The Players Championship is an annual golf tournament on the PGA Tour. Originally known as the Tournament Players Championship, it began in 1974. The Players Championship offers the highest prize fund of any tournament in golf. The field usually includes the top 50 players in the world rankings, but unlike the three major championships staged in the United States, it is not an official event on the European Tour.
The Players has often been considered the unofficial "fifth major" due to its prestige, its host course (the TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course at which the tournament has been played since 1982, home of the iconic par-3 No. 17 "Island Green") and its considerably larger purse.
Over 415 acres in the Florida swampland, the course contains narrow fairways lined with hazards like marshes and "waste bunkers" (long strips of sand that groundskeepers never maintain); dozens of deep "pot bunkers," strategically placed to catch even a slightly misplaced shot; thick rough that features craters and mounds; tall, shot-obstructing palm trees; and rock-hard, lightning-fast greens. When the first Tournament Players Championship was staged at the Stadium Course in 1982, the story was not eventual winner Jerry Pate but the complaints the players had about the course, which had supposedly been built in their honor. "It's Star Wars golf, designed by Darth Vader," Ben Crenshaw pronounced. When asked if the TPC suited his playing style, Jack Nicklaus replied, "No, I've never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car." J. C. Snead called the course "90 percent horse manure and 10 percent luck." Over the following year, Dye tweaked the course, making the greens less severe and replacing several bunkers. After the changes, the course became far more playable. "Now it's a darn good golf course," Crenshaw said of the improvements.
The course was the site of the U.S. Amateur in August 1994, where 18-year-old Tiger Woods defeated Trip Keuhne in the finals, 2 up. This was the first of his three consecutive victories.
The TPC at Sawgrass is situated in Ponte Vedra Beach's Sawgrass development. It has two individual courses, the Stadium Course and the Valley Course. The Stadium Course was designed in 1980 by noted golf course architects Pete and Alice Dye, and is known as one of the most difficult golf courses in the world. Constructed specifically to host The Players Championship, it employs a distinctive "stadium" concept: like in other sports, fans at the TPC sit in "stands" made of raised mounds of grass. It is known for its signature hole, the par-3, 137-yard 17th, known as the "Island Green", one of golf's most recognizable and difficult holes.
The course has been featured for many years on the best-selling Tiger Woods PGA Tour series of video games.
TPC Sawgrass' signature hole is the Stadium Course's 17th, known simply as the "Island Green," although it is technically a peninsula. It measures only 132 yards from tee to green (requiring only a pitching wedge for most pros), but it consists of nothing but a 78-foot-long green with a tiny bunker in front of it. Save a small path to the green, the green is completely surrounded by water, and its location amidst many trees causes the wind to swirl over it. Club selection in the weather conditions at the hole is a huge consideration, as there is nowhere to land the ball but on the green, in the small bunker, or in the water. It is estimated that more than 100,000 balls are retrieved from the surrounding water every year, courtesy of professionals and tourists alike.
The Island Green design came by accident: the original design for the 17th was to be a simple par-3 green only partially surrounded by a lake. However, the soil surrounding the 17th consisted of sand, which is necessary to build a good golf course, but rare on the otherwise swampy property, and by the time the course was near completion all the sand had been dug from the area, leaving a large crater. Alice Dye suggested the Island Green concept, remembering another course with a similar green. Pete was not thrilled at the idea but went ahead with it, in the process creating one of golf's most recognizable holes. Because of its popularity among fans, The Golf Channel devotes 11 cameras to it during the tournament.
Probably the most famous incident that has occurred on the Island Green involved Steve Lowery in the 1998 Players Championship. His tee shot successfully landed on the green, but then a seagull swooped onto the green and picked up his ball several times. The gull found it difficult to hold the ball in its bill, but finally managed to carry it into the air and over the water, where it dropped it. One of the TV commentators quipped that the 17th now had yet another hazard. Under Rule 18-1 of the Rules of Golf, as a bird is considered an "outside agency" and as Lowery's shot was at rest, he was permitted to replace the ball at the spot where the ball initially came to rest on the green.