PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Visitors to the PGA Tour headquarters often overlook Pete Dye's Valley Course at the TPC Sawgrass, lost in the shadow of its big brother.
The Valley Course, at just less than 6,900 yards, offers reasonable memberships exclusive of the better-known Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, and guests at the attached resort can play both golf courses. They may not know, though, that the Valley Course includes a little professional golf history of its own.
Opened in 1987, it served as the host of the Senior Players Championship from 1988 to 1990. And starting in October 2010, the Nationwide Tour is scheduled to stage the newly created Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open.
In part because of the latest pro tournament, the Valley Course received some extensive work over the winter of 2009-10, including a major drainage project.
As one member said: "This course never did drain very well. It should be really nice now."
TPC Sawgrass' Valley Course holds its own
Valley Course members describe it as one of the better bargains in the Jacksonville area. For a reasonable annual fee, members receive unlimited play plus cart fees. And in good condition, as it is most of the year, the Valley Course includes a few holes that rival the Players Stadium Course - annual home to the renowned Players Championship.
Designed by Dye and Bobby Weed, with input from Jerry Pate, the golf course features water on nearly every hole, plenty of deep bunkering and lots of doglegs among the pines, palmettos and palms. Fairways may be a little more generous on the Valley Course, and missed shots forgive more than on the Players Stadium Course.
But you can pay the price.
The sixth, for example, a 462-yard dogleg right, wraps around a large lake with a fairway bunker on the right to catch misplaced tee shots. From the right side, approaches must carry part of the lake again.
No. 11, a 227-yard par 3, showcases a peninsula green. Anything short or right is wet. And the 429-yard 18th provides a finish similar to the Players Stadium Course, with a dogleg left around a lake. It means any pulled tee shot hits water, and any tee shot that strays too far right is dead.
The golf course also includes plenty of fun. The fifth, a nifty, little par 3, plays over water. The seventh, a short par 4, presents a blind approach if you hit a layup short of a raised fairway-bunker complex on the left. And the 17th, an excellent, reachable par 5, offers mounding on the right and water down the entire left side.
Dye's Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass: The verdict
At approximately $100 less than the price to play the Players Stadium Course, the Valley Course is a no-brainer option if you're planning to play more than a couple rounds at TPC Sawgrass.
When I played in late March 2010, it wasn't in great shape, having just emerged from an unusually cold winter. The course was not overseeded, and some drainage work was underway in preparation for the Nationwide Tour event. Still, I enjoyed the layout. And as the weather rapidly warms, expect to find the Valley Course in excellent shape for the late spring, summer and fall.
TPC Sawgrass: Lessons and stay and play
The Valley Course essentially shares practice facilities with the Players Stadium Course. As you might expect, they're excellent. The complex includes a large, double-ended grass range, putting and chipping greens and practice bunkers. Additionally, you can book a lesson at the 2,800-square-foot Tour Academy at TPC Sawgrass.
Guests may also take advantage of stay-and-play packages at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa, which recently underwent a $22 million renovation. The resort, which features a 20,000-square-foot spa, four swimming pools and access to the Cabana Beach Club, offers packages that include lodging, lessons and play on both golf courses.