Golf lovers wear their hearts on their sleeves
17th Hole, TPC at Sawgrass. Photo from www.pga.com.
You don’t have to be a collector to appreciate the unique history behind Tokens & Icons TPC Sawgrass sterling silver cufflinks. The iconic brand has made quite a name for itself by repurposing historic artifacts into handy, everyday items. So when we first started carrying the cleverly designed cufflinks made from actual game-played golf balls, we had an inkling they were something special. We just didn’t know how special until we dug a little deeper.
The balls used to fashion the Tokens & Icons cufflinks are not just any golf balls. They’ve been retrieved from the water surrounding the world-famous 17th hole at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass Resort. Ranked by Golf Week as the 9th best golf resort in the United States, the Tournament Players Club (TPC) at Sawgrass is home to PGA tour headquarters and The Players Championship tournament. Located at Ponte Vedra Beach, the resort first opened its doors in the early 80s. Today, TPC Sawgrass boasts two courses: the Valley Course and the Stadium Course. But it’s the latter that is defined almost solely by its signature 17th hole, widely touted as one of golf’s most difficult challenges.
Both the TPC Sawgrass and PGA websites offer interesting insights into the thinking behind the course’s overall layout and the 17th hole’s unusual configuration. Designed by husband and wife architectural team Pete and Alice Dye, the Stadium Course was one of the first in the United States to be conceived with the fans in mind. On any given day, gently sloping mounds, some as high as 30 feet, afford the stadium’s 36,000 visitors unobstructed views of tournament play. Also pains have been taken to ensure the course does not favor any one player or particular style of play. For example, the course features an evenly dispersed selection of short, medium and long holes including par-3s, -4s, and -5s, as well as both left and right doglegs. Additionally, no two consecutive holes are played in the same direction.
Every player can find something to like or dislike about the course, but most agree the 17th hole poses more than just an idle threat. The 137-yard, par-3 is the course’s shortest, but most intimidating hole. Although often referred to as the “Island Green,” the 17th hole is actually located on a circular peninsula tethered to the main course by a thin pathway. Balls either land on the green or in the water.
Alice Dye was trying to solve a problem when she first sketched the Island Green on the back of a cocktail napkin. The Stadium Course is situated in the wetlands of northern Florida. Flat and heavily wooded, most of the area is devoid of valuable base sand. That is most of the area except for the acreage surrounding what is now the 17th hole. As more and more sand was extracted from that particular spot, a large crater formed. Alice Dye’s solution was to fill the gaping pit with water and construct a manmade island in the center, creating what is arguably the most famous par-3 in the world.
With a purse of $10 million, The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is one of the biggest draws in golf. Winners have included such all-time greats as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and more recently Rickie Fowler, all of whom know the unpredictable and fickle nature of the 17th hole can determine the tournament’s outcome. Plenty of birdies are made there, but it only takes one tiny miscalculation to knock a leader out of the running. Memorable moments recounted on the PGA’s official website recall Sean O’Hair dropping from 2nd place just behind Phil Mickelson in 2007 to 11th place when his ball missed the green by inches and landed in the water. Those inches represented a difference of $747,000. According to the PGA tour, since 2003, about 10 percent of the balls hit by professionals at the 17th hole have ended up in the water. So riveting is the action on the Island Green that the 17th hole is surrounded by 11 TV cameras, including two fully rotating periscope cams. But you don’t have to be a pro to play the Stadium Course. Amateurs are welcome as well. And between the two player classifications, Golf News estimates 100,000 balls are hit into - and retrieved from - the water surrounding the Island Green each year.
The retrieval process is carefully monitored by PGA Tour staff, and every ball is assigned a PGA Tour hologram with a unique identification number. Officially licensed by the PGA Tour, Tokens & Icons has worked its magic to give at least some of those balls a second life. Circular cutouts of the balls’ dimpled coverings have become the focal point of the brand’s popular golf-themed cufflinks. Every set is unique and is presented in a TPC Sawgrass gift box with an official authentication card. Many golf enthusiasts are familiar with the storied 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass and like the idea of keeping a little piece of its past alive. Wouldn’t you enjoy knowing the cufflink on your sleeve might be tied to one of golf’s legendary pros? You have to admit the idea is intriguing. True or not, it’d be a great conversation starter.