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June 1, 2017

Players Respond

A handful of PGA Tour golfers live in the Ponte Vedra Beach area and have access to TPC Sawgrass year-round, but most experienced the renovated course and practice facilities for the first time during last month’s Players Championship. The consensus? Overwhelmingly positive for the new practice paradise.

Players can virtually practice full shots in any wind direction, with a public range on the front side and a professionals-only range on the backside. In between of course includes all types of chipping, bunker areas, and even a house in the back where players can plug their devices in to watch their swing on a big screen monitor.

“Overall it’s probably the best practice facility that I’ve ever seen,” says Kyle Stanley, who was in the hunt at The Players before finishing tied for fourth. “Probably the best I’ve seen in general, just look at the condition that it’s in. I can’t think of any that are better.”

There’s also a bulkheaded replica of TPC Sawgrass’ 17th island green about 130 yards from where the players hit balls on the bigger, public side. That’s about the exact distance of arguably golf’s most famous hole.

Turf on the practice greens is the exact same as the actual greens on the course and the conditions and speeds are prepped the same as well, allowing for players to make a seamless transition when heading to competition.

“You don’t see it anywhere else” says Daniel Summerhays’ brother and coach Boyd Summerhays. “You’ll get some times when it’s the contour of the green but (these practice greens) actually will catch the same spin that a pitch shot would have done on the course.”

Within the short-game area are two different practice greens: One with undulation and the other completely flat. Scottsdale resident Kevin Streelman appreciates having a flat green because he understands the importance of keeping putting simple.

“I think it helps that one is flat, I have a flat green in my basement,” Streelman says. “It’s 18 feet x 4 feet, and I keep it flat to work on really good straight putts. If you can hit good straight putts then you can hit good breaking putts. It’s pretty sweet to have that option out there.”

The aforementioned small building on the back of the facility allows players to plug their iPads or whatever devices they’ve used to film their swing on the range into big screen monitors. Though Streelman hadn’t utilized it yet, he likes the idea.

“It’s nice if you need a break to watch some of your swing or to even take your mind off of golf to watch TV,” Streelman says. “Practice can be a grind, so I think it’s great that they have that.”

Any discussion of practice and golf ranges might be incomplete without the seemingly unstoppable practice-machine Bernhard Langer.

“It’s one of the best, if not the best facility in the world. With the different putting greens, chipping greens and different angles to hit balls in any wind direction that you want,” Langer describes.

The 59-year-old was also quick to point out that a practice facility is rarely a major focus of a golf course.

“Most courses don’t put a lot of money or emphasis on the practice facility, they want to have a good golf course and some kind of driving range, a chipping green and a putting green,” Langer says. “But you have everything times five here. So it’s pretty cool.”

There is a portion of the facility in back that allows one to simulate swinging from different lies in an effort to best prepare players for the course.

“You can find any shot that you would on the golf course on the practice facilities somewhere if you’re looking hard enough,” Langer says. “That’s basically what a practice facility should be, (but) it’s often not possible by land restrictions or monetary or whatever it may be.”

But in this case, they have the space and the money. “It’s first class,” Ben Martin says. “This has got to be the best practice facility in the world.”

Ponte Vedra resident Jim Furyk says the backend of the range has changed significantly for the better. “In the old days you had a nice-sized area but we didn’t use half of it because the shots just weren’t realistic,” Furyk explains. “A lot of that turf was under the trees and wouldn’t grow very well. You’d get a lot of shots where you’d have the green sloped away from you, just a lot of shots that you wouldn’t practice. “There wasn’t as much usable land back there. Right now we use every inch of it.” The pitching areas have been lauded by players for their multiple greens and differing distances as well. James Hahn enjoys the options the pitching areas provide.

“It’s nice to have so many spots where you can hit from 20 to 80-yard pitch shots on fairly flat surfaces as well as teeing areas,” Hahn says.

In addition to the upgrades to the practice facilities, the Stadium Course also received a makeover with the insertion of a new pond between the sixth and seventh holes, and the reshaping of the 12th to make it a drivable, risk-reward par 4.