Stay and play like a pro at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass is a big-time golf venue with a big-money event. So if you were to book a golf vacation there, it should come as no surprise that the official resort of Sawgrass, the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, would reflect that atmosphere.

When you arrive, it's obvious that the Sawgrass Marriott is filled with energy and activity. With more than 500 rooms, seven restaurants, lagoons and even a Cabana Beach Club, there's plenty to do and see at this resort.

The resort, ranked No. 42 on Golf Digest's 2010 list of 75 Best Golf Resorts, underwent a $22 million renovation in 2008. Among the improvements: an expanded and refreshed lobby area and lobby bar as well as a new Irish bar. With its open atrium-type look, it's the perfect spot for networking, talking to other golfers or simply relaxing before or after a round of golf at the famed TPC courses, just a five-minute shuttle ride away.

The renovations also included the transformation of guest rooms, which now reflect blended earth tones, wall and window treatments and updated bathrooms, more spacious workspace and plasma television sets with high definition programming. There are also 24 hotel suites and 80 two-bedroom villas, perfect for foursomes or families.

Of course, the centerpiece is the TPC Sawgrass and its two championship golf courses -- the Pete Dye-designed TPC Stadium Course, which is home of The Players Championship, and Dye's Valley Course, which hosts a Nationwide Tour event and recently underwent a multi-million renovation.

The overall facility received a $40 million facelift in 2006. The next year, The Players Championship was moved from March to May, and the TPC Stadium Course went from an overseeded rye course to a faster-playing Bermuda course. One of the most notable improvements, however, was the spectacular 77,000-square-foot Mediterranean Revival-style clubhouse that opened in May 2007.

The clubhouse experience shouldn't be underestimated. More than twice the size of the original clubhouse, it's also a testament to the history of The Players, which goes back to 1974 when Jack Nicklaus won what was then called the Tournament Players Championship, which was played at the Atlanta Country Club.

The tournament moved around for several years before finally winding up at the TPC Sawgrass in 1982. Specifically built for the event, the course has one of the most iconic holes in all of golf with the island-green 17th. You'll find many of the stories, artwork and other memorabilia depicting the history of the tournament, as well as much more on the PGA Tour and professional golf, inside the clubhouse.

That's why the clubhouse employs a cadre of volunteer ambassadors who give regular tours of the clubhouse, a worthwhile endeavor for any first-time visitor. Inside, you'll get the stories behind the scenes, see the trophies, see where the players and caddies hang out before their rounds and revel in the overall magnificent decor of the rooms.

Dining at Sawgrass

The clubhouse is also the perfect place to hang out -- whether outside on the massive patio to watch golfers finish their rounds, or at the clubhouse's Nineteen Bar and Lounge -- or you can enjoy fine dining in the Champions Room.

The dinner menu in the Champions Room naturally pays tribute to past winners of The Players. Entrees such as Tim Clark's Braised Lamb Shank or Phil Mickelson's Lobster Ravioli are among the excellent choices. You can also get breakfast or lunch at Cafe on the Green, which also offers great views of the golf course.

Over at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa are some other good dining options. The Augustine Grille, for example, serves up steaks, seafood and chops in a casually elegant atmosphere. At the resort's Cabana Beach Club on Ocean View Road, you can dine on all kinds of local seafood. You can get sandwiches at V. Kelly's Pub or get a hamburger outside at the Poolside Lounge.

Speaking of the pool, the resort has several, including an adult pool and a pool at the spa. On Friday nights, guests can enjoy movies on the big screen by the family pool.

Golf courses at the TPC Sawgrass

Considered the fifth major by many in golf, TV coverage of the 18 holes of The Players Championship is thorough, which means golfers are familiar with all the holes on the TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass. That's why when you play it, each hole is exciting, not just the last couple.

But to be sure, the finishing stretch is what most players will talk about after their round. Play the right tees, and you can go for the green in two on the part-5 16th, test your nerves on the short island-green 17th, and face your fears both off the tee and approach on the par-4 18th, one of the toughest holes in golf.

Anyone who makes the journey to the TPC Sawgrass, however, should also play the Valley Course, which has been renovated to conditions that match the TPC Stadium Course. Some even claim to enjoy it more; it's certainly a little easier, but no pushover. Plenty of water, bunkering and doglegs keep things interesting.

In both cases, the TPC Sawgrass offers forecaddies or individual caddies to complete the PGA Tour-like experience. TPC Sawgrass features excellent practice facilities, including a large, double-ended grass range, putting and chipping greens and practice bunkers.

As part of the 2006-07 renovation, TPC Sawgrass also added a 2,800-square-foot instructional facility with indoor hitting bays. Known as the Tour Academy TPC Sawgrass, it also includes a private practice area and state-of-the-art teaching and club-fitting tools and technology. Visitors are welcome to schedule a lesson.

Spa and other activities at Sawgrass

One of the advantages to booking a complete golf vacation package at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa are all the extras that go with the experience.

At the top of the list has to be the spa, where you can get therapeutic massages, perfect for following a round or two of golf. A variety of other treatments, such as facials, body wraps, body scrubs, footbaths, manicures and pedicures are available.

In addition, the spa offers locker room facilities, plunge pools, a steam room, lap pool, Jacuzzis and a spa restaurant.

The resort also has a state-of-the-art fitness center, with free fitness classes and other activities, such as biking and jogging trails, table tennis, volleyball and miniature golf.

Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa: The verdict

The TPC Sawgrass is one of American's premier golf facilities. It's one of those venues that most golf fans would like to visit, so if you're going to play the TPC Stadium Course, you might as well book a package and stay at the official resort.

You can stay at other hotels in the area, but none beats the convenience and treatment you will get at the Marriott. Constant shuttles are only a few minutes away from the golf; you can charge your on-course beverage and meals at the clubhouse back to the hotel account, and the Marriott is a comfortable, clean hotel resort with all the amenities you would expect during a world-class golf vacation.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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Stay and play like a pro at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida