent heavy rains and to supply building material to lift fairways and greens above the water table. Dye’s island green certainly wasn’t the first in Florida – it wasn’t even the first on that stretch of A1A, as that honor goes to No. 9 at the nearby Ponte Vedra Inn and Club’s Ocean Course – but the 137-yarder he created faces players at a critical time in one of the Tour’s largest events.
For Pete and Alice Dye, No. 17 was a perfect opportunity to make something special instead of having just another pond – if you must have all that water, why not stick an island green in it? The results have had players shaking over their 9-irons ever since.
It’s all part of an experience that lifts the Players Stadium Course to No. 22 in the United States on Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses list for layouts built in or after 1960. It’s also No. 11 on Golfweek’s Best Resort Courses list for the whole U.S.
Water wasn’t nearly as big a part of the equation at the next four courses on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list in Florida. Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green and World Woods in Brooksville had something even better: sand. Lots and lots of it.
Within the past decade, Streamsong has opened three courses built on sand. The Red, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, ranks No. 2 on Golfweek’s Best list for public-access tracks in Florida. The Black by Gil Hanse is next at No. 3, followed by Tom Doak’s Blue at No. 4. Built largely on old phosphate-mining spoil, the layouts at Streamsong stand out because of their other-worldly topographies created by all that sand, which once was an ancient seabed – the place is littered with shark teeth – and that provides an ideal playing surface.
On top of some of that sand sits new green surfaces for the nearly decade-old Red and Blue courses. Streamsong installed new Mach 1 putting surfaces on those two courses in 2020, ensuring its oldest layouts – dating to 2012 an hour southeast of Tampa or 90 minutes southwest of Orlando – remain fresh and provide world-class conditioning.
Streamsong’s threesome also has broken into Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses list. The Red is No. 39 on that listed, followed by the Black at No. 46 and the Blue at No. 57. The trio also made it into Golfweek’s Best Resort Courses list for the U.S., with the Red at No. 15, the Black at No. 18 and the Blue at No. 21, making Streamsong one of the premium three-course destinations in the world.
Tom Fazio’s Pine Barrens course at World Woods north of Tampa also utilized sand instead of water. Opened in 1993, Pine Barrens’ native, rolling terrain and large sandy waste areas offer a non-traditional Florida experience. Rolling Oaks, the second 18 at World Woods, ranks No. 20 in Florida on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can play.
So while the Players Stadium Course has made the most of its water, the next four public-access layouts in Florida on Golfweek’s Best rankings took advantage of their sandy environments. For a state that prides itself on beach life, these five layouts are a perfect meeting of water and sand.
Each year, we publish the three lists that are the foundation of our course-ratings program: Golfweek’s Best 2020: Top 200 Classic Courses, Golfweek’s Best 2020: Top 200 Modern Courses and Golfweek’s Best 2020: Best Courses You Can Play.
Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Florida
1. TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)
Ponte Vedra Beach (No. 22 m)
2. Streamsong (Red)
Bowling Green (No. 39 m)
3. Streamsong (Black)
Bowling Green (No. 46 m)
4. Streamsong (Blue)
Bowling Green (No. 57 m)
5. World Woods (Pine Barrens)
Brooksville (No. 171 m)
6. Trump National Doral Miami (Blue Monster)
7. Black Diamond Ranch (Quarry)
8. Bay Hill Club
9. Innisbrook (Cooperhead)
Tarpon Springs (m)
10. Hammock Beach Resort (Ocean)
Palm Coast (m)
11. PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion)
Palm Beach Gardens (m)
12. Camp Creek
Panama City Beach (m)
13. Turnberry Isle Resort (Soffer)
14. Hammock Beach Resort (Conservatory)
Palm Coast (m)
15. Sandestin Resort (Burnt Pine)
16. *Juliette Falls
17. PGA Golf Club (Wanamaker)
Port St. Lucie (m)
18. Crandon Park
Key Biscayne (m)
19. Trump National Doral Miami (Gold)
20. World Woods (Rolling Oaks)
21. *Hammock Bay
22. Orange County National (Panther Lake)
Winter Garden (m)
23. Victoria Hills
24. Mission Inn Resort (El Campeon)
25. PGA Golf Club (Dye)
Port St. Lucie (m)
26. Black Diamond Ranch (Ranch)
27. Turnberry Isle Resort (Miller)
28. Gasparilla Inn & Club
Boca Grande (c)
29. *TPC Sawgrass (Dye’s Valley)
Ponte Vedra Beach (m)
30. Reunion Resort (Watson)
Golfweek’s Best Private Courses in Florida
North Palm Beach (No. 12 c)
2. Calusa Pines
Naples (No. 24 m)
3. Mountain Lake
Lake Wales (No. 76 c)
4. Johns Island (West)
Vero Beach (No. 67 m)
5. Indian Creek
Miami Beach (No. 96 c)
6. Jupiter Hills Club (Hills)
Tequesta (No. 85 m)
7. *The Bear’s Club
8. Naples National
Hobe Sound (m)
*New to the list in 2020
(m): modern; (c): classic
Golfweek’s Best 2020: Top 30 Campus Courses
The rankings below reflect where these courses fall among the top 30 Campus Courses in the United States.
24. Mark Bostick GC (Florida), 5.82
Gainesville, Fla.; Donald Ross, Bobby Weed, 1921
Golfweek’s Best 2020
How we rate them
The members of our course-ratings panel continually evaluate courses and rate them based on our 10 criteria. They also file a single, overall rating on each course. Those overall ratings on each course are averaged together to produce a final rating for each course. Then each course is ranked against other courses in its state, or nationally, to produce the final rankings.