How first TPC Sawgrass Players led to player “revolt”

1982 Players 2

Today, TPC Sawgrass is one of the most iconic and recognisable courses on the PGA Tour.

The long-time host venue of the Players Championship, 2022 marks 40 years since the PGA Tour’s flagship event was moved to the Ponte Vedra Beach track.

In those four decades, it has grown to become golf's unofficial fifth major, attracting the biggest players in the game and becoming one of the best-loved courses on tour.

But it hasn’t always been that way...

1982 Players 1

Back in 1982, Pete Dye’s new design played extremely hard, and to say it proved unpopular with the stars of the time was an understatement.

Jack Nicklaus, who had won three of the first five Players during its previous nomadic existence, said he had “never been very good at stopping a five-iron on the hood of a car” when he was asked whether the course suited his game, while J. C. Snead described the layout as “90% horse manure and 10% luck”.

• QUIZ: Can you name every Players winner?

The normally mild-mannered Ben Crenshaw didn’t hold back, branding Sawgrass “Star Wars golf designed by Darth Vader”. Even Jerry Pate, who won the first Sawgrass Players, was unhappy, “celebrating” his win by pushing both Dye and PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman into the lake.

By the time the 1983 edition came around, the ill-feeling had only worsened with players reportedly feeling as though the Stadium course had been designed to embarrass them.

At the time it was branded a “rebellion”, with petitions placed in locker rooms and frustrations aired in the media.

Jerry Pate Deane Beman 1982 Players

A player committee, consisting of Nicklaus, Crenshaw, Jim Colbert and Ed Sneed, was set up and met with Dye shortly after the 1983 tournament. 

"Pete walked in and said before anyone says anything, let's get some carts and go out to the first green," Colbert once told  

"It was one of those greens with big undulation in the middle. Golfers feel like we own the middle of the green, that if there's a tough pin position you don't want to go at, you can always put your ball in the middle and take a 30- or 40-foot putt.  

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“With most of those greens back then, if you hit it in the middle, it would just bounce away." 

When Dye refused to take the players’ concerns on board, the stars knocked on Beman’s door, resulting in the greens being softened in time for the 1984 tournament. That year, Fred Couples shot 11-under to win, perhaps by no coincidence the lowest score since the move to Sawgrass. 

Jack Nicklaus 1982 Players

Years later, Beman – who retired in 1994 after 20 years at the helm – reflected on the uproar.

"The players getting together and wanting to give some input on the course was a good thing,” he told the media.

“It wasn't my tournament. It wasn't the PGA Tour's tournament. It was the players' tournament.

“It took a while to get there, but it has turned out to be everything we hoped it would be.”

• Players Championship 2022 preview

This year’s players begins on March 10 at TPC Sawgrass, with Justin Thomas aiming to become the first man to successfully defend the title in the event’s history.

A total of 144 players will battle it out for the top prize of $3.6 million.

Read our full preview here.

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