Breaking down the PGA Tour's Florida Swing

Which course is best for your next vacation? We compare and contrast Bay Hill, PGA National, Copperhead and TPC Sawgrass.
How does TPC Sawgrass stack up among the iconic courses on the Florida Swing?

The coolest part about the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour is the fact you can play all four host venues.

Every course - the Championship Course at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club and the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa - has been in the rotation since at least 2007, allowing fans to recognize and better understand every challenge, both subtle and monumental, the players face. Their finishing stretches are overwhelmingly memorable for their treacherous holes.

No doubt every amateur wants a crack at what they see on TV. And, even though Florida gets a bad rap for cookie-cutter architecture, these four courses and resorts are all actually quite different. Do you like the look of a classic course like the Copperhead, target golf like PGA National or over-the-top visuals like Sawgrass? Do you want a one-off round or a week-long golf binge?

Maybe by diving deeper, we can help steer you to the place/places that best fit your budget, expectations and, most important, your game.

Florida Swing golf course facts and figures

The 15th hole at PGA National's Champion Course kicks off the infamous "Bear Trap," which is one of the most challenging stretches of holes on the PGA Tour.

Back-tee yardage

- 7,045: PGA National - Champion
- 7,209: Innisbrook - Copperhead
- 7,245: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium
- 7,466: Bay Hill

Architect(s)

- Bay Hill: Dick Wilson, Arnold Palmer Design Company
- Innisbrook - Copperhead: Larry Packard
- PGA National - Champion: Tom Fazio, with major renovations by Jack Nicklaus
- TPC Sawgrass - Stadium: Pete & Alice Dye

Year opened

- 1961: Bay Hill
- 1974: Innisbrook - Copperhead
- 1981: PGA National - Champion, TPC Sawgrass - Stadium

It might surprise that Bay Hill is the longest course, considering it is also the oldest. The explanation is simple: longtime owner, Arnold Palmer tinkered with tee boxes and other features over his decades of ownership. It remains a classic.

"Truly a great test of golf," wrote user 'Anthony9184196' in a GolfPass review of Bay Hill. "Once you play the course, it easy to see why the PGA Tour stops here year after year. Tee to green, the conditioning was absolute perfection, including greens that run fast and true. There's nothing tricked up about the course. What you see is what you get. The design will make you think. Strategic bunker placements coupled with water on many of the holes makes the course challenging."

It's important to note that all four courses have been recently tweaked or renovated. The upgrading is constant to keep up with the modern game at the highest levels.

Golf Packages
JACKSONVILLE, FL | Enjoy 2 nights' accommodations at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa and 2 rounds of golf at TPC Sawgrass Stadium & Valley Courses.
Golf Packages
ORLANDO, FL | Enjoy 1 nights' accommodation at Bay Hill Lodge and 1 round of golf at Bay Hill Club.

Green fees

There are no breather holes on the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The par-5 11th, while a birdie opportunity, is full of trouble.

Peak rack rate

- TPC Sawgrass - Stadium: $720+
- PGA National - Champion: $408
- Innisbrook - Copperhead $399
- Bay Hill: $382

If you're like me, price is a huge determining factor where you play. Here are a few nuggets to consider.

Although all four courses have some seasonality, prices vary most at TPC Sawgrass. You can cut your costs almost in half in summer due to the TPC Network's dynamic pricing. Since carts must stay on the path, it's worth walking. That does require a mandatory caddie, but the reality is all of these courses should be played with a caddie to maximize your chance to play well (or even survive).

"I have read reviews that say the price is not justified," wrote user 'usgolfwu' in a review of the Stadium Course last March. "Yes, it is expensive and hurts when you pay the bill, but this blows (Trump Golf Links at) Ferry Point and Whistling (Straits) outta the water, which were 300-400 dollar rounds. Pull the trigger and play if you get the opportunity!!"

Both Bay Hill and PGA National require an overnight stay for access to play. That obviously adds expenses not only for lodging but food, drinks, etc. But the service and amenities can make it worthwhile.

"When our tee time neared, we were announced by name on the first tee box! The whole experience was like being treated like a King!" wrote user 'julcam' in an October 2020 review of Bay Hill. "The course was amazing and in great condition."

Since Bay Hill requires a stay to play, the Copperhead remains the most "affordable" for a walk-up, one-off round. However, there are significant savings if you bundle a couple nights and more rounds in a golf package.

17 Min Read
March 10, 2020
Adding caddie fees, taxes and accommodations cause prices to soar. Here is what you need to know and how to save.

Tournament history

Position off the tee is critical to success on the par-4 13th on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida.

These courses have hosted the PGA Tour since...

- 1979: Bay Hill
- 1982: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium
- 2000: Innisbrook - Copperhead
- 2007: PGA National - Champion

The consistency of these venues is impressive - 15-plus years and counting - especially when you consider how many Florida courses would love to trade places. It will be a sad day when one of these courses drops off the rotation. But it's probably likely at some point, given that sponsorships don't last forever.

Three of the four are not the original sites for their respective tournaments. The Honda Classic started as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic at the now-closed Inverrary Country Club in 1973. The Florida Citrus Open Invitational was the precursor to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, debuting at Rio Pinar Country Club in 1966. Hard as it might be to believe, the origins of the Players Championship dates to 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club. It moved to Colonial Country Club in Texas in 1975 before moving to Inverrary in 1976. It eventually found a home in north Florida (first at Sawgrass Country Club, then TPC). The Copperhead is the only one to hold its event, the Valspar Championship, from day 1. The Tampa Bay Classic debuted in 2000, won by John Huston.

Two holes stand out as stages for the most iconic Florida Swing moments over the years. Think of all the drama on and around Bay Hill's 18th green: all those Tiger putts and the hole-out for eagle in 1990 by rookie Robert Gamez to beat Greg Norman come to mind immediately. Then there's all the chaos courtesy of the island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass over the years. Better than most!

Hazards

Three bunkers guard the fifth green at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, which hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Water holes

- 17: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium
- 15: PGA National - Champion
- 8: Bay Hill
- 7: Innisbrook - Copperhead

Total bunkers

- 82: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium, Bay Hill
- 80: PGA National
- 71: Innisbrook - Copperhead

This is probably obvious to anybody who has ever played a Pete Dye design, but he laps the field in "visual intimidation" at TPC Sawgrass. There's water in play on virtually every hole (for ams, not necessarily the pros) and many of those 82 bunkers are huge waste bunkers that run the entire length of a hole. It's a terrifying test of target golf, a course so dangerous our Brandon Tucker is among many who consider it one of the hardest he's ever played.

Which is the hardest Florida Swing golf course?

TPC Sawgrass landed both the Stadium and Dye's Valley courses into the 2017 Top 25.

Rating/Slope

- Bay Hill: 75.2/137
- Innisbrook - Copperhead: 75.9/142
- PGA National - Champion: 75.2/148
- TPC Sawgrass: 76.4/155 

Tournament course record (single round)

- Bay Hill: 62, Adam Scott (2014)
- Innisbrook - Copperhead: 61, Padraig Harrington (2012)
- PGA National - Champion: 61, Brian Harman (2012)
- TPC Sawgrass: 63, 8 players (various years)

Tournament scoring record (four rounds)

- Bay Hill: 264, Payne Stewart (1987)
- Innisbrook - Copperhead: 266, Vijay Singh (2004)
- PGA National - Champion: 264, Justin Leonard (2003)
- TPC Sawgrass: 264, Greg Norman (1994)

Tournament scoring average (2019)

- Bay Hill: 72.378
- Innisbrook - Copperhead: 71.981
- PGA National - Champion: 71.016
- TPC Sawgrass: 71.513

Difficulty ratings from GolfPass reviews

- Bay Hill: 4.09
- Innisbrook - Copperhead: 4.41
- PGA National - Champion: 4.47
- TPC Sawgrass: 4.76

All of this data helps to define difficulty. What makes looking at every category interesting is that it suggests there's no clear-cut "hardest" course of the four. It's not a surprise that GolfPass users (i.e. average golfers) think TPC Sawgrass' Stadium Course wins by a wide margin. The slope/rating numbers and the course record support that claim.

"What a magnificent course," wrote user 'PasqualiV1' in a GolfPass review about TPC Sawgrass last August. "Conditions were MINT! Every shot makes you think - mentally one of the toughest courses that truly tests every facet of your game. ... All in all, a great experience and worth the money to play - might even be willing to pay more."

When looking at the 2019 scoring averages - the most recent year when all tournaments were played in succession in March - Bay Hill played as the hardest and Sawgrass the second easiest for the PGA Tour. It's also odd that, over the course of four days, three of the four tournament scoring records are identical at 264. Copperhead is the outlier there, with a record two shots higher than the rest.

"Bottom line: You can’t overpower this golf course," wrote Alabama local advisor BrandonWebb, who teed it up at Copperhead in March 2020, the week the tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. "Look at the list of winners here, and it is easy to see what the formula is to get around here: Fairways and greens, and avoid the rough."

From personal experience, I would rank the four courses, from toughest to "easiest," as follows: TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, Copperhead, PGA National.

Webb, who played PGA National Champion in February, agrees with my take, despite the course's monster slope (148) and collection of hazards.

"The Champions course is a bit of a contradiction: Players here should be mentally prepared to navigate water hazards on 15 of the 18 holes," he wrote. "That being said, I found the course to be eminently playable, and most importantly, scoreable."

6 Min Read
June 13, 2016
Another demanding week of U.S Open golf has the staff recalling their most difficult rounds ever played.

Breaking down the par 5s

Bryson DeChambeau hits a bomb off the sixth tee at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard.

Longest par 5

- 607: Innisbrook - Copperhead, hole 5
- 589: Bay Hill, hole 6
- 558: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium, hole 11
- 556: PGA National - Champion, hole 18

Shortest par 5

- 488: PGA National - Champion, hole 6 (plays as a par 4 during the Honda Classic)
- 511: Bay Hill, hole 16
- 523: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium, hole 16
- 560: Innisbrook - Copperhead, hole 1

As the photo above depicts, pros like Bryson DeChambeau have redefined what constitutes a par 5. The Florida Swing's second-longest par 5, the 6th at Bay Hill, is now a driver/short pitch since he's bombing it 380 yards over the lake. Even par 5s littered with hazards are a green light to go for it in two. The 16th at TPC Sawgrass is blocked by a towering tree on the left, five bunkers and a pond right, yet the majority of pros still attack it with the tournament on the line.

Breaking down the par 4s

Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, hole 18

Longest par 4

- 470: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium, hole 15
- 465: PGA National - Champion, hole 14
- 460: Bay Hill, hole 18
- 458: Innisbrook - Copperhead, hole 16

Shortest par 4

- 302: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium, hole 12
- 365: PGA National - Champion, hole 1
- 371: Bay Hill, hole 13
- 373: Innisbrook - Copperhead, hole 12

There's a fun fact hidden in this data. Bay Hill's No. 1 handicap is not its longest, most famous and hardest hole: No. 18. It's the shortest par 4, the 371-yard 13th. If you don't hit the fairway, the approach shot is too short for a layup, so everybody goes for it. Many fail.

The shortest at TPC Sawgrass, the 12th, is a constant source of criticism since its 2017 redesign. What was supposed to be a risk-reward drivable par 4 of roughly 300 yards has become perhaps the easiest hole on the course, a gimme that Dye never usually offers. A new optional back tee may return it to its original intent.

Breaking down the par 3s

The par-3 seventh on the Champion Course at PGA National can play as long as 225 yards.

Longest par 3

- 237: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium, hole 8
- 232: Innisbrook - Copperhead, hole 8
- 231: Bay Hill, hole 2
- 226: PGA National - Champion, hole 7

Shortest par 3

- 137: TPC Sawgrass - Stadium, hole 17
- 171: PGA National - Champion, hole 5
- 188: Innisbrook - Copperhead, hole 4
- 199: Bay Hill, hole 17

It's interesting that the shortest par 3 of the 16 in play on the four courses is the most feared: the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. One sports betting projection says 45 balls will end up in the drink in 2021's Players Championship, but the 35 on Day 1 will guarantee the over. NBC Sports reports upwards of 120,000 tee shots sink every year. Whoa.

Sawgrass is also the only design with more than 100 yards of difference between the shortest par 3 and the longest. That's a sign of great design. Nobody wants to pull a long iron or hybrid on every par 3, even the pros.

"This was the only course that made me nervous as a player," former NBC Golf Analyst Johnny Miller said. "I would think about it for days leading into the tournament. This course gives you the heebie jeebies."

Florida Swing golf course nicknames

The Snake Pit begins on the difficult 16th hole of the Copperhead Course.

Nickname associated with the course


- "Arnie's Place" (Bay Hill)
- "The Bear Trap" (PGA National - Champion)
- "The Gauntlet" (TPC Sawgrass - Stadium)
- "The Snake Pit" (Innisbrook - Copperhead).

While the "Snake Pit" and "Bear Trap" nicknames have become household names and a big part of the coverage, it's a bit of a surprise nobody has come up with a clever nickname for Bay Hill's closing stretch. The par-5 16th plays as a glorified par 4 with most players hitting no more than 8 iron in. The tough par-3 17th and famous par-4 18th, where the water hazard is nicknamed "Devil's Bathtub", make up for it. Why not called this run of unique holes the "King's Road"? I think Palmer would approve.

BrandonWebb indicated in his review that the Bear Trap didn't snare him: "The Bear Trap’s bark is a bit more than its bite, in my opinion. The tee shot at 15 is a little uncomfortable, but even with a back pin, it was still just a 9-iron. The 17th was merely a wedge. There are harder holes earlier on the back nine, particularly Nos. 11 and 14."

17 Min Read
March 30, 2017
The Bear Trap. The Green Mile. The Snake Pit. We rank the 17 best collection of holes in America and the Caribbean from least favorite nickname to the most iconic.

What to expect at each resort

Bay Hill: View from the putting green

Holes on property

- 90: PGA National
- 72: Innisbrook
- 36: TPC Sawgrass
- 27: Bay Hill

Number of Rooms

- 514: Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
- 367: PGA National
- 300: Innisbrook
- 70: Bay Hill

Size matters when it comes to a golf resort. Do you want an intimate experience or a full week of playing different courses? Bay Hill's boutique lodge sells calming comforts among all that Orlando tourist traffic. I love walking up and down the halls just to see all the photos and memorabilia of Palmer. He truly lived like a King. The upgraded practice area is impressive, and the club's golf academy is highly regarded. Although the Charger nine is worth a look, it's not a bad idea to play the Championship course a couple times to give yourself a chance to shoot a decent score. There's a lot of angles involved.

In contrast, the towering seven-story Sawgrass Marriott has a more corporate feel, which isn't a surprise given how many sponsors and VIPs come for business meetings with the brass at PGA Tour HQ. There are still many reasons to vacation here: a spa, seven restaurants, a beach club and the Dye Valley Course is grossly underrated. The crown jewel is the 77,000-square-foot, Mediterranean-style clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass. Tour the locker room, soak up the memorabilia and shop in the sprawling pro shop. It's an experience in itself.

Meanwhile, Innisbrook and PGA National are two of the biggest golf resorts in the country. Both have invested heavily in their secondary courses over the past five years to improve them. Staples Golf Design is leading a redesign of the Squire Course at PGA National, which should reopen later this year. They're both worthy of your next buddies or couples trip with enough amenities to appeal to all types of golf travelers.

If I was forced to pick favorites among the courses, I'd go this route: 1, Bay Hill. 2, TPC Sawgrass. 3, Copperhead. 4, PGA National. In full disclosure, I haven't played Copperhead in two decades and have never been to PGA National, so one or both could move up. My 10-12 handicap is also completely powerless at TPC Sawgrass. Bay Hill provides the best mix of playable and memorable for my tastes. The truth is, I'd give anything to be on the first tee of any of them right about now.

If you've been lucky enough to play any of these legendary golf courses, share your experience with our readers in a review.

Orlando, Florida
Resort/Private
4.6490294118
37
Palm Harbor, Florida
Resort
4.2394941176
25
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Resort
4.0871235294
29
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Resort
4.9423764706
107

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Breaking down the PGA Tour's Florida Swing